There is, as they say, a sacred trust between the public and those whom they vote into office to represent them. Trust is the foundation that allows an individual to cast their vote in the first place. Electors expect trustworthiness, honesty and capability in those who seek office, whether it is for a local school board, city council or for the President of the United States. Yet, year after year public trust in elected leaders continues to plummet. According to the Pew Research Center the decline in trust, satisfaction and confidence by the public of their elected leaders continues to fall steadily. In California the average approval rating for members of the State’s legislature has been between 11 and 18 percent in recent years.
Three State Senators have been indicted in the last year, while locally you have area councilmembers lying to constituents on a regular basis. The path to these misdeeds starts with a candidates inability to keep campaign promises once in office. At all levels of government.
Unfortunately, we have seen violations of character in our public leaders that continues to erode trust. From Brian Williams, to the Chicago Little League scandal involving ineligible players and locally in the misrepresentations of Downey Mayor Luis Marquez.
Marquez stated recently in his Mayor’s column that he had attended three ribbon cutting ceremonies welcoming new businesses when the fact is he didn’t attend any of them.
Whatever the reason for misrepresentation, elected officials need to be reminded of the importance character and honesty plays in maintaining the public’s trust.
Thomas Paine once said… “Character is much easier kept than recovered.”
But there are ways to build morale and trust amongst voters, the general public and educate our children too.
Last week I attended the 2-day national board meeting of the Josephson Institute of Ethics held in Los Angeles (full disclosure, I am proud to serve on this board). One of the presentations we had was from the student leaders at Gallatin Elementary School, part of DUSD. What an amazing display of the ethics and values being taught to these children. They talked about what the pillars meant to them and how it plays a big part of their lives and schooling. Principal, teachers and parents led this group and it was evident what can be accomplished when we all work together.
The matter of maintaining integrity as a community is so important that we felt it was vital to do something about it. You see, in Downey we implemented the six pillars of character through the Character Counts program. It was launched through the Downey Unified School District as a means to educate our students on how best to conduct themselves in life and what they should expect from adults and their representatives. Teaching ethics and values are something that can be done together.
The City of Downey partnered with the school district to become a true Character Counts community. Over 22,500 students and 111,000 residents are exposed to these values that have resulted in an even brighter future. Statistics show that suspensions in Downey are down dramatically ( well over 70% ) since implementation of CC and crime is down almost 30% in the past 4 years alone.
But more importantly, we are teaching our youth ethics, values and helping to educate them on being better citizens. Ironically it was not a unanimous decision to become a Character Counts community. One council person stated at the time that character should be taught at home. I completely agree. But we as a society, as a community, we can help augment these values and promote ethics along with parents.
Character Counts was also meant to help all members of the City Council and School Board remember the most basic of personal responsibilities to help shape their conduct as community leaders. This should happen everywhere, not just in Downey. The six pillars are Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship.
Community members, of any city, who see or hear of a city representative not following through with any part of their commitments have the power of the vote. They can ensure that individuals who respect the community and their constituents are elected to serve.
We should hold our elected officials to high standards and expect results that help build the trust between us. We should hold ourselves as examples too. Our society needs this, our kids need this, and our future depends on it.
Dn. Mario A. Guerra is former mayor of Downey, past president of Independent Cities and a board member of the Josephson Institute of Ethics.
Published: Feb. 19, 2015 - Volume 13 - Issue 45