An Island of Virtue Among Today’s Elected Officials: Water District & Sewer District Commissioners

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

I’ll go out on a limb and make a proposal, based mostly on anecdotal observations I have made during my adult life of both politicians and elected officials–there is a difference–and what these individuals have often gotten us into. I have come to the conclusion that among the various cultivars of politics, the two positions that for me have consistently remained the most benevolently virtuous, and least damaging to ordinary people, are not the high-profile, ostentatious seats in various houses of parliament, legislatures, or a presidency. They are often the more behind-the-scenes, yet foundationally necessary public service elected officials often known as Water District and Sewer District Commissioners.

They might not be the most well-known, which in itself is an admirable quality, but they serve for me as a model of how we would be as a society better off if politicians adopted the approach of these commissioners and not that of petty tyrants or worse that seem to be attracted to politics.

Just for clarity sake I use the examples of Water District and Sewer District Commissioners to mean an elected official who serves on a council responsible for the administration, oversight, or funding of a municipal corporation such as a public utility. There are variances of course based on state or county agencies such as parks departments and such but they are essentially analogous to these types of positions. Most jurisdictions in the West have these at the state or local level. For purposes of discussion this is more about those who aspire for these positions and the scope in which they are constrained. That is of importance to why I consider these officials more virtuous than most.

It starts with more of the content of the character of individuals attracted to seek office in these positions. Again, my own observation is that a large portion of those who aspire to be on these commissions are those who formerly worked for or retired from these utilities as successful managers or senior employees who know the subject matter well and often find interest in the commission as something engaging to them and they act out of a sense of purpose toward the betterment of the organization. They are often secure in their own affairs, both personal and financially and clearly do not attain such positions in the pursuit of financial gain. (These positions seldom pay much more than expenses and a comparatively small salary.) In our state it is more of a citizen-official and not that of a full-time legislator.)

Equally indicative of the underlying cause of the virtue is shown in the opposite case, that of the career politician who stereotypically represents unbridled ambition that requires a ladder of many rungs toward the highest office attainable to them. I can say with confidence that most of those who suffer from self-importance and drive do not tend to breakout into being a player on the political fast track via the Sewer Commission. It just doesn’t have the same sex appeal.

What do I want from a Water District Commissioner? Not much actually. As long as the water is always flowing, it is as clean and pure as technologically possible, the bill is reasonable, and there is no drama, corruption, or goof-ups I am getting all I want from this utility. I expect nothing more and nothing less–and I can work on other more pressing interests for my life. In fact, I do not even know who the Water and the Sewer District commissioners are for where I live. I don’t have to know, because everything just works and they leave me alone.

Now let us imagine if the commissioners were instead like what we suffer at the hands of far too many politicians in legislatures and parliaments at state and national levels, who are not as constrained in their scope, ambition, and purview as these utilities.

At no time have I ever worried that a Water District Commissioner will take away my civil liberties. They will not care that I wanted to marry someone outside my race, that I own three super-soaker water pistols, or that I prefer copper piping to plastic. I can write subversive literature, drive a gas guzzling Canyonero SUV, or put a Pat Paulsen for President flag on my garage, or be an illegal alien. As long as I pay the bill each month and have my irrigation line backflow valve checked each year they never notice my presence or dictate how I live my life.

But more importantly they are both limited by law in what they can affect and coupled with their essentially benign nature do not involve themselves in the politics that has led to monumentally catastrophic blunders that have plagued humanity for millennia. No Sewer District or Parks Commissioner I can confidentially dare to say caused a famine due to mismanagement of the economy and agriculture, stifled my business by ridiculous regulations, taxed me excessively, sought to prevent me as a teenager from buying certain video games, prohibited me from attending church, spent 120% of tax revenues and demanded more every year, or provoked and instigated war against a neighboring district over the disputed lake that feeds both systems. I did not have to complete a draft registration when I was in high school that would consign me to arms to defend the electrical grid from the dictator that believed a 60 Hz system was blasphemous to his 50 Hz dogma. We have never been labeled “deplorables” or “the enemy” or “racists” or held to be expendable by Water District officials. The only time I have seen a dispute between two districts over territory or funding was settled by courts of appeals here in the state, and not by the blood and tears of ordinary citizens. Why is that many politicians view military intervention and dividing citizens against each other as part and parcel of their office? It is almost an entitlement to cause suffering in the world or enrich themselves through the unholy alliances many politicians bind themselves. Yet in the Western World at least, we really only have ourselves to blame for electing the unsuitable to office.

We are also somewhat to blame for the effects of placing such perceived importance in our lives upon those holding high political office.

It seems that a self-destructive feedback loop formed when we surrendered control over our own destinies to politicians. We assigned the Members of Congress, Houses of Legislature, the Presidency, and the Governorships the keys to our happiness and they were at times used to lock away our liberty. We granted them too much importance and they interpreted that as license to do whatever they wanted. But we did not assign this license to the Sewer Commissioners, so it was never taken advantage of. They simply did the job that was expected of them.

I truly believe that human society would be much better served if we applied the same codes of conduct to politicians as we do for elected utility district officials, and be viewed as just another functionary of government, like Larry the weights and measures supervisor at the state capital and not foster such cults of personality as the senator who can do no wrong for some and no right for others.

By Darren Smith

Photo Credit: Nick Allen

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