Tybee Island residents and its city government lost a good man this week when Paul Wolff, a multi-term city councilman lost his re-election by less than a handful of votes.
Finding public servants of the caliber of Paul is difficult in our society. Paul was one of the rare breed that understood the importance of opening and maintaining dialogue on all issues whether they were controversial or not, the importance of ‘informed consent,’ and the art of consensus-building, if not compromise.
We have had the privilege of knowing Paul for most of two decades, and even though politically we are often worlds apart, I have great respect and admiration for this Vanderbilt-educated renaissance of a fellow.
There are those who would say Paul is progressive and liberal; just as there are those who would say I am conservative and a libertarian. I have never much cared for labels rather I prefer Paul’s approach to being a public servant. He is a gentleman who is willing to have an open, honest and spirited conversation about any subject and that my friends can lead to better decision-making on a diversity of issues.
Being a public figure especially one that is in an elected office in any community is not an enviable position. I know that personally because I was a public servant at the executive federal level for almost 20-years. As Paul, and others find out you no longer have much of a private life once you engage in public service; if you have the pathological need to be liked by everyone you also have no business being in public service.
Much like Paul, I set about trying to help government and its elected and employed officials better understand different constituent viewpoints. I sought and developed processes to gather as much data and information as possible so that we could make better decisions especially on those issues that directly affected the people that we served.
I understood and yet became very frustrated with the many different internal and external political agendas and that eventually wore me down and I voluntarily left for the private sector where I have been now almost 22-years.
However, then and now as a practicing informed-consent professional I went about as did Paul the often arduous task of opening and sustaining dialogue, building coalitions and seeking to understand all sides of an issue before presenting alternative solutions and certainly before making a decision.
I found however even after such well-meaning efforts that many decisions were not made in the best interest of the community rather decisions were made as to what was in the best interest of the agency, or the ranking politicos at the time.
Paul brought to the Tybee city council an even-tempered, diplomatic and inquiring approach to consideration of issues when at times others simply tested the limits of patience. There is nothing new or even unique about follies in locally elected bodies, it is what it is and it always shall be. All politics are local, Tip O’Neil reminded us and so that is the way life is whether at Tybee Island or the heart of New York City.
What was refreshing about Paul was to see more reasoned, deliberate, ethical and thoughtful approaches to the workings of a local government and for that all taxpayers on Tybee Island can be thankful.
I believe Paul has much to be proud of in the service he provided during his tenure and the model of reasoned approach that he chose to follow is one that the current city council would be wise to adopt.
I have come to believe in my maturity that it is people like Paul that help us all see different visions and paths to solutions to the often controversial and thorny problems we face. I came to understand that even when Paul’s opinions varied greatly from my own, that he actively listened and integrated divergent viewpoints into his thinking and that is rare in the partisan world in which we live.
Whatever Paul does next he will do it with energy, compassion, and passion and he will continue to be a contributor to the wacky little island.
Like many of us who have been in the arena many times before, it is best that we tried to advance thinking and action rather than to sit idly on the sidelines. So, I advise my “brother of another mother” to not take the political winds of fortune personally.
Sometimes, as my partner has said, it seems the society in which we live and work is conspiring against good-willed people and their well-intentioned ways and that even those who work on our behalf sometimes don’t seem to do us the favor they intend.
Perhaps, more so than anyone Mark Twain sums up Paul Wolff when he wrote, “An honest man in politics shines more there than he would elsewhere.”
Semper fi brother, DrD