Medford's silent majority needs to speak up

What if they threw a City Council race and nobody came? What if nobody wanted the job of running a city of 75,000?

That's perilously close to the situation in Medford, where four City Council seats and the mayor's job are up for election this fall. When the deadline to file as a candidate passed this week, only the five people who have the jobs now and one newcomer had signed up to run.

All but one race, in other words, will be uncontested.

You could see this in a couple of ways: as a sign that everybody on the council now is doing a bang-up job, and no one among the other 74,995 of us thinks he or she could possibly do better.

Or you could guess that we may have our issues with city government, but that we're not ready to step in and get involved. That, by the way, would put Medford residents in step with a national trend away from involvement in local politics even though it is at that level of government we're most likely to be able to accomplish something.

Whatever the cause, it's hard to see this as a great result for the city, which is growing and changing. Which needs more public involvement as that happens, not less.

If there's a knock on current city leadership in this, it's that it tends to the passive. Council meetings can look orchestrated to the point that issues already are resolved by the time they go public. When was the last time you heard about a passionate public debate among Medford council members or involving the mayor? (Note to Gold Hill: There's productive public debate, and there's unproductive.)

The danger in candidate filings as pitiful as this week's is that the message the council takes away is that the public must not need anything more than it gets now. That business as usual is working just fine.

Instead, we think it's a sign we need more.

Changes are happening in Medford, changes that will affect the roads we drive, where we can ride our bikes or walk on sidewalks, where we can shop and eat and play, how easy it is to get from home to work and back.

The council handles a $262 million budget every biennium, a budget filled with taxes we all pay (and which at least some of us undoubtedly to want to follow very, very closely).

We're not suggesting that weekly shouting matches work better than a well-oiled operation at City Hall, only that the council bears responsibility to air issues, not just to members' satisfaction but with the intent of engaging the public as well.

More involvement means more work. But it often makes a better community as well.

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