A Project for Students and Citizens

Living Democracy in Collinsville: Week Nine

In Collinsville on July 24, 2013 at 2:51 pm
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Mary Beth Snow, center, gets warm reception at Collinsville City Council meeting. (Contributed Photo)

 City Council Meetings Turn Out To Be Interesting, Important

By Mary Beth Snow

Of all of the new things I’ve experienced this summer, one of the most interesting is probably not what you’d expect: city council meetings. I am ashamed to say that before this summer, I had never in my life been to a city council meeting and had absolutely no idea what to expect. When I envisioned a city council meeting in my mind I saw something resembling a mixture of British parliamentary debates combined with Judge Judy and a town hall meeting from the television show “Parks and Rec”. I am (for the most part) happy to report that city council meetings in the real world are not quite that rambunctious.

At the first city council meeting I attended near the beginning of my time in the community as a Living Democracy Fellow, a large crowd attended because the Collinsville High School soccer team was being officially congratulated for just having won the 1A-4A state championship. Recognizing the local champions was the first item on the agenda, so Mayor Johnny Traffanstedt called the players up to the front of the small room where they posed for a picture with their coach. He noted that they are only the second state championship team in the town’s history, the first being the 1975 basketball team. The coach of that team, L.D. Dobbins, was present at this meeting, and he and his wife are regulars at most of the city council meetings.

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Mary Beth Snow used paint gun and support from local merchants, city officials to restore downtown trash cans.

After the soccer team left, it was my turn to speak. I introduced myself to the council and the audience and then explained my summer projects. I told them that local merchants had donated $250 to go toward my efforts on downtown beautification. I then asked them to donate the same amount, which we could also match from my Living Democracy project fund.

Much to my surprise, the mayor then asked me if I could match a higher amount if they donated more, a generous offer of support that astounded myself and many others, including the mayor’s brother who (lovingly) described his brother Johnny as a “tightwad” to me the following week.

The second city council meeting I attended was much different. Instead of a big crowd, there was only a small group of people: myself,  Jennifer Wilkins, my community partner who attends every meeting to report on the activities of the public library, Coach Dobbins and his wife, and Miss Mattie, who was one of my students from the weekly Spanish class I taught in Collinsville.

Jennifer and I reported on the different ways we used the funds that we had for the downtown beautification project. We were able to accomplish a lot during the summer with those funds: we bought six new planters to accompany the ones already lining the street, the soil and flowers to fill more than 20 planters and the supplies to renovate five trashcans downtown. With local help I spent a week in the blazing summer sun using power tools and pressure washing the trashcans before giving them a fresh coat of paint. Work continues on choosing the design for streetlamp banners that will line Main Street, but thanks to generous support from both merchants and city officials, the cost is covered.

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Beautification effort brings in freshly painted trash cans, flowers and banners.

The best part of the city council meeting was that the mayor thanked us for all of the work we’ve done this summer. It’s a dangerous thing to work for recognition, so I always try to work with the mindset that what I am doing will never be recognized and that keeps me focused on doing things for purer motives than personal glory. However, it is nice when recognition does come, and Jennifer and I were both happy to know that the work we’d done, along with the help of some great high school students and library board members, was making a difference around town.

In all honesty, it’s a shame that more people don’t go to city council meetings. One of the biggest complaints that we hear about government and “politics” is that people feel disconnected or that their voice isn’t heard. But city council meetings are too often held in empty rooms. I don’t say that to point fingers.  I know that people have things to do. There are baseball games to attend and dinner to cook and a million things pull us from every direction. I think that part of the problem is that we sometimes don’t even realize that things like city council meetings are going on and that they pertain to us, but they are and they do. That’s one of the best things I learned this summer. And you don’t have to be in Living Democracy to learn that. So next week be engaged, remain informed and go to your city council meeting!

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