Earlier this month, two Oakdale Rural Fire Protection District directors resigned and another left because he moved out of the district.
The two who quit submitted letters of resignation, each citing a dysfunctional board in a district rife with union issues, lawyers and personal agendas that stand in the way of solving its financial and other problems.
"It was too much fighting for me to deal with," said Travis Hawkins. The experience erased any thoughts he might have entertained about his political future.
"I will never be involved in public service again," he said.
The fire district board isn't alone in contending with controversy:
A few miles away in Riverbank, news accounts suggest that the City Council meetings there could pass for a tacky cable TV reality show. (Possible titles include "Survivor: The City of Action," "The Last Council Member Standing" or "I'm a Council Member — Get Me Out of Here!")
Mayor Chris Crifasi resigned in January, moving to the Bay Area for a new job just two months after being re-elected. Four months later, successor David I. White did the same. That left two other Whites — grandfather Dave White and grandson Jesse James White — on the council along with former Mayor Sandra Benitez and recent appointee Danny Fielder. Voters will elect a new mayor in November.
Conceivably, both Whites could be recalled, with Benitez being targeted in retaliation. Meetings have degenerated into accusations, mudslinging and pure pettiness involving not only the council members but also city staff and residents.
Turlock's contentious City Council took heat for handing ex-Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden a sweetheart deal to become its city manager while preparing to lay off 23 city workers and turn off streetlights.
The Modesto City Schools Board of Education is embroiled in the controversial suspension of an administrator, along with budget-related dilemmas.
And Modesto's City Council made the unpopular decision Tuesday night to lay off nine police officers after a dispute with a union over promised raises and potential layoffs.
Criticism and ridicule are part of a politician's job. While it once was limited to the meeting chambers and letters to the editor, it now spills over 24-7 into comments below stories on modbee.com along with the blogs. As the economy worsens, the decisions get tougher while the criticism gets harsher and more biting.
Every elected board and council is dealing with the recession and looking for ways to close budget gaps. That means layoffs and pay cuts along with the loss of services citizens have taken for granted for decades. It means fewer cops on the streets and workers pleading to keep their jobs.
It's an ugly time, and for some it's a completely different environment than when they took office.
Now, with an election coming up and some vacant seats to fill in the interim, you wonder what would compel someone even to consider serving.
Wanted: Idealistic souls who believe they can make a difference and bring new ideas into often stale good- old-boy networks, and who possess a hide thicker than a water buffalo's.
Understand that whenever you make mistakes, misread the citizens, misspeak or take a position that riles the critics or special interest groups, they'll pounce. They'll pounce on you at meetings. They'll pounce on you online, where they can hide behind a pseudonym. You'll risk criticism in editorials and columns.
The bottom line is that the next few years will continue to be difficult as the state robs local governments of millions of dollars to cover its own shortfalls and mismanagement.
Now, more than ever and at every level, we need decision makers who are pragmatic, compassionate, competent and visionary.
If you think you might be one, don't let the negativity or the circus atmosphere keep you away.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or firstname.lastname@example.org