I’ve wanted to write more regarding City topics, but I haven’t yet found my voice or, to be honest, the time. We will see. This might be the beginning of more consistent posting. Sign up to the blog at the top of the column at the right, follow on Facebook, and in the form below send me a comment about what you’d like to see written about.
During this past year serving as a City Commissioner, I’ve been asked several times versions of the following questions. These are general questions and honest answers about what it is like to be a City Commissioner.
“Are you still enjoying it?”
Yes, I can honestly say that I’m enjoying being City Commissioner (or as some say, The Commish). Admittedly, there are times when that answer comes with a forced smile. It has challenging moments. However, it is a privilege to be able to represent my community and have a direct vote in the design and direction of the City. How could that not be fun?
“How overwhelming is it?”
I put in on average 12-14 hours a week for city biz. I try not to let it impact my sleep, and there’s only been a handful of night’s this past 350 where the City has taken over my dreams or otherwise kept me up. It isn’t all bad to find yourself staring at the ceiling and thinking about your community at 4 am. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I raised my hand for the opportunity. Still, it isn’t overwhelming. The reward of a job well done remains worth the effort.
“Do you ever get a break?”
Yes, when I want one. I’ve learned that I don’t leave the house unless I’m prepared to discuss city politics. One of the biggest surprises is how many people watch the meetings. On the street or in a café, I expect to be approached by people with questions, opinions, or, as sometimes happens, to say thank you for serving. That has been a bright spot of the position. Meeting new people. Hearing different perspectives. Of course the occasional fly by, cuss-word laden rant is shared with me as well. That hasn’t been often, and as always–thank you for your opinion–I can appreciate the frustration.
“Is it everything you expected it to be?”
This is the toughest question, because I’m not sure what I expected. In a way, I expected things to be more unexpected. What I have found is that the structure insures a certain rhythm to the process and staff is excellent at presenting weekly material in digestible chunks. This has been a small surprise and one that goes a long ways in helping with the early questions above. Where and when extra effort is required, its learning something new or learning a new way to approach an issue. I find learning something new to be an energizing force rather than an enervating one. I’m learning every week something new about the community, about people, and ultimately, about myself.
“Am I having an impact?”
This is a question I ask myself. I knew taking office that there’d be days when I felt like I contributed immensely to the success of a project and that there’d be other days where I felt like I didn’t even exist. I remind myself daily to take a long view approach and not get caught up in the daily positioning, gossip, and politicking. I try.
What I’ve learned to appreciate is that community planning isn’t rocket science, because rocket science has more predictable elements. At a certain level, any commissioner, or citizen, who is fully engaged and persistent in local politics needs to understand that they are having an impact on the discussion. It might not seem like it at the time, but overtime one must trust that their voice had influence–just not always in the way it was intended. Impact is difficult to measure.
Those community elements are what really make this worthwhile. Those elements primarily being engaged citizens passionate about their community, whether it be a lifelong relationship or an adopted one. I’ve met dozens of interesting people this year that I otherwise wouldn’t have met. I suppose I haven’t always made friends, as we certainly have had some challenging topics to deal with this year, but I’ve tried to always develop a high level of mutual respect and understanding. It is certainly a practice and I’m not claiming I’ve always succeeded, but I’m trying and in that practice is opportunity.
Thank you for the opportunity to represent our community to contribute some of the thrust in moving Traverse City forward. On to Year Two.
End note: The life as a candidate is an odd sort. At once, you’re nervous you’ll fall on your face, but remain confident due to the support from hundreds of people and a cultivated trust that you did all that you can to introduce yourself to voters. Last year at this time, I was spending a nervous weekend wondering what was left to be done before Election Tuesday. Please, for the heart rates of all the candidates who have stepped up to represent, go vote on Tuesday.