Doug Foust: Worthingtonian, Public Servant, Friend
I first met Doug Foust over a plate of pancakes in June of 2015, at the same time that Lifestyle Communities was proposing their high-density project at UMCH. My first impression of Doug was that he cared deeply about Worthington, the community that has been home to the Foust family for multiple generations (his mother was one of the original residents at Stafford Village, back in 1970 I believe). And my second impression was that in addition to caring, he was willing to put his words in to action on behalf of the city he loves.
Following our breakfast meeting, he soon announced that he would seek a seat on City Council, and I (and many others) kicked off the Keep Worthington Beautiful (Issue 38) charter amendment campaign. For the next five months our messages and our missions overlapped, and I came to further admire Doug Foust’s civic-mindedness. He became my good friend—in that unique way that happens when engaged in a common struggle in devotion to a larger goal. His clear commitment to serving the broad public—not himself nor a narrow segment—motivated me and served as a touchstone amidst the constant moral decision points of the political realm.
On City Council, where I served with Doug for the last two years, we have on occasion not seen eye to eye, which has been a source of consternation for both of us. But what I have come to learn is that, at the end of the day, I could always count on Doug to be faithful to his core commitments and to have the ready courage to express them clearly to his fellow Council members. So Foust has continued to provide the touchstone for service.
This last Monday at City Council, Doug shared some “final remarks” with the community as he steps down from serving as an active member of Council. I thought his words well worth sharing with the readership of this blog, and have copied them below. In closing, I want to thank Doug for his service and his friendship, and to make clear that I look forward to working together again in common cause. Ever onward.
“Final Remarks” from Doug Foust, City Council meeting, 12.16.19:
“Our City and our nation are founded on a principle of Representative Government. I’ve tried to keep that in front of me at all times while seated here.
It is humbling. We as City Employees (whether Council or Staff) are not leaders, we are public servants.
It’s easy and even tempting to forget that, to think we know what’s best, to seek out and surround ourselves with a group of people who think as we do and reinforce our own ideals about the future direction of the City.
It’s also easy and tempting to get caught up in what’s hot at the moment, bumper-sticker thinking, tossing around the popular term or phrase or concept of the day.
Frankly, I’ve never cared what a Regional Planning Commission thinks or says. A half-million new people in the next 30 years? It’s a data point, but it doesn’t change my thinking about this organically-grown city of Worthington. To use a very current example, I don’t care that a small, orchestrated parade of architects and developers all got up and praised the new Stafford Village design last week. I agree with them all, it’s a very attractive structure. It would be gorgeous on the Harding/Boundless site, but the question in the moment was appropriateness to the location, i.e. in the Historic District. I’m similarly unmoved that a couple dozen people wrote letters and another half-dozen got up and spoke in favor. Why?
It all comes back to Representative Government and our roles not as leaders rather public servants and the importance of truly heeding the majority. Consider this:
Nancy and I attended a nice party over the weekend. A friend of mine (Brian) and his wife are in the process of moving from the Short North to the home they just bought in Rush Creek. They’re excited. Brian was talking about all that moving entails – the packing and hauling and unpacking and internet and cable and the list is endless. And I was reminded of what I have felt from the time even before I started campaigning four and a half years ago, why I did this.
There’s an unwritten agreement, a social contract as I see it, between those of us as public servants (notice I didn’t say City Leaders) and the public we serve, to honor their expectations. You see, it isn’t what Brian said to me – it’s what he didn’t say. He didn’t say, “You know Doug, we think Worthington is kind of a B/B minus but we’re moving here in the hopes that it will eventually become what we want it to be.” Think about it. Has anyone ever actually said those words prior to putting it all on the line, making the biggest purchase of their life, going to the bank and signing on the line for a 30-year commitment on money they haven’t made yet? No, they looked and said, That’s for me. That looks like my idea of home, that’s where I want to be at the end of the day, the place I want to raise my kids, that sort of thinking. They could have picked another community, but they chose Worthington. That’s the guy I feel responsibility to, and I sincerely hope everyone seated in this room feels that same powerful sense of responsibility, that Social Contract.
You can talk all you want about “MORPC says…” or walkability or inclusivity or any of a list of other popular phrases and concepts, but don’t forget about Brian and the thousands like him who staked their future on what they saw here now, not what somebody else thinks we are obligated to become. There’s that unwritten social contract that I believe we as public servants are first and foremost obligated to respect and uphold.
And the antidote to the poison of that bumper-sticker thinking, that lure of thinking we’re leaders rather than public servants, it’s the Visioning process we all committed to. Before you take another step down the path of new urbanism (be it at UMCH or elsewhere), or potentially, irreversibly throwing the Historic District and our guidelines under the bus, or any of those things that can’t be undone, please pause just long enough to really find out what the people think. It’s only a matter of months, and there is nothing so pressing here that we can’t wait to let the people speak, the people we were placed here to represent, the majority of voices here in our community today who chose Worthington not for what they thought it might become someday but for what they saw here now. People have criticized the City for years for not listening. In commissioning the Visioning process, you’ve asked the question, you’d better be prepared to accept and embrace the answer, whatever it turns out to be. Please, before taking any significant steps that will alter the City, Stop and listen before you act.
In closing, I want to thank City staff for all you have done to teach me, guide me, and to put up with me. It sounds cliché, but I mean this – I have been truly honored to represent the residents of Worthington and I sincerely hope I have served you well.
Thank you.” — Doug Foust, City Council Member, 2016-2019