Shoreline is a peach of a town, with a spot of blight. Shoreline elects her officials to address civic issues directly and efficiently. For the most part, we get that. I thank city government. But the last election was a squeaker; the outcome polarized Shoreline. Sore-losers carried the election to court, filing suit against three current (and one former) Council members, alleging Open Meetings Act violations. The sum at issue is a few hundred dollars. Attorney’s fees substantially exceed $100,000. Plaintiffs paint themselves defenders of open public process. I doubt that. At best, their bag is mixed. Plaintiffs seek political blood. Taxpayers’ wallets are pillaged. Rancor grows as the fall election approaches. Some have indulged gender bashing, ad hominem dismissal of concerns, intentional impoliteness, bitter invective. Plaintiffs and their supporters care little how much their pound of flesh costs Shoreline taxpayers. And civility in Shoreline has taken a beating. The Open Meetings lawsuit reeks of revenge.
Marcus Tullius Cicero (Roman, 1st century B.C.) wrote: “A most wretched custom, assuredly, is our electioneering and scrambling for office. . . . [W]e should regard only those as adversaries who take up arms against the state, not those who strive to have the government administered according to their convictions. . . . Neither must we listen to those who think that one should indulge in violent anger against one’s political enemies and imagine that such is the attitude of a great-spirited, brave man. For nothing is more commendable, nothing more becoming in a pre-eminently great man than courtesy and forbearance. . . . [We must avoid developing] a sour, churlish temper, prejudicial to ourselves and offensive to others” (On Duties, Book I, §87-88).
Political lawsuits abuse our constitutional system. We must address political questions with ballots, not pleadings. Political lawsuits are social gangrene. They choke dialogue; they sicken the body politic. Witness Shoreline’s recall elections, those ill-conceived boils. Council members (and now the school district) are distracted from public business. Political lawsuits squander dollars that might otherwise buy books or pave sidewalks. Political lawsuits poison our candidate pool. Who seeks office when debilitating litigation follows? Shoreline hires its City Council to dispute with one another, in the conviction that good policy flows from open, occasionally spirited, dialogue. But most of us prefer political “fighting” that exudes the spirit of Gandhi: resolute, principled, forbearing, possibly kind.
If you do not like the last election’s outcome, then win the next election--fairly. Dismiss that revenge lawsuit. Do not support those who support revenge lawsuits.
Some City Council members, current and former, are my acquaintances. I count among them friends, even clients. To those who support revenge lawsuits I say: When you disparage other council members, you damage all of us. When you attack opponents, instead of their positions, you diminish the dignity of your office. Henry Adams (American historian, 20th century A.D.) called politics the “systematic organization of hatreds” (The Education of Henry Adams). Prove him wrong. Win arguments by facts, reason, and persuasive talk. Compromise with opponents. Every City Council member is intelligent and cares deeply about Shoreline. Try to discover that in the others. Biting your tongue is permitted. You must not build our physical infrastructure to the neglect of our interpersonal and communal well-being. Relationships matter. We are all part of one another. Every community has a spirit and identity. I ask you to lavish the same care you have shown in creating our streets and parks upon building our communal identity and civic spirit. Be led by your best lights. We are counting on you.