You have to know what to ask

“I was hoping to kinda slip that in,” he told me, ruefully, when I called him last month. He didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, people would get upset. He left it until the very, very end of the meeting, quickly called for a vote to eliminate a position, banged his gavel down.

It was my lede.

He nearly did it again this month, calling for a vote that almost doubled a fee. I didn’t realize the vast difference until my story was already written, and I had to throw out that lede and start over again.

I’m going to have to start paying closer attention at these meetings.

He’s got a laid back, boyish, and more relaxed than professional way of running things around there, and it tends to lull me into complacency.

It’s a fairly long drive through woods and along a creek to these meetings, and mostly they’re dealing with little things: closing streets for festivals or dealing with residents who don’t want to fix up their property.

He wears jeans, calls most of the women in the room pet names, and pretends to hit the secretary on the head with the gavel.

And he lets people talk. The women who always come with lists of things to do? He lets them go until they’ve run out of steam. The town crank who always comes, always leans back in his chair, arms crossed, picking fights – he lets him go on too, until there’s nothing left for him to fight about.

So I don’t realize he’s actually running things pretty well from behind the scenes until he nearly slips something by me. I feel like I’ve been falling asleep, and just woke up barely in time to see what’s going on.

But when I call him, ask the questions he was hoping I would forget about? He always answers. He doesn’t blame me or refuse to answer, just sighs and answers the questions.

I guess it’s his prerogative try to keep things quiet, not stir up trouble for himself. And I guess he knows it’s my job to search out those things that are hidden.

Not everyone does.

“Aren’t you supposed to report the news, not create it?” One man snapped when I started asking questions he didn’t like. Others refuse to take my calls. Some I suspect of stretching the truth. Others make me file official requests, charge my paper for every page they email to me.

Some make it very difficult to find the answers.

So I’ll pay more attention to these meetings, not let the casual atmosphere throw me off track.

But I’ll be grateful that when I know what to ask, I always get the answers.


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