CITY HALL REPORT

by Clyde Ray List - 1995 Sherwood Gazette

I was interviewing a City official the other day. In the midst of the conversation, while I watched, he rose from his chair without taking his feet from the desk. You may have trouble picturing this, just as I have trouble describing it. Like Daniel in the Bible, imprisoned in my mortal clay and riveted to the ground, I could only sit dumbfounded as the city official continued to rise in the air. He bumped his head on the ceiling, did a somersault, and returned to his chair as slowly and gracefully and tentatively as a helium balloon that is left to wander the house in eerie silence after the party is over.

"That's amazing!" I shouted.

"No it's not." the city official replied, "We don't do social planning."

I was a reporter for the local newspaper and I had been asking about the sudden and dramatic increase in building construction in our town. I had asked the city official about the lack of variety of the housing the City had been approving. I had observed that housing developers seemed to be passing only one house design around among themselves, like a wedding gift that is only glimpsed one time before being shoved back in the box and wrapped up again for the next occasion's gift giving. I complained that our new houses all seemed to be designed for people of one income bracket. The poor were being left out. What is the point of having a town government, if the town government doesn't provide for the health and safety of all but one class of citizen?

This was when the city official left his chair.

"Social planning. We don't do social planning." These words continued to ring in my ears as I hurried down the stairs past the Planning Director's office and the Planning Commissioner's message box and the Current Comprehensive Plan Map that always graces the lobby, out into the crowded afternoon streets.

I was almost back to my car when it occurred to me that I might have misunderstood the city official, or that the city official might have misunderstood me. 

"We don't do social planning. We don't do social planning." Perhaps the City official thought I had come to his office-- not as a newspaper reporter-- but as a caterer devising a planner's society luncheon which I wanted him to attend. Perhaps he was telling me No. He was invited to so many social planning parties that planning socials were beginning to bore him. 

Or perhaps he had rather hoped I was inviting him to one of those all night drunken social bashes of the kind I use to attend when I was a member of the planning commission, hosted by our unbelieveably sociable local utility company.

I had almost decided to return to his office and make another appointment when I saw the city official himself strolling across the street ahead of me. "Watch out for that bus!" I shouted.

Under any other circumstances it would have been a tragic accident occurring. But once again, my advice was of no value to anyone.

For this was a city official. As soon as the bus was within a few feet of him, he kicked up his heels and elevated himself into the air once again, just as I had seen him do at City Hall, and arrived at the other side of the street without losing his stride.

I no longer felt the inclination to convince anyone, much less a city official, that the City of Sherwood can't issue building permits for eight hundred new households without in some way affecting society.

A millenium from now, historians will dig us out of the rubble. They will study our remains for some time before seeing what is in front of them. "Oh look! What an interesting social plan these social planners planned!" they will comment to one another. "See? Here they put roofs over one half their population, and here they built a wildlife refuge for the other half. It must have been their god Robin Hood who taught them that-- where habitable dwelling spaces are concerned-- a forest or a fen is as good as a castle."