Monday, November 19, 2012

You can't fight City Hall, but you can annoy it a little

I’ve been to a lot of town council meetings. Some are interesting. Most are not.

But I do find town councils interesting in general, just in a how-things-work kind of way. How things work currently is to ask the federal and state governments for money.

(This is not the interesting part. This is the depressing part. Regardless of where you stand politically, it’s depressing to think that towns used to be able to have things like sidewalks and stoplights on their own dime and now they can’t.)

What’s interesting is all the bits that still work the way they’re supposed to. How the police department connects to the fire department which needs the help of the water department which of course is tied to the sewer department and on and on and on. Tab A goes in slot B and then you wind it up and hey presto! A town!

Even more interesting than that, of course, are the bits that don’t work at all. Pieces of property that either belong to Mrs. Jones or Mr. Smith or the Blessed Church of Apollo the Redeemer which moved to Samoa in 1978 and then dropped off the face of the earth, or maybe it’s actually the city’s right-of-way, depending on which deed you’re reading. The council members are very sympathetic (“We absolutely understand your position, Mrs. Jones, and I’m sure if you hire a lawyer you can get an injunction against Mr. Smith’s emu coop, at least temporarily), but they have no idea what to do. The city attorney helpfully explains that legally, it looks like all parties have an equal claim but the city will have to put a $20,000 sidewalk on the right-of-way to establish theirs because that’s the way the land grant is written.

Public hearings are not remotely interesting, but they can be entertaining. I have a theory: A helpful public discussion can be conducted by as many as ten people. Get above that number, and it becomes necessary for each question to be asked by at least three people (because they weren’t paying attention when the other guy asked it). Go up to say, 20, and the first question will be asked at least five times, each time more emotionally than the last.

This is exponentially more true of radio call-in shows, which is why I cannot listen to them.

So why am I telling you this? Oh yeah, I’m a journalist again. Sort of. A little bit.

I gave up reporting a couple of years ago because it seemed impossible to write hard news all day and then try to switch to fiction at night. And initially I think this was true. I needed a break from my old life to change gears and learn a new trade. I’m still learning, but I have enough momentum now that I think I can try to combine the two.

And I really can’t do anything else to earn a living (I really, really can’t—I know all writers say that, but for me it’s true), so here I am. At the town council meeting.

They’re voting about dog poo today. After the budget hearing.

No comments:

Post a Comment