Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | December 22, 2003

Who needs soaps?

Who needs to watch television soap operas when school boards and city councils provide real-life drama – without irritating commercial interruptions – and the decisions they make impact actual living, breathing people?

Now, I admit, like many of my high school classmates, I was caught up in General Hospital’s Luke and Laura craze in the early 1980s. My family wanted to know: Who shot JR? But that was before I was introduced to the political theater, the soap opera drama, the emotion and passion that happen nearly every week at your local school district office or city hall.

In Gilroy, for example, Mayor Tom Springer, who just stepped down, coined the term “bull-dickey” on the dais to describe accusations with which he disagreed. But don’t worry, there’s still a source of drama in elected office in Gilroy. Recently Councilman Charlie Morales has been sitting on the dais wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet, a graphic reminder of his latest drunk driving offense.

Just like soap operas, plots in local politics advance at a snail’s pace. Gilroy’s City Council just approved spending $26.7 million on 48,970-square-foot police station complex. The police station drama has been unfolding for months as concern about the price tag, much higher than the $9.45 million neighboring Morgan Hill is spending for a 43,300-square-foot cop shop, forced officials to try to trim the project.

But don’t think $26.7 million is the final price tag. ‘Final’ design plans from the architect are due in March, and then the project must go out to bid. Those numbers can go up – or down – during that process, but if history is any guide, I’m placing my bets on up.

Of course, if the full impact of the stark cost comparison of the two stations – $545.23 per square foot for Gilroy’s facility, $210.16 for Morgan Hill’s – hits Gilroy taxpayers and elected officials before it’s too late, the entire facility might head back to the drawing board where it belongs.

I recently attended the first two hours of a two-evening meeting of the Morgan Hill Unified School District’s board of trustees. Just as the board was preparing to elect new leadership for the year, four trustees, including the incoming and outgoing board presidents, were served with formal notices that a community group is trying to recall them.

I think that as a trustee, that would be a bit surreal: Here’s the gavel, congratulations, Mr. President, and now meet this group that would like to yank that gavel out of your hands.

I watched as the recall-target trustees politely thanked the man who handed them the recall notices and wondered how much self-control that bit of etiquette required. A lot, apparently, because during a break one of the recall-target trustees told reporter Marilyn Dubil that, “Before this, I was pretty sure I’d step aside. Now I may have to run again.”

Whoa, that sure sounds like spite to me, and spite is high on my list of bad reasons to be a school board member. The position requires dedication, long hours, difficult choices, the ability to stretch a dollar beyond its natural limits and the wisdom of Solomon, none of which are fueled by spite.

The drama was enhanced as I realized that three of the four trustees who were handed recall notices will be up for re-election – if they choose to run again – in November 2004. Dissatisfaction must be sky-high if people can’t wait until next fall to try to unseat the trustees.

Of course, the Gilroy Unified School District has had its own share of drama with controversy over English curriculum centering on the involvement (or shunning, depending on your perspective) of parents and issues of rigor and diversity.

Although things have been pretty quiet on the Morgan Hill City Council of late, back when I was covering that beat I sat through one emotion-filled meeting after another. Topics ranged from possible library locations to medical services, from annexation to rezoning, but the raw passion was evident on every issue.

Here’s a resolution suggestion for 2004: Cancel the TiVo season pass for The OC and head to your next city council or school board meeting instead. Not only will you witness real drama, but you’ll learn a lot about your community in the process … and that will make you a more informed voter, and maybe even an involved citizen.

You won’t get any of that from watching All My Children, that much I can guarantee.

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