Somewhere in between the consent agenda and the fall of midnight, I lost touch of reality. I had, once again, slipped into a strange city council coma. With trembling hands, I reached for the Whitefish City Council agenda: four items left. One of them was a discussion on the length of council meetings. The irony was not lost on me.
I’ve of course added a touch of drama to my reenactment of this most recent Whitefish City Council meeting, but only a touch. Five or more hours inside the belly of the council chambers does peculiar things to a person. At 7 p.m., when you step into the arena that is City Hall, you must be prepared for a marathon. If you’ve come expecting a sprint, then the final 26.1 miles will be impossibly grueling. I have come to expect a marathon.
There are several things to be said about the length of Whitefish council meetings. First, one has to commend active residents for caring enough to thoroughly comment on issues and stick around until the wee hours in the name of proper public process. The same praise should be bestowed upon the council members themselves, who don’t get paid for their tireless – and tiring – efforts. Most of them have to go to work the next day. We can’t forget the city staff members such as the planning director, city manager, chief of police and others. They stay until the end too.
But the long hours bring out our weaknesses. After four hours, my handwriting is diminished to bizarre hieroglyphics, indecipherable to me the next day yet, in sync with the rhythm of the night, perfectly clear at the time. Also, my self-awareness leaves me. My senses become so accustomed to my surroundings, I begin behaving like I’m home.
For example, I caught myself scratching my nose – really I was scratching it – when I noticed the camera zeroed in on my sitting area. I straightened up, improved my posture, looked attentive. I figured I had no right to ruin someone’s enjoyment of the tape, which airs on television later. Nobody wants to see a disheveled young man with bloodshot eyes staring dumbly at some undetermined location on the wall between the bathroom and the clock. It dampens the political atmosphere.
There is public process and there is Monday night in Whitefish City Hall. It seems midnight is the cutoff for most. That is when I chose to leave, joining the mass exodus of four people. I say mass because four was nearly 50 percent of the total people remaining in attendance. Of course, councilors and staff members pushed on. But for the sake of them, our determined and well-meaning public servants, I hope they find a way to shorten meetings so they get enough sleep for work the next day.
At the very least, if they cut down the meeting by a half hour they would have been able to get to item 9a, the third to last on the agenda: discussion on the length of council meetings.
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