Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is set in Ancient Rome at a time when its leaders—hungry for power and overcome with ambition—tip the Empire into chaos. Most of us are familiar with the classic line. "Et tu, Brute?," which is a Latin phrase supposedly uttered by Julius Caesar as he was assassinated by conspirators. In the play he says this line as he looks at his beloved Brutus, who is holding a bloody dagger, realizing he was betrayed.
Thankfully, Grand Island is not in a state of political chaos. I don’t expect to be attacked in the corridors of Town Hall by Councilmen Madigan, Billica, and Aronica as I utter the words, “Et tu Kinney?” Things are working as they ought, mostly. Yes, we have some fearsome debates, and we should. And we have had a lot come up in these first seven months. Partially because we are unpacking many issues that were left unresolved and because I am pushing forward an intense set of policy initiatives. And we are debating these matters in an open, transparent way. I’m proud of that.
Let me get you caught up. Last night we passed a term limits law. It passed 3-2. Council members Kinney, Madigan, and myself voted for it. It is a fairly open term limits law. Under it, anyone can serve two terms in one position. Thus, I could conceivably be in office for decades after serving two terms as Supervisor. You could see Supervisor McMurray, then Councilman McMurray, then Town Justice McMurray and so on. I’m not saying that’s the plan, mind you. It’s definitely not. I’m just trying to make a point. This term limits law is not keeping anyone out of government.
What it is doing is preventing the worst case scenarios where you have people serving for decades on end. That is a bad thing. For one, it creates very large financial obligations for the town—pensions. I also think it stops new ideas and new energy from flowing into Town Hall. Also, there are plenty of people who want to serve, but some never get the chance because of the territorial nature of local politics.
It’s also hard to beat an incumbent. I’ll tell you what, I probably lost a few years off my life in the last election. It took a near uncanny set of circumstances for me to beat my predecessor. And I won by just a handful of votes. I kept saying, “there will never be a day when some young upstart has to wear his shoes out trying to beat Old Supervisor McMurray.” Now I have made sure that day truly never comes.
I must add that although I am a Democrat, I support term limits on every level of government. Support of term limits is largely considered a conservative tenant. But I could care less about what side advocates for it. People on all sides of the political spectrum support it because It makes sense. We’ve seen the problems caused by stagnant leadership and entitlement firsthand all around us.
We passed a law requiring a permit for trapping. I voted against the version of the law that passed. Neither version of the law prevented nuisance trapping or trapping on private property. But the version of the law that passed, makes exceptions for sport trapping.
Who is currently sport trapping on Grand Island public land? The answer is not that many people. Like maybe 5. It requires a heck of a lot of work, and not that many people are up for it anymore—even among hardcore outdoor enthusiasts. So we were really fighting over the right of just a few people to sport trap, i.e., go out in the woods to catch wild animals, shoot them, and skin them. And then of course, we must balance the interests of these few active trappers against the many Islanders who feel that public land should not be used for trapping because it is a cruel practice.
I tried to weigh both sides. At first, I felt like doing nothing. I never really thought about trapping a day in my life before I took office. And I’m not a big fan of passing laws that restrict rights. But I felt compelled to respond given the many people who cared about the issue far more than I do. So I studied the issue further, and I now know more about coyotes and trapping than I ever wanted to.
For me it came down to choosing between: A. The side that feels a law limiting trapping limits their rights to free enjoyment of public land; and B. The side that feels a law allowing trapping limits their free enjoyment of public land. After much debate and public input, I looked at the hundreds of Grand Island residents who were against sport trapping versus the very few people who actually were engaged in sport trapping on public land today and sided with the larger side.
Some claimed I was bending to the will of the mob. There is another poignant scene in Julius Caesar where a group of enraged citizens (seeking revenge for Caesars death) seek to kill Cinna, one of the assassins. But they seize upon the humble poet, whose name was also Cinna, instead. “It is no matter,” they said. “His name’s Cinna.” So they murdered him anyway. That chilling comment reveals the danger imposed by a mob hungry for action, and blind to consequence.
There is a difference, however, about bending to the mob and listening to the people. On this issue I saw two very thoughtful sides. And I chose to go with the side I found more persuasive and who I felt more broadly represented the will of the people of Grand Island. Yes, we need a representative democracy. But that should not be an excuse for using the power of government to support the will of the few.
No more round table
The Town Board has voted to remove the “round table” section from our workshops. I’m very proud of this. In other words, if we talk about any subject as a Board, you will see it on the agenda beforehand. Thus, no surprises. We will not use a catch all, miscellaneous round table where anyone can bring up any subject.
I was hard, during the election, on what I believe was a lack of transparency at town hall. Too many issues were buried on workshop agendas that just read “miscellaneous” and votes were occurring on major issues, including amendments to laws, at workshops that were sometimes held at the crack of dawn. We are holding regular workshops on Monday evenings, unless something urgent comes up, with regularity. Everyone is welcome to hear the debate and conversation, but we save all the heavy lifting (voting on laws) until the regular Town Board meeting.
Is having all this debate out in the public sometimes messy? Absolutely. But Democracy is meant to be messy. Sometimes we, as your leaders, fail to live up to our higher values of mutual respect, even for opposing opinion. But we aim to be respectful and so far no one is trying to hang me on a gibbet. Still, the times of 5-0, 5-0 votes are over.
Not that long ago, when I was freshly out of law school in China, I remember reading some boastful fool’s essay in one of the international news mags about the glorious nature of Chinese leadership. He professed that where there is no debate, things get done. Meanwhile, he was bemoaning the gridlock of American politics. At the time, I wondered, is he right? Is the strongman model better? I have come to the conclusion that it is not. American gridlock is not ideal. But much worse is a system of closed doors, forbidden dissent, and secret votes. And things are moving forward—in the sunshine—on Grand Island
I continue to be amazed by the people of Grand Island
Yes, I was disappointed by the outcome of the trapping vote. But I was pleased by the term limits vote, and I could not have been more proud of the actions of those in attendance at the meeting. When this week’s meeting started it was so tense in the room, I felt it might combust if someone scratched the stubble on their beard. But it never did. By and large, there were no threats and few insults and acts of intimidation. People felt very passionate as they presented their ideas. But you all listened and respected each other’s chance to be heard. Well done, Grand Island!
With highest regards,