This week we received a press release in which an elected official was misidentified as “Sedona resident Jon Thompson” and not as “Sedona City Councilman Jon Thompson.”

In an email, Thompson stated that the omission of his title was made because “I don’t want there to be any confusion that my involvement ... has anything to do with City Council.” 

Council may not officially endorse the activity he promotes, which can be clarified with an appropriate disclaimer, but Thompson cannot simply not be a councilman.

Elected office doesn’t work like a light switch.

Council members have the weight of their office and their reputation when they attend non-council meetings or join clubs or associations. The implication for voters at those gatherings is now they have the ear of a member of local government, even if council members vehemently deny that their attendance carries any weight. It does by the simple virtue of who they are.

Likewise, when we get phone calls from officials inquiring about the status of upcoming news content they’re not involved in, claiming to be merely concerned “private citizens,” they are attempting to use the weight of their office to influence our news coverage, whether they want to admit that to themselves or not.

Elected office is not a hat one can take off on a whim. If it was, New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer could have claimed he wasn’t an elected official when he hired a call girl for her escort services in 2008. Even though he wasn’t acting as governor, he was still governor, and broke the law not just as an individual, but as an elected official, and thus resigned.

Elected office doesn’t work like a light switch.

Most political scandals do not stem from statements made from the legislative floor or the speaker’s podium, but from out-of-the-spotlight
meetings wherein elected officials use the weight of their offices for personal or political gain. 

To clarify this point with local council members who failed to understand their office is invested in them at all times, not just during council sessions, back in February 2014, I wrote the editorial “City Council members can’t ignore office when it suits them,” regarding the plans by two then-council members who had planned to call a Goldwater Institute lawyer and ask for advice as “private citizens.”

They were not private citizens then and Thompson is not a private citizen now. From the moment they are sworn into office until the moment their terms end or their letter of resignation is accepted by their public body, elected officials are elected officials, whether legislating, shopping at the grocery store or attending private meetings regarding their interests.

In a similar vein, it also makes no sense for local elected officials to leave their daises and speak to their own public body from the podium during the call to public as “private citizens.” Voters do not mysteriously forget who elected officials are in the 15 feet between dais and podium.

Numerous local governments allow this ridiculous political theater and it both insults the intelligence of voters and creates in the minds of officials the erroneous fiction that they can remove themselves from their office when they deem it fit.

Elected officials can participate in a slew of clubs and organizations, promote programs or events and meet privately with residents as they see fit, all of which may be legal and proper, but they must never forget that for the length of their term, they are indivisible from their office.

Christopher Fox Graham

Managing Editor