My grandmother was known for her folksy sayings.
"Your eyes are bigger than your stomach." "Don't get too big for your britches." "A clean conscience makes a soft pillow."
They were mostly designed to keep unruly children grounded, and mostly, speaking as a former unruly child, they turned out to be decent advice.
Another of her sayings came to mind during the Storm Lake City Council meeting this week:
"Don't cut off your nose to spite your face."
I'm speaking of a City policy not to allow people who live outside the City limits to serve on its volunteer boards and committees.
Those "outsiders" who apply to volunteer are politely told, "no thanks."
I get it, I do.
The City is reluctant to appoint someone who doesn't vote and pay taxes in the City. Understandable, and probably not much different than municipalities around the country use as basic policy. But, does that make it in the best interest of Storm Lake?
On Monday, Larry Godfredson of Lakeshore Cyclery spoke briefly to the council, in hopes of contributing to the new Mayor's Advisory Committee for Parks, Trails and Urban Forest.
He lives in Lakeside, next to Storm Lake.
The City Manager, correctly, told him he couldn't be accepted or considered to serve on the City committee under existing City regulation,
The man owns the biggest bike shop in western Iowa. He lives and breathes bicycling. He knows every foot of trail in the west half of Iowa and beyond, what works and what doesn't, who got them built and how. He talks to bike riders all day every day about what they want and need in places to ride. He is passionate on the subject, in a world where finding and keeping volunteers willing to work isn't an easy proposition. Shouldn't people like that be the first we're asking?
We've had a county committee on trails, led by the Storm Lake mayor, since early 2012, without any new bike trail yet built or scheduled or funded, and according to its page on the county website, several spots on that committee are open. Trails are expensive and complicated projects that do not happen overnight.
Trails - hiking, walking, biking, skating - are a matter of quality of life, and can attract tourism and development. We all should support both the county and city efforts. Any person or entity that can help us generate enthusiasm or sniff out grants should find a seat at the table.
There are others with great interest and perhaps experience and education on parks and trees - inside the City or out. No matter how much they could contribute to the mayor's advisory committee and help a community they love, we're going to turn them away because their address does not meet our policy?
For the record, I served on a mayor's committee under a former mayor that planned, raised funds for, and created the Living Heritage Tree Museum park in Storm Lake with zero taxpayer cost, though I live a couple hundred yards outside city limits. But I couldn't apply for the current committee to talk about taking care of those trees we brought to the City.
People who live inside the City limits are not the only ones who care for Storm Lake, or consider themselves a part of the Storm Lake community.
People who live in Lakeside, South Shore, Casino Beach, Sulphur Springs, Lake Creek etc., or on farms near the community, work, shop and take part in civic groups and volunteerism in Storm Lake. They likely worship here, send their children to schools here. They drive on the streets, drink the water, swim in the pool, relax in the parks, go to the ball games, patronize the library and art gallery.
Some have the time, energy and desire to serve in unpaid volunteer positions. Some will have special talents and expertise we need in a particular role. Is Storm Lake really doing itself a service with a policy that says they have no role?
We want the strongest citizen groups we can possibly form, not the most geographically correct.
The City recently changed policy that allows it to employ City workers who live up to 30 miles outside of Storm Lake. Why couldn't we do the same with our volunteers appointees? We contract companies from outside the City or even the state to do work here often. So why they hard-line city limits boundary on those who are helping us for nothing?
If the City wants to give preference to City residents when there are multiple, equally qualified applicants for committees or boards, that is absolutely understandable. If it insists on residency being a qualification of public service, policy could still be amended to allow those who own property in the City to qualify to serve - there are numerous people who may live outside Storm Lake but own businesses or real estate inside who no doubt have much to offer.
The City isn't at any fault here, it is just following its policy, a common one. But maybe its time for something uncommon.
In the case of the trails, parks and urban forestry advisory committee, we also hope that it is not reserved only to report to mayor or council, as has been discussed. Why not have meetings open to the public, and invite all the input we can? Everybody enjoys the parks, trails and trees that help make Storm Lake a beautiful place.
Grandma, I bet, would approve.