I am writing this on the Fourth of July. I had other plans, but instead I think I’m going to exercise a little personal patriotism in the form of participatory citizenship. So in the spirit of the holiday, you and me, let’s have a talk.
It should be apparent to most everyone reading this that our local elected leaders are generally the not ready for prime time players. Years of rot at the area’s biggest employer, Idaho State University, went unchallenged by everyone with any juice in the local power structure.
In fairness, I’ve heard nothing but good things about Mr. Kevin Satterlee, the current ISU president, but local officials had little to do with getting rid of his predecessor — unless nervous whispering is more effective than I think that it is.
Hoku and now Northgate are ample evidence for the proposition that few elected local officials have any facility for investigation, professional planning or even seeing the future for what it is.
Put a complex question to almost any of them and you get a deer-in-the-headlights look. Ask about their spotty record of making our community a better place and you get nothing but defensive posturing. You could throw a rock up into the air and it would have a good chance of landing on someone with better qualifications than most local elected officials to get something worthy done here.
A lot of that is fodder for a future column. This week I’d like to continue last week’s discussion about the standoff between the Pocatello police and the city of Pocatello concerning salaries. Since I wrote about this sad state of affairs it’s actually gotten worse.
The police are asking for a raise that they were previously promised and darned well deserve. Even with the modest increase they are seeking they’d still be underpaid compared to colleagues in comparable cities elsewhere in Idaho.
Yet representatives of the police union and several off-duty Pocatello police officers recently walked out of a hearing at City Hall after the attorney representing the city told the police that they made a personal choice to work for the Pocatello Police Department and make less money. Essentially their situation was on them for ever agreeing to come to this hellhole in the first place.
Like the police at this meeting, I too have sat in a salary negotiation and been told that I made a choice to seek a career in a place where wages were low and that I should just suck it up — coming from a person with less education than me making five times what I made just to deliver the message. And just like the police and their representatives I had to work really hard to restrain myself from making sure that person ran away the next time they saw me coming.
Here’s what I say to all of that. Right now Pocatello does not have the police force that it deserves, it actually has one that’s better than it deserves. The mayor and City Council get no credit for that either — it’s entirely due to the professionalism of the PPD. The fact that the PPD is having difficulty getting a promised increase in pay at the same time that the mayor and council are rewarding themselves for accomplishing very little is nothing short of a disgrace.
Based on your calls, emails and PM’s after my last column, and the reaction to this debacle on social media, it’s evident that the prevailing sentiment out there is for the police and against the city — by a wide margin. But if you really want to support the police you need to do more than just post strong rhetoric on Facebook, you need to get in the game. A solution requires more than just people like me writing columns in the newspaper, it requires you to do something about it.
The mayor and City Council were not appointed, they were elected. If you really want to make Pocatello a better place, start supporting better candidates and then get your butt to the polls on election day to make sure they get elected. But right now that’s a hope, not an item to address the issue at hand. For that we need a blunter instrument.
In my experience there are exactly two things that every politician in the world knows: their own name and how to count votes. Elected officials may not respond to facts, reason or an intelligent argument — but they will universally respond to pressure from those likely to remove them from office. You convince these rascals that their future as elected officials may be in peril and you’ll see some action.
I propose just that.
There exists a Facebook group, Support Pocatello/Bannock County Police, Firemen and First Responders: https://www.facebook.com/groups/365215144190179/ that was started on July 4th. If you want to do more for our police than just rage on the Interwebs join this group. If you are a Luddite or Facebook bashful get someone that you know to join for you. If people join in sufficient numbers we’ll have a public rally to support the police. There will also be information in this group on how to mount a recall effort for local elected officials. It’s easier than you think. All it takes is some time, effort, and most importantly, you.
So there you go. Instead of just complaining about what you don’t like here is your opportunity to actually do something about it. Please join — and please spread the word.
Associated Press and Idaho Press Club award-winning columnist Martin Hackworth of Pocatello is a physicist, writer, consultant and retired Idaho State University faculty member who now spends his time happily raising three children, llama farming and riding mountain bikes and motorcycles.