One thing I’ve noticed when covering state and local governments is how elected officials learn about major issues before they vote on them.
At the state level, most Georgia General Assembly members have only microscopic staffs and must rely on partisan lobbyists to guide them as they vote on major issues that may affect millions of Georgians.
And those same lobbyists often are successful, not because they may hold some unseen influence over the representatives but because they gave them factual information and did so in a non-threatening manner even if they were highly passionate about their issue.
The people lobbying Newton County Commission members about the removal of the Confederate memorial statue from the Covington Square might want to rethink their tactics.
Chairman Marcello Banes implied he and other commissioners were receiving threats of bodily harm before they voted Tuesday night to remove from the Square the divisive, 114-year-old memorial to those who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.
Banes publicly said there had been threats to damage the statue and the surrounding, flourishing commercial area that makes up the historic Covington Square — leading to a 3-2 vote on a motion to remove it so it wouldn’t be damaged or defaced.
On his Facebook page, Banes recalled a person approaching him Tuesday in the county administration building who “made some unusual statements” and then “made personal threats toward me.”
“Criticism comes with this position. Even aggressive criticism comes with the position. Personal threats do not. … No matter how you feel about the topic of the removal of the Confederate monument, this action is inappropriate.”
And on a suggestion of a compromise solution — an advisory committee of interested residents deciding the statue’s fate — Banes cited emails and face-to-face encounters with those same people as reasoning that those on both sides of the issue were too uncompromising in their positions to come to agreement.
Banes did not have a vote on the issue but was in a major position of influence to place it on the agenda of county commissioners who did vote for the removal.
Residents can be impassioned in stating how they feel an elected officials should vote — even on social media which many people apparently feel most public officials will never see.
By the way, most public officials closely monitor social media.
But these folks are human. And the right way to persuade humans in positions of power typically is not to threaten them with bodily harm or financial ruin if they don’t vote a certain way.
You can blame some unseen conspiracy or a long-utilized system of governing in an area — I’ve heard it called the “good ole boy” system by those who didn’t feel they shared the same level of influence as others.
But if you’re frustrated with an elected official about an issue, the first and best way to make your voice heard is at the ballot box.
The best type of governing is done after thoughtful and calm discussion of the facts around an issue — even if those providing the facts or opinions are highly passionate about that issue.
In this country, I feel the best way to influence your leaders is not through comments on social media, especially from those who often are cowards hiding behind an alias.
The method with the best chance for success does not include bullying or making threats in the manner typically seen in third-world countries.
Such an approach may have led one elected official to be even more firm in his position.
People, it’s time to use facts and not make it personal when discussing an issue on social media and in person.
You may find it works well with the other, non-powerful people you know, as well.
Tom Spigolon is the news editor of The Covington News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.