Friday, October 16, 2009
Smell Something Funny? Your Local Government May Be Off-Gassing.
Our little township, Bainbridge, which is both a part of, and separate from Chagrin Falls, doesn't have a government, per se. It has a group of Trustees. These three elected officials oversee everything the township does. More precisely, they manage the township money. This body arbitrates what gets fixed, or taken down, which contractor gets to mow the grass at the freeway on-ramp and how the explosive natural gas in the neighbor's well-water is being contained.
The, SAY WHAT?? That's right, they peek in for a little howdy-do on how things are moving along with the well fix, since that house down the street was blown off its foundation by a natural gas explosion, which subsequently polluted their groundwater.
I showed up to the township Trustee meeting not because I am a dedicated activist. On the contrary, I am a sedentary anecdotist. But I caught wind of some doings that I wanted to look into, namely that they were planning to tear down a school building that Lily and Lou had gone to preschool in, and that had seemed to me at the time a pretty nice building. It was nothing special architecturally, but it did have a big old gym, two floors of classrooms and a playing field out back and after all, there it was, built. Generally I'm opposed to tearing things down and throwing them away. Everything made today is total crap and even older, mediocre shit, strikes me as worth saving.
Also, I'd read in the paper in an unrelated article that the school district was going to try to pass a levy to pay for a new school building in the next five years. My inner-Republican stopped brush clearing and perked its ears.
I attended the trustee meeting with every hope I'd have the chance to go all Norma Rae on their action, but discovered instead the existence of an alternate universe, the slow-moving, groundbreaking world of local government. The meeting was packed because of the school building issue, the only sentimental item on the agenda. And by all reports it was the most well attended meeting on record. In fact, more often then not, there are only about ten people in the room. But that night, all hundred or so seats had spreading, dimpled asses in them. Everyone from landscapers wanting to bid contracts to the three dedicated activists who attend every...single... meeting, along with the local reporter who records the doings, to people like me who were clearly born yesterday, were present and fanning themselves with agendas.
So, the meeting starts and its, blah blah blah about the road re-surfacing on Pettibone and when can the detour signs be taken down, a few notes on the price for winter road sand, mailbox reimbursement - an "aye'' here and a "seconded" there, and a few hours (!) pass, filled with motions to file later motions (if that's even what they're called) and out of nowhere a woman stands up and asks the two-pronged question, like a serpents tongue, "When will they be transporting the plasma bomb down 306 to blow the clogged drainage dam, and when will the people with the poisoned water be getting access to the city water line, now that they've been drinking bottled water for over a year?" Shazam! I immediately perk up.
"I'm sorry, did she just say 'transport the plasma bomb'?" And a guy in a t-shirt with the sleeves cut off, so I can see his armpit hair, sort of laughs nervously and says, "I think she did."
I have no idea what a plasma bomb is, but apparently they have to move it on a truck, and I'm imagining something very Doctor Strangelove, maybe a semi with a missile on it, rumbling down the road. They need a special permit for that, don't they?
I take another look at the woman asking the question, and immediately I get it; she's the person in our quaint hamlet who has made it her business to look out for the environmental interests of our community. She's wearing the requisite lady-poetess outfit, signifying her earlier hippie status, and her grey-streaked hair is held back with combs. In this woman's hands rests the future of our neighbor's drinking water and the potential for a bomb to be transported down main street. She's not even an elected official, but the trustees know her by name and they clearly respect her commitment to town policy.
I am showing my naivete by simplifying the proceedings to this degree. Of course this woman is not alone. The trustees themselves are diligent, dedicated public servants, but I don't kid myself, they are also so deeply awash in a shit tide of bureaucracy, they're lucky to find a floating Buick and grab on.
Many things were decided that night, though each item was heavily coated in procedural molasses. Budget overages were reconciled, bomb safety was assured (there is in fact no such thing as a plasma bomb, except maybe in science fiction, but there would be a big stick of dynamite shoved in the ass of the clogged dam), well-water sampling results were to be disclosed in the local paper and business, by golly, was done. Three hours into what would be a five hour meeting, the school tear down item floats to the surface, by which point I am so whip-lashed by the proceedings that all I can do is whimper out a request for the air conditioning to be turned on. So much for laying in the path of the bulldozers.
I did learn a few things by attending that meeting. For one, local government is terribly, terribly boring. But also, that the things that directly affect our personages, the water we drink, the roads we drive, the playing fields on which our kids chuck the ball - the real things that we can see and taste, and go to school in - the fate of those things rest in the hands of our town's minor-league officials and the people who show up to keep them in check.
Its great to get excited by Obama, or feel like knocking Glen Beck's teeth in, but if you want to change the world, show up to your town's chamber meetings, in whatever form they take. It'll blow you off your foundation.