Viewpoint - June 23, 2010

Guest opinion: Time for residents to step up in Atherton

by Scott Barnum

I am writing to extend the public dialogue on getting to a balanced budget in Atherton.

I am amazed (but not surprised) that in this environment our collective efforts as one of America's most affluent and highly educated towns cannot find a clear and swift path to a balanced budget — one of the most important success factors in managing an entity of any kind.

On the surface, it would seem our town is generally blessed with successful, highly educated and action-oriented people who have plenty of "school of hard knocks" scars to prove their experience. Many of our residents run or have run businesses, are or have been a board director of at least one organization and have been managing/overseeing budgets for their long and storied careers.

In addition, you'd have to live on Mars not to see, hear or read all the press about the critical condition of our federal and state budgets and the current and impending consequences of running budget deficits for many years. Why then have we not been able to get to a balanced budget right here in our own backyard, where we arguably have more control, more insight as to what is going on, and more to win/lose?

In my view, many of us choose not to give a damn, until there is a crisis when it is generally too late to do much but damage control. We've become either too apathetic or too "over-scheduled" to get involved.

Why is it that parents of school-age kids are fanatical about what is going on in their schools (including their school budget) but somehow can't find the time to know what is going in their local government (yet the buildings and people involved are less than a mile apart)? Why can Athertonians be so giving and committed to their favorite causes, yet don't really know the true state of the union regarding their home town?

In business, accountability is a fundamental principal for success. Knowing who is doing what, by when and for how much, and then holding the person or group accountable for delivering the what, when and how much is critical to getting stuff done and done right. If things get done as planned there are rewards; and if they don't, there are consequences. This principle should be similarly applied to government.

Simply stated then, we (the voters) need to hold our elected officials more accountable. We, the residents, citizens and voters need to get more involved and spend some more time — quality time — researching, going to council meetings, and providing feedback to our town leaders. We have to make the time and make it a priority. Generally speaking, apathy leads to tragedy and an uninformed and or apathetic electorate gets what it deserves.

As is often the case with groups and organizations, a few do the work for the many. There are a few concerned and conscientious Athertonians who are and have been asking the tough questions of our elected officials on all sorts of important subjects, like balancing the budget. But with government, the squeaky wheels get the grease.

More important, we need to push our officials to balance our city budget and take significant corrective actions now before it is too late, when we will be forced to take disastrous, draconian measures. It may not be pleasant or easy now but it will be a lot more difficult and more unpleasant the longer we wait.

Balancing a budget is a very fundamental and very basic aspect of management and leadership. In addition to integrity and commitment, a balanced budget should be one of the very core things we demand of our elected officials. There is no left or right — the budget is either balanced or it's not.

Collectively, we need to press Atherton to get its fiscal house in order and do it as soon as possible. I encourage all of us to spend a little more time and energy ensuring that our town's finances are being properly managed and planned.

Scott Barnum lives on Leon Way in Atherton.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 22, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Perfectly stated -Thanks Scott

Hopefully Scott's message will motivate some of Atherton's very capable and talented residents to embrace their responsibilities as citizens.

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