When Mary Lynn and I first put up the website, she put the note “Under Construction” on this page to let you know we were working on the blog page. After some consideration, I’ve decided that that name is pretty appropriate. I am, after all, a construction contractor, and for all of my working life, “Under Construction” would be a pretty appropriate phrase to describe the process going on around me.
We see construction everywhere. I’ve heard a suggestion that maybe the orange plastic barrel with stripes on it should be made the state flower! I don’t know whether that is a comment on the number of road construction projects that seem to go on endlessly around the area, or whether it’s a comment on the sad paucity of the bluebonnet crop in recent years, but it would make an argument to say that there are more barricades than bluebonnets on the roadside these days. Or so it may seem.
When I drive through a construction site, I don’t grumble, I look. How is the contractor deploying his forces? What is the planned improvement? How is he handling traffic control? Is it a safe worksite? What kind of equipment is he using? How could I do what he is doing more efficiently? It goes on and on. Most people just sit in the traffic line and smolder at the delay.
From a community standpoint, construction is good. If it’s roads being improved, then traffic flow and safety will be improved. If it’s commercial buildings, then jobs are being created and the tax base is improving. If it’s residential, then more people are choosing our city to grow their families.
But it has to be orderly to be beneficial. And that’s where the role I play as Councilman is based. The Council has to see to it that the space we have in town to develop is used wisely, and in a manner that adds to the quality of life here. We have to plan ahead, and that’s why I have gladly served for years on the Council's Infrastructure and Development Committee and the 4A Economic Development Corporation. We need to plan ahead, and we also have to dream ahead.
That’s why I’ve invested my time in Transit Oriented Development planning, Imagine Burleson, the Wilshire and I35W corridor plans, Old Town planning meetings, and other initiatives aimed at guiding the future development through years to come. And it is gratifying to see so many people, our friends and neighbors, who have also taken the time to come down and give us their visions for the future too.
The City of Burleson that I am helping to shape may be one that I won’t live to see come to full fruition. But like the man who plants a tree knowing that he will not live long enough to sit in its shade, I know that it’s a good work to be doing what I am doing.
Thanks for your support and input!
From time to time I hear a statement to the effect that an elected official should “listen to the Voice of the People”. I’m quite certain that if you assembled one hundred people in a room and asked them if they thought their elected officials should listen to the voice of the people, you would get one hundred affirmative answers. Mine would be one of them!
But then if you immediately asked just exactly what it was that the “Voice of the People” was saying, you would get one hundred unique and different answers. Therein lies one of the fundamental dilemmas of public service: how do you know just what the people you represent want you to do about any given matter, and how do you go about finding out? And then what do you do with that knowledge if you get it?
I recall an ethical conundrum I once pondered while in college, back when I spent my time railing against most elected officials rather than considering becoming one of them. (It was, after all, the Nixon years.) The issue was this: An officeholder is elected by his constituency and therefore empowered to make decisions on their behalf. So to carry out that responsibility, does he try his best to find out what they want him to do and do it regardless, or does he make decisions based on what he himself believes is best for his constituency? What if they aren’t the same?
In the 1970’s it wasn’t possible, but nowadays we can envision, at least, a time in which all local and even national issues could practicably be settled by a direct, public vote. We are such a connected society that, through the Web, we could simply poll all constituents within, say, our city about any given matter that a council would normally have to decide, then tabulate the numbers and call the decision on majority rule. That would eliminate any need for a City Council; a clerk with a laptop could tabulate and post the numbers. Would that work? Is representative government eventually going to be rendered archaic by technology and simply evolve out of existence?
In my service on Council I hear directly from my constituents occasionally, but usually only when something hits locally that affects only a few. (Or when they get a red-light camera ticket…ugh.) When important decisions come along, like pulling the trigger on construction of the new Highpoint Business Park, I rarely get a lot of direct input.
So it begs the question: if truly representative government were just a few keystrokes away from John Q Public, would he really take the time to avail himself of the opportunity to educate himself about the issue and vote? Would he study page after page of information about the subject and ponder deeply the long-lasting effects of his decisions?
City Council information packets, posted twice a month, average probably 150 pages of data, maps, photos, contracts, tables, and other information. The City’s annual budget is a thick binder; master plans for water, roads, and development are hundreds more pages; ordinances hundreds more. Would all of us, given the opportunity, come home from a hard day at the office, jobsite, or classroom, try to read and digest all of that, and then weigh all the implications before voting?
It’s doubtful we would. But that’s what I do, and I believe any responsible Council member must do so too.
Awhile back, I had a conversation with a friend and supporter in which I was trying to find out what she thought I should do about a matter before the Council. She listened awhile, and it was a somewhat complicated matter. Then she told me something that stuck. She said, “Dan, I voted for you because I thought I would probably agree with what you would do about things. Just do what you think is right. I don’t have the time or inclination to try to figure all this out. I trust your judgment.”
So there you have it, the core of what it is to represent the “Voice of the People”: the public trust. It can be a heavy load to carry, and above all things it is never to be abused or taken lightly or casually. It requires the officeholder to know that he can defend any decision he has ever made or action he has taken because he learned all he could learn about it, pondered all of its implications, and satisfied himself that his actions and his votes went for the greatest good for his community.
Thanks for allowing me to earn your trust.
The photo is from the finish line of Warrior Dash 2010 at Austin, TX in November (www.warriordash.com). Warrior Dash is part race, part obstacle course, part Woodstock festival and overall just a darn good, tough time. After three miles of running down dirt trails, slogging through creeks, scrambling over cargo nets, junk cars, and stacks of hay bales, the participants finish by leaping over flames and then making a final dive into a mud pit for a fifty-yard crawl under barbed wire to the finish line.
So how does that relate to Council service? Do you really have to ask?
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