no easy job

I sometimes wonder how many Albany residents know what a City Councilor does and how much pay they receive for doing it. I guess many do because so few are willing to serve on the City Council. Why would anyone attend countless evening meetings, listen to seemingly endless verbal harangues, and rarely receive any thanks for less than $250 per month? As someone who once served on a school board, I have an idea of why people volunteer and an appreciation for the difficulty and importance of the work.

Wednesday night, the Council listened to a 25-minute appeal of an administrative decision to deny an applicant a permit to hold an event in one of our parks. The applicant spent most of his time lecturing and criticizing the Council, rather than informing them about why he thought the event should be allowed. Our Mayor was far more gracious and tolerant than I would have been in letting the person express himself, and I think her approach was the right one. Despite having to listen to what I believe was disrespectful speech, the appeal was concluded with the Council’s decision to uphold the denial with no major disruption of the Council’s business. I really don’t understand why people feel the need to be offensive when trying to make a point. I’m more inclined to consider someone else’s point of view when they show at least minimal respect for mine.

Too often, people show up at meetings angry rather than focused on learning the facts and finding solutions. Councils are almost always reluctant to antagonize residents if there are alternatives that protect the public interest. There is a great deal of current discussion about how divided opinions are in our country today, but I recall far too many meetings filled with angry people over too many years to believe there has been much of a change. I once received death threats as a school board member when we considered changing bus boundaries at the high school. I can also recall a very angry mob confronting three nervous-looking Lane County Commissioners in Lowell, Oregon, over 30 years ago when the Commission was thinking about locating a prison work camp in the area.

I believe I have attended more than 2,000 evening meetings during my lifetime, and I’m fairly certain that number exceeds the sanity quota. My wife accused me of being an angry old man in so many words a few days ago, and my only defense is that my reserves of patience and the milk of human kindness have been exhausted by a few too many public meetings. I am consequently very grateful for the work of our Councilors who willingly give up the easy moments of their lives to take on the challenges of making a community work.