When I moved to Northern Virginia 26 years ago, I never dreamed that I would hold elected office. I was employed by the federal government and was restricted from political activity by the Hatch Act, so it never occurred to me that I would some day become personally involved in an election.
However, two weeks after I arrived here, I attended a citizens' association meeting, spoke briefly to one of the items on the agenda, and immediately found myself appointed to the chairmanship of a committed. That was the start of 22 years of uninterrupted civic activity involving civic associations, PTAs, scoutings, team clubs and the whole gamut of functions devoted to service to the community. I am now an elected supervisor in Fairfax County, and I want to reflect on my service as I prepare to step down.
Legally, the job of county supervisor in the Commonwealth is a part-time job. The only binding provision of the law is that the Board of Supervisors meet as a body once a month. Legally, the job should be a snap; realistically, it is the most demanding political office at any level of government.
Most of us who are now in local government were civic leaders at one time or another, and we all fostered the principle of citizen participation in local government. I guess we promoted the principle too well, because I beleive that we have now gone too far in the other direction.
The public input process has degenerated into confrontation politics, and if the public offical doesn't succumb to the pressure, it provides the perfect setting for making allegations that he is in the pay of the developers, he favors the rich and ignores the poor, he has no compassion, exercises no logic and in general lacks culture, taste and good sense. Unfortunately those who shout the loudest, regardless of their numbers, attract the attention of the media, and their cause then takes on the proportions of a crusade.
One of the most striking examples of all this is the 20-year controversy over the completion of Interstate 66. Here is an instance where a comparatively small group of enviromental extremists have held up the completion of a vital link in the Northern Virginia transportation network for too many years. It is no wonder that Judge Oren R. Lewis, in dismissing the latest suit brought against I-66, termed the charges made by the plaintiffs as a "perfect case of malicious prosecution" and said the charges were "vicious, scurrilous, damaging, and reeked with illegalities."
It is unfortunate that the majority of citizens with moderate views also suffer from a bad case of apathy. They rely on the activists to ensure the accountability of elected officials. They fail to realize that in too many cases the standards set by the activist is at one extreme or another-the Taxpayer's Alliance versus the far-out liberal. One says cut the others says I have two dozen new social programs for which you don't have enough in the budget. One or the other of the two groups is going to be raging mad no matter how your decision goes, and neither of the two is expressing the voice of the majority in the middle.
Under such circumstances, even the most minor decision you have to make becomes a test of your political courage. Too many times we succumb to the pressure of the vocal group appearing before us without weighing the impact on all those who did not appear. Just weigh the impact of the inflated cost of Metrorial because of delays caused by small groups pressuring the federal authorities to insist on study after study to justify the completion of the system.
I hope that what I have said here is taken in the constructive sense that it is written. Recognize that I am not the first person who has given these same reasons for getting out of the public life. Norm Christeller, Dick Hovespian and Joe Wholey were outstanding public servants. A number of good congressmen and senators resigned last year for much the same reasons. Good officials burn out sooner because they can't limit themselves to just 100 percent of the requirement of their jobs-they always give 200 percent or more of themselves. It did not surprise me at all to read of Sen. Abraham Ribicoff's intention to retire.
There's a limit to the personal sacrifices we must make in the name of public service. How many of you would trade your place in life for the job of a local official? Thank God that you still have men and women of honor who are willing to make such sacrifices. Make an effort to keep from burning them out before their time. CAPTION: Picture, Interstate 66/By Ken Fell-The Washington Post