If you know your ward and your councilman, you win
Friday, December 7, 2001
Please pay attention, because there will be a quiz.
Correction: This is a quiz.
You're on the honor system, so don't cheat. The answers to these questions cannot be found on the back of any cereal box or milk carton. So get ready.
Are you comfy? Clearheaded? Wide awake?
OK, then. Here we go.
1. Name all six members of the Cape Girardeau City Council. Bonus points will be awarded if you can also identify which ward each councilman represents. Triple bonus points if you are not a Cape Girardeau resident and can name any Cape Girardeau councilman.
2. If you are a Cape Girardeau resident, which ward do you live in?
3. Name the mayor of Cape Girardeau. "Hizzoner" is not the correct answer. Bonus points if you know which ward the mayor lives in.
4. Name the two associate commissioners of the Cape Girardeau County Commission. Bonus points if you know the number of the district each commissioner represents. Triple bonus points if you already knew there were districts.
5. Who is the lieutenant governor of Missouri? Big-time extra points if you know the constitutional duties of the lieutenant governor.
How did you do?
I can tell you how you did: lousy. Just like me.
There. Does that make you feel better?
I guessed about my ward number (correct) and took a shot at my ward's councilman (wrong). I could only name three of the councilmen, and I was wrong on all of their wards. I know Hizzoner's real name, but I guessed wrong on his ward. I knew the names of both associate county commissioners, but I did not know the districts had numbers. I thought they had directions (Eastern District, Western District -- or something like that). I actually remembered the lieutenant governor's name, but I'm having a pretty good day for someone suffering from acute old-timer's plague. I gave the lieutenant governor far more constitutional duties than he really has. He has three.
(No fair. You can't go back and scratch out all those other duties.)
Thank goodness I didn't ask any really tough questions, like the names of school board members.
So what's the point?
Simply this: We've become a nation whose only direct link to government -- for most of us an unwilling one, at that -- is a tax return. Too many of us don't even pretend to pay attention to what local government is doing. Way too many of us don't vote. Most of us have never asked to be on the agenda of a government meeting so we could speak our piece.
When I was growing up, teachers at the one-room schools I attended constantly referred to the president, vice president and governor. Our U.S. congressman visited our school every year. (That was A.S.J. Carnahan, father of Gov. Mel Carnahan.) In the eighth grade, Mr. Stafford drilled us on Missouri state government so we could do well on the mandatory test everyone had to pass before entering high school. Those of us who made it to high school were immediately enrolled in Mr. English's freshman civics class where we learned how government really works from a distinctly Southern point of view.
If you had asked me 50 years ago to name the members of the school board at Shady Nook School, I probably could have told you, because they were neighbors who lived on Kelo Valley and Greenwood Valley, and they were household names in virtually every home.
In my newspaper career, I have reported extensively on city and county government in six communities. Those were the days when official business was conducted in open meetings peppered with persuasive arguments, flaring tempers and occasional shouting matches. Today, elected officials hold "work sessions" or "study sessions" rarely attended by the public and take official action at public meetings utterly devoid of any meaningful discussion.
As a result, nobody remembers who those elected officials are.
I can still name most of the members of those rough-and-tumble city councils where public debate was the grindstone of official action. I can still -- despite my old-timer's memory lapses -- recall the names of most of those elected officials on the basis of the strong views they held.
With rare exception -- and not counting the partisan gamesmanship of state and national politics -- local elected officials have turned into bland head-nodders whose viewpoints -- if they have any -- are rarely on public display.
So am I suggesting that we need more shouting matches, maybe even a fistfight once in a while, at our local government meetings. No. But it would be nice to hear some good, old-fashioned debate once in a while. A little opinionated tussling would, I think, help me remember the name of the city councilman from Ward 1.
Unfortunately, local government has been taken over by state associations of school board members and county commissioners and the Missouri Municipal League. In each case, Rule No. 1 is simple: Make no waves. No matter how strong your ideas or opinions.
This be-nice-to-everyone advice is great for kindergartners, but it makes for Caspar Milquetoast local government.
On second thought, yes, I would like a shouting match or fistfight every now and then. It would make for wonderful headlines.
And it would help you remember the name of your councilman.
1. Frank Stoffregan, Ward 1; Tom Neumeyer, Ward 2; Jay Purcell, Ward 3; Hugh White, Ward 4; Matthew Hopkins, Ward 5; Butch Eggimann, Ward 6.
2. If you don't know your ward number, you're in good company.
3. Al Spradling III lives in Ward 3.
4. Larry Bock, 1st District; Joe Gambill, 2nd District.
5. Joe Maxwell. Constitutionally, he is the ex officio president of the Senate, is first in the line of succession and serves on the Disability of Governor Board. All other duties are statutory.
R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.