Tuesday, August 25, 2009

When Our Lives Imitate the Forces of Nature - 8-26-09 Editor's Column

As I headed home last week, I found myself in the middle of a metaphor.

Driving south on Staley Road, I looked out each of my windows to see what
appeared to be a perfect split in the weather to the east and west.

The skyline of the east was what every summer evening should resemble - a
beautifully orange sunset representing the close of another day. To the
west, however, the sky was dark with daylight torn asunder by the storm
that had occurred that day, complete with beautiful lightning and raucous

And there I sat in my car, driving the dividing line between these two
extremes.  I couldn’t help but smile to myself as I thought of how it
represented so many lives.

Depending on who you talk to, life will often be described as walking the
edge while trying to maintain balance without falling.

On the one hand we have the days, weeks or even months that are filled
with what seem like nothing but clouds.  At times it feels like the road
that we are traveling is never ending in its revelation of setbacks and
roadblocks, and the beautiful sky in the distance seems like it is always
just out of reach.

On the other hand, we often experience times in life where the high never
seems to end. We get caught up in a whirlwind that seems to take us from
one great experience to the next on a ride that never seems to end.

At that point, despite the impending clouds on the horizon, we often
become consumed by our own joy and can take our situations for granted.

Now, I don’t mean that we should never enjoy the sunshine when it heads
our way, nor do I mean to imply that we should live thinking that each day is
murkier than the last.  Instead, we should pay attention to the details
that we encounter as we drive down this road of life, experiencing both
the good and the bad while driving between them.

A great example of this application would be the new school year and the
students beginning their journeys.  At some point, they will all
experience the good and the bad, but either way they will eventually find
themselves headed in the right direction.

The point is, life is meant to be experienced, and every now and then
we’re going to veer towards one side of the road or the other.  But if we
maintain our focus and keep our eyes forward, the dark times will
eventually end and the sunny days will always be fulfilling.

For better or for worse, enjoy the view this week.

Defining Our Own Actions - 8-19-09 Editor's Column

For many of us, the things we do in regards to our jobs or our hobbies
come, as the saying often goes, “naturally.”

We do things that we enjoy, things that we think we might enjoy, things
that makes us feel good and things that give us a rush.

However, what about the things that make others feel good?

This is where I think it tends to get interesting, mainly because it is a
point when a lot of the aforementioned reasons start to intertwine with
one another.

What brought me to this conclusion was a discussion with a friend of mine
about the things she has experienced by way of others that have touched
her life and the lives of those around her.

Based on her experience and the deeds that have been done, they were not
done with the goal of praise in mind. They were not done with the
expectation of repayment. They were not done to impress. They were
simply done to be done because it would help someone else.

She then posed the question to me about why I do what I do (why I enjoy my
job as a newspaper editor, why I involve myself in certain things, etc).
And from there we both came to the conclusion that it is out of caring
that I do what I do.

I care about the content that goes into this newspaper; I care about the
things that I involve myself in; I care about the people that surround me
in my daily life enough to take the time to do a good job if I can provide

What that means is that even though we might chalk up our actions to
enjoyment or curiosity, a lot of what we do on a regular basis is due to
the fact that we care.

For example, a business in a small community is contacted by a local
organization about a problem that said business could fix. Though the
business could charge the same rate it charges other customers for the
work - and rightfully do so - it considers the goal of the organization
and the financial strain that the work might provide.

At that point, the business tells the organization, we will take care of
you - don’t worry about it, and takes care of the work.

The business knows that it didn’t have to help. The business also knows
that it missed an opportunity to make a profit from a willing customer.

However, that’s not what is most important to the business in this
instance. Instead, the business is more interested in doing something
good for an organization that it believes in. While there may be some
praise after the fact, that is not the primary goal.

In the end, it all boils down to the business caring about the
organization’s mission enough to see past the value of a dollar or the
value of praise and to simply see the value of friendship and caring.

Now, while I cannot disclose the actual names, I can tell you that the
story of the business and the organization is true and that the feelings
are real. I only wish we could see more of it in our every day lives.

There is so much have and have-not in the world - even in Mahomet - that I
am confident that every person in the village of Mahomet could do a single
gesture of good will each week and could cover all 52 weeks in the year
and still have things left over to be done.

There are opportunities all around us to show that we care and to show
that we value people other than ourselves.

For some, it may be as simple as getting involved with a local food bank
or working with the homeless on the weekends through an outreach program.

For others, maybe it is giving of your money to help someone who is
struggling because of unemployment, health issues or other circumstances.

Whatever the case, we may be a world of individuals, but we are also
individuals who can work together to create better lives for future
generations through the simplicity and profundity of caring about someone
other than ourselves.

Take a moment to consider what you have done for another person out of a
pure desire to be helpful and show that you care about that person. If
you’re having trouble, you’re not the only one.

Those moments that come out of what most people call “the goodness of our
hearts,” are exceedingly rare in a society that is focused on the next
move to get ahead. However, I suppose that by being so rare, they become,
in turn, exceedingly special when they do happen.

The question now becomes, how are you going to impact someone in a special
way this week?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Cornbelt Adds Policy

Due to an error in this week's Citizen, part of the Cornbelt story on Page A1 was cut off and not continued as labeled. The Citizen apologizes for this error and will be re-running the story in its entirety in the Aug. 19 edition.

As a supplement, below is the entire story that will run next week.

Citizen Editor

The Cornbelt Fire Protection District board of trustees implemented a new procedure on Aug. 5 as they tried out a new public participation process that hopes to allow more input on issues that they feel are vital to the district.

Cornbelt Fire Protection District (CFPD) board president Derrick Odle said the idea came from his own concerns about addressing issues with the board and seeing how public participate was handled in the past.

"I felt like, if I had to bring a topic up, it would have to wait until next month's meeting and if something came up during the meeting, I couldn't get an answer until the next month,” he said.

"We developed the public participation policy that allows the public on every item or aspect that we're talking about, they can ask a question right then and there and get their answer."
Even during the first meeting with the new policy there was some public curiosity on a number of issues.

"[It] was a great example of how that can go back and forth and as an elected official 'hey I didn't think of that, that was a good point,' and allows me to just get another view point and vantage point,” said Odle

Back on Board
Recent public outcry concerning the dismissal of two firefighters based on their ages was laid to rest following an explanation of a new age policy meant to prevent safety breaches and ensure that firefighters are not dismissed prematurely.

One of the firefighters, John Harpst, was the subject of a Lettter to the Editor printed in a July edition of the Mahomet Citizen. According to Odle, that issue has been resolved.
"John Harpst is back with the fire department."

Though he could not release the name of the other firefighter for personnel reasons, he did say that that person was also back with the department.

Causing the issue to be addressed was the precaution to maintain a lawful demeanor at the CFPD.

"There was an Illinois State Statute that was set out with a mandatory age requirement [for retirement] at the age of 65. That has been changed many times since the statute was written,” said Odle.

"We had a letter from our attorney that stated 'yes, that is true, there is a state statute at the age of 65,'" he said.

"The angle that we failed to research it at was, does it affect all firefighters, and it depended one what classification; were you paid, career, paid on call, volunteer, not realizing that it does not affect the volunteer fire side at this point in its current language as it did early on in the statute when it first was written."

Odle admitted that it was a difficult decision considering Harpst's time spent with Cornbelt over the years, but given the situation, obeying what the law dictated was the top priority of the department and the board.

"It was a terrible feeling that we had to enact this state statute, but we elected to follow the law and we felt like we were following the law at the time that was in front of us and we researched it and had our attorney research it a little more and she came back an said 'yeah, it does not apply to volunteer firefighters.'"

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Best Things in This Life Are... - 8-5-09 Editor's Column

I’ve come to the conclusion that life is full of moments that are meant to remind us that if we take the time to see the simple joys of life, we can find ways to appreciate it more.

I had the opportunity to witness and experience such a moment on my vacation last month.

It was late, and Tania (my wife) and I were walking down Waikiki Beach, which was alive with the lights that adorned it from shopping outlets and restaurants that lined the street on the opposite side from where we were walking. However, as we continued down the beach walk, we came upon a man who was easily in his 70s with a small crowd around him.

As we got close enough to see him, we heard the sound of a violin and saw that it was the very same man that was playing.

Tania, who also plays the violin, stopped and watched as I followed suit and took in the melodies that were making their way from this man’s instrument.

As I watched him play, I could see something that I don’t often see on the faces of people busking around town: A sense of peace.

The smile on his face did not do his personality or demeanor justice as he interacted with those around him and played songs based on the topics that were brought up.

At one point, Tania requested a melody by Bach that she confessed was one of her favorites. With that ever-warming smile on his face, the man put his chin on its rest and played the melody note for note as though he had the music right in front of him.

As she smiled and talked with him about her experience with the violin, he said to the both of us “you must be honeymooners,” which was true, to an extent, as we forewent a honeymoon following or wedding to save for a trip we really wanted (this trip).

Obliging his curiosity, he introduced us to a song that we would hear several more times on our trip, known as the “Hawaiian Wedding Song.”

Again, he worked the strings with as much passion as one would find in a concert hall and as much love as one would find in the hands of the most seasoned artist. And as we stood there and took in that moment that he had created for us, all the lights behind us and the ocean in front of us seemed just a distant distraction.

Of all the things we did on our vacation, I will remember the man and his violin as one of the fondest memories. It was through this instance that I was again reminded that sometimes, some of the best things in life are ones that remind us just how much beauty can be found in simplicity and love.

I would encourage all of you to take the time and let a moment in time simply take you away. If you do, then I hope you enjoy, and remember that whatever you find yourself doing in life, enjoy the view.

Burning Ban Forum Shows Residents in Different Light - 8-5-09 Editorial

As of the first of this month, the burning was officially banned by a village ordinance that passed May 26 by a five to one vote.

In preparation for the ban that is now in place, the Village of Mahomet held a question and answer forum on July 30 to help address questions and concerns that residents affected by this ban might have on the new processes involved with getting rid of yard waste and leaves.

The plan for the evening was to address each new option for disposal, covering the machinery to be used, who would be running it, what kind of things would need to be done to be prepared for the pick ups, what days pick ups would fall on, etc. Following the informational section, audience members would be invited to ask questions about the new alternative disposal methods being implemented.

Unfortunately, by the end of the evening, it was apparent that many of the audience members missed the point of the forum.

Instead of coming to the forum with a cautious optimism for the new procedures, it appeared very much like some of the community members were looking for a way to show the village that they had made the wrong decision in banning burning, all while - ironically - saying that the democratic process seemed to have been misguided in this particular case.

Many of the claims against the village also included that the constituents of Mahomet who were in favor of burning were not represented well during the discussion process that led to the ban. It seemed to be a theme of the evening to say that, while there was discussion held about the issue, representation was not given to both sides equally.

However, there is a simple explanation for this: Inaction.

At one point, Village President Deb Braunig brought up a petition that had circulated through Mahomet and that 138 people had signed their names as proponents of the burning ban.

It was later touched upon by audience members that such a number was a poor representation of opinions on such a heavy issue. And that would normally be a fair assertion, save for the fact that it was not a split petition, taking opinions from both sides of the matter; it was a one-sided petition signed by people who wanted to see burning stop.

While 138 signatures is a small number compared to the number of people in Mahomet, it beg the question that would have likely not been answered directly that evening, of where the support was from the pro-burning residents?

138 people out of 12,000 is perhaps negligible when considering a cross-section for a general assessment, but when considering that 138 people who were on one side of the fence made it a point to be public and vocal about an issue before it went to vote compared with zero people from the other side of the fence in that same time, 138 out of 12,000 doesn't seem like such a small number.

Quite frankly, the attitudes that were displayed at the forum were embarrassing, and should have been to people who were there to gain some information before deeming the effort a failure. Instead of trying to understand and make the new program work, or it seemed as though there people out to find a fight because they could no longer burn.

So, here we are, four days into the burn ban. Many of the comments from the forum eluded to not having information on the discussion before it was voted on, along with no representation, which brings up the rub on this particular issue and any other issue of consequence: If you feel strongly enough about something, you will find the time to make yourself heard. Then, in turn, those who are meant to represent you on a larger level, will be able to take your concerns and address them as necessary.

In short, instead of waiting until after an issue has passed to express how displeased you are about the decision and condemning those who handed it down, meet them half way in the discussion. It’s selfish and unrealistic to assume that the village could read the minds of all the residents who were against the burning ban, so to suggest after the fact that the democratic process did not take place properly is merely a way of placing the blame somewhere other than where it belongs.

For anyone interested in reading about the coverage regarding the discussion of the burn ordinance leading up to the vote, here are the publication dates of stories that ran in the Mahomet Citizen before a decision was finalized and that announced the decision:

-March 25 (all dates are 2009)
-April 1
-April 8
-April 22
-April 29
-June 3
-June 10

Sometimes the difference between what happens and what could have happened depends on active residents becoming more informed about the things happening in their town.