What’s the hardest part about being an elected official?

Hanging out with the Students at Hall School

I’ve recently had the privilege of guest speaking to a couple of Grade 6 classes as part of their civics course. I must say these students are sharp.

From knowing intricate details about our municipal government system to the standards they hold for their elected officials, I’m relieved to know that these children are the guardians of our democratic system. These students have goals and hopes and dreams for their democracy and I was thrilled to have the chance to spar with them.

A curve ball that usually knocks me off balance is some variation of the question “What is the  hardest part about being an elected official?

I’ve been reflecting on how to answer this question and this is what I’ve come up with: Living with the  opportunity costs of your decisions.

What’s hard is knowing that every single decision you make has real opportunity costs affecting real children and real communities. Our decisions are not theoretical exercises.

Did we make the right call? And what are the trade-offs that come with every decision?

  • Should we be using operational dollars to keep smaller schools open?
  • Should we have hired one more teacher or two more special education assistants?
  • Are we okay using pesticides on our school grounds because they are the cheaper option?
  • Do we need full day kindergarten for all children or should we focus on those families with the most socio-economic need?
  • Does every decision we make help more students complete high school?
  • Are there limitations on school choice?
  • Did my decision today reflect the best interests of all students and all communities?

There is no magic bullet and what worked 5 years ago may not work today. That’s why our budget and capital plans are living documents that amend and reallocate funds to meet pressures each year. We evolve as a system, and as a board. We learn from our mistakes and we learn how to do better next time.

Reflecting on your decisions is healthy and should be encouraged for all legislators. We teach our kids to walk a mile in the shoes of others, why shouldn’t we? Good decision making doesn’t end with the final vote. Reflection and learning is key. We can always do better tomorrow than we did today.

One of the best books I use as a guide for my decision making is: Mistakes were made (but not by me.) by Tavris and Aronson.

I told the students that I love getting emails that disagree with my vote or my position. I welcome them.

What hurts is when folks don’t know that you have, and continue to weigh the consequences of every decision very seriously. One of my favorite Christopher Hitchens quotes is “Don’t assume that just because you’ve identified someone’s lowest motive, that it is necessarily the correct one.”

I would endeavor to guess that my thoughts are shared all other elected officials.