Bare: Representative Democracy and the YMCA

March 24, 2013

I have taken a break from posting about the YMCA issue. Since March 20th, I have watched the process evolve and seen the ugly side of big money politics first hand. On the 20th, I watched the Community Maritime Park Associates (the people who actually hold the master lease for the maritime park) debate the future of the ymca on the maritime park property. The CMPA was operating under a vague motion made and approved by 6 of the 9 city council members the week before. This motion approved a concept of a ymca on parcel 8 of the park property, but the discussions that followed the proposal of the motion provided unclear directions for the Community Maritime Park Associates board. In fact, the maker of the motion went so far as to say that the board could redline the entire document and start over.

Acting as our agents, in accordance with their master lease and subsequent amendments, the CMPA board made a motion to encourage the YMCA board to look at parcels 5 and 6. While the motion did not specifically exclude parcel 8, it was interpreted that way. Due to their actions, the CMPA board was vilified by our mayor who stated that their action was a direct slap in the face to the City Council. I couldn’t disagree more. It was the mayor and CMPA chairman Collier Merrill who negotiated multiple versions of a lease without the CMPA board’s or the city council’s knowledge. In the words of our city attorney, the CMPA members never showed an interest in participating in the process. However, they were never asked.

I received an email from former city councilwoman Diane Mack on March 22nd. In this email, Mrs. Mack stated that it “became very clear that the present membership of that board [CMPA] contains a majority who lack the deep understanding and institutional knowledge that service on that board requires. I hope that situation is formally remedied without delay.”

Apparently, she would like for us to remove those members of the board who don’t agree with her position in favor of the ymca on parcel 8. Again, I couldn’t disagree more. I have great respect for the members of the CMPA. They have been put into an unfortunate position of holding a lease over which they have little say. Can you imagine holding a lease and having someone else dictate to you that you had to have a certain party sublease a parcel. I can’t. It simply doesn’t make sense.

As a city councilman, it is my job to uphold my oath of office. In addition, I must be accountable to the citizens of this city (all of them). I have reached out to many in this situation, and they have reached out to me. Whether I am on the baseball field, in Sam’s Club, in the park with my children or carrying yard debris to my curb, people have stopped me to tell me they appreciate my stand and support my efforts to keep the YMCA from building on parcel 8. There are many long time members of the YMCA who are looking beyond their own self-interest and who do not support this move because they realize that the YMCA can provide their services in just about any location. It does not have to be on the most valuable piece of waterfront property at the maritime park.

Representative democracy is based on the principle of elected people representing a group of people. I believe this election empowers us with certain rights and abilities, but it does not substitute for the will of the people. As a representative, I don’t know better than my fellow citizens. In fact, I rely on citizens to provide me information so that I can make the best decision possible. Representative democracy can lead to corruption when people disregard the value of citizen input. I ran to give citizens a voice, not to have the citizens give me a voice. This is an important distinction that I hope my colleagues understand. I attend neighborhood associations to hear from citizens not to be heard.

In the case of the YMCA, I believe an expensive marketing campaign has forced many to believe this effort is widely supported. But my conversations with citizens tell me differently. I applaud the efforts of the CMPA and thank them for standing up in a difficult political climate. I encourage my fellow citizens to let their voices be heard on this matter. The city council will meet tomorrow at 3:15 pm at City Hall for the committee of the whole meeting. There is nothing on our agenda about the YMCA, but there may be an effort to bring the item back up for discussion. I hope you will be part of that discussion.

Charles Bare

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