A poem of grimmest boredom

Published 9:17 pm Sunday, January 11, 2009

By Staff
One of our reporters found himself stuck in a number of governmental meetings recently. Eventually, this drove him to start jotting some rhyming lines during one such gathering. Those lines were eventually reshaped into the sonnet below, which we would like to call:
An Ode to Government Meetings
Old men sit in a row with mics and suits.
They dominate a room draped with worn flags.
Could even the old Anglo-Saxon moots
have had speeches from such dull windbags?
The crowd sits grimly, not a hint of glee.
The camera lens glows as it tilts and pans.
Good sense and reason quickly make to fell.
A true electioneer mocks ire and hams.
To agree, and skip tight votes, they keep droning.
They keep on and on and on debating.
The question is parking, or new zoning.
As they talk, my will to live’s deflating.
Council meetings are, o’er our good nation,
the dull “X” in the civic equation.
In seriousness, dull government meetings are absolutely essential to our modern form of government. Planning boards, boards of adjustment, the school board, the various town and city councils and the county commissioners all play an essential role in needed government services.
But goodness, do the folks on those boards love to talk.
We would like to take this opportunity to hold up the Belhaven Town Council as an exemplar of brevity.
A council meeting there often lasts about an hour. Other councils’ meetings routinely run toward three hours.
There is a lot going on at these meetings that doesn’t really have anything to do with anything other than political posturing.
One upside to televising some of the government meetings in the county is that our public is better informed and the boards are less likely to get up to monkeyshines.
But the television audience also gives any politician who is facing an upcoming election a free (well, tax-payer supported) podium from which to address the masses.
Or at least they can address any member of the masses who can sit through the boredom of the televised meeting.
Some specific suggestions:
It has become a trend lately for Beaufort County commissioners to call anyone who receives funding from the county before the board for questioning, as though the Board of Commissioners was actually a subcommittee of the United States Senate. Many of these sessions end in useless crowing by a commissioner or three and helpless shrugging by the examinee, because he or she does not know the answer to complex financial questions off the top of his or her head. These sorts of inquisitions would be much better handled by a letter to the agency in question. If the response is not clear enough, then the commissioners should call the agency head to the podium. Otherwise, quit the tax-funded campaigning.
The Beaufort County Board of Education recognizes students and staff who have done outstanding things each month. This recognition is good. But the dragged-out photo op that follows is, well, a drag. It would be better if the honorees stood for applause, and then sat back down. If the board members or the school system want grip-and-grin photos, they could be taken some other time, such as before the meeting.
The Belhaven Town Council has a hard time meeting without a diatribe from someone about “others in the community,” political enemies of the current board, and all the malevolent things they are doing in Belhaven. If they are that evil, can we just agree to the fact? Even if we cannot, the middle of a town council meeting is not necessarily where that kind of talk belongs. Maybe the folks wanting to rail could hold a press conference afterward and let those who want to hear it attend.
These are just a few suggestions we have. In general, meetings here are run well, in large part because of the professionalism of the staff members who work to put them together (town and county managers, as well as others). But we would like to see the amount of time they take cut down a little. Such a move would allow our elected officials to pay more attention to governing and would make it easier for the average citizen to follow an entire meeting.