Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd.
-- Soul Asylum
I could have just taken the compliment and moved on, but it somehow didn't seem right accepting praise under false pretenses.
So I'm here to set the record straight.
I just kinda smiled and muttered a half-hearted "thank you" when a nice lady told me recently, "You know, you're always one of the first people here for these meetings. It shows a certain level of professionalism for someone to make sure they're on time for an event they're supposed to be reporting on for the media."
I didn't even tell the people who know me best about the comment for fear they'd bust a gut laughing. The one constant I've always exhibited in my adult life is a penchant for being late for almost any appointment, no matter how important. Never have been a very good time manager.
But I generally am one of the first ones to arrive at the Albany City and Dougherty County commission meetings at the downtown Government Center most weeks. It's not, however, a sense of professionalism that motivates me. It's just that I have neither the desire nor the skills to take coherant notes while standing through a three- or four-hour meeting.
See, both commissions' work sessions are conducted in Room 120 of the Government Center, a shoebox of a room that contains a large table for commissioners and other key city and county officials, and 16 (I counted) chairs for everybody else. Now 16 chairs might seem like a gracious plenty given the paltry number of citizens who generally bother to show up for government meetings, but before anyone writes this off as much ado about nothing, he or she must consider that spectators have to vie with city and county -- especially city -- employees to cop one of the precious seats in the room each week.
And that can be a pretty daunting task.
At one recent City Commission meeting, I noted the presence of at least one representative -- often the director -- from the following city departments: Aviation, Code Enforcement, Parks and Recreation, Finance, Information Technology, Police, Planning and Development, Human Resources, Public Works, Procurement, Transportation, downtown manager/ADICA, Community/Economic Development, Engineering, city manager's office and Water, Gas & Light Commission.
Now, it doesn't take a math genius to figure that with sometimes as many as three representatives from some departments "saving seats" and manuevering with the general public, consultants who are on the agenda, the news media and William Wright for those treasured seats, well, there are going to be quite a few people standing.
Throw in an agenda item that generates a call to arms from up-in-arms citizen groups (especially retired folks), and sometimes as many as 50 people are angling for those 16 seats.
(Side Note 1: I may have been mistaken, but I'm pretty sure I overheard a finance-minded individual who's looking to retire soon down in Florida mention camping out in the Government Center overnight so that she could snap up all the good seats the next morning and then scalp them to the highest bidder. Just in case, I'd like to mention that I'd be willing to pay a fee to reserve the good seat by the window that gives me an opportunity to stare out at passersby when Bob Langstaff forgets where he is and goes off on one of his lawyerly discourses.)
I have a tendency to think every time I start feeling guilty about keeping my seat at a commission meeting while someone's poor grandmother has to stand through hours of what frequently tends to dip into bloviation territory -- sorry, I'm not taking notes standing up for anyone's grammy -- about how simple it would be to move the meetings to the huge auditorium that sits dark and vacant not 30 feet away, the site of both commissions' business meetings.
(Side Note 2: I went online and found the salaries of all the employees in the above-mentioned group who were at the aforementioned meeting, calculated their prorated salaries at three hours, the length of the meeting, and came up with ... OK, it got to be too much math for me when the word "prorated" became part of the equation, but I was able to conclude that the money paid to all the employees in attendance for essentially standing around for those three hours was more than I make in a few months ... even before taxes.)
The first time I had to try and pay attention to the conversation among commissioners while a pair of self-righteous crusaders sitting next to me offered their inappropriate and boorish comments on every statement that was made and the guy standing directly behind me who hadn't bathed in a few days and obviously just followed the crowd inside, I couldn't help but think that the city was in danger of having the fire marshal shut the assembly down for overcrowded conditions.
Then it dawned on me: The fire department was another city group well-represented in the room.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcheralbanyherald.com.