Friday, April 01, 2011

The Tyranny Of 30 People In Orange T-Shirts

A local elected official was overheard dismissing the fact shown in scientific surveys that more than 95% of Durham residents agree or strongly agree that “community appearance” should be a high community priority by stating that “no irate people are calling elected officials about appearance.”hor99

Too many of our elected officials today fall into this trap.  I often joke that it seems to only take 30 people showing up in “orange” t-shirts to run something through many city council or county commission meetings these days and especially, I guess, if they happen to be angry or fearful about something.

Officials need to remember that mad is just a form of being sad and sad is a form of mad.   Often there are far greater numbers of people expressing their anger through sadness and dismay than by being mad.  Anger does not equate to activism.

Long before tea partiers we seemed to have turned far too many  elected officials at all levels into adrenalin junkies.  Some now feel disrespected if you don’t call them at home at night as though that were a litmus test that something is “really” important.

The breakdown of representative democracy is when it isn’t representative, when it is hijacked by irate minorities with only anecdotes for backup, when leadership is substituted for short-term, pay-back or back-room agendas.

During my the nearly-four-decade-long career in community/destination marketing from which I retired back in 2009, I was primarily in what Peter Sandman terms the “calm down” business, but I balanced it the many times when I shifted into what he terms the “outrage business,” especially when Durham was being treated unfairly or when fear or money co-opted others from speaking up.

The difference is that I always had data and information to back up the outrage.  As a friend of mine noted some years ago when a $40 million decision was transacted in her community without so much as a public hearing or needs assessment, that “far too many decisions today are made with one piece of paper as backup while others languish with a file cabinets full of back up.”

Elected leaders, public servants and business leaders need to spend more time “listening” to data and information including scientific, generalizable opinion and break loose from the tyranny of back-room push and shove artists or late night telephone lobbying and yes, 30 people showing up in orange t-shirts.

Unless they also produce some sound, generalizable, scientific research data as back up.


Fonville Morisey said...

Interesting! It's pretty disconcerting that a matter with so much community interest fails to make it on the radar. We can definitely see why Durham residents place a lot of importance on the appearance of their community. Working in the real estate industry in the Triangle, we definitely see how taking care of the aesthetic character of a community plays a major role in growth the desirability of each area and neighborhood. We do love how much personality some areas of Durham have- we blogged about some favorites here:

Anonymous said...

have you seen this:

raleigh is once again claiming the best of durham