So similar, so different?


Cleveland is an inviting small town like so many others in the rural south, its modest, well-kept homes reflecting its pride of place and contrasting with newer, grander residences, a number, again like many the country over, products of extravagance and victims of foresclosure in the present economic meltdown.

As is the case elsewhere, residents are proud of their schools and churches, their parks and municipal structures, their fire department. Their innate warmth and kindness extend to their neighbors and other fellow citizens.

Countless American villages, little towns, and small cities share these similarities.

So what gives with Cleveland? How did its town government arrive at such a deplorable state, get in such a wad?

In recent years, one mayor after another has resigned, some resignations followed by acrimony over who succeeds them.

At meeting after meeting, lack of a quorum has kept the council from conducting formal business. Two councilmen have ceased attending council meetings entirely, fed up to here, one supposes, with the unprofessional conduct of business. Law enforcement was sent to bring the two to town hall, although state law makes no provision for action in the case of absentee councilors.

There is sometimes disagreement over council action said to have taken place but for which no minutes can be located.

Endless time seems to have been consumed over the rehiring of a former employee who failed in his bid for election to municipal office.

One has to wonder about the frequency of executive sessions, closed to the general public. But then the town lawyer says the council can do whatever it wants to do.

A functioning democracy requires that most of its public officials be elected. But does election empower the elected to serve without regard for their constituents’ welfare, the town’s progress? In some cases that appears to be happening.

This is not a full accounting of Cleveland’s plight. Nor is it a blanket criticism of all officials serving over the past several years. It is a lamentation over the poor service voters are receiving from their council.

They deserve better.

– mh