Thursday, August 21, 2014

Pee, Politics and Rising Above

I'm going to admit upfront that my day started off rough.

I woke up to Henry cuddling me at dark o'clock. That was nice... until I realized he had stripped off his diaper and peed all over my side of the bed. Less fun.

So, I have been a little on edge all day. It just seemed like a day when I was getting dumped on a bit from all sorts of areas and it really hurt.

I think that made what happened tonight even more frustrating.

No, it didn't. Because tonight would have been frustrating no matter what.

So, I went to a city council meeting tonight as I am the chairman of the Library Board and they were approving the city budget tonight. We had our library meeting last night and I was the only one available to attend. It was important to be there as I had attended the last meeting to plead for extra funding for the library.

Reader's Digest on that meeting:  I asked for $30,000. The council approved $15,000. I was quite happy. We needed more money to replace books and buy new ones, to get our librarians trained on technology and other ways to revitalize our library and to get our employee wages a bit more equitable. While most city employees start between $12-14 an hour, our librarians start around $7.90. They don't get an increase like other employees do after a 6 month period. Also, our library director is the ONLY city head who is paid hourly and not salary and is also the lowest paid city head, even though she has been with the city for over 20 years. Oh yes, all these employees are women. This didn't sit right with our board, so we wanted to increase wages. Well, I went through a pretty intense grilling at that city council meeting and with the support of our council liason, we did get that funding.

Now, fast forward back to tonight. I go to the city council meeting to make sure things don't suddenly change as the city clerk made sure to tell the council multiple times in that same previous meeting that they could change their minds and take away our funding any time they wanted to. I had a feeling something may go down and I needed to be there to represent our library. Well, as I suspected, a few people got up to complain about the library getting money. First thing I noticed is that the clerk had published my old budget. He didn't ask me to get him an update and he didn't update it for me (as he had done for all the other departments). So, our numbers looked wrong in the public notice. Then, I noticed all the people speaking lived on the same street, which seemed odd. These were their main concerns:

1. The library could just get grants instead.
2. The librarians don't need a raise and if it is a higher raise percentage than other city departments, that isn't fair.
3. The library has enough books already.
4. The library doesn't need training, but they could just have someone come and train them instead and pay less money.
5. The library has too many movies and they don't need more.
6. The city has 4000 people which means (by the person who was speaking's math) that each person who lives here pays $48 for the library and that is too much.

Well, I was ready. I had great answers for these concerns! I could cover how grants work, the inequality of the current pay scale for librarians compared with the park and rec, police, trash, office people, etc. I could talk about how our books are falling apart and we can't afford to replace ruined books and get new books or about how we want to invest in ebook programs and how that would benefit our patrons. I could discuss the evolving face of libraries and technology and how our librarians need to stay current on these topics (and how we discussed just last night bringing a training to our area instead of travelling). I could mention that I personally donated a few boxes of dvds to the library and many others do the same thing and how that saves our citizens money in movie rentals and gives people one more reason to come to the library (and mention how we have one small section of dvds compared to the many book shelves and we weren't planning on buying all that many in the next year). I could give them more correct numbers since I had them. Finally, I could discuss how our city library supports patrons throughout Jefferson County and into Bonneville County and, as we have become more progressive, the number of patrons keeps increasing and how that benefits our entire community. I could have said all that and also pointed out that the budget being shown was incorrect and I could explain how we intended to invest that money in our community.

But, I never got the chance.

I sat there and I listened to the council talk. They asked questions and answered each other. Our liason did great with answering and pulling for us. But, they were asking some questions he didn't know.

This is where it got messed up.

He said, "our library chairman for the board is sitting here and she knows the answers to our questions. Why don't we ask her?"

I counted the seconds of silence. There were 4 of them.

I watched the faces of our elected officials and I watched them decide not to let me speak.

Without saying a word of acknowledgement, they moved on without me.

At first, it was okay. I figured they didn't want to open things up to anyone outside and I was fine with that. But, they hopped over to the parks budget, which got an increase too. They talked and had questions. They didn't know for sure so... they turned to the man representing the parks (who was sitting in the audience, like me) and asked him. They let him answer.

They had a few other questions. They came back to the library. They didn't know an answer, so they asked... the city clerk. Not me.

They started talking about taking back the increase they voted and agreed on at the last meeting. One councilman (who actually voted against the increase last time) said, "let me get this straight. You voted for and gave this increase a few weeks ago and now you are going to take it away?"

That doesn't sound right, does it?

Finally, it came down to decision time. So, they asked our liason what he thought. He fought for us and he said he believed in our board and we deserved a chance to show what we could do. One councilman said he expected us to come up with $15,000 on our own next year. Lots of things were said and finally they approved the budget and left our increase alone.

I am grateful for that. Very grateful.

I am also upset.

I am bothered.

I feel that I was left out of an important conversation and I am not okay with it. I was representing that department, why was I not included? Why would another member be included? How is this okay? I know I wasn't the only one who saw that and noticed that the female representative was not addressed.

I know that if I make mention of that to some of the elected officials they will roll their eyes and tell me I am imagining it. Guess what? I'm not.

Gender discrimination exists. It is alive and well in South Eastern Idaho. Want to know how I know?

Because I'm a girl. I am a short, petite girl who looks younger than she is and wears pigtails. I have dealt with gender discrimination my entire life.

I know because I talk to other women. Some are still trying to push through and some have given  up.

Because, the reason the #yesallwomen movement took off is because it is the truth.

I admit it. I walked out of that meeting and I came home, got through the rest of Bountiful Baskets, walked into my bathroom and cried. It hurt. I am a valuable, contributing member of my city, like so many of us are, and I was set aside and discounted. If it wasn't because of my gender, I would love to know why. Was there a more qualified person there to answer important questions? No. Was there a library budget expert there? No. Do they just not like me? (Which, by the way, is a valid answer. I happen to know I come on strong. Little girl needs a big voice.) I don't know. All I know is that I was there. The girl in the pigtails. And I was ignored.

I have days that I want to throw my hands in the air and stop helping this city. I feel like I have so much I could do for this town that I love and I know I can be a source of good. I have served in leadership positions in other boards and organizations that are far bigger than Rigby and I have never been treated with more disrespect than I am treated locally. It baffles me. Why would city leaders not take someone who is interested in serving and helping a community with open arms and treat them as an equal?

I don't understand.

But, I do know this. Every time something like this happens, I remember. I remember how it feels and I try harder than ever to treat others better than that. I don't always succeed, but I try really hard. Every time my gender makes me less in someone's eyes, I strive to do more good in the world to prove that great good can be brought about by one small person. Every time I hear someone say, "she's just a girl," I get my game face on and I work harder because I'm not "just a girl". I'm a girl and I can do anything. AND GUESS WHAT? SO CAN YOU!

So, today was rough. I'm tired. I'm discouraged. I kind of want to give up.

These are the best worst moments. They are the worst because they are bad and so disheartening. But, they are the best because these are the moments I get to test myself and see if I am capable of rising above and doing good in spite of the negative. These are the moments I get to learn a lesson and I get to push myself and I get to serve others and be the good I want to see in the world.

I'm going to rise above.

But, I am going to ask you to do something. Rise with me. It is more fun with a friend.

1 comment:

  1. How very frustrating! You are an example to me in how you are handling it.