One of the markers that gives an early indication of what we're in for at town council meetings is the number and nature of the proclamations at the beginning of each meeting.
For those of you who have been blessed to never sit through a proclamation, that's when some group or organization or society decides to shove its cause down the innocent throats of unsuspecting citizens by having the mayor or one of her designees proclaim something like, "Hear ye, hear ye. Whereas the Town of Payson is a town, and whereas the town of Payson is located in a place, and whereas that place can be located on a map, therefore I, Her Mighty Potentate and Mayor Barbara Brewer do hereby proclaim this to be Anti-Geography Prevention Week and do hereby urge and encourage all the citizens of the fair town of Payson to spend the entire week reading maps. Hereunto do I affix the great seal of the town of Payson and my stately signature."
Then the mayor or her designee introduces the 17 people, all members of the local chapter of the Geographical Mapreaders Society of Northern Gila County, who have come to receive the proclamation, and invites their spokesperson to say a few words. Mumbling into a cheap clip-on microphone, this person launches into a diatribe about the evils of a mapless world that would go on into the wee hours of the evening if Police Chief Gordy Gartner, sitting at the staff table, didn't start twitching nervously and reach down to his pistol.
Mercifully this stops the designated spokesperson dead (figuratively speaking) in her diatribe and permits the mayor to move on to the next proclamation. Now I know why Gartner brings his pistol to council meetings.
At a recent meeting there were five proclamations on the agenda. Wisely, I decided to show up at 6:20 so I would miss them, arriving just in time for the serious business of approving special event liquor licenses.
But lo and behold I walked into the meeting and they were only on the second proclamation. That left three more to sit through, including the proclamation of Suicide Prevention Week, a deadly topic if there ever was one.
(Serious disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this column are in no way intended to imply that suicide is not a serious matter, only that there is something to be said for brevity when it comes to proclamations.)
As incredible as this is going to seem, you must take my word for it. This two-page proclamation was so long and tedious that by the time Councilor George Barriger finished reading it, Suicide Prevention Week was half over.
It was so long and tedious that during a break later in the meeting, one councilor confided to me that during its reading he was starting to get seriously depressed.
Please allow me to provide just a brief sample of the scintillating language contained therein (the parentheses are mine):
"Whereas, organizations such as the American Association of Suicidology and Southwest Behavioral Health, Rim Guidance Center which are dedicated to reducing the frequency of suicide attempts and deaths, and the pain of survivors affected by suicides of loved ones, through educational programs, research projects, intervention services and bereavement services, urge that we..."
There follows a list of 15 urges, including:
- Acknowledge that no single suicide prevention program or effort will be appropriate for all populations or communities. (OK, OK, I acknowledge. Just please stop reading ... NOW!)
- Improve and expand surveillance systems for suicide behavior (which just happened to be at the top my "to-do" list anyway).
- Improve reporting and portrayals of suicide behavior, mental illness, and substance abuse in the entertainment and news media. (Be careful what you urge.)
Believe me when I tell you that this proclamation was so tedious that it almost caused another Jonestown right in the council chambers.
It was so bad that a disconcerted Councilor Tim Fruth, who followed the suicide proclamation with the proclamation of PHS Longhorn Week, blurted out that Mayor Barbara Brewer hereby "complained" that this was PHS Longhorn Week.
But something good did come of the suicide prevention proclamation: I have found a new hero in the person of Councilor Barriger, because anybody who can read that document without passing out right there on the dais is a better man than I.
And if the town council is going to allow proclamations to take up so much of its time, I would like to introduce a few:
- Proclamations Prevention Month
- National Easement Month (I don't know about you, but it seems to me that easements don't get the respect they deserve?)
- Dirt Lawn Week (Hey, this might be the beginning of a national movement.)
- Garish Purple Fences Around Ballfields That Offend the Sensibilities of All but the Colorblind Prevention Week
- Left-Handed Reporters' Year
("...wherein a sofa is placed in the council chambers so left-handed reporters can nap through council proclamations.)