10 things I learned in 8 years on City Council.
Tonight was the last meeting of City Council for me. I chose not to run back in the summer for a myriad of reasons, most dealing with the time element. Also, I think new and fresh voices in government is always a good and healthy thing. Over the past 8 years, I have worked with 3 mayors, 6 service directors, 5 finance directors, 2 law directors and multiple city council members. I have personally weathered some huge challenges to my reputation during this tenure. What have I really learned from all of this? Here are 10 things…(take a deep breath and relax…this is going to be fun!)
1. If something seems too good to be true…it is!
From a cost savings project to a finance director’s resume and outlook to a Mayor’s promises (years 3 to 6), if it sounds too good to be true….it is! Anything of value and substance usually requires hard work and money. Don’t trip over the dollars to save a nickel (thanks Frank!) When voting for a candidate…watch out for the pie in the sky promises…look for someone who says they will work hard, work together and uses the word “WE”!!!
2. A lift station is not an elevator; it is what helps move our waste (yep…think bathroom) from our houses to the sewer plant.
Serving on city council is not glamorous. You spend a big portion of your time figuring out where everyone’s poop is going to go while making sure you are complying with the EPA. And then there is sludge removal…a fancy word for poop. Dealing with infrastructure is one of the most important parts of City Council…you don’t know how important it is until your basement floods, and water mains break, and your shocks need fixed on your car because of the roads….
3. Long meetings DO NOT equal productivity.
In fact the opposite tends to be true. You really can talk things to death! There were budget meetings over the past 8 years that lasted over 5 hours! When Chief Kish pulled out the styrofoam cups at 11:30 pm to explain his budget, that was a strong indicator that the meeting had gone way too long! 5 hour budget meetings….never productive. Hint to all future committee chairs: brains turn to mush after 9 p.m.
This next one may get me in trouble. Hey, it’s my blog!
4. Men are considered passionate when they feel strongly about an issue and fight for it; women, exhibiting the same passion, are dubbed “emotional”.
There is a double standard. I am okay with it. I will miss my phone conversations with Danny Phillips debating this one! 🙂 And Danny, I am not emotional! I am passionate! 🙂
5. NO ONE LOOKS GOOD ON LOCAL CABLE ACCESS! Especially with the wooden paneling background that dates back to the 70s!
6. Years ago, Vermilion’s forefathers did not proof the sign that hangs behind where City Council sits.
7. You are never as great as people say you are (or you think you are); nor are you as awful as they say.
You are somewhere in the middle. Being in politics can be very good for the ego…initially. But it does not take long to realize that in every decision you make, someone is going to be upset with you. You have to develop a thick skin but not become calloused. It is a balancing act.
I have had angry letters written about me to the editor and people stand up at council meetings attacking me. I have heard the craziest rumors about myself. But I have also had people write nice letters about me and stand up at council meetings and thank me. And have had the nicest things said to me on the street. People are fickle (heck, I’m fickle myself…I’ve gone from republican to democrat back to republican to independent…no one party seems to fit…but I digress). I am reminded of Jesus on this one. On Palm Sunday, He enters Jerusalem and everyone is shouting and hailing Him as king. Everyone loves Jesus on Sunday. But five short days later on Good Friday…the crowds turn on Him and yell “Crucify”. They want Him dead and gone. And He says nothing. He just continues to do what He was called to do. I have had to learn this lesson over and over again. No matter what people are saying, I have had to purpose to do what is right. Even when motives were questioned. And believe me, my motives were questioned a lot! Sometimes I even questioned my own!
8. You don’t have to voice your opinion on every single topic!
While everyone has an opinion (and most people – if not all – in politics have plenty), you do not have to voice every, single one of them. People tune you out! Have you ever sat in a class or meeting where that one person expresses an opinion on every subject? And asks questions about every little thing? Admit it! You tune them out.
Pick the battles you are willing to be bloodied and beat over. Jim Cooper (my pastor) gave me this tidbit of advice before I ever took office. There is a proverb that says “even a fool is considered wise, when they keep their mouth shut.” That’s good advice for anyone! 🙂
9. Truth, integrity and reputation are always worth fighting for!
Integrity is who you are when no one is looking. Reputation is what people think of you. And everyone has one. A good reputation flows from integrity.
At the beginning of my 2nd term (year 3), I was politically attacked from another member of council. He accused me publicly of breaking the law and committing 4 felonies (none of it had any merit but it still cost me two grand to address it). I made the front page of the paper twice. He actually made me cry! And we all know that there is no crying in city council! I think the purpose of the accusations was to force me to resign. It does not really matter why. I do remember going home and having a cry/prayer fest on my bed. And I read that night in the Bible how God is my defender. No matter what was said about me or what others think, I knew who I was. I could look at myself in the mirror and sleep at night. And the people who really mattered, loved me regardless.
God also used a good friend and mentor, Jimmy Davis (who has since passed) to guide me through. He encouraged me to take the high road but not to back down or retreat. He taught me by example that you could be a strong leader and still maintain integrity in the worst of circumstances. Truth always triumphs. Maybe not on our timetable. Or the way we want it to. And sometimes the process of truth triumphing leaves scars. But the truth is ALWAYS worth fighting for.
Years 3 – 6 were tough. We had an administration who did not open mail for 18 months. Accounts were not reconciled. We had no idea how much money we had as a city because none of the reports matched. And only a few of us on council were fighting the battle. And we were dubbed troublemakers. Unfortunately time proved us right. Truth always prevails.
10. PEOPLE ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT
The best part of my 8 years on council were the people. Titles, money, and stuff pass away, but friendships are the true measure of a life well lived. The people I have gotten to know have truly enriched my life. Each one is a blessing from God.
In 2005, I went through the program called Leadership Lorain County. It was there I met my good friend, Gail Stumphauzer whom I ended up working for as her youth programs coordinator. As the year was beginning, we had a retreat. We were asked to bring something that best represented the most important asset of our respective communities. I had no idea what to bring. I thought of a light house or a boat or picture of the beach or fish. What I finally settled on was a phone book. I know it sounds odd. But in the phone book contained the residents of Vermilion. The people of Vermilion are the most important assets of our community! I love and appreciate my community now more than I did 8 years ago! I am so grateful to God for the opportunity to serve. I leave you with some pictures of some of the treasures I got to meet and know over the past 8 years!