When you get down to it, we pay our elected officials to deliver one product, and one product only. Decisions. We trust them to make the big, agonizing decisions, like “Should we nuke Japan to end WWII, or invade instead?” History has revered Harry Truman for that courageous decision ever since. Tragic as it was for the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it saved millions of American and Japanese lives that would have certainly been lost in a brutal land war.
Of course, most leaders never have to make decisions with such profound consequences. In a typical city, we pay our elected officials to make decisions about things that are just too annoying to think about. Like which landscaping service to hire, which zoning ordinance to update, or which pothole to fill last.
For the city council of Ypsilanti, MI even that must be too heavy a burden. During a May 7 council meeting, Council Member Susan Moeller abstained from voting on a relatively small issue: an amendment to a local development purchase agreement. Her non-vote involved whether funds from the land purchase would go toward a fund solely dedicated toward retiring the city’s debt for the development area or for infrastructure costs. A little complicated? Maybe. Life or death? Not exactly. But she had a problem with the source of the funds, so instead of voting yes or no, she abstained.
This made council member Pete Murdock understandably miffed. “I was a little surprised that we could do that,” Murdock said. “The (city) charter said we have to vote yes or no…. I just think that people put us here to make decisions. We should vote on every issue.” Murdock then proposed a resolution that would have required council members to only vote yes or no on each issue facing the council unless they had a financial or professional conflict of interest.
Murdock and one council member voted in favor of Murdock’s resolution that city council members do the jobs they were paid for. Two council members voted against it. But in the ultimate irony, Mayor Paul Schreiber, council members Susan Moeller and Brian Robb abstained from the vote that would ban them from abstaining from voting.
In a related story, visitors to the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum may have heard some unusual noises recently. Probably the sound of a great leader rolling over in his grave.