OUR VIEW: Our elected officials need to do better

Founding Father James Madison insisted that “the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves.”

Thank goodness he was not in attendance at the Sept. 5 Tipp City Exempted Village Schools Board of Education meeting, where Board Member Anne Zakkour saluted President Simon Patry and said “sieg heil” as they exchanged heated remarks.

This shameful behavior has no place in our communities, and especially not in a public forum such as a board of education meeting where it could be seen by children.

As Cathy Gardner of the Dayton Jewish Community Relations Council said in a statement, “Flippant, casual references to Hitler, the Nazi regime, or the Holocaust grossly diminish the tragedy that still affects so many.”

According to a report from ADL Cleveland, there were 61 antisemitic incidents in Ohio in 2022 compared to the prior year, a 22% increase. This week, the Cincinnati Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) denounced the West Chester Tea Party, claiming it spread “vitriolic anti-Semitic rhetoric.”

Zakkour’s outrageous behavior was predictably picked up by national and international media outlets, leaving a stain on our entire region.

This was not the first incident where the Board members had devolved into petty bickering, shouting and in-fighting, either. Nor is it the only dysfunctional governing entity to recently demonstrate poor behavior.

The Dayton Public Schools Board has been divided by accusations of sexual assault. Lakota School Board meetings recently have seen personal attacks, an alleged assault and a filing for a civil stalking protection order. Last year, the Huber Heights City Council struggled to hire a new city manager due to unexcused council member absences. Dayton City Commission meetings had grown so tense during a budget dispute that the Commission had to hire a mediator.

The lines of “civility” are not always clear cut, however. Public meetings are often sites of political theater that involve demonstrations, civil disobedience and protest to achieve meaningful ends.

In April, Tennessee lawmakers expelled members from the House for their role in a gun control protest at the state Capitol following a mass shooting in Nashville. Standing up for a cause bigger than yourself — and representing the passion and fire and will of those who elected you —  is a noble pursuit, not something that deserves censure. Petty, personal attacks and behavior that demonstrates a disregard and disrespect for history, however, have no place in our public forums.

Zakkour’s term ends in December, and she has since apologized for her behavior. Let this be a moment for all of our elected officials to reflect on their own behavior and for all of us to consider the harm in belittling the tragedies of our past.

We have always encouraged participation in democratic processes at all levels of government. Running for office, volunteering for a campaign, voting — these are critical activities for a functional democratic society. But for our country to live up to Madison’s lofty ideals for republican government, we need our elected officials to represent us at our best, not our worst.

More importantly, in order to have an effective government that earns the trust of those it represents, we need our elected officials to serve professionally and responsibly. Remember your obligation to voters to act in such a way that accomplishes their goals and betters our communities.