Bright-eyed, sans coffee (thus no bushy tail), I sat in on the 9 a.m. budget meeting this morning at Evanston’s Lorraine Morton Civic Center. I’d told my husband Jed to expect me back by 11-ish.
Boy, was I wrong.

If you’ve never attended a city event like this, I recommend it. It’s like nothing else. Yeah, it was a budget meeting, but it was sort of like the high-end Volvo of budget meetings (a Cadillac just isn’t in the cards this year).

All nine Aldermen, the City Manager, and the City Clerk sat behind a long, high panel. Each official had a stationary microphone equipped with a light to signal when they wanted to speak. An ill-conceived game show? In your dreams. Throw in a revenues spreadsheet and multi-camera closed-circuit TV, and you’ve got yourself an eye-opening Saturday morning.

The politeness was rampant. It reminded me of the apology gun in James Kennedy‘s The Order of Odd-Fish, which I’m reading now (the gun is one of Sir Festus’s pieces of ludicrous weaponry, deriving from a people whose armies devastate with their mega-civility).

I sat behind the glass, in the closed-circuit seats, listening and empathizing with nearly every speaker. An overabundance of empathy probably excludes me from professional politics, and that’s fine with me. But I can’t help but admire these folks. If I were behind that high panel, I’m sure I would turn in to the equivalent of a banshee (which is to say I’d interrupt someone, raise my voice above a mild intonation, or forget to tap my nifty speech-light).

In this room, no one spoke out of turn. With so much ground to cover, it took foreverrrrrrr.

After almost two and a half hours, the council hadn’t officially broached the subject of the branch libraries. (Though, my ears perked up at pointed comments from aldermen who’d clearly like to close the branches – like, yesterday.) But because I had to be home by 12:30, I stole away before the subject du jour even came up. When I left, they were on the 33rd minute of an intense discussion on yard waste. The center’s lobby was piping Miles Davis’s “So What,” so at least I left laughing.

In the end, I got my update from today’s branchlove.org blog. It turns out that the same five aldermen are still in favor of keeping Evanston’s branch libraries open for six months, and this count will likely stand at the official vote on Tuesday night. Fingers crossed, anyway.

Update: Branchlove has become Evanston Public Library Friends. Check the blog for the latest news.

Here’s something to think on: Besides family, friends, and career… what would you sit through a budget meeting for?

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