By Cathy Salustri
As I write this I’m surrounded by boxes. That’s right, the patina of living by the world’s worst karaoke bar finally wore down to a gunmetal grey, and I moved to a quieter area of the beach. I calculate that, including college dorms, I’ve moved 23 times. Since my parents parked themselves in one place and stayed there in 1980, most of these moves are on my whim.
And I’ve gotten good at it. I mean, I can throw things in boxes with Olympic skill and precision. I know the numbers for Bright House and Progress Energy by heart. Everyone needs a skill, right?
Except I hate it. It’s not so much the move – there’s some weird ancient nomadic memory in my brain that swoons at the sight of bare walls and barren rooms – it’s the boxes. It’s the chaos. I can’t really function very well until I unpack the boxes and get everything situated.
Which is a problem. This year, I missed the deadline for paying my taxes, neglected to RSVP for a friend’s wedding, and ran out of cat food. Those of you with pets know that of the three, that last item has the most dire consequences. This says nothing of the money I’ve lost by not writing because I’ve been trying desperately to figure out where to set up the coffeemaker.
In the end, what happens every time I move is that I run around trying to put out fires wrought by the disruption of a move. I may save money or gain peace of mind over the year, but weighed against the expense and entropy of moving, I think I end the year at a net loss.
Which brings me to my two favorite cities in Pinellas county and the chaos wrought when a city gets a new set of councilmembers or commissioners every year.
St. Pete Beach has a new mayor and Gulfport has a new councilwoman, and whether or not you endorse them or oppose them, you have to admit they have a daunting task ahead of them. I’ve got boxes of books and pictures to unpack; elected officials have a different load of cartons to get off the u-Haul. They’re like college freshman moving on campus- not a lot of boxes, but a lot of important stuff in the boxes.
They start with a couple boxes of constituents, who might hate them or love them or not care at all. If they have 10,000 constituents, they have 10,000 sets of interests they must represent. These constituents need a functioning and up-to-speed representative today, not tomorrow, so now our college freshman must stop unpacking that box and open up another labeled “training.” This box – and it’s a big one – has Sunshine laws, training, tours, and other “Welcome to Government Service!” gifts from their dorm mother.
Some of the stuff in the box deals with city meetings while other stuff focuses on city-to-city or outside agencies, which leads the official to a box labeled “committees and agencies.” This box might seem unimportant and the councilmember or commissioner may push it aside, but they’ll find soon enough that if they want to make the Dean’s List they need to unpack and organize that box as well.
Elected officials have to do all this unpacking while assuming the role of a functional representative, going to their day job, and attending to their families. I don’t envy them.
I envy the cities themselves less. Think of each elected body as a college dorm (albeit one without the keg parties and blacklights, and the roommates can only talk to each other when the entire university can listen in). The dorm has five roommates, but no one gets to stay very long. The dorm always has boxes stacked in the corner, there’s constant chaos, and just when everyone learns to get along and work together, someone moves out and someone new moves in.
If new officials get sworn in during March (or, in the event of a run-off, April) and the next cycle starts in December, at least seven months of every year have these “roommates” worried more about the move than their schoolwork. Of that time, the newer members spend a month or two coming up to speed, so figure that for five months–less than half the year–the city council’s living with boxes strewn about their living room and trying to figure out where to put the new guy’s papasan chair.
I took time off from work to get the boxes out of my living room, because I was going a little nuts with the weight of the chaos. Cities can’t take time off; people need government every day. I’m not proposing we shut down the city while new officials learn the ropes and city hall adjusts to its newest member and I’m certainly not saying we should keep bad politicians just because it’s easier.
I only know that right now, my head isn’t really where it ought to be. It’s going to take me a while to get comfortable and be productive working. I have that luxury; I’m not leading a city.
It’s one thing to muck up a column or send in the wrong name with a photo. It’s quite another to be so busy unpacking boxes and straightening shelves that you make the wrong decision about something that affects the quality of life of 13,000 people.
Think of it as the difference between missing one class and getting kicked out of school.
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com or follow her column on the Hard Candy Facebook page.