By John Lesinski
One of Ronald Reagan’s most quoted axioms is “trust but verify.” He famously used this Russian proverb when negotiating with those same Russians in 1987 during nuclear disarmament talks. Since then, these words have been applied to multiple life situations here in America, whether for a teenager who wants to borrow the family car for an “errand” or for a President of the United States who won’t release his tax returns. Now, given recent local news, “trust but verify” takes on relevant meaning in the business of government here in Rappahannock County.
It is important to remember that the first word in “trust but verify” is “trust.” Trusting someone to be telling the truth or trusting that public servants are putting the people before personal interests is a fundamental cornerstone of building healthy working relationships, and is the first step in fostering the spirit of collaboration. Chris Thompson of Fund for Our Economic Future in northeast Ohio said in a recent essay that “collaboration moves at the speed of trust.” And community collaboration is what Rappahannock County needs now more than ever to preserve what it has built while defining what it needs going forward in a rapidly changing society.
Unfortunately, we are now witnessing a surprising and disheartening lack of trust by a vocal minority in our community and between some elected and appointed officials in our local government. This threatens to distract us all from the important tasks at hand for which we were elected, hired or volunteered to perform. “Distrust and vilify” is a poor substitute for “trust but verify” and it’s hurting Rappahannock County in a time of great change and opportunity.
It is no coincidence why this cloud of mistrust has descended upon us now. We are experiencing a rash of professional turnover in local government officials that have a collective experience of over 100 years.These trusted professionals are now, or are in the process of, retiring. Now more than ever our community should be focusing all our energies on productive and proactive collaboration to fill this knowledge void and not on settling scores, filing lawsuits, or airing dirty laundry.
I am relatively new to Rappahannock County but I have a general appreciation of what it took to establish and then consistently protect this amazing place to live, work, and play. I did not know the “founding fathers” of our county that are revered for their vision and leadership. But I suspect that if they were among us again that they would be sorely disappointed at what is transpiring. Although I wasn’t there at the beginning, I am wise enough to realize that you don’t create a community such as this without a great level of collaboration. I’m sure there were disagreements worthy of a fistfight or two, but I doubt past generations of local leadership succeeded by relying on lawsuits, FOIA requests, and fake news. That said, they were lucky to live in a time before social media!
When the constitution was ratified in 1787, Benjamin Franklin exclaimed to all Americans that the convention had produced a Republic, “if you can keep it.” We have the blessing of a local community that is steeped in volunteerism and a shared vision of preserving our fragile balance while all other counties around us have made economic and environmental compromises. Rappahannock is a special place, “if we can keep it.” And keeping this place the way it is in the face of accelerating change will take everyone working together in a collaborative effort. And that collaboration will move, or stagnate, at the speed of trust.
John Lesinski sits on the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors, representing the Hampton district. He previously was chairman of the Rappahannock County Public Schools’ Board of Education.