Spearfish Lake Tales
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It was cold and windy in Bradford that day, too, and since daylight savings time had ended, it was dark when Emily parked the minivan and headed into the annual council organizational meeting, held on a Monday as always. It would have been nicer to have been out on the Sportster on a warm summer evening. But that time of the year had gone; the Sportster was under a tarp, and likely to stay that way unless the weather over the next few days broke out into an unseasonably gorgeous warm spell – it was capable of doing that, but whether it would was a different story.
The election the previous week had taken place without any incident or comment whatsoever, since it was an off-year election, with nothing on the ballot but the council election. There was no real contest for seats with Mike Daugherty and Leonard Pikkala running for re-election to seats they’d held for several terms, it would have been remarkable if a hundred voters had shown up at the polls. In fact, only forty-seven did.
Emily was uncomfortable about that fact. It was not that it showed any lack of civic interest on the part of the voters, but that it cost the city over a thousand dollars spent on the various complexities of holding an election. That included hiring four poll workers who did little but sit and work on their knitting all day. When she’d come down to vote the week before, she’d mentioned to Marci, the city clerk, that it seemed like it was an unnecessary expense. “It probably is,” Marci had told her. “But that’s how it’s set up in the charter.”
“Maybe we ought to think about changing the charter,” she’d said.
“In the past they’ve talked about it,” the clerk replied. “The problem is that you’d have to open up the whole thing, and that would be even more expensive. We only have about one election in four that’s this bad,” she’d added.
She’d still been thinking about it earlier that day when Leonard came into the store. “The problem is,” he told her when she’d brought the question up to him, “that with elections every other year you could take a majority off council every year, and it would be a lot simpler to change a majority. Alton told me once that there were times in the past when things might get so stirred up that they had factions who tried to take council over to grind their own axes. Having so much time between filing and the election helps prevent that, and elections every year means the change can’t be quite so abrupt. Emily, you’ve been on council long enough to know that it takes a while to learn what you can do and what you can’t. If you had four people with axes to grind get on council not knowing what they’re doing, it could take years to clean up the mess. They had one like that back in the sixties; that’s how we got the current charter in the first place.”
“I suppose,” she sighed. “But it’d be nice to have people showing a little more interest in council.”
“True,” he smiled. “Alton told me there used to be stuff so controversial they had to have a primary, with eight or ten people running for two seats. The council hasn’t gotten the community stirred up much in recent years, which tells me we’ve been doing a pretty good job. But that’s at least partly because we’ve learned to keep reins on the city manager, and because we’ve learned there are areas there’s no point in sticking our noses into because it’s going to be not worth the trouble if we do. I’m not opposed to bringing up something controversial if it solves a genuine problem. The thing is Driscoll brings this stuff up because he’s trying to stir something up to satisfy his own ego. Can’t you imagine the zoo we’d have if there were four like him on council?”
“I’d just as soon avoid it, thanks,” she said dryly. “But I have to say it’s been an interesting year. I’ve learned a lot about how this stuff works, and there’s more to it than most people think.”
“You’ve done well, and you seem to have a talent for it. I know we’ve been on the opposite sides on a few votes, and that’s fine, you have your reasons. It’s good to see a new face who’s taken a positive interest in it. Anyway, the other reason I dropped by was to see if you’re still OK with Mike and Jim as mayor and mayor pro tem. That’s one of those things it’s nice to have cut and dried before Driscoll can spout off about something.”
“I don’t know why I wouldn’t be,” she told him. “Not that there’s anything big they have to keep a handle on. It’s mostly just running the meetings.”
“True, but the mayor is the symbol of the community in some ways, and having a nice clean-cut vote for mayor shows that we’re trying to work together.”
This meeting was slightly unusual in that it would be two meetings back to back. Usually, the first meeting was to finish up any outstanding non-controversial pro forma items before having the election; then the new council took over and they took up any new business. There was no reason to think this evening wouldn’t otherwise be routine. Other than the swearing-in and the vote for mayor and mayor pro tem, there were several other items of routine business, including a discussion and vote on whether to order a new skid steer loader for the DPW. That was almost a rubberstamp – the loader was the most important piece of machinery the city had for cleaning up snow downtown. The current one had a cracked engine block that would cost half the price of a new replacement, and it was old enough that it was turning into a maintenance hog, anyway.
There were only a handful of people in attendance besides the council, clerk and city manager – a couple of city department heads, including Hufford, present because of the loader, and Daugherty’s and Pikkala’s wives. Lloyd Weber was there from the Courier – the picture of the councilmen getting sworn in was one of those regulars that ran every year. There were also a handful of regulars that included Driscoll, who was there as usual to look for an opening to cause trouble.
It only took a few minutes to finish the old business and get down to the election of the mayor and mayor pro tem. The election was presided over by the clerk, by charter, and Leonard opened the nominations by saying, “I nominate Mike Daugherty for mayor, move the nominations be closed, and that a unanimous ballot be cast.”
“If I may have a word,” Daugherty spoke up. “I’ve been thinking about a few things the last few months, and Leonard, our discussion the other day crystallized a few of them. In the last few months, I’ve become particularly disturbed by some comments that have been made by people in this room who seem to think that people who are not college graduates are not qualified to be on council or serve the city . . . ”
The city manager tried to break in “Mr. Mayor, I want . . . ”
“I was speaking, Mr. Levitsky,” Daugherty said with an evil eye, making clear one of the places where his comments were being directed. “I’m particularly resentful of some of those remarks, because I’m not a college graduate, and neither are some of the other members of this council, nor many others who have served the city on this council in the past. Contrary to the obvious opinion of some of the people in this room, it does not take being a college graduate to be a good citizen.”
It felt to Emily like that remark had been made in her defense – she’d taken a lot of the needling on that subject over the past few months from Levitsky and Driscoll. Mostly she’d ignored it, realizing that they were just trying to get a rise out of her, but it had gotten to be irritating. She looked up, and noticed Pikkala nodding his head; he’d taken some of it, too, even though as a carpenter and construction superintendent his expertise had saved the city thousands of dollars in the past year alone.
“That much said,” Daugherty continued, uninterrupted this time, “I look around this council and see, that with one exception, we’re all in our sixties and seventies and have been on council many years. That’s not bad; we know what we’re doing and where to avoid some pitfalls. But many of us will be leaving council in the next few years. My wife and I haven’t made our minds up, but there’s a good chance I will not fill out this term, because we’re looking at retiring and moving south. I can’t help but wonder if we’re not failing to serve the community by not encouraging new people to serve the city on council or other boards. Now while experience is good, I feel it’s important to show the community we’re open to new people joining us on council, and that includes young people, and especially women to help us take the responsibility for the community. You can take our newest member as an example. She’s young, she’s energetic, she takes her duties on council seriously, she’s thoughtful, and she probably talks to more citizens of the community on a regular basis than the rest of us combined. That’s why I’m declining the nomination. I move that we nominate Emily Holst as mayor, move that the nominations be closed, and that a unanimous ballot be cast for her.”
“Second the nomination,” Pikkala commented instantly.
“Mr. Mayor,” Emily said as she tried to gather her thoughts and her words at this entirely unexpected turn of events. “I thank you for your warm remarks. You totally surprised me with this. If you had nominated me at the beginning of your speech I probably would have declined, but you make some strong points. If you all want me to serve as mayor, I will.”
The next few seconds went by in a flash, with Emily dazed with surprise, wishing that Kevin were here to see this, that the kids were, that Vicky was. She barely heard the voice vote confirming the nomination and making her Bradford’s Mayor. Somewhere in the back of her mind was the thought she wouldn’t have to be ashamed at being a nonentity at the next reunion of the Class of 1988.
“Good,” Daugherty said as the vote was completed. “I’d like to be the first to offer my congratulations to the first woman Mayor of the City of Bradford.”
In a minute or so, Warner was elected mayor pro tem, and Daugherty adjourned the first meeting; Lloyd got a picture of the gavel being passed from Mike to her. They exchanged seats, and a minute later, she sat down and took the gavel to hand. She’d watched Daugherty for a year, so knew the formalities. As far as that went, she’d chaired meetings before – she’d been class president and student council president – but that was something different, not quite real. But then, it didn’t quite seem real that she was the one to tap the gavel on the table top and say, “Call the meeting to order. The clerk will call the roll.”
It took them most of an hour to get through the rest of the meeting – there was some debate about the loader, not that it needed to be working, but there wasn’t quite enough money in the budget to cover a new machine, although all agreed that would be preferable. There was the possibility of switching around some money from the snow removal fund to cover it, no big deal but it might be if they had a heavy snow winter. At least some of the discussion came from the fact they hadn’t had a serious discussion for a while and it gave them something to debate. Finally, it came down on a 5-2 vote to get the new machine since fixing the old one might be throwing good money after bad.
After the meeting was over, they stood around talking for a few minutes, just like always. Emily received congratulations from many, including Levitsky, to her surprise – it had not escaped her that by his actions Daugherty had not only taken an open-handed slap at the city manager, but a closed fist.
Finally, she managed to get Mike off to the side. “Thanks, Mike,” she said. “I never expected that. I only hope I can do half as good a job as you’ve done.”
“You shouldn’t have much problem,” he said. “The most important thing you have to do is keep the meeting under control and keep the discussions on course. You may have to use the gavel occasionally to keep things from getting out of control, especially if Driscoll gets wound up, and he’ll try you on for size the first chance he gets. Once he finds out you mean it when you tell him to sit down and shut up, he will. Hell, you have kids, you know how to do that.”
“I never thought of it like that,” she giggled. “But yes, you’re right.”
“Beyond that, it’s no big deal,” he said. “Besides presiding over the meetings, you’ll have to sign a few papers, mostly ones that council directs you to sign. Sometimes stuff comes down from the state requiring the mayor’s signature, and there’s proclamations, things like that. There are a few other things that aren’t real important, but you’ll want to check in the charter to at least know what they are. Like, I know mayors can perform weddings, but I haven’t had to do one in the dozen years I’ve been mayor. Beyond presiding over the meetings, there’s times you’ll have to be the representative of the community, mostly at ceremonies and the like, like they wanted the mayor present when they broke ground on the new bank branch. But it’s like I said in the meeting, the most important job you have is to be a symbol that we’re open to new blood and new thoughts. We’re not just a bunch of old fogies who get together every couple weeks to sit around and argue about how to spend tax dollars. You already were that, it’s just that tonight we showed that we take it seriously.”
“If I have any questions, can I call on you?”
“Of course you can,” he smiled. “Of course, you don’t have to listen to what I tell you. You’re the mayor, after all.”
There was some more discussion after the meeting – even Driscoll was courteous, also a surprise under the circumstances – but things soon wound down. After a while, Marci called her over to sign some paperwork, including the proclamation of the mayoral election proceedings, and still feeling a bit dazed, she headed out to her minivan, still a little unbelieving of what had happened.
Kevin was sitting in his armchair in the living room. The kids were in bed – it was a school night, after all – and he was watching a hockey game. “Hi, Hon,” he said without looking up from the TV as she walked into the living room. “Anything interesting happen tonight?”