Optics are important.
An organization or government agency’s reaction to a controversial issue can either re-affirm our faith in that group or raise more questions about its integrity.
That reaction creates the optics — the perceptions — that shape our thoughts and opinions. And as the saying goes, perception is reality.
Take for example The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ response to complaints from Satterfield Drive area residents about the construction truck traffic created by the LDS temple being built in that part of Pocatello.
After the complaints were voiced, the offending truck drivers were fired and the LDS church set up an office at the construction site where all future complaints and concerns can be brought. Most importantly, the church acknowledged that the problem was real — that the construction trucks were driving too fast.
By owning the problem rather than being dismissive, the LDS church put itself in a very positive light and showed that it wasn’t going to disregard the concerns of any resident impacted by the temple’s construction.
The church not only deserves praise for its response to the residents’ complaints, but it could teach the city of Pocatello and Idaho Legislature a thing or two about optics.
We mention the city of Pocatello because of the behavior being exhibited toward a man who was denied the right to speak at the city’s Historic Preservation Commission meeting last week.
Steven McCurdy approached the Pocatello Historic Preservation Commission at its meeting with a simple request to speak about his concerns regarding the Pocatello High School remodeling project that the commission had signed off on in March.
McCurdy had tried to speak about the project back then, but the commission refused to hear him.
His appearance at the commission’s meeting last week was the equivalent of giving the commission a second chance to allow him to exercise his First Amendment rights.
The easy and right thing for the commission to do would have been to allow McCurdy to speak.
The commission had already made its decision about Pocatello High School and literally had nothing to lose by giving McCurdy the floor to air his concerns.
Instead, the commission responded to McCurdy’s request to speak by abruptly adjourning the meeting and leaving City Hall.
It’s hard to imagine the optics being any worse.
Afterward, Pocatello officials said that unlike similar commissions in other Idaho cities, Pocatello’s Historic Preservation Commission doesn’t allow for public comment at its meetings unless the person calls beforehand to be placed on the agenda.
McCurdy tried to do this, but no city official would return his calls.
They wouldn’t return his calls, in our opinion, because they didn’t want him to be allowed to speak.
McCurdy was censored by Pocatello’s city government because city officials didn’t want to have to listen for a few minutes to what he had to say.
Horrific optics aside, that type of behavior from city officials is straight up arrogant.
The message Pocatello’s city government is sending to citizens is that it literally does not care what you think.
What’s scary is that McCurdy was treated this way for simply wanting to point out that he doesn’t like the Pocatello High School remodeling project.
His treatment not only put Pocatello’s city government in a questionable light, but it also added some questions about the proposed high school renovations. Are the city and School District 25 in cahoots to ram this project through with no debate from the public?
People who probably weren’t asking questions about the Pocatello High School remodel are now talking about it and wondering what’s really going on.
McCurdy has all along been saying that the School District hasn’t been transparent enough or provided enough opportunities for public input about the project. The Historic Preservation Commission’s treatment of him not only fed that narrative, but also made the city look like it’s part of the conspiracy.
As far as optics go, Pocatello City Hall is obviously taking its cues from the Idaho Legislature, whose members publicly stated that Idahoans don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to casting ballots on Election Day.
That was repeatedly said by members of the Idaho Legislature this past session as they reluctantly tried to close the Medicaid gap after a majority of the state’s voters supported the move in a statewide ballot initiative this past November.
The many legislators opposed to providing some semblance of health insurance to some of Idaho’s poorest citizens griped that they shouldn’t have to close the gap because Idaho voters didn’t know what they were really voting for when they supported the initiative to do so.
Censoring a citizen because you don’t want to even spend a few minutes listening to his or her concerns is pretty bad. But telling the world that your state’s residents are too dumb to know what they’re voting for on Election Day should put the Idaho Legislature in some sort of arrogance hall of fame.
It’s definitely something we should all remember the next time our lawmakers are up for re-election.
But the Legislature doubled-down on that arrogance by then passing legislation to make it impossible for Idahoans to get an issue on the statewide election ballot because we apparently can’t be trusted with that constitutional right. We all apparently lack the smarts to know what we’re doing once we enter the voting booth, according to the Idaho Legislature.
Fortunately, Gov. Brad Little disagreed with that notion and vetoed both of the anti-initiative bills.
From whining about having to close the Medicaid gap to trying to take away our constitutional rights, the Idaho Legislature ran a clinic this past session on bad optics. Legislation making it illegal for adult men to marry adolescent girls was shot down while lawmakers protected Idaho’s status as a state where parents who believe in faith healing can legally let their children die of curable ailments.
Perhaps the only way the Idaho Legislature will change its dysfunctional ways is if voters give GOP primary challengers and Democrats a chance on Election Day. It would be long overdue.
When it comes to the city of Pocatello, however, the path to improving its optics is easier, at least concerning McCurdy.
We recommend Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad apologize for the way McCurdy was treated, add McCurdy’s name to the Historic Preservation Commission’s next agenda so he can speak, and add a public comment period to the agenda of all future commission meetings.
To do otherwise will only confirm the worst fears Pocatellans have about their city government.
The bottom line is bad optics are well worth avoiding and arrogance is no way to lead.
Pocatellans and all Idahoans for that matter deserve better.