Crabby People

Last week, I volunteered as a member of my Rotary Club to collect money for parking at the annual Linn County Horse Fair and Expo. I was a little surprised at how cheerful most people were as they forked over their $4 for the privilege of parking; and I had some nice, brief conversations with a number of visitors. The conversation I remember best, however, was an encounter with an older man who can only be described as crabby.

My antagonist drove up and wanted to know what was going on at the fairgrounds, so I explained that there was a horse show and that it cost $4 to park. My response was clearly inadequate because the fellow then angrily wanted to know what was going on the next day. I had a schedule and read the list of events for Saturday and again managed to anger the guy. He realized eventually that the only thing he would see that weekend at the fairgrounds were horses, which prompted him to drive off after angrily declaring he wouldn’t pay 37¢ to see a bunch of horses.

I have often told my wife to get rid of me if I ever become a grumpy old man who only sees the worst in people and the world around me. I realize that who I become in old age, assuming I get there, may be beyond my control. I have been blessed with good health, a good job, a great family, and many friends who enrich my life. It’s easy to be optimistic when things are going well, and it may be much less so when the pillars supporting your world view start to crumble. The scariest scenario for me is the loss of mental faculties plus the confusion and anger that change engenders.

My initial reaction to the visitor at the fairgrounds was a little anger of my own, followed by some amusement over his seemingly irrational anger. The more I thought about the encounter, the more I realized how little I knew about his situation and what was causing his animosity. I’m not sure I would or could have done anything differently, but I was reminded of the importance of considering the other person’s point of view when serving the public. We can escalate negative situations by responding in kind to angry people, or we can help maintain peace by making a commitment to remain the person we want to be, regardless of the provocation to retaliate.

The angry horse-hater left the fairgrounds parking lot with a “thank you” and a slightly better attitude (I think) because he was treated with respect even when he’d done nothing to earn it. Others have helped me in a similar way throughout my life, and I hope I am able to pass along that example in my work at the City and in my personal life. Crabby people are probably feeling that way for a reason, and we will almost certainly have an opportunity before long to brighten their outlook.

Flat Stanley

This column introduces our new interim city manager, Flat Stanley, to the City of Albany. F.S., as he’s known to his friends, arrived here yesterday from Mrs. Page’s second grade class at Five Points Elementary School in Springboro, Ohio. His airfare, clothes, and other necessities were provided by Abby Smith, who is my first cousin once removed. Fortunately, cousins are not covered by the City’s nepotism policy; so F.S. can work here without penalty.

I know some who read this column will be happy to hear about the temporary change in management. F.S. appears to be a much better listener, and he dresses more appropriately than I do. He has a full head of hair and is not overweight. F.S. is always smiling and seems to be a genuinely nice guy.

F.S. came to us wearing an Ohio State University shirt and tie. We will be adding to his wardrobe while he’s here, and I’m sure he will come to understand how important it is to be respectful of local culture. We do not want F.S. to become Shredded Stanley.

I hope it’s unnecessary to remind everyone to treat F.S. with the same courtesy and respect given to all city managers. On second thought, it probably is necessary to remind everyone to treat him as an honored guest. I might even benefit from some residual good will. F.S. will not, of course, be paid for his services; but you have my assurance his earnings will go to a good cause.

Please stop by the city manager’s office to have your picture taken with Flat Stanley. He welcomes visitors, and his smile seems to broaden when he denies leave requests or ignores pleas for more money. I’m a little concerned about how he will relate to the City Council, who is accustomed to fawning, gratuitous compliments and occasional groveling. F.S. seems to be a bit rigid and inflexible, so I’m hoping my position will improve by comparison.

F.S. will only be with us for the next week or so, and I’m sure he will be a better man for the experience. I’m teaching him everything I know about Oregon’s land use laws in hopes Ohioans will see the light. He looks a little like our finance director, and I’m planning to send him down to Stewart’s office to practice the many different ways to say “no.”

I will be accepting souvenir offerings at my office to send home with F.S. He should have plenty of Oregon Duck mementos, and the Beavers among you may want to broaden his experience. After all, unlike Number 1 seed Oregon and the mighty Oregon State Beavers, Ohio State is not in the NCAA basketball tournament this year; and F.S. looks more than a little embarrassed.

Flat Stanley 1

Flat Stanley 2

What do we want?

Cities exist for a variety of reasons, and I think it’s a good idea for those of us who work for cities to focus on why we are being paid. Albany’s Strategic Plan is a great resource to help answer that question, but important information is also available in the City’s budget and other financial documents. We usually spend money on what is most important to us.

Safe City

People want to live in a place where they feel safe, which helps explain why public safety is almost always the largest part of a city’s budget. Safety is a bigger concept than preventing crime and putting out fires. It includes having a good emergency response system, safe drinking water, and community services that protect against decay. All of us who work for the City and those who live here have some responsibility to help promote safety, and I believe we generally do a good job. Recent recognition of life-saving efforts by employees and citizens by our Council is just one affirmation that people in our community care about each others’ safety.

Great Neighborhoods

I feel safe in my own neighborhood; but when I reflect on what makes it a great place to live, I think about the nature trails, parks, sidewalks, and other essential utilities I use every day. During the ten years we have lived in our house, we have never had a moment without water or sewer service. Our street is in good condition, and we have experienced no flooding. My grandchildren love to walk through the woods near our home, and we regularly take advantage of the neighborhood parks. I enjoy the diversity of my neighborhood, where people from many different cultures live and interact at events, like the National Night Out sponsored by the Police Department.

Healthy Economy

Albany’s economy is closely tied to what is going on around the country and the world. We experience our share of misery during economic downturns and our measure of prosperity in better times. I believe we have some ability to influence local conditions by maintaining high quality services to residents and businesses and by focusing resources on various opportunities. The City has helped countless businesses with tax breaks or other financial incentives, and we have seen positive results with the restoration of the downtown commercial area and new jobs in industrial businesses. We cannot control all the variables that affect the local economy, but we can make the bad times less severe and the good times better.

Effective Government

I have had more than my share of chances to see the effects of corrupt and incompetent government on the lives of people around the world. We live in a country where bad conduct by government officials is generally punished and where public employees receive enough compensation that they do not have to supplement their incomes with bribes or other forms of corruption. We are not immune to mistakes or occasional dishonesty; but in every Oregon community where I have worked, employees have had many incentives to be honest and effective and few reasons to risk the penalties for corruption.

I plan to retire in Albany and continue living here for the remainder of my life. My wife and I like it here because we feel safe and we’re close to family and friends. We like our house and neighborhood and appreciate that we can move around town quickly and safely. Good medical care is easily accessible, and we like living in a town with good schools. The cost of living here is lower than most urban areas, yet we have many urban amenities. Albany’s virtues are not an accident. They are the product of many years of commitment, collaboration, and a common vision of what a good community should be. Keeping Albany a desirable place to live is a worthwhile goal for all of us.