Golis: Public service? After the fires, it’s a tough job

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I have no idea what Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey will decide to do next. Maybe he’ll run for president. (We could do worse.)

But I do know two things:

First, no mayor in the history of Santa Rosa inherited such a back-breaking job. In the face of an unimaginable and heartbreaking disaster, Coursey’s patience, compassion and steadiness were keys to navigating the first weeks and months after the October fires. Make no mistake: His was a tough and thankless task.

Second, for the most selfish of reasons, we need to wise up and occasionally appreciate people in public service. If the job becomes so distasteful that smart and thoughtful people don’t want to serve, we won’t like what comes later.

It was instructive to read the first rush of online comments attached to the news story reporting Coursey’s decision not to seek re-election.

Coursey was variously blamed for failing to rein in retirement costs, attracting homeless people to Santa Rosa, promoting too much development and for being a tool of the moneyed class.

There was not a thank you in the bunch. To these folks, his announcement became just an another opportunity to complain.

You may have noticed that two members of the Board of Supervisors, James Gore and David Rabbitt, were re-elected without opposition this year.

Both are engaged in the job of helping county government negotiate a tough road, but it remains that these seats are hotly contested in normal times.

In the year following the disastrous fires, no one else seemed to want these jobs — which means we should feel grateful that Gore and Rabbitt want to stick around.

“The reason I’m running unopposed is because we’ve gone through hell and back,” Gore told Staff Writer J.D. Morris in June, “and we are in a moment of urgency.”

Having spent a career questioning people in government, I would be the last person to say we should blindly embrace the conduct of the public’s business. Elected officials mess up. Elected officials need to be held accountable.

But this is not the same as beginning every day with the assumption that all elected officials are dumb and corrupt.

This kind of reflexive cynicism leads down a dark road to a dead end, a place where there is no hope and no solutions are possible.

When Coursey wasn’t singlehandedly welcoming homeless people to Santa Rosa — see above — he apparently was also being heartless toward homeless people.

At least that was the view of homeless advocates who stood before the City Council a few weeks ago and accused the city of being uncaring for failing to establish a permanent encampment.

This is how it goes now. Attack, attack, attack. If you don’t get what you want, accuse others of some sinister motive. It’s so much easier than learning the issues — daring to understand that solutions can be complicated and there is not enough money to match every good intention.

Coursey wasn’t forthcoming about his reasons for leaving, and he said he doesn’t know what he will do next, but he’s earned the right to decide.

“He was the face of the city and he was out there every day working for his constituents, and that’s got to be draining for him,” Councilman Chris Rogers told Staff Writer Kevin McCallum.

We live in a time when some people are determined to never say a kind word. They take their cues from the current president, and if you think you’re going to convince them to be more tolerant of other views, well, you’re going to be disappointed.

But that only makes it more important for the rest of us to say a kind word now and again, if only to remind the people who serve that the angriest among us don’t speak for everyone.

Like newspaper columnists and other suspicious types, local officials are less than perfect. They screw up now and again.

But most are trying to do the best they can to serve the people who elected them.

Anybody who thinks otherwise should spend some time finding out what it takes to make decisions for their hometown. Attend a few meetings, read a few reports, learn how government works.

Better yet, these naysayers should run for office themselves. Now that would be an education.

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at golispd@gmail.com

You can send a letter to the editor at letters@pressdemocrat.com

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