Editor Note: I was unable to attend Monday’s meeting due to a prior commitment so I appreciate Chuck Vail’s assessment of the proceedings as council reorganized and discussed the Borough’s budget and priorities.
By Chuck Vail
Happy New Year! I hope you are well, especially since I didn’t see you at tonight’s Council meeting. If you were there sorry I missed you. If you weren’t there sorry you missed it. I think you would have been pleased, since I have little doubt that it was your blog, including former Council President David Jones’ blog post of 12/20/11, which were largely responsible for tonight’s standing-room-only crowd. If I may, a few observations:
– Prior to officially convening the meeting Mayor Hagan was heard to joke, and here I paraphrase: ‘Nothing like a tax increase to boost attendance.’ I don’t think he meant the comment in a smarmy or disrespectful way, rather just as a statement of fact. And in that he is of course correct. We are all sick to death of taxes, and find it increasingly difficult to pay them, especially in these hard times. So if a looming tax increase is what it takes to get more citizens fired-up and involved, maybe that is a blessing in disguise.
– Although the meeting was supposed to be restricted to ‘agenda’ items, specifically the matter of a dedicated tax increase for the fire department, Council was lenient, and wisely so, in allowing comment on a range of issues. While some attendees clearly wanted to specifically question or carp about this or that, most simply wanted to make the point that many citizens can no longer afford ever-rising costs of government. If there was a single common thread it was this: ‘We are tapped-out, at the end of our financial rope, so please don’t ask for any more blood from the corpus.’
– Still being a relatively new resident of Parkesburg, I was struck by how many of the attendees who chose to speak, of whom there were at least a dozen, were life-long or long-term residents, persons who had a history with the Borough, some of whom do now or have in the past served in some capacity. The passion with which they spoke was palpable, impressive. I was moved by how deep grow the vines in Parkesburg. At the same time I had to wonder: why are most Council meetings so poorly attended.
– Two speakers stood out. One was an enchanting elderly woman, a former member of Council, who apparently had moved away, but now has moved back, and as she put it, “to die.” One has to give credence to what such a person has to say, and she didn’t have much good to say about the sorry state of affairs in Parkesburg, or for current Council members. She vowed to nag their butts. The other speaker who stood out was, I believe, Steve Mellinger, Vice President of the Parkesburg Area Business Association (PABA). Steve spoke for probably close to 20 minutes, all of it extemporaneously, and all of it quite moving. Though it was not his principal purpose, Steve very eloquently made the point that good men and women are working hard to improve the overall situation of Parkesburg. Steve Mellinger truly was very impressive. He spoke from his heart, and from a font of knowledge, and it was as I say, impressive. I would vote for him for any office he might choose to pursue.
– I learned a lot when the discussion focused on the bridge over the tracks. Or is it several bridges? I don’t know. But clearly the lack of said bridge(s) has been an issue for 20 years and more. I don’t understand it. Culvert Street will get a person from one side of town to the other, so what’s the big deal about using a bridge vs. an underpass? Some among the attendees referred to the bridge situation as a ‘bridge to nowhere.’ I don’t know enough to pass judgment, but I suspect they are right. If New York, Boston, Washington, and a hundred other big cities can cope with limited access from one side of town to the other, can’t Parkesburg cope with an underpass. Do we really need a bridge? No matter how you cut it, it’s not as though there is a lot of traffic flowing through Parkesburg.
– A few in attendance tonight questioned the motives, the qualifications, the record of Council members, as well as the mayor. But I think that most, like me, assumed them to be good persons trying their best to make the most of a bad situation. The mayor spoke to the point, and got a round of applause for it.
In the final analysis the message is clear: In an age and an economic environment which is wreaking havoc on the finances of almost everyone, government simply has to become more responsive.
And the big take-away from tonight’s meeting was the failure of most people, almost all people, to volunteer, to even attend a meeting.
I think the partial solution to the problem of citizen disengagement, at least here in Parkesburg, lies with the Borough’s website.
More about that in a future note.