Monday, December 29, 2008

An Interview with Rashid Burney

While trying to get a grip on a political review of 2008, I posed some questions to
Councilman Rashid Burney, who has made many moves to make government more transparent.

Burney has one web site that has municipal documents on it, which I have found an invaluable resource. Imagine being able to look up something on the Municipal Code at 3 a.m. or over the weekend, when previously it required a visit to City Hall and plowing through two voluminous books of laws.

He also writes a blog, “As I See It,” that is both informative and entertaining as it blends his official role with aspects of his personal life with his wife, Wendy and daughter, Jasmine.

(Correction: Burney supported Obama since March 2007.) In 2008, Burney committed himself early on to Barack Obama’s candidacy. He was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention and has seen triumph after triumph for Obama ever since.

Deeming his responses to be worthy of a standalone blog post (with a few edits for typos), Plaintalker is offering them herewith.

Q. What inspired you to give early backing to Barack Obama?
A. "Going back to the 2000 elections, Bush concerned me greatly. Many reports were coming out of his ideological beliefs and how he saw the world only out of those beliefs. I heard many people recognize that he was intellectually not capable of being president, yet they went on to say that "daddy will bail him out if he gets into trouble". Well, we are in deep trouble, and we know the rest of that story. In the Bush Jr years the country abandoned all kinds of common sense approaches in favor of an ideological and pro oil and defense companies. Detroit was allowed to loosen its fuel efficiency-improvement requirements. The war on Iraq stands as the poster child for how this country lost its way - we invaded the wrong country, no-bid contracts to Halliburton, the torture of Iraqis, the renditions, Gitmo, Valerie Plame, etc. etc.

"From this turmoil I felt we needed a new direction. Not just the next person in line, but someone who would change the trajectory of this country. Obama was the only major candidate that opposed the Iraq war, when it was unpopular to oppose it. Upon further reading of Obama's pro-sustainable energy policy and bi-partisan approach to so many critical matters, I felt he was what we needed. He had the intellectual capacity, he had the ability - the presence to move people - so important in a leader, and while he was out of the bare-knuckle Chicago political arena he was not just a status-quo politician. He knew how to work the system without compromising his core values - it is a balancing act, but it can be done. He was the only true agent of change in this campaign. "

Q. What part of the campaign is most memorable to you?
A. "The primary was most memorable to me, since at that point it was purely a grass roots campaign. A grass roots movement if you will. We had so many people making phone calls who had never before been involved in politics! It was truly amazing. The most memorable moments of the campaign were his Iowa victory, his loss in NH, the convention in Denver and victory night on Nov. 4th. On Nov. 4th, I was at the Dem HQ here in Plainfield, and I saw so many people crying that night. This was something very special. To so many, a dream they never even dared to dream came true. This was not in my original thoughts when I choose to support Obama, but as I look back, I think 30 years from now, the country will be a far better country for this factor primarily.

"That morning, I was delivering donuts at 6:30 in the morning to the poll locations. I saw long lines. A senior citizen I recognized called me and we talked for a moment. Seeing she was now at the front of the line, I suspected she had been waiting in line for some time. I asked her how long had she been waiting, and without hesitation she said: '65 years.'

"Later that day, I took Jasmine into the voter booth, and she actually pressed the red button, thus casting my ballot for Obama. It was a vote for Jasmine's future and what sort of a country do we leave for her."

Q. You have devoted countless hours to providing constituent services, such as posting agendas and documents. How would you sum up your reason for taking the time to do all this?
A. "Even before I was on the council, I saw a huge disconnect between the people and the government. This maybe so in other towns but it certainly felt this way in Plainfield. In 2005 when I joined, I realized that citizens could not follow the operations of the government. They had to rely on others and thus were swayed by sometimes incomplete information. But what were they to do? Where were they to get this information? So the result of this has been that Plainfield voters have been restless. Every few years we change the government. At five years, Linda (Carter) and Cory (Storch) are the senior members of the council. There is no continuity and no leadership stability. This is due to a lack in confidence in government by its people.

"The people must be able to see their government at work. That is the very first and fundamental step - and with today's technology that should be a no-brainer. In 2005, when I came onto the council, I setup my own web-site - to help document and make information available about the government. I was criticized for putting the Charter on the web. I was criticized for putting up the road construction information on the web. I started putting up the agendas and minutes on the web. Now I put up the resolutions and whatever else I can.

"You see, we are doing our best. But citizens need to see what we are doing - once there is a belief that work is getting done - or at least attempting to get done, some confidence in the government will come about. With confidence comes stability and difficult decisions that get put off will no longer get put off. In the long run we will all benefit. But it has to start with people believing in their government, and that is what I am trying to do. It is my duty and responsibility as a public servant. "

--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Bernice for posting the Q&A to Council Rashid Burney. It is gratifying to see more of him and your questions allowed for just that.

Rashid is definitively on target when he says that people need to see what is it that our elected officials are doing and how. Him taking the time to show us what he is doing with the power we gave him has gained him more than one follower.

Thanks again Bernice for such a great blog and post.


9:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good interview with Rashid Burney. Thoughtful response. But is it enough? No. But his involment is a bright light in otherwise dim picture. The city needs a vision and a people that have the character to realize objectives that push the city into the future

10:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We all have to commend the Councilman for his desire to keep citizens informed through his postings of agenda and council related items. It is unfortunate that he should have to do this as a result of the non-leadership of the Mayor to have her PIO staff provide the citizens with information on the City's official web site.

The councilman should be demanding this be done or not approve the budget for the PIO staff.

11:25 PM  

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