Mayor-elect Hess ready to face an uncertain future with hope
Ryan Hess didn’t face a lot of theatrics or drama on the way to his eventual unopposed election as mayor of Craig.
He hopes to bring a similar level of decorum to the council chambers over which he’s about to preside. The drama, after all, is in the challenges this council will face and the decisions it will have to make.
Hess, elected Tuesday to the center chair on Craig City Council unanimously after incumbent Jarrod Ogden decided not to seek re-election, feels that the first job of this council is to combat community apathy. And the first step in doing so is restoring trust in government.
“The first thing I’d like to do is pass a code of conduct and rules of procedure,” Hess said by phone Thursday.
That means rules for behavior by council members, but inside and outside of chambers and official business.
“The most critical thing is trust in government,” the mayor-elect said. “A big olive branch you can give to the public is passing a code of conduct. It’s accountability of what we’ll hold ourselves to. People across the board, when they get into a political position, they seem to forget individual accountability. The minute you’re in that glass house, you’ve got to scrutinize every action. When we fail to meet that mark, it increases distrust.”
Rules of procedure take a similar approach to official council business.
“It’s an orderly way of getting business done that, one, makes a body look professional, and it also gives concrete rules that everybody obeys,” Hess said. “Pure chaos and over-control are the same result. If everybody does whatever they want, nothing gets done, and if it’s too structured, you can’t do anything either. There needs to be a happy medium.”
Hess hopes to institute the well-known parliamentary practice known Robert’s Rules of Order — or at least a version thereof.
“The way things operate now, there’s so many times you have something to say, but no time to say it,” he said. “Thirty minutes into a debate only two council members have been able to speak. That’s not fair. You can’t disenfranchise six people because one wants to be long-winded.”
All this, of course, is tools and tools alone if not used to create something meaningful, and Hess knows there’s a lot that needs to be built.
“We need a laser focus,” he said. “We keep re-litigating the plant closing. Every meeting it’s mentioned. It’s like the stages of grief, and we’re at the point where it’s time to move on. I think we need to move past just trying to grieve the economic loss and start looking at those focal points of what are we going to do? Start putting steps in action to make it happen. We had a 10-year window, now it’s five. Realistically, before the plant closes, it’s probably three. We need to say, ‘This is what we’re doing.’”
He doesn’t want to suggest at this point exactly what that answer should be, but Hess has some ideas.
“We’ve thrown out the term economic development as a way to fix losing our main product,” he said. “That’s about abstract things: How do we bring business in? But another perspective is how do you make people want to live here?”
Hess has spoken of the “brain drain,” which is a common problem in rural areas where educated and qualified locals leave for bigger and, in their eyes, better opportunities in other places — usually the big city. That’s one focus. But it’s not the only one.
“Why do people leave Craig?” Hess asked. “Why don’t they want to live here. You solve for that, invest internally in the people already living here, the people who elected you and pay taxes, then people will come. If we do abstract things, attracting the rest of the world to us, it doesn’t matter if people who lived here don’t want to live here, or if those who come leave.”
That gets back to apathy, a huge enemy for Hess as he prepares to take office. Trust, again, is a huge weapon. But pride is another.
“We need people who say they love it here, schools, parks, water, roads, sidewalks,” Hess said. “It’s in the city’s wheelhouse to do infrastructure things. Roads, parks, trail systems. We control those. We can work on those. External to us there’s the hospital, EMS care, those are big issues. And probably the largest the new council faces is that we can’t hire cops.”
Hess says identifying these critical problems can give way to identifying crucial solutions.
“When I was appointed to council, I had like a month before applications across the nation to get out of Craig,” said Hess, who has lived in this community since grade school, not counting brief educational and professional outlays. “The thing that wears me down is that apathy. Waking up and having an overarching negative connotation about your community and who you engage with. So I put my name in the hat to get on council and thought maybe we can begin to change the culture in local government. Get rid of apathy, get community engagement, talk about the good things before we start talking about the negative.”
As Craig faces its biggest test in generations, Hess hopes his small influence can be part of a big effort.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I’m more excited by the policy part of it — the title doesn’t mean that much to me.”
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