The Long Way Home 6.7.24

Seventy trips around the sun have taught me a thing or two about trust. Trust is almost as crucial as being fed. 

Over the years, I’ve earned the trust of many people. Sadly, I’ve broken that trust with too many, some close to me. 

If it takes an hour to earn trust in the first place, it takes years to gain it back after you’ve broken it--and the repaired cracks are always there when you do.

Last month, the Cook County Board of Commissioners held a retreat at a venue in downtown Grand Marais. The purpose of the retreat was to discuss something other than county business, though.

The retreat facilitator, Rachel Thiemann, had this to say in leading off her proposal to earn the contract. “Cook County has identified a need for consulting/training services to be provided to the Board of County Commissioners, focusing on their ability to work harmoniously and effectively together at all times. The background supplied indicates that meetings can at times become emotionally charged, unfocused, or fail to stay within the boundaries and structure outlined in Robert’s Rules of Order.”

I love those rules of order that Bob put down many years ago. They’re an essential tool to get things done in local government meetings, ensuring that everyone has a voice and that decisions are made in a fair and orderly manner. However, as my experience with a volunteer fire department board of directors makes clear, keeping a group of more than three people orderly and on task is difficult.

One commissioner, known to become emotionally charged at times, told the gathering that “people don’t trust county government.” Evidently, her peers did not share that belief. 

A lack of trust in government, local and otherwise, is necessary. Staying engaged is important, too, but the late President Reagan said it best when referring to nuclear disarmament agreements: “Trust but verify.” 

This means that while we should trust our local government, we should also verify their actions and decisions to ensure they align with our community's best interests.

There are reasons to trust the county government. Its employees, for the most part, live in the area. We should trust that their motivations are for the good of the community.

On the other hand,  like the rest of us, local government employees have personal biases that may influence their decisions.

So we should trust but verify.

Special interests or political agendas will influence local government decisions, rarely to universal delight. It is essential to be aware of these potential influences.

I hope I don’t sound so negative that you think we should give up.

On the contrary, staying informed and engaged with local government is not just essential, it's empowering. While there are reasons for both trust and caution, you can rely on your judgment by considering the following factors:

The government of Cook County holds public meetings regularly and shares those online and in recorded and published minutes. Department heads sent periodic “press releases” explaining what was happening. 

The past performance of local government and its employees is well documented and available for the public to consider for how much to trust it in the future.

Finally, it's crucial to get involved. Attend public meetings, speak up during the comment period, and actively participate in community governance. Your voice matters, and your engagement can make a significant difference.

Though it can sometimes be frustrating, I’m awfully glad that we have elected officials who don’t have blind allegiances to paid staff or consultants. It’s okay with me that they don’t always work harmoniously and effectively together. It’s even OK if they become emotionally charged and unfocused. What's important is that they are accountable to us, the residents of Cook County.

I trust it should be that way.