Last Thursday a colleague asked me to give a talk to his Public Speaking class about serving on Lamar Town Council, working as a teacher, and how I balance the two. Below is the written version of that talk, which is adapted in part from my post “Small Pond” (read the full version on SubscribeStar).
At my second Town of Lamar Council Meeting, my colleagues outvoted me 4-1 to renew Lamar’s mask ordinance for another sixty days. They also shot down my proposal that we reopen council meetings to the public, who can currently only attend online via Facebook Live and Zoom.
That’s precisely what I expected to happen, and I appreciate their reasons: concerns about safety, etc. The big, lingering question—one I can’t get out of my mind—is “when does it end?” At what point are we safe “enough” to remove our masks?
Last week was an exceptionally busy one for yours portly, with a number of duties and responsibilities intersecting at once. I’m sure many readers have noticed this phenomenon, but there is a decidedly cyclical nature to workflow; indeed, it’s almost tidal in the manner it ebbs and flows: I can go for two or three weeks enjoying a fairly placid schedule, only to have a couple of weeks of intense activity. Everything seems to come to a head at the same time.
That’s particularly true in education, a field that is structurally cyclical, with regular intervals of heightened activity baked into the calendar. The third quarter ended Friday, marking the beginning of the end of the school year (fourth quarter—that last, mad dash to summer vacation—starts today). That means last week was a flurry of finalizing grades and writing report card comments.
My school requires unique, individualized comments for every student, and though we teach (on average) fewer students than the typical public school teacher, we’re expected to go above and beyond. Because my colleagues and I were scolded as a group for comments deemed inadequate (for the record, I always write exceptional comments), I decided to double-down and write even more ridiculously detailed comments. Our registrar read through them Friday morning (after I worked furiously and late into the night Thursday to finish them before the weekend) and said, “I felt like I was reading a novella.” Mission accomplished.
That’s all to say that I’m very tired, so I thought this Monday would be a good opportunity to offer some brief updates.
I know, I know—everyone wants to read and talk about the storming of our metaphorical Bastille. I’m going to cover that in-depth in this weekend’s SubscribeStar Saturday post, not because I know it is the event of the decade—and will therefore crassly milk it for subscribers—but because my own observations are so tantalizingly spicy, I have to hide them behind a paywall. Believe it or not, $1 is apparently a major hurdle.
Instead, I’m going to focus on a bit local draconianism that I will hopefully soon be able to address head-on: my small town of Lamar has adopted a mask ordinance. Given our current Town Council, I’m surprised it took this long.
The ordinance, dated 14 December 2020 and effective 4 January 2021—but only received in water bills on 7 January 2021—is entitled “REQUIRING INDIVIDUALS TO WEAR FACE COVERINGS IN RETAIL AND FOODSERVICE ESTABLISHMENTS, AND MATTERS RELATED THERETO.” It features a number of “WHEREAS” justifications, mostly the “recommendations of public health experts.” It then lists the “Use of Face Coverings” in Section 1, detailing that face coverings must be worn indoors at stores and restaurants, etc., with plenty of opportunities to not wear a mask listed in Section 2, “Exemptions”—religious reasons, dental cleanings, etc.
The penalties for infractions—detailed in Sections 3 and 4—are $25 for individuals and $100 for businesses that fail to require employees to wear masks. Section 3 seems laughably unenforceable in a town that has maybe three police officers—and just a recipe for another unpleasant interaction between otherwise law-abiding citizens and police. Section 4 is particularly onerous, though, as it forces private companies to force their employees to wear masks, or face daily $100 fines.
Granted, most business establishments have already bent the knee and have bought into the mask hysteria. In my mind, though, that makes the mask mandate even more unnecessary: if Dollar General is making me wear a mask to buy a $1.26 loaf of bread-based loaf product anyway, why does the Town Council need to ladle an extra dollop of self-righteous scolding?
This past Saturday’s SubscribeStar Saturday was delayed, but I got the latest post, “Back in the Arena: Second Lamar Town Council Special Election” posted last night. It’s about the beginning of my second campaign for Lamar Town Council, and my strategy to overcome secret write-in campaigns this time around (basically, get more people to turn out to vote for me—not too complicated!).
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Yesterday Lamar held a rescheduled special election for a vacant Town Council seat. I was hoping to have the results last night, but when I drove by Lamar Town Hall around 8:30 PM, the results were not posted to the front door.
I spoke with Darlington County Election Commissioner Hoyt Campbell this morning, however, and he gave me the results over the phone. He also said the poll workers might have posted the voting machine receipts to one of the side doors of Town Hall. Sure enough, I drove down there this morning and they were on a side door. That occurred to me last night, but the prospect of lurking around a public building at dusk struck me as a tad sketchy.
The results were surprising—shocking, really. This little off-cycle, middle-of-summer, Age of The Virus election came with an interesting twist.
Last November, my little town held town council elections. Neither of the people I voted for won, and the two incumbents won reelection (there were two separate seats up, so we got to vote for two separate candidates).
In March, one of the Town Councillors resigned for reasons still unknown to me, which triggered a special election. I filed to run for Town Council on Friday, 13 March 2020—the Friday before all the schools in South Carolina shut down and went to distance learning.
With The Virus hitting, the special election was moved from its original date on Tuesday, 12 May to today, Tuesday, 14 July 2020. My plan was to keep it simple, just talking to people and maybe going door-to-door, but quarantining—as well as a good bit of time on the road this summer—prevented that. It also didn’t help that I was cooped up inside for two weeks with a gnarly virus (fortunately, I tested negative for The Virus, but I’m skeptical as to the accuracy of that test).
But that’s mostly me making excuses for myself. I could have done more. I did talk to my neighbor and a few other folks. One older man approached me while I was loading my car up one morning and complained about a house with caged pit bulls in the backyard; he wanted me to introduce an ordinance banning pit bulls “when you get elected.” I’ve actually given that a great deal of thought, and might explain my thinking on that proposal in a future post. It will certainly become more relevant if I get elected.
As for the campaign, I resolved to spend $0 campaigning. I didn’t do any fundraising, or even funded anything myself (other than spending $31 for the filing fee). There’s no need to spend scads of money in a local election in a town of approximately 950 people. Public office should be attainable to anyone, especially at the local level, and I want to see if that’s doable.
I did, however, create a small (free!) Facebook page eight days ago. I wrote a short post explaining my vision for the town:
My basic pitch: Lamar is centrally-located in a rapidly growing part of South Carolina. Working families, especially young ones just starting out, are finding it more difficult to buy homes in the larger neighboring municipalities. Lamar is well-positioned to welcome those young families with friendliness, affordable real estate, low taxes, and proximity to the three large towns in the area (not to mention two Interstates).
It’s Election Day 2019! I’m sure there are all sorts of interesting elections happening all over the country, but for me, the big election is right in my backyard, in little Lamar, South Carolina (which just got a website!).
Lamar is holding elections for two at-large Town Council seats. There are two incumbents and two challengers, and the election is non-partisan (for what it’s worth, I cast my two votes for the challengers, in the Jacksonian spirit of rotation in office).
I like to vote early (though not often—that’s a federal crime, and since I’m not a Democrat or an illegal alien, I’d get in trouble for doing so), because I never know if I’ll be home by the time polls close. Polling in South Carolina always runs from 7 AM to 7 PM, which is a pretty substantial window. So, I was there right at 7 AM, and was the fifth person from my precinct to cast a ballot.
What was really surprising were the new voting machines, about which I have mixed feelings.