I think everyone should attend at least one public meeting in their lifetime. If you’ve never taken the time to attend one, it’s well worth the price of admission — which by the way, is free.
    I could say that every good citizen should attend public meetings in order to understand what’s going on in his community. That would be true, but there’s an even better reason to attend public meetings — the sheer humor of it. Sometimes, it’s a pretty good show.
    {mosimage}I remember as a young reporter, I was very good friends with the city manager in my hometown, and as it would follow, his interns. So, I usually wound up sitting beside the interns at the city council meetings. And without fail, we would usually wind up choking on our laughter before the meetings were over. I remember particularly a discussion about the renovation of the police department. One of the councilmen queried the manager on what he planned to do with the “chubby holes.” The manager stood there, deer-in-the-headlight look in his eyes. Was the councilman referencing the overweight officers? I think the manager stuttered a few times before he got out, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” To which the councilman kept adamantly saying, “Chubby holes.” It seems he was talking about offices that were more like cubby holes.
    Unfortunately, not all of the conversations are as funny and most of them are not really what you think they are about. There’s always a story behind the story. Take the recent conversation about the rewarding of grants for the architectural and engineering portion of the N.C. State Veterans Park. The Fayetteville City Council got hung up on a fairly extensive debate over the inclusion of the park’s master planners, Vandewalle and Associates, in the ongoing phases of the park’s construction. It didn’t really seem to make a lot of sense.
    If you have someone start a project, it would stand to reason they would be involved throughout the project. That is, in fact, the industry standard. But the conversation really wasn’t about the $400,000 Vandewalle stands to make in the process, but more about how Vandewalle came to the table. As Paul Harvey would say, “Here’s the rest of the story.”
    Apparently, City Manager Dale Iman had done business with the firm in his previous job. No one questions whether or not Vandewalle was qualified for the job — take a look at their concept and the way they sold it to the state legislature. No one disagrees with it. But some members of the council are afraid that Iman’s past business dealings with the firm will make them look bad. That was what wasn’t said. So instead, the council talked around the subject, with the mayor finally summing it up as a matter of transparency.
    I’m not sure if there was an ax to grind here or more of a covering of the collective six just in case someone thought someone had done something wrong, but it’s just one example of the drama that can be found at public meetings. You bring the popcorn, I sit against the wall.
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