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Welcome to The Asylum. Just as before, Josh is always right.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Is this what progress feels like?

We got through an entire city council meeting with no controversy.  This fact has me questioning just what universe I'm living in at the moment.

No, seriously!  There were no Open Meetings Act violations, there was no need to define elementary school-level words used in the city charter, there were no arguments over what difference a changed date made... this isn't the Hillsdale I know!

Oh, I'm sure I picked up on a few passive-aggressive verbal barbs here and there.  Nothing out of line, but just some interesting phrasing that could have been taken as references to some recent events.  I won't say who directed what at whom, but if you've been paying attention, you can probably guess with some accuracy.

And yes, I snickered once or twice over them.

Now don't get me wrong: I don't credit Doug Terry's departure for this.  At least not entirely.  Lew Loren has been just as much a cause of trouble in the recent scandals that have plagued Hillsdale's city government, and I get the feeling that his retirement, while not necessarily triggered by the public attention, was certainly accelerated by it.

His demeanor at Monday night's meeting was one of... I can only call it indifference.  It was up to Council.  You could do it either way.  Doesn't make any difference to his life.  He was completely relaxed in his chair with a palpable air of nonchalance about him.  He has nothing to lose, so why should he pretend otherwise?

But I think we all know what everyone really wants to hear about: new City Manager David Mackie's first night on the job.

My first impression was simply this: he's off to a good, positive start.  Granted, he had relatively little background on any given issue coming into the meeting, so there wasn't much for him to really speak up about, but he was paying attention, taking it all in, watching it all unfold in front of him.

Or, in this case, to the sides of him.  If you're unfamiliar with the council chambers' layout, the room is divided roughly in half by a banister.  On one side, at the front of the room, you have the U-shaped council table.  On the other side, you have the gallery, including the desk for the media to the left of the podium and the desk for the city clerk and attorney to the right.

Doug Terry used to sit at that right-side desk.  David Mackie sat at the council table.

It appeared to be a show of goodwill.  It felt like he was part of the team, not sitting opposite the team.  There didn't seem to be any presumption in it.  On the contrary, it came across that he wanted to work with the council, not just for the council.  We'll see if the seating arrangement remains that way when we once again have all nine council seats occupied, but I don't see why he shouldn't be right there with them at that point, too.

One other thing that (really shouldn't have) impressed me was that, when the time came for the city manager's report toward the end of the evening, there were no grand, illustrious flourishes of language.  Mackie simply, respectfully addressed his concerns to the council -- in this case, about the BPU situation -- and gave his suggestions for how to move forward.

He was assertive, but not forceful.  I didn't get the sense that he was going to blow his top if someone disagreed with him.  He merely made his case, respectfully answered any questions asked of him, and that was that.

It was truly refreshing.

We'll have a lot more to go on in the weeks and months to come, and I'm certainly not going to jump up and down and shout "THIS GUY IS AWESOME!" just based on one meeting, especially not his first meeting.  But for the first time in the few months I've been attending them, I came away from a Hillsdale City Council meeting thinking that we might just be okay.

As to the suggestions themselves, I was very pleased both by what they were and that he brought them up.  The council had decided several weeks ago to schedule a joint meeting with the BPU board, but they never actually scheduled it.  They knew they wanted to include Mackie in the process of hiring a new director, but whether or not that was going to include the joint meeting was never addressed, and it wasn't on Monday night's agenda at all, either.

Mackie took the initiative, and the meeting has finally been scheduled for Tuesday the 14th at 7:00, prior to the BPU's regular meeting, in the council chambers at City Hall.

But that wasn't all!  City Manager Mackie also suggested -- and the council agreed -- that the city should receive and review the opinion of the attorney that the BPU board decided to hire behind their backs.  Which says to me -- and I've been getting some not-so-subtle hints from various directions leading up to this -- that said legal opinion is not what the Directors of the Board of Public Utilities hoped it was going to be.

Which reminds me of that little article in the Daily a few days ago in which BPU Chairman Jon Waldvogel said he'd pay for the lawyer out of his own pocket if that was the issue.

Jon, man to man: we both know that's not the issue.  C'mon.  Really.  Don't do fellow board member Duke Anderson's dirty work for him.  You're better than that.  We all know Duke was leading the charge there.  He wanted Rick Rose in place.  God only knows what little deal the two of them had going on, and don't you dare deny it, either.  If Duke was violating antitrust laws as hospital CEO to the tune of a five-grand-plus federal lawsuit, he is not above skirting the law in regard to his other duties.  He doesn't belong on any board any longer, and you don't need to be covering for him.

I'm very interested to see how this all plays out.  The directors had Terry and LewLo on their side.  Now Terry's gone, Loren's retiring, the directors are reeling, and the public and members of the council are collectively rather pissed off at the whole lot of 'em.

Has it been worth it, gentlemen?

No, I'm not gloating.  I'm not even taunting.  I'm genuinely asking: when each of these individuals went into their respective roles in this farce, what personal gain were they expecting to get out of it?  Because they sure as hell weren't doing it as a public service.  Deceit doesn't serve the public.  So there had to be something they were hoping to achieve for themselves.  In the end, they're getting nothing but disdain and loss of authority.

So has it been worth it?

Spare me the "there are two sides to every story," naysayers.  In the past week I've heard conspiracy theories, counter-conspiracy theories, and a few cases of outright nonsensical gibberish.  I've had people demand to know my sources -- as if they don't understand that the phrase "anonymous sources" means I'm not telling you, my mother, or anyone else.  I've been badgered by people who think they've got it all figured out, and they left frustrated because I wasn't having any of it.

Because it's pretty frickin' obvious that I'm right.

And I'm not tooting my own horn, because I'm not alone.  Countless others came to these conclusions long before I did.  Hell, in the grand scheme of things, I'm just settling in here!  But I'll tell you this much: I may not be the mostest intelligenty guy in the world, but I'm fairly well-off in the brain department.  I know when something's off-kilter, and it doesn't take me long to figure out who, what, when, where or why, because I never stop asking questions.

Seriously, ask my mother; it made raising me a bit of a nightmare.

What was most heartening to me was the fact that the gallery seating in the council chambers was almost full Monday night.  Many people stuck around after the earlier meet-and-greet event, and it was the biggest crowd I've ever seen in that room.

Of course, I'm sure that there were many among them whom we won't see at City Hall again for a long time to come.  Meeting the new City Manager is kind of like Midnight Mass: everyone goes to their church on Christmas Eve, but come any given Sunday morning, most of them are still asleep.

(No, I'm not without fault, either.)

We in the broadcasting industry call that a "look-in audience."  They're tuning in to see what it's all about, and there's always a falloff in the ratings for the next episode.  The trick is in maintaining as many of the listeners or viewers as you can, and this is no exception.

No, I'm not suggesting that the council should vote a member off the island at the end of every meeting... though that'd sure be entertaining.

What I am suggesting is that, while this may not be The Greatest Drama of All Time (that title is reserved for Hamlet), it is something to engage yourself in.

In fact, the council just approved a Planning Committee framework for encouraging the citizens to participate in City Hall's governance of growth and development.  It's aptly titled the "Citizen Participation Plan."  It's a good step forward, and it's a sign that the city administration wants to listen to you when they're making their decisions.  Don't pass up the opportunity.  Grab it and make use of it.

This is the progress we need to be making, and I can't deny it: it feels good.

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