Just call me, “The Tie Breaker”

GAVELAt our Village Board meeting last night I broke the most recent tie vote, this one involving the creation of a new type of liquor license. This got me to wondering, just how many ties have I been asked to break during my two and a half year tenure so far as Village President? So I did the research and the answer comes out to a whopping 14 times. According to my informal survey of other area Mayors and Village Managers, this is highly unusual. The other Village Presidents that I have talked to can count on one hand the number of ties that they have had to break, and this is sometimes after having served consecutive four year terms. Normally, the Village President does not have a vote and matters are decided by the Trustees. During my two years serving as a Trustee, I don’t remember the Village President ever breaking a tie. So why have I had to weigh in so many times these past couple of years to cast the deciding vote? What is causing all of this indecisiveness among the Board members?

Here is my theory: the Village Board has been dealing with a number of contentious issues one after another, and public opinion has often been divided. The residents cannot all agree and thus the Trustees can’t either. Do we evolve with our changing times or keep things the way they have traditionally been? How do we revitalize our downtown with limited municipal funds to assist the private property owners? Should we allow greater density in select areas to support existing and future commercial development? And can we continue to survive without a municipal property tax? Should we vigorously oppose the Rt. 53 extension or keep the door open to negotiate with the County and State for the best possible outcome? Six of the ties have been on votes concerning video gaming, and three related to the funding of public vs. private roads.

Of course, when you cast the deciding vote, many view that decision as the one that tips the scale, and some like to assign personal responsibility for that. But in reality, my vote is just one out of seven cast, and it doesn’t matter whether your vote is the first or the last, the majority is what makes the decision in a democracy. When public opinion is split on an issue and the Trustee votes reflect that, no matter where the Board comes out on a decision there is going to be a set of residents unhappy with it. And this has happened 14 times in my short tenure so far. Breaking ties is not something that I enjoy but I accept the responsibility as part of my job.

And what is resulting from all this tie-breaking? Well, in my case it certainly isn’t the way to gain popularity and influence votes! But more importantly, it weakens faith and trust in the entire elected body when there aren’t easy answers to complex problems and differing opinions are not tolerated. And it doesn’t help when those who firmly believe they do have all the answers refuse to respect others they don’t agree with. Aren’t we seeing this dynamic currently playing out in our State and National politics?

I do believe that there is something to be learned through all of this, and that the answer lies in our choice to compromise and collaborate. No one person knows it all and it is possible to accept the validity of a different point of view. Democracy is based on the willingness to assume well about other people; that basically our fellow citizens want to do the right thing. According to David Brooks, “faith in politics is the process of making decisions amid diverse opinions.”

I am by nature a trusting person and I do have faith that the right answers will eventually become apparent in most situations. Maybe more apparent to some than others, depending on your point of view! But as the Village Board continues to work through the challenges of the present day, we will likely continue to debate and make decisions that sometimes end up without a clear definitive answer. And it will continue to be my privilege to serve Long Grove by casting a tie-breaking vote, when I am needed.