I’m not a fan of politics. I do vote in government elections, but I avoid political media (TV, radio, magazines, newspaper articles) and I generally stay out of political issues. In my opinion, life is too short to debate matters designed to do little more than enrage or worry people who might otherwise live joyous, peaceful lives.
Occasionally I will send an email to one of my elected representatives – but I have to 1) feel pretty strongly about the issue, and 2) believe that real good will come from my action (or that my inaction will contribute to real harm). When I do contact a government official, I’m more inclined to connect at the local level versus the national domain. I have never sent an email to the President of the United States (or of any other nation, for that matter), but I have sent correspondence to my governor and state representative. Yet even at that level, I often feel more helpless than hopeful.
However, the county/city level of politics feels more ‘open’ to me – like if I posed a reasonable, rational point of view, I would sincerely be listened to, and my comments might actually affect positive change. It’s for these reasons that I decided I should put “Meet the mayor” on my list of 101 tasks to complete – I want to be able to say that I really do know my local elected officials.
The city in which I live holds a few gatherings throughout the year where the mayor attends and chats with citizens. One such event is called the “City Sampler”, which is basically a government open house. As the local newspaper explained:
“…the fifth annual City Sampler is slated for Saturday, March 3 from 9 am to noon at City Hall. The event is an informal opportunity for residents to meet the mayor and city council members, while providing a sampling of city information, light refreshments and a chance to win prizes.
Residents are encouraged to stop by anytime during the morning and stay as long – or short – as they’d like.
The City Sampler was initiated by the City Council to give residents an informal venue to meet their elected city officials, provide feedback and get information about the city. Past years have drawn from 200 to 400 people.
City staff will be on hand to cover the following topics:
- Parks and recreation programs
- Annual tree and shrub sale
- Elections and voter registration
- Child safety programs
- Low-cost child car seats; low-cost bike helmets
- Home improvement projects
- Capital improvement and development projects
- Crime prevention
- Neighborhood watch
- Planning for water quality
- Fire safety
- Public transit
Residents will have the chance to win:
- Free tree or shrub
- Bike helmets
- Ride to Dairy Queen on a fire truck for free ice cream treats
- Ride along with a police officer
- Rain garden manual
- Coupon book for area businesses
- Farmer’s market insulated bags
- City coffee mugs”
I think this open house idea is a really cool concept. Every year for the past four years I have seen various local newspaper and magazine articles promoting the event, and every year I have said to myself, “You know, I should really attend that…” – but then every year I failed to make the effort to drive the whopping five miles to City Hall to actually participate in the gathering. However, this year is different. This year, I have accountability. This year, I am going to actually meet the mayor.
Yesterday morning I braved 20-degree temperatures, blowing snow, and icy roads to make my way to the Fifth Annual City Sampler.
I was warmly greeted by an elderly volunteer who gave me a plain white sack (to which I would add flyers, brochures, and give-aways) and then directed me to the drawing table and the refreshment room.
After submitting my name for a chance to win a farmer’s market bag (101 list item #5) and a city coffee mug, I found the first expo table and began working my way around the room. Standing to the left of this first table was a tall, dark haired woman who was dressed very well for a casual Saturday morning. As she saw me approach, she stuck out her hand and said, “Hello, I’m Mayor K.S.”
I have seen pictures of the mayor in various local city publications before, so I had a hunch who this woman was before I fully reached the table. I offered my hand to the mayor, and responded, “Hello, I’m Stefanie B. It’s nice to meet you.” The mayor replied, “It’s nice to meet you, too.”
And then there was silence. Awkward silence.
So I attempted to engage the mayor by saying, “I think this city sampler is a really great idea. I appreciate getting to learn more about various services offered by city all in one place… and the fact that the city spends time and energy trying to make it a fun, casual, family-friendly event is really great, too.” I smiled at the mayor.
She half-smiled back at me, and said, “Well, I’m glad you like it. Usually we hold the event later in the year, so usually we have a lot more people in attendance. I’m not sure how many people are going to come out today,“ nodding to the window showing the slippery, snowy, slightly depressing day, “but I think we’ll probably have a smaller crowd this year.”
I nodded – not so much in agreement, but more to keep the conversation going.
But once again, there was silence.
At this point, I realized that when I thought about meeting the mayor, I hadn’t thought much about the next logical step – of what I would actually say to her. I guess I expected her to be the one to initiate conversation, to help me feel comfortable, to be engaging and dynamic and personable… But in our exchange, I was the one playing that role. Interesting – and annoying. Grr.
Finding myself with not much more to say to the mayor, and feeling little desire to continue unimportant chit-chat, I say my ‘good-bye’ and extracted myself from the situation – leaving the mayor standing alone at the expo table once again.
While accomplishing #22 was a bit of a letdown, attending the City Sampler was far from a bust. I spent a good 30 minutes moving from one table to the next, interacting with some very personable city workers, and receiving quite a bit of helpful information. For example, I:
- was given a free trail guide, which lists all of the walking, hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing trails maintained by the city;
- received education on a few flowers that are native to our climate – and was given four seed packets of hearty perennial varieties;
- was informed about the city’s bus system, and was encouraged to “give it a try sometime soon…”;
- learned about emergency preparedness – and when I confessed that ‘getting ready for a disaster’ has been on my to-do list for several years now, but that I have barely made any progress towards assembling an emergency preparedness kit, I was encouraged to “just do a little bit at a time. Buy one thing on the preparation list each week; in a few months, you’ll have a whole kit made. This doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing; every little bit helps.” [An excellent reminder not only in this context, but in life in general…].
But perhaps the most important benefit of my attending the sampler was having the opportunity to share support and gratitude for the city, and for the people who work hard to keep it such a truly great place to live. For example, I gave kudos to the two individuals staffing the recycling table. (At the beginning of this year, the city replaced small, cumbersome recycling bins with one big, wheeled can per household. The city also increased the amount and types of items they would accept to be recycled. As I expressed my pleasure with these changes, the two city personnel smiled wide, and genuinely appreciated my kind words. (There was some controversy among some citizens about moving from the old recycler to the new, and apparently many city employees received a sizable amount of criticism and hostility for supporting the changes I just described…)
I also made a point to thank the police, fire department, parks and recreation staff, and other city service personnel for all they do to make our community a good place to live. They all appreciated hearing from a happy citizen (for a change), and I delighted in being able to make their day a better one (even if only slightly).
While I’m still not a fan of politics, I am a fan of people (most of the time) – and today I got to experience a wee bit of overlap between the two. So thanks mayor – I guess our meeting was value-added after all.