Monday, November 1, 2010
There has been too much contention at City Hall lately to expect anything but hard feelings and self-destructive grudges to be played out well into the future. That’s what we do well in Navasota. That is very troubling, and there is no need for this to be the end result. But there are people who relish in this kind of excitement, who will never give truth and peace a chance.
If you read this blog, perhaps you have learned to halfway trust my heart if not my perspective a little, so I’m going to try and set the record straight as far as I know it. You will not get this from the Navasota Examiner. To those of you looking at Navasota as a place to live, take this with a grain of salt, as I am bitter and sick and tired. Really, what Navasota needs is YOU, to tip the scales in favor of progress and common sense.
I call it “Balloongate” because that sounded kind of funny to me. Of course, to me this whole question around the City’s new sign ordinance has a little to do with balloons, and everything to do with how we get along, and communicate. But balloons have been mentioned … as unacceptable, "essential," f e s t i v e and tacky and … outlawed. Perhaps Navasota has found the perfect argument, where everyone is right... and wrong. Balloons are kind of ... amazingly ubiquitous... they seem to fit in no matter what the occassion. But they are oh, so temporary, (like flowers) yet considered appropriate in most instances, (like flowers)and yet they are very cheap... (like flowers) and people place them and leave them... like flowers. And there's the rub.
Recently a lively group materialized in the City Manager’s office, after he had willingly made an appointment with a significantly smaller delegation, and proceeded to make marching on City Hall an interactive experience. Some of them were respectful, some were outrageous. All of them were concerned in some way about the new City ordinance which had been passed by the City Council and which threatened to change retail as we know it. Some of the group had very legitimate objections. Some of them did not. Regardless, Brad Stafford promised to give them the chance to make their objections known. This is a democracy… but not a pure democracy, so all words were best saved for an official Council meeting, where elected representatives could hear for themselves…
But from the git-go, it was clear several things were at the forefront. Local merchants were incensed that the signs they routinely use to attract business would now be taboo. And they could be fined if they broke the law. Almost any kind of temporary sign was considered just that, and not allowed to be used as permanent. Vinyl banners, plastic political type yard signs, and yes, balloons, were now officially illegal. Balloons had proved to be a problem as they died and rotted on the battlefield, in the streets, and the City Council just outlawed them, rather than have to continuously harass the car dealership who presented the majority of the problem. There were fairly strict guidelines about appropriate sign sizes in proportion to their placement. Unknown and unappreciated, the Council had taken great pains during the past year to:
A. Include local merchants in this sign ordinance rewrite, so that they would have a voice. The highly motivated and qualified local volunteers who helped rewrite the ordinance had leaned towards good taste and “the greater good.”
B. Research what other towns which are building tourism and historic districts are doing about ugly and tasteless signage.
C. Write a progressive, well supported sign ordinance, making a few nods to the past, but changing incrementally the sign code so that we are moving in the right direction.
But the merchants in Brad Stafford’s office did not get the memo. And they probably never will. I sat in on many “Bloomtown” meetings, a somewhat exclusive merchant’s organization I helped to start, where one of the members of this stellar sign ordinance commission mentioned almost weekly the progress being made on this important rewrite. Yet many of this new ordinance’s most vocal opponents were sitting right next to me, and right across from her, during Bloomtown meetings, but apparently were not interested enough to find out what was happening. I knew. But too often they were talking instead of listening.
Then everything changed. They found out how the new code would affect them: No more cheesy plastic curb signs, no more threadbare vinyl banners hanging from lofts, no more… balloons bobbing up and down on new cars.
So they marched. They came to a City Council meeting a week ago, over a couple of dozen of them, but graciously left their torches and pitchforks at the door. I was not there. My heart condition forbid it. It's good for something.
But I have heard many accounts. One woman surely said the word ASSININE many times, from the audience and out of order, in a clear misuse of freedom of speech among civilized folk. Perhaps she was trying to introduce herself. A number of merchants came forth and pleaded their cases. Most made the same case, that the signs now outlawed were essential to their survival. Yes even balloons, were absolutely essential. Mayor Bert Miller was dumbfounded to learn that even the car dealership depended on balloons to sell their new cars. One merchant declared like an emerging genius that the city should consult the local merchants when drawing up such things… that it was not fair… and he was often the host of Bloomtown! He could have known any or all if only he had cared to inquire. So much for “power” meals. He also insisted that balloons were not optional for his marketing plan. His business depended on them. This crisis might bring City Hall to its knees.
So I call it “Balloongate.”
The Council sat politely, some who were there even said they were very professional and masterfully restrained. They had done pretty much what the first merchants, the handpicked advisory panel, had asked for. Now a different set wanted heads on a platter. OK, so perhaps they should choose their sign commission volunteers differently. I have some suggestions.
1) First of all, force some of these chronic whiners to be on board, and see how tough this is. You know, when you are making LAWS. Those awkward things designed for the greater good. Things put into legalise and enforced by policemen; Rules of society that are fair and take EVERYTHING, as far as is humanly possible, into account.
2) Make every one of the protesters sit on the Council for a month, and listen to all the legal crap and avoid EVER TALKING ABOUT THE ISSUES TO BE DECIDED OR GO TO JAIL. (Yes, it’s really that way, see: Open Meetings Act of Texas) It’s not so easy, when it is up to you. I know a couple that would be in jail before the first week was up.
3) Make them decide important issues that affect their best friends, who are on opposing sides. The Council has to do this every week. If you have integrity, you do what is right whether or not your friends like you for it. One Navasota merchant was astounded, after contributing to the rewrite, to be hounded by the very ordinances they promoted. It cost them big time. Justice IS blind!
And justice hardly ever feels good all the time, to everyone. That is why laws are necessary.
So my thanks to those who served on this commission, who worked hard a long time to give this town a pattern for progress, not being the respecter of persons, laying it down as it would prove best for everyone. They were PRO-ACTIVE, showing leadership when nobody else cared or asked. Thank you! You almost ducked under the radar… until your very existence was questioned!
To the rest of you I have a longer paragraph.
Back in February I had to decide whether or not I would run again for City Council. I wanted to be there when they dedicated the new City Hall, which I helped to conceive. The town was moving along well. It is a great time to live in Navasota, Texas. I remain very proud of our City, compared to where we have come from, just a few short years ago. Navasota really is the town America wants to be.
But one morning at one of my men’s prayer groups, the guys began to chew on the City pretty hard. Each expressed his own grievances. All were indignant, critical, condescending. I was not on the Council at the time, so the bad old City was fair game. I listened to their heartfelt, narcissistic, selfish perspectives and knew, without a doubt, if I were to sit on the Council again, I would lose four friends. They were so self-centered and not at all concerned about the City in the grander scheme of things, that it made me ashamed. I was not up to such a battle. They were convinced that in every case, whatever it was they were beefing about was a public priority and if they just had their way, Navasota would be a better place. Each thought he was an understandable exception to the rule. They sounded like little boys in the sandbox.
I swore off politics that morning. The inevitable fight, with the likes of these, some of Navasota's best and brightest, would surely kill me. I love them, but they were not worth it. And these were my best friends!
That is my confession brothers. Of course, none of them read much, or follow my blog! Except for one, and I’m sorry if I hurt you when I write this. I’ll try to keep this Ph neutral.
So my point is that if even my own best buddies do not ever get the memo, don’t feel bad or mad if you don’t either. You really have to pay attention and listen and care to be informed, and become philosophical, and moderately wise. It is very time consuming and draining. You have to listen as much as you talk. You have to take both sides, shave off the extremes, and pray over it.
Most folks that came to the Council meeting that night saw a film that explained the direction the City was going… and nobody could argue with that. The direction was fine until the City came in their direction.
The Council had already taken measures to address the more obvious questions. They were ready to allow some exceptions, write them into the law. I know from my personal conversations with the Mayor how he negotiated a lot that they will never know that was in concern for downtown merchants. He is one! In fact one merchant had the nerve to ask him when he was ever going to get around to painting his own building. Little did he know that Mr. Miller had just spent a good deal of money painting his bulding. In fact he has spent more than any other merchant painting his buildings, just recently painting his largest, a three story building that houses a computer store and other businesses. But personal pot-shots are the order of the day when rabble-rousers have lost their steam. The Mayor deserves much more respect, than personal questions designed to embarrass. As Mayor, he does not apply for the EDC grants that split costs on storefront upgrades, to AVOID CONFLICT OF INTEREST. So he carries his own weight, while those who reap those grants chastise him. And so it goes.
Much more COULD HAVE and probably SHOULD HAVE been outlawed. Our poor, beleaguered downtown merchants were allowed almost too much indulgence, including junky storefronts, sidewalk sandwich signs, and merchandise set out on the sidewalks. But those of us who support some higher standards, are not expecting everything to change overnight. The Council took careful, well-advised, incremental steps.
And now because of a few who do not want to rise to a higher plane, the Council will take a giant step backwards. I don’t ever want to hear any more complaining about improving this town and upgrading, as we have heard from these retail visionaries who must have plastic banners and balloons! Let there be balloons!
But without a decent plan to take our own town and pull it up by its suspenders, and change some old, backward, lazy and cheap habits, we will remain such. Everybody wants change and progress, but they want it to happen in somebody else’s backyard. And they want somebody else to govern, and do the right thing, as long as it does not impact them. This town is full of children who do not play well with others. I can no longer, will no longer argue with you. My heart is figuratively and literally smashed. You’ll have to go burn down City Hall by yourselves and find some smart leaders you can support , so you can stick a pig’s head on a stick, with balloons! And worship the Lord of the Flies. Read the book. That is the crowd I see and hear. And I know, very well.
NOBODY else has invented so many organizations in one town trying to build a winning team. The Diane Moore Foundation. The Cotton Republic. The River of Culture. Bloomtown. Everyone of these has been sabotaged by pride, prejudice, bullying, mediocrity and vanity or just plain greed and personal interest. Ok, so I finally get it. I’ll leave team building alone. It's every piggie to himself.
This town has a wonderful future, in spite of all your petty small mindedness. All this will pass, and still it will be something else ASSININE. And we’ll still run into each other at Walmart. But it would have been so much nicer in the future, smiling, and meaning it.