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  THE TOWN PAPER
VOL. 4, NO. 2 -- SPRING 2002
 

Commentary: From the Editor

By Diane Dorney

My neighbor Elly and I walk in together to City Hall. I'm glad she is with me. It doesn't matter how many times I've come through these doors; I always feel a little bit intimidated.

We walk up the hall and check out the sign-up list, which is on the small table with the coffee pot just outside the doors to the City Council's chambers. Hmm - not too bad. Looks like there isn't going to be a huge crowd like we expected. We both kind of let a little air out.

She signs up to speak; I do the same.

Inside the doors a few techies are getting the cameras ready. Our city meetings are televised live on a local cable station and then are repeated throughout the following weeks. The Council members and mayor are making small talk up front while the audience settles in.

I look to see where we might sit. Good, an aisle seat. Images of me tripping over someone's feet on the way to the microphone have gone through my mind more than once at these meetings. We make our way in. I see a few people I know - good guy, bad guy, good guy, good guy, good guy ... It's looking promising.

The meeting is called to order.

Our mayor explains that everyone will get three minutes to speak during citizen's forum. "I have a stopwatch," he says. Ahhh, the pressure of it all.

I tell myself I've done this before. There was the school boundary battle, the deer thing, the fight to keep the Target out, the fight to keep live/works in, and many other issues that got me riled up enough to try to do something about it. I shouldn't be this nervous. At times, I've gone just to listen and if all seemed to be going well I stayed in my seat. But I've found over the years that this isn't the best thing to do. You've made the effort - get up and say your piece. Numbers matter.

Just before the mayor announces the first name off the list, the door to the hall opens and I see two people enter, then two more, and then, oh no, four more! It's the other side, and they've come armed with stacks of papers. Why didn't we think of bringing some sort of paper? Is that a handout? Oh, Lord, I hate it when they bring handouts.

Elly and I look at each other. This isn't good. They are going to have the benefit of speaking last - a tactical error on our part. A fleeting thought crosses my mind that we should go out and mess with the list. Nope, too late. I see the list being taken up front. Oh well, nothing we can do about it now.

The first name is announced. One by one each person walks up to the microphone to speak for their allotted three minutes. Several others testify for our side before me, and I make some last minute changes to what I was going to say - some of it has been covered enough already. I get through my testimony without any major glitches, thank goodness; Elly does her bit as well. We are making a very good case, I think. Nods from the Council members - that's good. Six or so other people speak on behalf of the same thing Elly and I did. One or two take the other position. Not bad. That's it for the sign-up list.

The mayor looks over the crowd. "Is there anyone else who would like to speak?" he says.

Please, please, no more speakers, I'm thinking to myself. Things are looking so good.

No such luck. One by one the latecomers march up to the microphone and make their case, just as eloquently as we did. Those darn handouts get turned in to the Council. I can tell they are making an impact. The Council is nodding again. It's not over yet, though. A decision is not made tonight.

I write myself a note - "come later next time; bring handouts."

Diane Dorney is editor and publisher of The Town Paper and former president of the Kentlands Citizen's Assembly.