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Editorial: Campaign Promises Fade Fast


May 19, 2013 by wcobserver

It’s a story as old as the stump speech; as predictable as a photo op and handshake.  The candidate for public office musters all his/her sincerity, looks the voter straight in the eye and makes a promise. It’s always something the voter wants to hear. Something the candidate hopes will drive the vote into her camp. Then, at some point after the election when the political emphasis turns from the pre election excitement to the mundane world of day-to-day governing the promise that seemed so useful in winning votes often becomes yesterdays news and is relegated to the back pages of public interest.

It happens at every level of electoral politics. National politics, of course, gets the brightest spotlight on campaign promises and their breakage. Sometimes the public seems concerned, other times, not so much. It’s a moot issue anyway. The candidate got into office and one broken promise is not likely to unseat them.  It’s just part of the game.

Local politics is a reflection of national politics. State houses, county courthouses and yes, city halls are not without their own campaign promise breakers. Take West Fork. for example.

The City Clerk is an elected position in West Fork. The job which was separated from City Treasurer several years ago has been reduced to a part time, modestly paid job that mainly involves taking minutes at council meetings. That seemingly simple task, however, has been the flashpoint for controversy and dissention during the terms of several clerks.

The long time Clerk/Recorder now retired, Paula Caudle, usually produced 8-10 pages of minutes and began archiving them on a municipal league web page accessible to the public. After her retirement, Susan Cooney was elected clerk and increased the size of minutes to sometimes 18-20 pages of near verbatim text, explaining that she wanted the reader to be able to have a complete picture of the council proceedings. Most citizens seemed to like the extended version. The council didn’t. It was too much to read, some complained.  They even tried to remove Cooney from office.  Cooney was defeated in the next election by a politically unknown candidate favorable to the council. She and her 4-5 page minutes lasted three months. She resigned and was followed by City Treasurer Kristie Drymon who also provided 4-5 page minutes. Archiving minutes ended. Drymon resigned the clerk job (retaining treasurer position) and was followed by an appointed Sarah Setzer, (elected to the council in 2012) whose minutes were also in the 4-5 page range. Somewhere during that time, audio disks of the preceding were made available to the public.

The election of 2012 found a young and unknown candidate, Lillian Winkler running against a long time politically connected Marsha Hungate. Digital knowledge and the ability to provide the citizens with complete and accurate accounts of council meetings became the campaign issue. Hungate won the election with 65 percent of the vote.

Ms. Hungate made a couple of promises to voters in the weeks prior to the election. Both appealed to what she considered to be what the voters wanted from the new clerk. First, that she had the technical knowledge to get the proceedings in a digital format and second, that she world provide a “verbatim” account of the meetings.

It didn’t happen. She has failed to provide an audio disk of meetings in February and again in May.   The written minutes are a far cry from “verbatim.” Two hour meetings are reduced to 4-5 pages of vote tallies and selected interpretations of what happened.

She explained last week in an email to the WC Observer:                                                                                    “…I actually believe the problem this time is that power was turned off at the podium before the recorder was locked and turned off, but I’m not sure of that. It’s a problem that upsets me, Steve. I WANT that backup for MY OWN protection, believe me. I take full responsibility for it.”

We appreciate she takes full responsibility in that she was the one fully responsible.

Getting elected is the easy part.

Candidate Marsha Hungate’s Eloquent and Ernest Campaign Promise

“To the voters of the City of West Fork,

The Washington County Observer has requested on their Facebook page that I state my ‘campaign promise’, and intent on how I will carry out the position of City Clerk.

The ‘promise’ I have to the citizens of West Fork is to accurately, and completely record the minutes of every City Council meeting, without enhancement and with detail so that they might know the events and decisions being made in their behalf by their City Government.

I am told that each meeting is audio taped for backup of the written minutes taken. I plan to have a second recorder in place in case there is any malfunction of the one used now. I would also like to see, if possible and legal, that each meeting be videotaped so that any citizen can see how each meeting was conducted.

My ‘promise’ to the Mayor and Aldermen of the City of West Fork is that I will record each meeting unbiased, and verbatim. I am elected by the people, not hired to make you look ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I would hope that you will each carefully weigh the decisions that come before you, and think before you speak or act on any decision that will affect the City as a whole. Because your words are so important to all of us, they will be transparent in the minutes of each meeting, and that transparency will reflect on the confidence and faith that each of us, as citizens and voters, have put in you, by placing you in your position as representatives to all of us.

As a former 911 operator, I know the importance of detail, and accuracy. I know the importance of keeping good records, and copies of each record for safe-keeping, and future reference.

I would be honored to serve as your City Clerk.”

City Clerk Hungate takes the Oath.


1 comment »

  1. Susan Cooney says:

    The biggest problem seems to be that the elected officials, including the clerk, refuse to enforce the fact that the elected city clerk is an independent elected office beholden to the municipal code and the voters, not the mayor and not the council and to none of the appointed positions. It is a very difficult job to remain independent of the council and be the witness of our West Fork history. It is more difficult when you try to keeps eight council members happy. Our city clerk needs to care more about the integrity of the clerk’s office. Every Clerk has got to go to the yearly Municipal Clerks Institute week-long course in Fayetteville! When I was worried about my tape recorder I brought another recording device and used both. Why not get familiar with the recording equipment, make some test runs, don’t depend on anyone else to get it right. The Clerk can make extremely brief notes that include only a vote count without any legal repercussions. The completeness of the record is to benefit us: your neighbors in our town.

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