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The Role of the Contrarian on Our Government Boards

Back in high school there was a kid that wore the same T-shirt almost every day. It said, “QUESTION AUTHORITY!” Let’s just say that “the authority” didn’t like that shirt much and I recall him spending more than a few hours with the Assistant Principal because of it.

Yet, I think that kid had a point. As I was writing the article this morning on the Park City School board needing to regain the community’s trust, I wondered what could be done in the future to get better numbers regarding capacity. In the article I said that going forward the public needed to question everything. That sounds good in an article, but in practice, the citizen rarely has as much information as the person sitting on a government board. In practice, if citizens have to question everything, it’s going to be miserable for everyone involved. Isn’t there someone that could both have most of the information but is also responsible for vetting ideas?

Of course, they are already sitting on our city councils, school boards, county councils, etc. They just need to both have the confidence that asking a lot of questions is fine and be given the “freedom” from the rest of the board that being critical is OK. A great example is outgoing County Council Member Dave Ure. Mr Ure was/is the only Republican on the County Council. So, by default he was given the leeway to look at things a bit differently. Would Mr Ure spend hours belaboring points? No. What he would do is have a couple of critical points that he would bring up that would be original and contrary to what other people were saying in a discussion. For example, when he was was one of the two County Council members to vote against continuing as part of the Mountain Accord, he questioned whether the environment would be better off because of the program. He said that the Mountain Accord was supposed to be about the environment and he felt our watersheds would be worse off because of the Mountain Accord. He found a way to question the prevailing thought, and he did it in a constructive way.

We can contrast that with the Park City School Board where there was a year without a dissenting vote. Would the school bond process have been stronger, and may it have even passed, if there was someone on the board that questioned almost everything about it? For sure. The parts that were found to be weakest would have been fixed by the board. If those discussions would have been held out in the open, would the public have felt that the plan had been drug through the ringer and gained more confidence because of it? Likely.

I’m not advocating for the person who beats the dead horse, who continually asks dumb questions, and wastes time. I’m advocating for the person who may say, “How did you calculate those enrollment numbers? Can you explain that again, I don’t get it? Do they represent real capacity? It doesn’t sound like our schools are going to be full? Does this plan still make sense if we have negative growth and our schools aren’t at capacity? Is there another way to solve this?”

I know that some people think that any dissention shows weakness, but my experience from watching other councils and boards is that the public gets comfort from knowing that conflicting views are being presented and understanding why either those conflicting views are strong enough to stop a process or why the process was strong enough to overcome the negatives.

The County Council is going to have a harder time because Dave Ure isn’t going to be sitting next to them asking the tough questions. Luckily on that board there are a few contrarians that raise their hands on various issues. So, they’ll likely be fine.

I hope other individuals on other boards and councils around Park City have the confidence and wherewithal to play the part of contrarian now and then. Then in November, we the voting public need to remember there is value in those who see the world a little differently. A little contrarian questioning authority now and then can be a good thing.




Terry Moffitt

Love your pieces. They are well thought out and respectful.


Thanks for the nice comment.

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