October 17, 2012 11:45:46 AM
One of the universal criticism of a free press is that bad news seems to dominate its pages.
Although that claim is more imagined than real, it is a charge that newspapers cannot dismiss out of hand.
The truth of the matter is that for any newspaper that takes seriously its obligation as a watchdog for the community, much of what it presents each day is unpleasant.
Newspapers do make efforts to champion what is good in the communities they serve, but those efforts are often obscured by the predictable portion of bad news.
The Dispatch could probably reduce its percentage of "bad news'' by half with one simple move: We could stop covering local politics.
That is a measure we are not willing to implement, for reasons we hope are obvious.
So we will continue to cover local politics, even though the climate at such proceedings often resembles the Afghanistan-Pakistan border on a day when everyone is in a particularly foul mood. Our news accounts simply reflect that unfortunate reality.
As presently constituted, local government almost guarantees that readers will be given a steady diet of the petty bickering, childish antics, turf warfare, gross distortions and unsubstantiated charges and counter-charges.
Aside from ignoring local politics altogether, there is one other possible measure that might go a long way in making local politics not only palatable, but far more effective: term limits.
First, and perhaps most importantly, limiting the number of years an elected official can serve changes the dynamic of the job. It purifies the motives of those who seek and hold office. Those jobs do not become careers; they become opportunities to serve the public.
And, when the job is approached from that point of view, there is no turf to protect, no power base to consolidate, no rivals to conquer. With term limits, officials can truly act for the good of us all.
Invariably, when the idea of term limits is expressed, there are some who say that good leaders are hard to find, that term limits deprive the community of leaders whose contributions might span decades.
But we find few examples of this.
We argue strenuously that while there is a vacuum of leadership in our community, there is no shortage of leaders.
They aren't difficult to find at all. You see them everywhere. They are the people who volunteer their time, efforts and insights in our churches, schools, civic organizations and charities. There are many qualified people in our community who have a heart for public service, but no stomach for it, given what it has become.
Term limits change the tone, encourage a sense of collegiality and create an opportunity to bring fresh ideas and new energy into our government.
The problems that face our community as a whole are far more grave than the issues that divide us. A unified effort to meet these challenges is best achieved by leaders who are not consumed by efforts to create and maintain their own personal political fiefdoms.
It's time to bring real leadership to our community by transforming the nature of how our communities are governed.
It's time for term limits.
And that would be good news, for a change.