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Like They Say: The More Things Change …


After a lifetime of covering local governments in places as large as Memphis (Tennessee, not Texas) and as small as Tecumseh and Bethel Acres, about 30 years ago Gloria and I started The Shawnee Sun and I began covering the Shawnee City Commission every time it met. In one way, it was the most interesting governmental body I ever encountered. But in another, it was unquestionably the strangest ... and that made it a lot of fun and a lot of trouble to cover.

Hmmm. Not much has changed in the last three decades, has it?

One thing is definitely different. I’m 30 years older now and I’m lucky to move at the speed of continental drift. When my last birthday rolled around back in February, I became an octogenarian and that’s a two-bit way of saying I’m now past 80. It’s no wonder it takes me a while to get from the den to the living room.

That’s my excuse. What excuse does the current version of the Shawnee Commission have? It needs a good one ... but then again, this is not the first commission to find itself in that situation.

If you happened to attend the unusual 3 p.m. commission meeting Monday a week ago — or if you read Suzie Campbell’s marvelously detailed story about that session in last week’s Countywide & Sun — you already know what I’m talking about. The commission has always been populated by good folks but the outcome has always been the same. There must be a book called How To Mess Everything Up hidden somewhere in Shawnee’s City Hall. Maybe it’s downstairs where the jail used to be. Is it possible that every mayor since Pierre Taron or even earlier has discreetly disclosed that book’s whereabouts to his or her successor? You tell me. I don’t know. I’m just a suspicious old newspaperman ... possibly one of the last of a dying breed.

Since I’m way too old to cover City Hall anymore (thank goodness), I have to look back at the good ol’ days when every mayor, every city manager and most every member of the commission would have done whatever they needed to in order to keep the senior citizens and any organization which wanted to improve downtown happy and working. Yeah. They fought over a lot of things back then. Some of those things were really stupid, like whether the mayor should be allowed to park at the red-and-white sign clearly marked “MAYOR.” Hey. I can’t complain. That gave me one of the best stories I can remember.

But in spite of whatever it is they’re trying to do at Ninth and Broadway these days, I have to give them credit for one new twist that came out of this latest conflict at City Hall. When asked for copies of the minutes of the Contract Committee, the original answer was “no” on grounds that the committee hadn’t approved them and wouldn’t meet again until next year. That denial lasted a few hours, then dissolved before anybody could say “second-year law student.” I wonder why?

Maybe somebody should sneak down to the basement and scratch that advice in the back of How To Mess Everything Up.

Oh well. At least the city hasn’t declared war on the county’s Indian tribes in the past several years. You have to wonder whether enough money was spent on that foible to finance the Senior Citizens Center and the Downtown façade grant program for several years. I can’t tell you for sure but back in the day, I tried to find out. Nobody at City Hall would tell me.

See. The more things change, the more they do remain the same.


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