Guest Opinion | Councilmember Andy Wilson | My First Rodeo: Campaign Reflections

Published : Monday, May 22, 2017 | 4:54 AM

Andy Wilson

After more than 20 years of active public service in the community as a volunteer, earlier this year I ran for elected office for the first time. Although I had some expectations about the process, what actually happened was far different from what I had imagined.

It was gratifying that so many people participated. Approximately 30% of registered voters cast ballots in each round of elections in District 7. Unfortunately, that’s an exceptionally high turnout for city elections these days. Hundreds of people also volunteered their time, talent and treasures for me (and for all the candidates). Many others took time to weigh in on the issues via social media. As a result, in the last weeks of knocking on voters’ doors I found very few who expressed ignorance of the election.

I knew the campaign would be arduous and time-demanding. What I did not envision was how quickly it would deteriorate into harsh baseless attacks on my personal integrity and intentional distortions of my policy positions. After two decades of civic involvement I expected, perhaps naively, a certain level of civility – a hope that faded with each passing week of the campaign.

It was a close election so, at least to some degree, these tactics were effective. I’ve been thinking about why. One answer would be that similar things are happening at every level of politics these days, and there’s some truth to that. But, upon reflection, I think a big part of the explanation—  learned from knocking on thousands of doors — is that many people misunderstand how the City works, despite our singular tradition of deep citizen-involvement in the legislative process.

Contrary to a viewpoint promulgated during the campaign, the city is not run by some mystical clique of powerful yet invisible puppet-masters. Rather, the process is open and encourages wide and deep citizen participation. We even have a name for it — the “Pasadena Way.” Yet many folks are clearly unaware of the numerous opportunities to get involved, share their views and have their voices heard.

The City has to take some responsibility for that failure to communicate more effectively. We need new, more relevant ways to heighten citizen engagement. With the election now behind us, I am personally more committed than ever to engaging as many people as possible to consider our district’s needs and work collaboratively toward better solutions.

As someone involved in high-tech, I’d like to see more “continuous engagement” via platforms like Nextdoor and Facebook. I personally benefit from many of the conversation at https://www.facebook.com/groups/pasadenapolitics/. Many folks focused on civic issues during the campaign. I want that involvement to continue through the four years between elections. By working together with respect and integrity I believe we can start to move beyond a stale “us versus them” mindset. Creative solutions to difficult problems emerge from civil discourse among people with disparate points of view.

Important issues loom ahead of us. We are already deep into the City’s annual budgeting cycle: the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) was just approved, and we are now going through the various operating budgets — the good news is that with some “squeezing” we should be able to balance this year’s budget despite growing pressure from CalPERS retirement premiums. Next year will be more challenging, so the Council has already committed to a series of public workshops in advance of next year’s budget cycle to explore ways to enhance revenue and review non-core programs.

If you’d like to know more about the budget situation — or about any issue that concerns our district — please consider attending:

• One of my weekly Thursday coffees at Peet’s: 7:30 – 9:00a (moving to 1st Thursdays during summer months)
• Regular District 7 community meetings (next one is Wednesday May 31st on the Beckman Lawn at Caltech — look for a postcard invite any day)
• Monday City Council meetings especially between now and end of June as the budget is finalized
• Any of the 18 Commissions, 3 operating companies and 5 advisory boards that meet regularly in public session (more info at: http://ww5.cityofpasadena.net/commissions/ )

It is worth highlighting that these commissions and committees enlist hundreds of committed volunteers in the active governance of our City. The issues they address are wide ranging — from how traffic moves to how athletic fields are programmed. If you find any particular area especially interesting, please let us know so you can be considered for future openings.

Given the evolving demographics of our City, there is a growing need for new voices in the civic conversation. These groups are great “on-ramps” for civic leadership and helped me personally to better understand the complexities and opportunities that face our City. Though, even after all these years of involvement I find I still have much to learn about how our City works; this continuous learning is part of the allure of the City Council role.

I’d love to get to know you better and continue the dialog (you can reach me directly at awilson@cityofpasadena.net). I know we all share a deep commitment to protecting what makes Pasadena special while building a future even brighter than our past. So I hope you will join me in these important efforts. Broad-based collaboration is key to ensuring that Pasadena remains one of the best small cities in America. We are indeed stronger when we work together.

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