Thursday, October 20, 2011


For the past couple of months city and county politics have reminded me of my high school days, especially getting caught smoking in the boys’ room.
I should’ve never started smoking, but I was young and I wanted to be one of the boys. I knew what the rules were. I knew there were bathroom monitors roaming around, but I was willing to take the chance. For me, the opportunity came between Latin II and Physical Education. As soon as Mr. Landrigan dismissed us with one last reminder we’d better bone up on our ablative absolutes I was gone, hoping I’d be able to find a stall to satisfy my nicotine fit in secrecy. I usually got away with my misdeeds¸ but the bathroom monitors occasionally caught me and about six or seven others in the act. The door would swing open and we’d hear, “Awright, who’s smokin’ in here?” I think they took great delight in what came next –lit cigarette butts hissing as they hit the water, followed by the sound of flushing.
I’m not sure how many bathroom monitors we have here in Emporia, but whatever the number is, I don’t think there are enough.
I don’t attend city, county, or school board meetings as often as I should, but when I do I get the nagging sense that our esteemed leaders have spent some of their time puffing away together somewhere back in the goodoleboy’s room. It’s not that I’ve ever been back in the goodoleboy’s room that makes me wonder; it’s just that there’s something in the air. There are times I want to whisper to folks around me, “Do you smell cigar smoke creeping out from under a back room door?”
Some of my friends think I’m a bit too eastern for these parts. This is especially true when I ask them whether or not they’re a bit curious about political doings here. They tell me that, unlike easterners, Midwesterners trust one another and that business in Emporia and Lyon County takes place on a handshake basis. Now there’s nothing wrong with handshakes. I like them. And, as far as trust goes, I’m actually a very trusting guy. I trust my wife, my kids, and my friends. I trust my neighbors and their kids.  I trust Jack and Ranger, my dogs. They’ve never tried to bite me. But I do admit to feeling queasy being around politicians who try to pick my pocket when my attention is focused elsewhere.
At some of the recent meetings I got that feeling. When I hear politicians saying something like “We can move money from this fund to that fund,” my antenna goes up. When the gang at the county tells us we need a sales tax to give us property tax relief and we still wind up with higher property taxes I want to scream, “If you’re gonna’ mug me, please slap me only once.” When I get a copy of a budget and it’s just a page or two shorter than “War and Peace” I begin to wonder what genius adorned with a green eyeshade authored this minefield. My suspicions get aroused and I begin to hope the Gazette’s ace reporter or Jeff O’Dell has a bit of the muckraker in their blood.
But, maybe my friends are right. I just need to be more trusting. Our local politics is probably as honest as a barracks poker game. And, besides, if there is political double-talk and patronage here it’s as American as apple pie.
Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of the “We’re going into executive session” and it’s got my wheels turning. What’s up with that? Are we dealing with bruised egos who are feeling compelled to let us know how important they are? Are they trying to tell us, “We’re dealing with stuff so sensitive we have to communicate with each other by way of Enigma machines” or that if any Emporian ever found out what was going on it would trigger Armageddon?
A couple of weeks ago the city commissioners went into executive session from 9:00 A.M. till 11:00. At 11:00 they sat down for a few minutes and promptly went into executive session again. Our commissioners spent about as much time in secret as Ike and his team did planning the Normandy invasion.
I’m a trusting soul. I really am. But I’m curious. What on earth are they hatching back there? Is someone smoking in the goodoleboys’ room? I’ve heard that where there’s smoke there’s usually a cigar.
Maybe it would be good if our leaders knew we’re watching them. Who knows? One of these days the door may open wide and they’ll hear, “Awright, who’s smokin’ in here?” If the next sounds we hear are hissing and flushing we’ll know our curiosity was justified.

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