Public Officials

Bill-99by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

A great deal has been said lately in the media and in private about the decorum expected of our public officials. Their behaviour has been the subject of close scrutiny and a source of endless commentary. The conduct of public officials is a very palatable diet and one which is greedily consumed by voters. The most obvious impetus for this current conversation has been the ascendency of Mr. Donald J. Trump in the Republican Party primaries of the United States of America in the lead-up to the Presidential election in November, 2016. On a more personal level our local politicians have garnered significant attention for their own conduct since the municipal election last Fall, 2015. The conclusion appears to be that as in all matters of politics there is a variety of opinion.  Some (those generally aligned with a more conservative view) prefer our public officials to be characterized by traits of traditional presence and conduct; while others (perhaps more liberal or even radical) happily withstand anything bordering upon or embracing what is commonly called vulgarity. There may even be a middle-road adopted by those whose philosophic view wanders indiscriminately between strict social convention and trendy realism.

Whatever may be said about the conduct of public officials I think it is indisputable that being in the public eye and having to cater to a myriad of opinions and desires is an unenviable task. If nothing else the project is daunting.  I for one cannot imagine the burden of having to absorb the seeming endless detail generated by the numerous advisors to legislators. Expectations are high all ’round. The obligation is made all the more acute by the fact that there are select members of the public who at any given time are ready to pounce upon a public official who may momentarily allow his or her guard to drop. Public officials are held to an extremely high standard, perhaps even unrealistically so.

I wonder at times whether those who are not public officials appreciate the demands made upon them. Certainly it is proper that each voter is entitled to harbour expectations about their representatives; however I question whether we voters are equally prepared to accept the further reality that indiscretion and aberration are also to be expected and ultimately tolerated. I know of no other instance in corporate enterprise where purity and intolerance are the sole parameters of association.

The expression of wisdom, clarity of thought and leadership takes many forms. To insist upon a static, insipid candidate is of itself a poor standard by which to assess the contribution of a public official. We must remind ourselves that as a community we are indeed one large family which will inevitably face conflict and disagreement.  And like a family we owe it to ourselves to rise above temporary differences and heated words to arrive at a sensible conclusion. In the context of elected public officials it behooves us to grant them the necessary indulgence afforded by their term of office or strength of democratic popularity. In plain terms this means patience; that is, the privilege to make mistakes.

I believe that many people take liberties with public officials.  There is often a shallow incomprehension of the very fine line between them and us, a fiction we must be careful not to elevate to the distinction of a wall.  I also believe that there are some public officials who rationalize the indiscretions of voters by dismissively observing that it is the privilege of the masses to mock their betters. Such disparities serve only to enlarge the gulf between public officials and voters. And it serves no purpose to comment disdainfully that once elected it is business as usual. Instead we need to remind ourselves of the high hopes we initially had for our nominees; also of the weight of democratic opinion and the inescapable humanity of every candidate.

As one of many minions, I will not presume to counsel public officials. I had the choice to follow or to lead. We mustn’t neglect our legitimate standing in these matters. It is presumptuous of voters to denounce a public official except for egregious behaviour (an anomaly arising only from the application of equitable reasonableness to the rule of law). Barring such irregularity it is our duty to support our public officials and to assist them whenever possible in the administration of their duties. It is but proof of the adage that familiarity breeds contempt to permit the untempered condemnation of our elected public officials. Neither does it matter a fig whether we voted for the public official.  If we voted at all we agreed by default to accept the result of the majority. Our job is to stand behind our public officials and to do whatever we can in a constructive manner to assist them in the performance of their tasks; and I don’t include gratuitous verbal barbs in that admonition.

Pastoral Scene