Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed – and no republic can survive.
― John F. Kennedy
At our last meeting, Council approved a separation agreement with City Administrator Tom Crawford. This decision was not unanimous and there were many people in the community (as well as on Council) who disagreed with it.
At the Council meeting and before the vote, Mayor Taylor read a statement of explanation and argument, which he later posted on social media (Facebook). Mayor Taylor introduced his remarks with a reference to “irrational, corrosive Q-A2 nonsense you read or hear.”
The term “Q-A2” seems to be an allusion to “QAnon.” Most people probably know vaguely that “QAnon” is an extreme right-wing movement in support of Donald Trump. That is all that I knew about QAnon when I heard the remark about “Q-A2.” It struck me as slightly bizarre that our Mayor would compare anyone who disagrees with him to right wing Trump supporters. To learn more about the conspiracy theories of QAnon, see:
It probably goes without saying: such a comparison is designed to wildly exaggerate political differences and grossly vilify any voice of dissent. For some time now, anyone who disagrees with Mayor Taylor has been described (by him) as “conservative.” Moving forward, it appears that anyone who disagrees with Mayor Taylor will be accused of being “irrational” and “corrosive,” spinning conspiracy theories like QAnon.
Most City Council decisions have a direct impact on residents. We regularly hear from residents whose perspectives are based on relevant knowledge and personal experience. All members of City Council are democrats, but very few of the decisions we make have any connection to national, partisan politics. Issues like sidewalks and street improvements, tax millages and land uses have real consequences for the people who live here and the people who will one day live here.
Our response to local controversy and disagreement is a good measure of how much we respect our community and all its members. The Mayor leads by example when instead of promoting the value of his own position, he hurls labels: “conservative”, “beneath contempt”, “irrational”, “corrosive”, and now “Q-A2”. I am frequently reminded of how much his example now defines our local political landscape. E.g. This week, an online discussion about the relative need for a sidewalk in a specific location prompted one resident to email Council to “express concern over the local NIMBY group.” The resident asserted that any debate over this particular sidewalk was ridiculous, akin to questioning “bike helmets, gun locks, or seatbelts.” Increasingly I see this approach to civic discourse in our community: disparage stakeholders with broad insults (“NIMBY”) and characterize their concerns as extremely stupid, selfish, or worse. This is not a healthy (or intelligent) environment for decision making.
Last month, Ann Arbor was again named the most educated city in America – facts and reason should guide our leaders, not resentment and insult. In a community like ours, it is possible to argue one position without vilifying all others. It is possible to disagree with your neighbors without characterizing them as ignorant or malevolent.
City Council includes eleven members: two from each of five wards, plus the Mayor. This composition is designed to generate debate; eleven individuals offer a range of perspectives, representing five different parts of town. I believe that debate can force better solutions as elected leaders work to reconcile opposing interests and find compromise. When the Mayor equates disagreement and dissent to dangerous conspiracy theory, he promotes a very different model for local government, one in which the ruling majority aims to dismiss and silence any voice of criticism.
I believe in our community’s ability to debate issues in a serious way, with respect for each other. Elected leaders have a special role to play, hearing and recognizing the range of perspectives within our community and ultimately working to bring us together.