A Winters Tale: Speak now or forever hold your peace

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Two of our city’s leaders, Council Member Jesse Loren, and Paul Myer, Chair of the Planning Commission, made an appeal to a small group of us the other morning at Steady Eddy’s. Please come talk to us when we hold public meetings, they said. We appreciate your input.   Further, and more to the point, they added, it is possible to sway the opinions of our city officials with well reasoned, passionate arguments.   Doesn’t happen that often, and not many people try.   I suspect that’s because our Council and Planning Commission, in the minds of many, simply exist to rubber stamp the pre-sorted programs of the City Manager.  At City Hall, they don’t like to hear that.  But like it or not, it is a sentiment expressed throughout the town every day.   To my mind, if it’s true, that’s all the more reason to speak up, to at least become part of the record. Actually, I have a sneaking suspicion that whatever the cause, Council Members enjoy hearing from us. Ordinary words from us mere mortals are a welcome relief from the bureaucratic mumbo jumbo the job forces them to wade through. LAFCO, EDAC, RHNA, CEQA, SACOG.  (To me, Sacog sounds like one of Mr. Spock’s Vulcan ancestors.) And so, duly admonished by Loren and Myer, I decided to give it a shot.  I would take to the podium at the next City Council meeting. I’ve been a regular at the meetings for a while now.  I like to joke it’s because we no longer have a television in our home, and any entertainment on a Tuesday night is welcome. But the truth is I feel that if one wishes to be a part of any community, one needs to be there when things are debated and decided. It’s our home, therefore it’s our obligation to witness the town’s history as it is made. I knew the procedure for speaking up, having watched some of the Council’s regular attendees do it week after week. Morgan Street’s Kate Laddish is a relentless crusader for the environment. Tina Lowden stands up for seniors, and those longing to swim in our grossly underused pool. Peter Meyer is the everyman who often poses the simplest question which makes the most sense. Last week, he asked why we need to hire expensive consultants to simply declare what our affordable housing numbers should be. Good question, Peter. If you’ve never been in the chamber, here’s how it’s set up. There is an elevated curved dias at the front of the room behind which are seated the Council Members.   Below the dais, at ground level are two small desks attached to the front on either side. These remind me of the kiddie tables at a Thanksgiving dinner. At the right desk sits the City Clerk. On the left is the current City Manager. Fun fact: The City Manager always wears a suit and tie at Council meetings. At the Planning Commission meetings, he likes to dress down.   To record the proceedings, there is a camera on the back wall, which appears to have been there since Milton Berle was on TV.  To be fair, the city is not in the broadcasting business, but the camera could easily be re-mounted on one of the side walls. That way you would see the Council Members, the kiddie tables, and the podium all in the same shot. On the dais, the order is fixed: Pierre Nue in seat one, next to him Wade Cowan, in the center Mayor Bill Biasi.  On the right of the Mayor is Harold Anderson, and beside him Jesse Loren.   On the far right sits the City Attorney, there to make sure nobody does anything illegal.  When it was my turn to approach the podium this past Tuesday I was nervous.   In my 35 year TV career, I had spoken on camera to millions, cumulatively. Yet I had never addressed a City Council, let alone in my own town, and on an issue about which I felt so passionately.   I wanted to get it right.   I wanted to make a case for why the Keep Winters Winters movement believes a vote of the people is necessary in order to annex more land. In my fantasy mind, I would be Cicero in the well of the Roman Senate, holding them spellbound with my oratory.   News flash: I was no Cicero. They were not spellbound. I explained why annexation in the north demands the people’s OK, instead of simply theirs, and how I hoped they wouldn’t see this an an end run around their authority. I was sincere in my wish not to offend them. Remembering my Roman history, though, I flashed on what happened to poor Cicero when he said things his government didn’t like. He was executed, his head and hands cut off and displayed in the Forum.   So, I decided to wrap it up. Mercifully, I was dismissed with a polite thank you, though as I turned to leave, I did feel a slight bit of arctic air coming from the small desk on the left.  I’m sure it was just a problem with the HVAC. Back in the spectator section, I asked Tina Lowden if I had done alright. Only when I received her blessing did I feel much better. In that moment, I could finally relax and watch the rest of the Tuesday night show.  ]]>

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