Back when I lived in Washington, a theater group of which I was a member met every Tuesday morning for breakfast at Sheila’s By the Bay, a local café. That’s where we made the day-to-day decisions of running our theater. And we also discussed a wide range of current topics. One morning, Gayle, a retired government spook, leaned across the table and said, “Sondra, you are the most apolitical person I know.”
It was five years ago in January. I had just arrived in town. Unopened boxes cluttered my living room, rows of paint cans lined the floor, lighting fixtures gathered sawdust while waiting to be hung, and a miter saw held court in the middle of the dining room table.
I wanted to get involved in my new community as soon as possible. I believe in community service. So I responded to a notice in the post office and wrote a letter of interest about filling a City Council vacancy.
I considered my letter to be a simple test run. No way was I, a stranger in town, going to be chosen to fill a vacant council seat. Also, I knew nothing of city government. Frankly, I had about as much interest as the average citizen, which seems to be very little indeed. (I find that people expect things to run well and complain when they don’t.) So, my letter was an exercise, practice until something more interesting came along.
It was the evening of the council meeting. I did not realize I was supposed to be at city hall. I had just sat down to dinner with guests when the phone rang. It was the mayor. “Aren’t you coming? We are waiting for you. We have to choose the new councilperson before we can hold the meeting.”
“Oops, I mean, of course. I’ll be there in four minutes,” I said while I struggled into my coat, ran a comb through my hair and slammed out the door.
Oh, dear. Things did not go the way they were supposed to. A half hour later, I found myself raising my hand, promising to do my duty to the best of my ability and seated in a chair behind the long table. The meeting started. I was terrified. I voted on things I had no notion of at all. This would not do. That week I began my intensive education into city government. My first six months in office I felt like I didn’t understand a thing. I listened a lot. I read a lot. The more I read, the more interested I got. I attended a wide range of meetings and trainings. The next six months I knew enough to begin asking questions. By the following year I dubbed myself the Queen of Dumb Questions. I have proudly held that honorable title ever since.
When the year of my appointment was up, I had become fascinated with city government and eager to learn more. So I ran for election. I am not a political-type person. To be in city government in our small town is very much a volunteer in-service position. I did not come to town to “change things” nor to “make things run the way they did back where I come from” nor to recreate life “the way it used to be when I grew up around here”.
Yet this year when my term was due to expire, I had a hard time making the decision to run again. Maybe, I thought, five years is long enough for me. I mulled it over. I talked with a lot of people. I even tried to convince a couple other citizens into running. Both of them responded, “Better you than me.” In the end, I drove to the courthouse in Chinook and registered to run.
I like the people I serve with. I feel we make a good team, despite the rolling of eyeballs when I say something like, “I’ve been thinking ... .” What we do makes a difference. And, how else would I get to meet stimulating people throughout the state, many of whom have become friends.
So I am proud to announce that last Tuesday on Election Day I won the race for my council seat by a landslide.
Oh, I forgot to mention. I ran unopposed.
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High in 1963 and left for good. She finds, after returning, things now look a bit different. Join her in a discussion of her column at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)