Dear Editor,

I recently attended an Almont Village Council meeting which happened to be the night they debated over establishing a social district downtown.

As a former elected official who has participated in hundreds of local government meetings, I was intrigued by the process more than the content.

The room was packed with citizens passionately arguing both for and against the proposal. Predictably, some claimed it would save the village while others said it would lead to its demise.

As is the norm these days, the pre-meeting social media discourse was rife with misinformation and personal attacks against those on the opposing side, as well as the village council.

While disagreement and scrutiny of local policies is a vital part of civic participation, the tone and tenor of debate has deteriorated with the rise of social media.

All too often these days disagreement descends into condemnation, nuance gives way to histrionics, and facts fall victim to the most extreme or inflammatory rhetoric.

Currently we don’t have to look any farther than two local bond proposals one in Almont and the other in Imlay City to see such examples.

As I reflected back on similar high-tension meetings I’d observed in the past, I realized many of those hard-fought issues wound up amounting to “much to do about nothing” in the long run.

Compromises were made, changes implemented incrementally, and if ideas proved unworkable, they were eventually discarded or amended.

Through it all, level-headed governance persisted. This is not to discourage passionate civic participation.

By all means, citizens should make their voices heard and hold leaders accountable.

However, we must also allow responsible governance room for deliberation and course-correction.

Nuanced approaches should not be misconstrued as weak leadership or appeasement of undeserving parties.

And individuals on both sides of any issue should interact with empathy, leading with facts over speculation or character attacks.

In the end, the Almont Council approved a scaled-down social district program.

Not everyone got what they wanted, but reasonable minds found a middle ground through compromise.

This outcome is a testament to the good faith service of those willing to endure public service despite its difficulties and scrutiny.

My hope is that those who entered the debate with zeal are able to look back at their conduct with some measure of self-reflection and adjust their approach accordingly if a similar issue arises down the road.

— Ian Kempf