I began a journey of formal public service six short years ago, and I’m now entering a ‘Post-Commissioner’ phase. I’ve come full circle: from watching from the spectator seats in the council chamber to sitting at the dais as a decision-maker to being ‘onscreen’ in Zoom meetings as a commissioner and, finally, to now watching on YouTube as a citizen spectator.
I’ve gained a handful of insights about commissioners (and how to deal with them) that I’d like to share with my fellow residents of Grand County.
First, it’s easier (and perhaps a lot more fun) to armchair quarterback than to try understanding the deeper issues of any given decision or action. Here’s an example of why that’s important: Since we have no car at our new home in Japan, shopping trips are on foot. A casual observer might be indignant to see that while I am carrying several bags in each hand, my partner’s hands are empty. What the observer doesn’t know is that the backpack my partner is shouldering contains forty or fifty pounds of groceries. Even though we may think we have an understanding of all the parameters in play, there are almost always factors that aren’t available to the armchair quarterback.
One universal behavior of armchair quarterbacks is ‘yelling at the referee.’ It’s curious because there are few things less effective than berating the official that has influence on the outcome—in this case, the commissioner.
Shaming and threats rarely work. On issues where public passion is high, commissioners get a fair number of negative comments. I’m not exaggerating when I say that most comments run along the lines of “How dare you, you sneaky, lying crooks!”
The main themes that emerge again and again are accusations of poor character and lack of transparency, followed by shaming and threats regarding future elections.
When you’re trying to move an elected official to your way of thinking, it rarely works to use shame. Personally, I have tried to behave, make decisions, and vote in a way that would preserve my integrity and not bring shame to my family, friends or hometown. Throughout the last six years, I’ve been deeply involved and have come through it all without sacrificing my character; it remains intact.
Using threats is also highly ineffective, particularly those that use some form of the phrase “You will be sorry come election time.” To this, I can only say that threatening someone who works 30-plus hours per week, not including lost sleep, and who has become somewhat desensitized to unkind comments—well, failing to be re-elected does not seem like the worst punishment that could happen.
Enough about what doesn’t work. Here are some behaviors that are effective and build trust and respect.
You’ve heard the saying “the early bird gets the worm”? The same holds true for Grand County involvement.
If you want to influence land-use decisions, get involved at the Planning Commission.
If you want to influence how recreation is (or isn’t) supported, volunteer to be on the Recreation Board.
My favorite saying to describe this is: “It’s an easy ‘No’ if you fail to show.” Simply put, if you are at the meeting and make your views known, it’s more difficult (but certainly not impossible) for commissioners to say no.
I’ll mention the last two effective strategies briefly because they almost go without saying (and I’m at my word limit).
First, well-reasoned arguments grounded in facts and written with a respectful tone carry more weight than emotional treatises grounded in hearsay.
Second, while showing up is best, follow up with a personal email so that your views become part of the written public record. Emails that repeat the same talking points are less effective than individual emails expressed in your own words.
It was an amazing experience to serve on the Grand County Commission for the last six years, but I’m looking forward to this next phase of my journey and to ‘effecting change’ with you all as a citizen of our hometown.
May we all show up, be an early bird, be respectful, and refrain from being an armchair quarterback.
Jaylyn Hawks recently stepped down from the Grand County Commission to temporarily reside in Japan with her husband, a visiting professor.