Monday, May 01, 2006

Final thoughts

The recall election is tomorrow. One of the saddest, most avoidable chapters in Gray’s civic history will soon come to an end.

We will never completely agree on how to solve this town's problems. That’s okay. What’s not okay is taking important actions without some attempt at consensus; failing to consider the facts; applying inconsistent standards; treating disagreement with disrespect; and attacking the character and motives of anyone who gets in the way. That’s what Andrew Upham has done for the past 10 months, and its why he does not deserve to remain on the Gray Town Council.

Upham’s contempt for the electorate became clear immediately, and not only because of his brutal dismissal of the Pennell referendum. Once in office, he publicly and repeatedly described himself “a rotten person” and “not a nice person”, and made it clear that his abusive personality was not about to change. Its amazing to hear such things from anyone nowadays, much less an elected official. This is not leadership. These traits are psychological defects, not virtues. Yet Upham flaunted them as if we had no choice but to learn to live with his flaws. It was all about him. Upham mocked our expectations and refused to modify the worst aspects of his personality. Instead, he glibly told an entire community that we had to lower our standards.

No one – least of all Andrew Upham – should be surprised that many people were outraged by his unrepentent arrogance and eventually took action. Blind obedience to intimidating bluster just isn’t the American way. It didn’t help that Upham also recklessly accused some of the finest people in this community of all sorts of imaginary misbehaviors, or that his own administrative performance consistently failed to match his high-octane rhetoric.

The saddest part of this whole sorry episode is how avoidable it was. Upham could easily have achieved his agenda with only minor modifications of his behavior. Had he been a bit less divisive in his first term as a councilor, a bit more patient, a bit more conciliatory – in other words, had he been more of a real leader – he would have accomplished his policy goals, however flawed, and recall never would have happened. But at every opportunity, Upham blew it. Policy differences always morphed into character attacks. Council meetings became blame games. A punch to the face was followed by a poke in the eye. Insult followed injury. Upham consistently chose scorched earth over compromise. He played mean. He divided the community. And now he’s paying the price.

A lot of people in this town feel betrayed by Andrew Upham’s behavior as a councilor. They deserve to pass judgment on his future. Over one thousand citizens agreed. You can’t treat people like unruly idiots and not expect serious consequences in return. We have come too far to tolerate such nonsense from politicians. We deserve better. Whatever may come next for Mr. Upham, he would do extremely well to remember this simple fact.