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GOVERNMENT: Clowntown: the Poison of Politics

Posted March 3, 2005

By L.K. Samuels

“It’s one big soap opera!” Frustrated citizens often bemoan the war-like atmosphere of local city politics. Many can be heard deriding City Hall as more of a shark tank than a harmonious community center. These never-ending civil-war sagas have all the elements of a low-budget horror film – screaming hissy-fits and back-stabbing revenge in a hostile environment. Some call it the poison of politics, others use less decent words.

Locally, Carmel-by-the-Sea has had its share of eye-gouging, ear-smacking struggles in the council chamber. Clint Eastwood ran for mayor in 1986 to fight the squabbling bureaucracy that he said was treating him “disrespectfully.” Not long after winning the election, he explained, “We got rid of quite a lot of punitive attitudes on the council and helped people get things done.” Unfortunately, most municipalities do not have a major Hollywood movie star to bring civility to City Hall.

Other city councils like Pacific Grove’s have gotten down and nasty in the past few years. Calling the last hometown “Clowntown,” residents have watched a fired department head win a council seat in order to get back at the one who had sent him packing – the city manager, who soon resigned. Another council member went after the city attorney after losing a lawsuit to him. The city attorney resigned. A private group raised $800,000 for a library expansion. The group was attacked by some members of the city council. The library expansion plan was derailed and the head librarian humiliated. Another group who raised $84,000 to rebuild the rundown city tennis court suffered the same fate. Along with charges of favoritism and backroom deal-making, Pacific Grove has become divided and polarized, as have many other local municipalities.

When there is the power to control and money to pork out to special interests, political tug-of-wars are inevitable. This disunity is the nature of government with too much power on its hands. City governments can be civil, but it only takes one new councilmember or one new special interest group to change that environment completely.

Last Updated: Dec 07, 08

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