The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


March 21, 2014

Anson Burlingame, columnist: Questions for candidates need asked and answered

JOPLIN, Mo. — Joplin is now in the final weeks before our local and important election to decide Joplin City Council and Joplin School Board races.

As is typical in local elections, much remains uncertain about the candidates, their backgrounds, their real views on controversial issues and how they would later vote as those contentious issues come before them, if they are elected.

Yard signs only offer name recognition. The same applies to print and television advertising. That is not enough, in my view, for voters to make informed decisions to elect our future local government leaders in the city or in our schools.

There is a semi-public undercurrent of discussion about local matters going on right now. Some local blogs are filled with opinions and, yes, I have participated in such exchanges. But such a forum of political debate lacks clarity for both sides of the issues to be revealed, and candidates themselves do not enter into such very adversarial discussions, unless they do so anonymously, which I doubt is the case. Generally, people who write, read and comment on blogs have already made up their minds on most issues.

Here is an example of a vitriolic debate going on right now: It is about the termination of City Manager Mark Rohr in February and the 2012 firing of Randy Turner, a tenured teacher in the Joplin schools. Supporters of both men remain angry over the actions taken by the City Council in Rohr’s instance and the Joplin Board of Education in the latter. At least in the case of Rohr, the Globe has been filled with angry letters and columns, almost all of them expressing disdain for the action taken by the council.

If you feel either termination was wrong, then as a single-issue voter, you might cast your ballot against those on the council or school board who voted to fire these employees. But how new candidates would have acted at the time is unknown to voters, and I doubt any candidates will willingly discuss the previous actions of others.

An election should not be about simple revenge on the part of individual voters or retribution against an officeholder for past decisions. Instead, individuals should vote for who they believe will make future decisions that are in the best interest of Joplin, particularly on how to best rebuild and grow it into a better city; vote for who they believe can lead our schools.

To me, that should be the substance of debate among residents and candidates. I could make a long list of upcoming and contentious issues: the implementation of Common Core Standards in our schools; the best way to educate, train, select, hire and fire teachers; how much to pay them; the performance by our current master developer; how best to cut through all the red tape associated with government funds and rebuilding; and how best to actually rebuild the town and not just talk about it. This list could go on until the cows come home.

There is no way any candidate can state his or her true feelings on the issues and at the same time avoid angering some voters. There is no middle ground. Some issues, after all is said and done, come down to yes or no positions. The platitudes on yard signs and media ads do not in any way provide answers to such details about what a candidate really believes is best for Joplin and our schools. It is up to us, the voters in Joplin, to ask the hard questions and demand answers.

We now have a little more than two weeks to do so and to try our best to get the answers in order to vote for or against individual candidates on April 8. It is a very important date for Joplin’s future.

Anson Burlingame lives in Joplin.

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