Where Perception Intersects with Reality

I once worked with an association of state-wide elected officials that held annual conferences at different locations throughout the country. One year a hidden camera crew followed the state treasurer of Minnesota to one of these conferences and did an “expose” on him. The treasurer took an afternoon break one day and didn’t attend one committee meeting (as I recall, he wasn’t even a member of that committee). But the investigative report showed his hotel room door closed and emphasized that the treasurer was sleeping through a meeting that taxpayers had paid for. The television station interviewed the official after the conference ended and he – unfortunately – looked like a deer caught in the headlights. A year later, a ballot initiative eliminated the office of the state treasurer completely.

He had done nothing wrong, but he looked guilty from his interview and the news painted him as having done wrong. It was a strong lesson that perception is reality. The citizens of Minnesota lost what would have been another level of financial accountability solely because of the perception that he had done wrong.

Perception is reality. It’s a painful lesson that elected officials always face. When I was a city employee in LaVergne, I would travel to retail conferences with other team members. I instructed people who were then my supervisors that they MUST be in attendance at the trade shows every minute the show was open. I also said they were not to post pictures on social media of their time off after the trade show closed – especially if they were in a casino or in any situation that would raise eyebrows. I always said, “Whatever you do, whatever you say – imagine defending it in front of a camera.”

Perception is reality. And I sincerely believe that members of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen are now dealing with some very serious negative perceptions – amplified by today’s social media outrage. People who comment on social media are NOT experts. And yes, this platform and our affiliated facebook pages are the very social media to which I’m refering. And YES I have a strong understanding of how government works, but I do *not* know everything that goes on at City Hall, I do *not* know the rationale for some decisions, I do *not* what legal actions are currently being litigated. I do have my opinions, though. I believe in transparency. I believe in accountability. And I strongly believe in what former Mayor Senna Mosley always said, “Do your jobs legally, morally, and ethically.” Tasked with that and if everyone followed it, no elected official or city employee should be having any problems in the city.

Governing is not an easy task. Government officials are held to a different level of accountability. People who run for office are held to a higher standard. Civic employees are held to a higher standard.

Be careful what you say. Be careful what you promise. Choose your words wisely. Choose your actions wisely. Serve with dignity. And remember who you’re working for… the taxpayers and ALL residents of this city.

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