Taking the rancor out of politics

Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell has proposed changing city elections to be nonpartisan, which potentially could eliminate some of the political rancor that has sprung up in recent elections.

There is no doubt in my mind that eliminating the political party affiliations attached to candidates would downplay some of the petty politics, especially considering a mayor and city council races are more about local issues and local candidates than about political party philosophy and national issues.

At the local level, I find in hard to believe candidates are being voted on purely because of the letter after their names, especially when so many voters have firsthand knowledge about the candidates who they personally know and see frequently.

It seems possible that some well-qualified candidates might not even consider seeking political office under the current system in which one must run as a member of a political party and face the harassment due to that political affiliation. It’s also possible that voters lose a well-qualified candidate for office because a less-qualified, but politically connected, candidate is running in the same party for the same office.

It’s possible that a nonpartisan election might bring out more and better qualified candidates … and then the city really is benefited by the elimination of those political party tags that mean so little in a local election.

It should be more important that a candidate is well qualified than it is whether he/she is a Republican, a Democrat or a supporter of the tea party.

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At what point does law enforcement have the legal right to stop a citizen without any obvious probable cause or suspicious conduct, detain them and search them?

That’s the question put before a federal judge in Manhattan involving the New York City Police Department’s so-called “stop-and-frisk” policy, purportedly aimed at decreasing crime in 3,000 participating Bronx buildings.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin initially ruled the practice unconstitutional but has delayed banning the practice until she decides what permanent remedies are necessary to prevent police from overstepping their bounds and illegally stopping people without just cause.

“There is more than enough proof that a large number of people have been improperly stopped as a result of NYPD practices. These facts warrant an injunction,” the judge wrote.

According to an Associated Press account, a trial in March is set to decide the fate of a lawsuit more broadly challenging the city’s stop-and-frisk practices. That lawsuit, filed in 2008, challenges whether minorities are stopped at an unconstitutionally disproportionate rate, and whether there is a failure to monitor, supervise and discipline officers who fail to meet the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk reporting guidelines. The judge refused a request by the city to delay that trial. Scheindlin acknowledged that letting the current practices persist in the Bronx might allow more illegal stops by police.

NYPD officials support the stop-and-frisk policy, saying it has been effective in reducing crime in high-crime buildings.

The issue, though, centers around one’s constitutional right to be free of government intervention unless there is just cause to suspect illegal activity, especially when dealing with the infringement of one’s person by search.

I have to admit, I believe the only time I ever have been patted down was at an airport outside London, England, when I was preparing to board a plane heading back to the United States. It was during the height of the IRA bombings in Great Britain and security measures understandably called for everyone to be searched.

If I were merely walking along Market Street toward my Thursday noon Lions Club of Parkersburg meeting at the Blennerhassett Hotel and was stopped and frisked by a Parkersburg police officer without any just cause, I suspect I would object ardently to being so detained and searched.

And, to me, being stopped and searched without just cause is the root of the issue.

If I matched the description of a suspected criminal or wanted person, then there would be just cause to stop and frisk me, but without that just cause why should I or anyone be so detained?

The stop-and-frisk policy might be a good tool for decreasing some types of crime, but at what cost to personal freedom? And, the question always arises as to how individual police officers might interpret the policy and potentially abuse their authority in stopping and frisking citizens without just cause?