Monday, July 25, 2005

County Commission Theater

Ahem...the opinions expressed in the following piece are the sole posession of the author, not the broadcast outlet he so proudly schleps expensive gear for.

In an effort to avoid heat-wave duty out on the interstate, today I opted for an assignment more political in nature: the residual controversy surrounding two Guilford County Commissioners’ recent trip to Hawaii. Ho-Hum. Don’t get me wrong; fiscal responsibility on behalf of our elected officials is righteous fodder for us newsies. In fact the ensuing debate over Chairman Bruce Davis and vice chairman Paul Gibson trip to Honolulu for a five-day National Association of Counties annual conference has chewed up enough bandwidth and paper-space to choke a goat. But, minus a ticket on the Scott Yost Express, it makes for lousy television. So I was a little reluctant to play clean-up on a dying dispute, until I spotted a fellow photog searching for the giant thermometer we use to demonstrate ‘just HOW HOT it is in this parked car’. On second thought, bring on the brouhaha.

The first stop Nico Belha and I made was at the offices of Guilford County Commissioner Chairman Bruce Davis, a man I once interviewed while being nearly crushed to dust by thousands of rabid Fantasia fans. But there were no screaming street urchins waiting for us today, only the diffident Mr. Davis who ushered us into his office with understated graciousness. Nico, new to the area, didn’t let her lack of back-story stop her from nearly grilling the Chairman on the details of his trip. As Davis’ eyes narrowed, I locked and loaded the viewfinder - making sure to keep the Hawaiian lea draped over a lamp in my frame. Though reticent to provide a detailed synopsis of his junket to a reporter he’d never met, Davis remained ever polite and conveniently vague. When pressed to respond to the many critics of his taxpayer-funded trip to The Islands, he delivered a line that sounded eerily rehearsed.

“Well would it make them happy if we held it in Death Valley?”

Thirty minutes later Billy Yow jumped at the chance to answer that question.

“That’d be a good place for him, right out in the middle of Death Valley would suit me fine.”

Yow seethed at my lens, looking like he always he did - like he just finished digging a well. Since that’s actually what he does for a living, I’ll spot him the dungarees. In fact it was over a gaping hole in a nice lady’s yard that we caught up with the homespun lightning rod that is Billy Yow. As he unleashed another torrent, I looked over at Nico, who despite having never heard the name Yow before today, certainly knew a walking sound-bite when she met one. Standing before our camera, Billy Yow bristled with vitriol over what he considered his colleague’s wasteful spending, using a southern-fried sarcastic tone that always reminds me of the small-minded baseball coach I suffered under as a kid. To be fair though, Yow now employed no more venom in Davis’ absence than I’ve seen him use while seated beside the man at one of those impossibly contentious Commissioner Meetings. There have been a few where I’ve eyed the emergency exit should a wrestling match break out.

Which brings me to a conundrum I’ve often wrestled with while loitering by the tripod at the back of the room. How come successful, educated, seemingly rational people run for public office only to devolve into infantile behavior once they‘re seated? I’m not just talking Guilford County, either. I’ve done time in County Commissioner and City Council meetings from here to the coast. No matter what issue was at hand, I’ve been summarily flummoxed by the childishness exhibited by the low-level politico. Black, White, or Plaid, the foolishness knows no racial bounds. Something about achieving a local constituency makes eight out of ten well-meaning civic geeks go absolutely bat-shit. Why that is I don’t know, but commissioner hissies and councilman tantrums are as common an occurrence as that dork on TV, the one broadcasting live(!) from the backseat of some housewife’s grocery-getter with a giant thermometer in his sweaty grip.

There, I feel better now.


jw said...

"How come successful, educated, seemingly rational people run for public office only to devolve into infantile behavior once they‘re seated?"

I've observed this, too. And it breaks my heart. I've watch friends, good people, do things that I can't imagine. There's something about being in the office that does it to them. Every. Single. One. Mr. Wonderful teases me when I naively say, "This one's different." I'm always hopeful.

For some, it's a matter of degrees, milding irritating bouts of grandeur. For others, it is deeply troubling lack of morals. I've seen it all. David Wharton, and I were talking about this one night, after trying to talk someone into running for office. He asked, "If you feel this way, why were you encouraging [X] to do this?" My response was, "It'll be different with him."

Anonymous said...

Can you provide some examples of the kind of behavior you mean? (ones that are general enough that you're not pointing a finger at any particular person)

HockeyPat said...

Passionate people get carried away. At least that's my excuse.

BTW, I've been to that conference before. Its good group and I found the sessions to be well worth my time. After the conference gets a sweet deal from the hotel/convention center, the cost is usually no more than any other hotel. Of course the plane ticket still costs big dough. They usually move these conferences around so East Coast folks can sit out such Hawaiian gigs and hit the next one when it's closer to home. The western peoples are always bitching about stuff happening in Washington D.C. all the time.

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Carolyn said...

"Something about achieving a local constituency makes eight out of ten well-meaning civic geeks go absolutely bat-shit."

Stu - this line made me laugh out loud. nice job.