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Meeting Quota


Last week, people kept asking alderman Don Lowry about sexually oriented businesses. Millington is currently devising an ordinance to govern things such as adult bookstores and escort services, and the alderman thought some citizens had gotten the wrong idea.

"Please understand, what we're doing here is being proactive," Lowry said at Millington's monthly board meeting. "We're not letting sexually oriented businesses open up all over town. We cannot stop them from coming into town. ... What we're trying to do is enact regulation. We're not trying to open the door for these businesses."

Another alderman, Linda Carter, suggested designating a meeting specifically to discuss the ordinance, as it has to be read aloud and, well, includes passages about syphilis, lingerie modeling, and even "covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state."

"We want to make sure the public knows what we'll be discussing," said Carter. "We often have children at our meetings, and I'm not sure Boy Scout leaders would appreciate [their troops hearing the adult language]."

The troop leaders might not appreciate it, but I bet the Boy Scouts themselves would. And, for that matter, anyone who's ever chuckled over Meet the Fockers. I mean, Millington's Civic Center is a former church, complete with pews, stained- glass windows, and what can only be described as a pulpit. The only things missing are the hymnals. If they read the ordinance there, someone might burst into flames.

You see, sometimes government in action - despite its reputation for being mind-numbingly boring - can be surreal or strange or just plain silly. And while the personal is often the political, in Millington, the political is getting pretty darn personal.

I mention this because it's summer, TV's crappy, and maybe it's time to see your local government at work.

It's probably my reporter training, but I'm a big believer in catching a government meeting now and then. I think there's inherent value in actually hearing an entire discussion about an issue and not just the sound-bites. Even if it's an issue that doesn't necessarily light your fire.

Public officials are elected to represent us. But anyone can kiss a baby. Babies are cute. What an official says during a public discussion is more important - and more telling - than what they say before the election.

And honestly, it's helpful to know how things work (Did you know you need to sign up beforehand or that you can only speak a certain amount of time?) before you stand up and speak on an issue. When that day comes, you want to channel Johnnie Cochran, right?

Only, it's never easy. When a speaker's time is up at the City Council, for instance, this terrifyingly loud buzzer goes off, jarring everyone out of their chairs. It's like being on a political version of The Gong Show.

And I can't count the number of times I've heard speakers get nervous and forget to say their name and address before they begin. Inevitably, they'll start reading from their prepared comments and the chair of the meeting will boom, "Your name and address for the record, please." And as the chair has said this some 23,000 times before, it does not always come out sounding nice. Then, the poor speaker gets flustered, loses his place in his notes, and ends up moving to some other part of the country to live down the shame.

So, if you have time, take in a meeting. But if it's going to be one in Millington, you might want to leave the kids at home. n

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