July Column Winner

Out Of Many Meetings, This One Stands Out

GLORIA TROTTER, The Countywide & Sun

Sometimes I feel as though my life is consumed with meetings.
In my line of work, there are all kinds of meetings. On Monday I had a lunch meeting to discuss a story with someone who is also a friend. That's just about the best kind of meeting.
Right after that I headed for the weekly county commissioners' meeting. I am there just about every week, even if there's nothing much to write about. In fact, The Countywide & Sun is the only newspaper that covers that board regularly.
That's because every once in a while, something really important comes up at those meetings — and you wouldn't know about if we weren't there. Maybe you wouldn't care, but Wayne and I have always believed that you should. We're admitted government junkies who want to watch your public officials for you. We believe that is our most important duty.
I keep telling myself that during those meetings that drone on and on with people talking in circles and not accomplishing anything. Some people just like to hear themselves talk. Some love an audience — of any size. Especially if it's on TV.
Some want to help but are afraid to make suggestions or decisions — or even motions. I've never figured that out. If you run for public office, or even volunteer for a board, that's part of the job. Why would you just sit there for hours on end? If you're not going to do something, stay home.
Thankfully, there are few of our local officials that I would send home, even if I could. Most do those jobs very well, and most for no pay at all. That's true public service, and I admire it more than I can say.
Public service is frustrating. The voters often think you can do things you cannot legally do. They get aggravated by how slowly things get done. That's understandable. But on the other hand, the main reason things move slowly is because of all the safeguards that are in place to protect the taxpayers' money. Notice must be given. Sufficient time must be allowed to bidders. And big projects must be bid because you don't want that public official making a deal with his brother-in-law or something.
I don't even try to tell you about most of that stuff. How much do you really want to know about how much the county pays for 15 kinds of gravel? But I sit there just in case it looks like it isn't being done correctly.
In just a couple of weeks, we will celebrate 30 years in this county. I wonder how many hours of meetings I've sat through in that time? The number would be staggering. And if I'd written about every single thing that happened at all those meetings ... well, there would be no way to get it all the paper, to start with, and you'd be bored silly if you tried to read it.
So I exercise my best judgment about what is important for you to know. Some are easy — major scandals, for instance. Some are less obvious.
On Monday night, I covered a very short meeting of the Tecumseh City Council. The agenda would sound pretty boring to most folks, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I've been waiting years for it, actually.
In a nutshell, the council accepted permits for two very important projects and authorized their engineer to seek bids on them. Doesn't sound that exciting, does it? Well, I'm telling you, they are very important to you.
One project is major improvements to the water treatment plant. The other is construction of a raw water line from Wes Watkins Reservoir to the city's treatment plant.
There's not enough room here to tell you how long it took to bring these two things to this point. If you haven't followed it, I'll be glad to fill you in. Or ask City Manager Jimmy Stokes. Or Vice Mayor Linda Praytor, who gets a lion's share of the credit for the water line.
Our prolonged drought has taught us all the value of safe, affordable water. We can buy water from Shawnee if we have to, but we can't send God a purchase order for rain. All we can do is be as prepared as possible. These two projects will go a long way to do that.
It's costing millions, which is tough for a city the size of Tecumseh. But that's city government's job, and ours did it. By the end of the year, we should have access to enough water whether it rains or not. And it will be safely treated in an up-to date plant.
It was a long road — and a whole lot of meetings along the way.
And that's why local officials sit through all those meetings, with me watching. It's all about you and the future of this community. Monday was a red-letter day. — and my favorite meeting in a long time.

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