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Jeff Ward: Geneva School Board, City Taking Steps in Right Direction

Foolish consistency is a tragic flaw, so it's good to see the City Council and School Board marking fiscal progress.

As it is with anything in this life, our best trait, if not administered with the appropriate foresight, can quickly become our tragic flaw and eventual downfall. As the Zen folks like to point out, the Universe demands balance.

Even a prized characteristic like consistency can quickly turn into one of those double-edged swords.

Most of us value leaders who remain consistent to a specific set of values and ideals. When Mitt Romney proclaims he’s “severely conservative” in one breath and then the pundits play a clip where he calls himself “progressive,” that lack of consistency will doom his presidential aspirations.

The moral is, it pays to be consistent when cameras follow you everywhere.

But then there’s the kind of constancy that can get you into trouble. Emerson described it well when he said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” He was warning us about the folks who, by always carrying a sledgehammer, see everything as a spike and relentlessly pound that spike even thought it’s already been driven 10 feet into the ground.

The Tea Party and current batch of Republicans are prime examples of this phenomenon. They don’t want to work with the president, nor do they care about good government, they simply want to be the ones who call the shots.

If President Obama fixed the economy, eliminated the deficit and did away with every last tax yesterday, they’d still find a way to call him a socialist. Short of his stepping down, there’s no way to satisfy these folks. They’ll just warp or create the facts to fit their narrow world view.

This is why I often say that, while it’s good to see folks get involved, not all citizen activism is a good thing. And it’s when they fall prey to this “foolish consistency” that they become just another part of the problem.

Take Mothers Against Drunk Driving, for example. MADD leaders started off with the best of intentions, but after they accomplished much of what they set out to do, rather than back off and assume a necessary watchdog role, they started pressing their agenda beyond reasonability.

And when an activist group takes on a survival instinct, watch out!

On the other hand, the Citizens Utility Board is prime example of an entity that had some success and then gracefully transitioned into that watchdog role. Their capacity to work with utilities, politicians and the public isn’t imitated often enough.

Of course, the antithesis of a foolish consistency is the ability to accept and consider new evidence that might alter your point of view and thus, any future course of action.

After all, isn’t life the journey and not the destination? Doesn’t progress always come in steps?

And the good news in that regard is, we’ve just seen two significant blows against foolish consistency right here in Geneva. 

The first occurred when the City Council held the property tax levy line last December. It may only mean a $10 per household savings, but the fact that they bucked the status quo to do it meant so much more than that sawbuck. That act said their mindset is shifting. It showed they’re beginning to understand that the taxpayer is tapped out.

And the fact that I complimented them on that stand doesn’t mean I’m not watching. But whenever a government entity does do the right thing, the prudent thing to do is to back off and give them an opportunity to follow in those fiscally conservative footsteps.

The second blow for common sense came at the hands of our District 304 School Board, which dipped into financial reserves to lessen the imminent property tax blow by $100. Is it something that should be shouted from the rooftops? Maybe not, but it’s a step! And it’s certainly a step worth noting.

Again, there’s much more to it than the money involved. It’s evidence that the board is acknowledging those taxpayers who are having a tough time making ends meet.

But instead of applauding this step and taking a step back, the local activist group that relentlessly hammers the School Board only paid brief lip service to this tax reduction and immediately issued demands for more far-reaching steps.

As it is with the tea partiers, there is nothing the School Board can do short of turning the reins over to these “activists” that will make them happy. Even if the board brought taxes down to zero, then they’d want control of curriculum. And they want to be the ones in charge without having to win election.

Who of us, while essentially volunteering for a high-profile, non-paying role, when faced with this kind of damned-if-you-do rhetoric, wouldn’t want to push back a little bit?

This is how a foolish consistency consistently can work against you.

Rome wasn’t built in day, there’s a reason 12-year-old scotch is far more expensive, some things take time, and, as the Zen folks also like to say, “you can’t make the grass grow by pulling on it.”

Especially when you consider the economic challenges facing both bodies, I think they’re moving in the right direction. Will there be bumps in the road? Bet on it! Will it be enough? I don't know. But the bottom line is this is progress.

And that’s something we can take to the bank.

Alberto Principe February 15, 2012 at 07:15 PM
What about "demoncronomics"? Does it apply to this article?
Paul Bryant February 15, 2012 at 09:55 PM
So, the entire community should applaude the school board for only costing us a $200+ increase in taxes instead of a $300+ increase? How rediculous is that? This might have been a baby step in the right direction, only time and additional steps will tell. Certainly not worthy of shouting from roof tops. "Hey everybody! My taxes just went up, but at least it didn't go up as much as they said! Go Team!" Real reform and savings come from making tough choices, not dipping into reserves that we the community built up.
Jeff Ward February 15, 2012 at 10:09 PM
Paul, You drive me crazier than my wife and that's a real accomplishment! Did you not read this part of the column, "Is it something that should be shouted from the rooftops? Maybe not, but it’s a step! And it’s certainly a step worth noting." True reform, like Rome, isn't built in a day. Now a wise person would back off from the school board a bit and wait for that next step. It's too bad FACTS doesn't understand that dynamic. And Paul, you could always run for school board! Jeff
Paul Bryant February 15, 2012 at 10:47 PM
I was actually agreeing with you that it was not worthy of shouting from the roof tops. Congratulations! We agreed! You, however, want to turn this one very small step into something it was not - proof of change. I'll say it again, one step doesn't prove a pattern. Show me more and something significant that isn't taking more from me. I don't recall seeing your name on the ballot either.
Steven Sheehan February 17, 2012 at 04:26 PM
Hello Mr. Ward, I was hoping you might join us last evening per my invitation, as I respect your point of view. I did recap the discussion here for you, and for anyone else interested. http://www.genevataxfacts.org/forum/4-geneva-school-district-304/65-my-long-comments-on-jeff-ward-geneva-school-board (scroll down) Regards, Steve Sheehan

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