Athens for Everyone members have attended numerous Mayor and Commission meetings over the years and have paid close attention to politicians on the state level as well. We feel that our experience in this regard can be useful to our members and to the public, both by reporting back to them what we’ve seen and by holding the politicians accountable for their actions, statements and voting record.
This is why we assess politicians and candidates for elected office. Now to explain how:
Our assessments are two-fold: first, we keep track of voting record on issues important to our members. On the local level, we record votes when we contact commissioners and ask them to vote one way or the other. Therefore when we ask for a particular vote, the commissioners know this issue is important to us and that their vote will be recorded. For example, during the assessment period from 2015-2017, there were 14 votes of the commission that we recorded. These votes are visible on each commissioner’s page.
Voting record may only appear as one line on the assessment graphic, but it is half of the total assessment. If a commissioner voted with A4E 14 of 14 times, they will have gained 50 points of out the 100 total points in the assessment. In other words, each vote would be worth about 3.6% of the final grade after doing the math.
Positions on the Issues
Issue positions make up the other half of the assessment. A4E members vote on our platform annually, and we send out a questionnaire to every politician asking them where they stand on each platform plank. It is these issues, taken from our platform, which make up most of the assessment graphic. Typically, we take politicians at their word when they say they support one of our platform planks, and this is generally reported as-is in the graphic.
Issue positions are worth 50 points out of 100 in the final grade. If there are 10 issues on our platform, each one is worth 5 points. A politician gains 2.5 points if they “support” the issue and a full 5 points if they “champion” the issue, that is, if they not only support it but do what can be reasonably expected to push it forward.
How we handle conflicting information
Occasionally, politicians may attempt to pander to us and claim support for a platform plank which they have opposed in their previous public statements, actions or voting record. In these cases, our Policy and Elections Committee discusses and debates which piece of evidence is more important and the final result is displayed in the graphic. This is how we handle conflicting pieces of evidence; through debate and discussion. We try to consider as many types of information as possible in order to gain a clear picture of a politician’s true position.
How we handle a lack of information
Another possibility is a lack of evidence one way or the other. Some elected officials do not return our questionnaire, despite asking for their positions on the issues repeatedly. In these cases where a politician refuses to say where they stand, and we can find no evidence of them ever taking a position in favor of our platform, we assume that they must oppose the platform plank in question. Politicians at times lack the courage to say things people don’t want to hear. If a simple request for information on an issue that is important to their constituents is repeatedly denied, it is usually a safe bet that they oppose our position, unfortunately. Furthermore, we consider silence on an issue to be a tacit support for the status-quo. Even if an elected official holds support for something like living wages in their heart, if they never act or say anything on the issue, effectively they are acting in support of current poverty wages.
However, we always leave open the possibility that we have gotten something wrong. Our assessments are always open to correction and change. If a politician wants credit for supporting an issue, all they have to do is say clearly that they support the platform plank in question, and their assessment will be changed to reflect that.
We hope this clarifies the process of assessing the commissioners and other politicians. We are proud of the work we have done in evaluating the commissioners. We are proud that we can be a community resource and that so much information is now available on our website that was not before available anywhere. We look forward to continuing to hold politicians accountable to you, our members, and to the public.