January 16, 2013 - Anyone who knows me or reads my column knows there aren't many people who hold public office that I like.
There are plenty I tolerate. There are plenty I speak to because professionally I'm obligated to. There are plenty I'm polite to – even though I loathe them – because I was raised to be polite. I'm not an animal.
That being said, I really liked Oxford Village President Tom Benner and am genuinely saddened by his passing.
It might sound cliche, but Tom was truly one of the good guys and there aren't many of those in government.
He spoke simply and plainly.
He formulated his opinions and made his decisions based on common sense and only after thoughtful deliberation.
At his core, Tom was an honest man, so no matter what he said, thought or did, I always knew it was coming straight from his heart.
There was never any pretense or question about his motives. He did what he believed was right and what was best for all concerned, period.
Tom wasn't looking for glory or to enhance his public image or to reach the next level in politics. He just wanted to do the job folks elected him to do and serve the community he loved. That's a true public servant in my book.
What I liked most was that Tom and I could always talk.
On some issues we agreed.
He, too, believed in low taxes and conservative spending. He treated the taxpayers' money with the utmost respect – a rare quality in government.
On other issues, we couldn't have been farther apart.
He believed strongly in the village form of government and fought to preserve it because he believed if afforded a higher degree of local control. If I had my way, Oxford Village, and all the other villages in Michigan, would be immediately dissolved because they're an unnecessary relic of the past. I believe township government is better.
Whether we were agreeing or disagreeing, I always respected Tom's opinion and I knew he respected mine.
I'll never forget the time he stopped me in the parking lot at Meijer to ask me if I believed he should stay on the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board or if he should hand the seat off to someone else to represent the village government.
I urged Tom to stay on because I sincerely felt his frugality, his practical nature and his "regular-guy approach," as village attorney Bob Davis so aptly put it, were sorely needed on the DDA board. Tom had no interest in grand visions or pie-in-the-sky plans; he was concerned about the nuts and bolts.
The thing I'm going to miss most about Tom are the chats we'd have whenever he visited the newspaper office to pay a bill or place an ad.
If something was bothering him, he'd let me know. If I was concerned about something, I'd let him know.
To me, those little chats were invaluable and helped us both gain some perspective. I appreciated them as a newspaper editor, as a village resident and as a person.
I can only hope and pray that whoever fills Tom's seat on the village council will follow his example.
So long, Tom.
Thanks for trying to make Oxford a better place.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.