Last week, I got word that Jeff Harris had died.
If you didn’t know Jeff, there is no reason you would have heard of him. I met him years ago when I was developing real estate, and he was involved in real estate sales and finance—one of many people whose paths I crossed doing business. A nice guy I’d promptly forgotten, until he called me a few months ago, joking that he was “a voice from your checkered past."
He’d called on behalf of a "good government" political action committee in Plainfield, Indiana. Plainfield has been growing rapidly, giving rise to concerns that its governing practices—rooted in casual, small-town "handshake" politics—were not proving adequate to the challenges of a more sophisticated economic development environment. They thought the Town needed an Ethics Ordinance and Jeff remembered that I had once chaired the Indianapolis Ethics Commission. Could I help?
During the following months, I met with Jeff and other members of the Plainfield PAC. I found a model municipal Ethics Ordinance, and worked with them to revise it to meet Plainfield‘s needs. I attended the Town Council meeting where Jeff asked for consideration of the Ordinance. And I enjoyed getting reaquainted with Jeff, who was unfailingly cheerful and upbeat–the result, he told me, of a heart transplant he’d had ten years before. It "brought home how wonderful life is."
What I thought was wonderful was seeing a group of citizens coming together for the sole purpose of improving the way their Town’s government did business. If there was a hidden agenda, I didn’t see it. None of the people I met had business interests involved. Their efforts certainly weren’t partisan (everyone in Plainfield, apparently, is Republican). The PAC members had grown concerned that questions were being raised about the Town’s business practices, and they wanted to put rules in place to provide ethical guidance and ensure transparancy. If there were any personal scores being settled, I saw no evidence of it. What I saw was a group of good citizens taking responsibility for their community—not carping, not complaining, not dealing in accusations or innuendos, but spending their own time and money to make their government more open and responsive.
In Jeff’s case, he was using some of his "borrowed time" to engage in the effort. He’d raised his children in Plainfield, and he wanted them to be proud of their community. He wanted to ensure that Town business was conducted "fair and square." That’s what good citizens do.
When Jeff’s transplanted heart gave out a few weeks ago, Plainfield—and Indiana, and America—lost a good, decent man and a model citizen.
When I get depressed about our national politics—the corruption, the partisanship, the contempt for the rule of law—I think of Jeff Harris and the people like him, people who don’t want to run for office, don’t "wheel and deal," and don’t create organizations based on business calculations.
They are the best of America.