There are thousands, if not millions of people in America, who are happy the election is over so they can finally stop hearing about “the candidates,” “the issues,” and just “politics” in general. I too was one of those people. That is, up until 4 years ago when my dad was elected to the Sunbury City Council. At that moment I had a reason to care about politics, although I never understood it and I never really paid attention.
When he was elected, he had many ideas on how to improve the city. Whether it was concepts for businesses in the city, ways to improve efficiency of our city employees, or hopes of helping citizens in the city who are less fortunate and need financial or physical assistance improving their homes.
I followed his journey through the ups and downs of being a public official in Sunbury while I was in college but didn’t have a lot of extra time to help. When I finished my last semester of classes in graduate school, I finally had some free time to spend helping video record the City Council meetings on Monday nights.
When I showed up for my first meeting, it was a budget meeting and I was one of two people there. I was shocked that there was such a low turn out to a meeting about how the citizen’s tax dollars would be spent (Sunbury has a $4 million budget). I guess I assumed someone had to care about politics right? I don’t ever go to these meetings, but other people do right? Well, apparently I was wrong. In a city of 10,000 people only 2 people showed up at a budget meeting (I was one of them and I’m not even a citizen of Sunbury).
After sitting through the meeting and seeing the bickering and bullying from other council members toward my dad when he questioned anything in the budget, I started to see why not many people showed up. It was boring, people were arguing, and it’s hard to understand what is being talked about most of the time.
I continued to go to the meetings, but I was determined to get other people to show up too. I began helping my dad get his message out to the citizens of Sunbury about the way the tax dollars were being spent and the lack of common sense that runs rampant in our local government (and federal for that matter). As I helped my dad and talked to him about the meetings, I began to learn more about local government and politics and started to become interested in learning more.
My newfound interest in politics was sparked by a combination of three things.
- My dad was being bullied publicly and made to look like a fool for bringing any new ideas to the table (which were generally shot down by a 3 majority no matter what it was—even trying to hire a new employee at the code office). I’m very protective over my family and watching someone treat my dad that way was very hard for me to handle.
- Once I learned the basics of politics it was glaringly obvious how bad things really are in Sunbury.
- I wanted other people to see what I saw in the current administration running Sunbury during these meetings. I faithfully recorded the meetings and posted them on YouTube, and talked to everyone I could about what was really happening in Sunbury.
Once the word got out about some of the major issues (thanks to nottheitem.com) and when people started to get mad about how they were being taken advantage of, more and more people began to come to the meetings and better yet—they were talking about the issues!
When my dad announced his candidacy for Mayor in February he was very optimistic and excited about the opportunity to make much needed changes to Sunbury. Little did we know this would be a true test of emotional and physical strength for both him and I.
Soon after announcing his candidacy for Mayor, the Daily Item began printing article after article that painted my dad in a bad light. The articles went as far as to make untruthful accusations that were intended to make him seem like a bad person. Seeing these articles and hearing the disrespect for him from the other councilmen when I know his character and I know that he is trying to do good things for Sunbury was very hard.
I would sit in the audience behind the camera at the city council meetings and my gut would be in a knot and my hands would be shaking. A local government that lacks professionalism and respect creates a toxic environment and no audience members should feel the way I feel every time I watch them pick at my dad. Yet I know many are scared to make a comment or ask a question because they are made to look stupid and written off most of the time.
After putting in so many months of hard work and watching my dad go through so much stress and anxiety over the awful campaign tactics that were used, it seems weird that it’s over just like that and all of our hard work and stress was for nothing.
Reflections on Change
But as I reflect back on the past year and more specifically the past nine months I can see such a difference in the attitudes of Sunbury’s citizens. More people are involved and talking about the issues than there has been in years, the meetings are getting more crowded, and hope is being restored little by little.
Sunbury is in need of serious change and although my dad, Joe Bartello, lost the Mayoral race, things are heading in the right direction. The power is in your hands and you need to use it! Develop an interest and a passion for your community and the desire to protect its integrity comes naturally.
Find something to spark your interest in politics and local government and learn through debate. It is said that you shouldn’t talk about politics, but it is one of the most important things to talk about. Through talking you learn and through learning you open your eyes to the true nature of the current and future administrations.
“Unless the people, through unified action, arise and take charge of their government, they will find that their government has taken charge of them. Independence and liberty will be gone, and the general public will find itself in a condition of servitude to an aggregation of organized and selfish interest.”
Thank you to everyone who helped my dad with this election and especially those who stuck their necks out to support him in the face of criticism. I admire you all and am eternally grateful for everything you’ve done. Thank you Ed and Drew for running with principle and logic. We worked hard and didn’t win, but the truth will always prevail.
(Britani Batello has a Master of Science degree from Bloomsburg University).