Episode 13

Rebecca Picks a Successor 

The regular general assembly of the Anytown Resolutionary Party takes place in July. This year over 500 people attend. That’s down from several thousand two years ago because the party has earned the trust of the people. Most people see no need to participate when things are going well, so the party is boiling down to the hard core. 

   After opening formalities, it’s time for Rebecca Whyte, mayor, founder and president of the ARP, to give her annual state of the party address. “Folks, I hate to say it, but the time has come for us to pick someone to succeed me as mayor.” General cries of distress, lamentations, expressions of shock and disbelief. “You all know I love Anytown. I could be happy here forever, but I have a mission. It’s not fair for us to keep what we have to ourselves. I have to take government-by-process to a bigger arena. In fact, I’m planning to run for president of the United States in 2024. To do that, I need to stop being your mayor next year. And, it’s absolutely vital to my campaign for the presidency that the Anytown Resolutionary Party keep control of Anytown after I’m gone. If I leave and the Democrats take over, I won’t get to be president. 

   So I need your help. We need to pick a good successor for me. We need to make sure he or she wins next year, and then, I need you to help me run for president.” Stunned silence. It’s clear that the idea of picking a successor for Rebecca has never crossed anyone’s mind. After a while, a voice from near the front of the room asks, “How do we go about this? What’s the process?”

   “Good question. I’ve never done it before either so I’m completely open to your ideas, but I’ve been thinking about it, so here’s what I’m thinking. First, we need to pick someone the people will like. Second, we need to pick someone with mediation experience and ability, and that person has to fully understand why our platform is process only. Third, we need someone who is willing and able to be completely transparent about his or her finances and is willing to accept the vow of poverty I’ve been living with. Finally, the person has to be an active member of the ARP.

   To select this person, I think we should accept nominations from the floor. When we have a list of nominees who are willing to serve if elected, we should send that list out to all the members of our party. Then, we should call a special assembly in August or September where we will vote. The one who gets the most votes becomes our candidate in the election next year, and we all work to get him or her elected. This is what I’m thinking. What do you think?” Pause, silence, mumbling. 

   One voice rises above the rest. “I nominate Sally Galtung. She’s the one who mediated the water problem a couple years ago. That’s one of the hottest conflicts this town ever saw. The farmers, the developers, the bottlers, and the waterpark folks were at each other’s throats over who was going to drain our river fastest. Sally figured out who the main players were. She went from one to the next to the next to the next, meeting with all of them for months. As a result of her work, Anytown has the best water system in the state. There’s no one who uses water more effectively and efficiently than we do. The farmers are happy, the bottlers left, and the developers developed the whole west side around a waterpark that’s an educational and profitable tourist attraction. She got the best from everyone, and I don’t know anyone in this town who doesn’t like her.”

   “Are there other nominations?” Silence, then, the whole crowd starts chanting, “Saa-lee, Saa-lee.” 

   “Sally, are you here?”

   “She’s back here,” a voice rings out. 

   “Sally, looks like the folks here want you to be our next mayor. What do you think?” Sally is walking toward the stage, but she’s frowning. She climbs the steps and smiles as she walks toward Rebecca. When she gets to the mic she says, “First, is there anyone else here who wants to be mayor?” Silence. “I know it’s impossible to say so now in front of this crowd, so if you’d like to be mayor and think you can do a better job than me, please come to see me privately in the next few days. Now, is there anyone who has an objection to me being mayor? I’m serious. If you do, I need you to say so.” Silence. “Again, if you can’t say so now, please come and see me. If I have any kind of opposition from inside this party, I want to know about it. We need to resolve it before we go any further.” Silence. “I’m honored and grateful for this amazing nomination, but before I accept, I need to talk to Rebecca, and I need some time to talk to my family and the people I work with. I’ll answer one way or the other by the end of this month. Is that OK?” Roar of approval. 

 

Sally walks into Rebecca’s office. “So what do you think?”

   Rebecca smiles. “I was surprised by the way you were chosen, but I’m glad. You’d make a great mayor. What do you need from me?”

   “I’m worried about the vow of poverty and transparency. I don’t mind at all for myself, but Sam has his practice. He’s not sure he wants to let his patients know how much he makes. He’s not doing anything illegal, but he makes more money than most of his patients, and he just doesn’t want them going through his tax returns trying to figure out how he could charge less. Do you think it would be possible for me to file a separate tax return this year, show that, and promise not to make more than the mayor’s salary, like you did? Actually, I’ll be taking a big cut in pay to be mayor. You know that, right?”

   “Yeah, you have a lot of patients yourself. Won’t you be in the same situation as Sam if you have to show your tax return?”

   “I’m a therapist, and because of Sam’s income, I don’t have to charge much. I can actually be quite proud of how little I make. As a doctor, Sam has enormous expenses for office, equipment, staff, insurance, etc. If people just look at his income, it’ll look like we’re rich. If they just look at gross income and taxable income, it could look like we’re evading taxes somehow. To really understand, they’ll have to go through the whole return and look at all our expenses. How many people are going to do that? And we’re worried some folks might try to use our return against us. So, I don’t mind showing my financial records, but I don’t want Sam to have to show his. Do you think that’s possible?”

   “I think so. You and Sam are both loved and trusted in this community. I’ll help you make the case that you’re the mayor, not Sam, so Sam shouldn’t have to be as transparent as you. Let’s take it up with the party first, then sell it to the public. I have a feeling it’ll be easy.”

  “The other thing I need could be more difficult. I need access to and support from you. No matter how busy you get, I’ll need to be able to contact you and get your advice. I might even need to get you back to Anytown sometimes. As you know, our government-as-process approach depends on people. Everyone talks about how I mediated the water problem, but I couldn’t have done that without you telling me who the main stakeholders were and a little about them. You helped set the whole thing up. The next time we run into a problem like that, I’ll need the same kind of help. At least until I learn this community as well as you know it, I need to know that you’ll be there to help.”

   “I do see what you mean. I’m not sure I’ll be able to respond immediately, but I’ll do my best to make myself available.”

   “No, no. That’s not good enough. I want a promise from you that I will be your top priority, at least for the first year. If you get a call from me, you return that call as soon as you possibly can, no matter what. I’m not asking this just for me or for Anytown. If you expect to succeed in your campaign and as president, you’ll need Anytown functioning as well or better than when you were here. If you leave here and we start having all sorts of trouble, it’ll prove that you’re the key to our success, not the government-as-process system. You do not want that. None of us do. We’ll all be doing our best, of course, but Anytown will be under the microscope even more than we’ve been. You have to help me make sure this town continues the progress we’re making. 

   The guys who lost control to you are just waiting for something to happen. They’re always jockeying to make us look bad. I need your promise that you’ll help me make sure we continue our winning ways. No, I mean our decent human ways.”

   Rebecca laughs then gets serious. “I promise. You’re right, and I was underestimating the problem of keeping Anytown on track. If you agree to be mayor, I promise that I’ll do everything in my power to make sure you succeed. You and Anytown are my claim to fame. You are what I have to offer. You will come first, wherever I am and whatever I’m doing.”

   “In that case, my family is happy. I’ll turn my patients over to other therapists during the coming year. I’ll get myself free to campaign and become mayor of Anytown.”

   “Thank you, Sally. It was clear the other night this town wants you. You’ll be elected, and you’ll do a great job. Let’s start right now with weekly briefings. We can meet or just talk by phone, but let’s get together at least once a week and let me fill you in on the conflicts we’re handling and how we’re handling them.”

   “Let’s start with the airport! Everyone I know has an opinion on this one.” Thus begins an extremely dangerous transition for Anytown and Rebecca’s rise to a higher orbit. 

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