Showing up for public office isn’t optional

Whomever originated the colloquialism about just showing up being half the battle was onto something.

We all show up for something every day. Work. Dinner. Meetings. A date. A ride. A game. To vote. You get the idea.

That’s why someone elected to represent constituents in Grand Traverse County failing for more than a year to show up to execute the duties granted by his position is disappointing. Northwestern Michigan College Trustee Michael Estes recently explained that he hasn’t attended a single board or committee meeting since July 2020 because of an ideological disagreement with the board’s remote meeting structure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Estes admitted his perpetually empty seat at the head table during dozens of Zoom meetings didn’t trigger his desired outcome. He told a Record-Eagle reporter last week his protest was because of his perception that online meetings make public participation and comments more difficult.

The only problem is he never showed up at a public meeting to raise the issue or advocate for his board to adapt its practices to become more accessible.

And we witnessed enough online public meetings to say with confidence that such an assertion likely was true in isolated incidents as public officials worked out technological hiccups. But on the whole, livestreaming meetings, especially for the elected boards that worked to hone their digital venue management, boosted public participation in ways in-person gatherings simply can’t achieve.

In fact, we hope many boards now working to transition back to in-the-flesh sessions will continue to offer constituents the ability to engage through livestreams. There are plenty of local taxpayers who simply can’t peel away from work at 8 a.m. on a Wednesday morning to attend a meeting, but they might be able to listen or watch via a smartphone.

Unfortunately, Estes — a long-time local elected official with a number of public posts on his resume, including a stint as mayor of Traverse City — failed to follow through with the most basic duty of any elected office: show up.

That means at least some portion of Grand Traverse County voters and taxpayers spent the past year without a voice on the Northwest Michigan College board. Their interests weren’t represented. Their viewpoints weren’t aired.

At the same time, Estes’ hiatus pinpointed a weakness in the college board’s governing structure. Turns out those regulations don’t require members to attend meetings, nor do they offer an avenue to remove a trustee who goes MIA.

Fellow NMC Trustee Kennard Weaver put into words a sentiment many of Estes’ constituents likely would embrace.

“If you’re not going to serve you should probably resign and let someone on (the board) who will do their job,” he said last week.

After all, shouldn’t we at least expect the folks chosen to represent us to show up for work?


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