Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Week in Review

Fair Saturday

Saturday was tough. It was warm, thankfully, and not hot. But even warm is difficult for somebody from the Wetside who is used to cool weather. I headed out in the afternoon to get some photos at the fair along with some photos of the car show. What I didn't realize is that they were giving out the prizes at the car show way earlier than I expected, so when I got there, people were just beginning to pack up to leave. Luckily I got there before that, but whew, it was a close one!

The fair itself was moderately lackluster, being a warm afternoon. Most of the action was at the livestock barns, as the sheep sales were ongoing. I took as many pictures of cute children as I could manage, talking with parents to get names and moving from shady area to shady area to try to keep cool. I finally left, covered in sweat, after a couple of hours taking photos.

I went back later in the evening for the rodeo. Finding parking was a nightmare, but I went up to the back gate and sweet-talked them into letting me take a spot near there. Then I headed over the rodeo and got to work.

It was still very warm and I was still a little overtired from the last couple of weeks. I felt like I couldn't get a thing into focus. I struggled with the camera and the dust and the heat, and generally started to feel crappier and crappier about how I was doing. I enjoyed the bits I stayed for, especially the fellow that rode his bronc for the full eight seconds before the horse reached the edge of the arena and bucked him off into the crowd. The guy won that competition.

After the "halftime show", which involves children "riding" corn stalks in a footrace, I headed home, sweaty and feeling miserable. If I'd had a little more energy, I would have tried to stay for the whole thing to see if I could get my camera to behave. But I was so tired I was no longer certain if it was the camera that wasn't in focus or just my eyes. I was a little worried about the drive home, so I left.

Once home I fell into bed and didn't wake up until late Sunday morning. Luckily, I'd set up my blogging on Saturday and just didn't have to worry about anything. Unfortunately for me, a single day of recovery is never really enough for me, so I was still a bit tired when I got to work on Monday.

Crappy Monday

Monday treated me bad. I was doing fine for quite some time, until it became clear the rodeo results would not get to us in time for deadline. I still worked to get them... I even got the gal who compiles the results on the phone. I learned that her computer had failed, so she read me the key notes and I wrote up a very crappy story without the detail we wanted and turned that in. But the editor was angry, I was frustrated and angry and life sucked pretty bad. I went home for lunch suffering from extreme mental anguish.

As it happened, I had a major depressive episode, possibly triggered by the frustration and anger, but in any case totally uncontrollable and utterly devastating. I was on the edge for awhile there, but Eric stayed by me until I could calm down. I ended up taking a nap, knowing I'd have to go to city council that night, and that helped a bit too. By the time I had to leave the house again for council, I was in control. I wasn't happy, just in control.

Council wasn't too bad, although it went on longer than I'd have liked. The budget season is upon us, and I will be spending all day today in a "retreat" dealing with that. But overall the meeting wasn't too bad. I got home almost in time for a decent night's sleep.

Tuesday was tough mostly because I was trying to make sure I wasn't behind on anything. Because I hadn't returned to work on Monday, two of my assignments were kindly completed by my co-workers (it's not like I don't do that for them frequently). I was down a couple of hours, but I stayed until the last possible minute on Tuesday, then had another council meeting in a different town that night. Between that and Saturday, I more than made up for any hours I didn't work.

Aside: I'm technically an hourly worker. I tend to treat the job as a salaried position in which I take as many hours as required to do the work. This can mean that I'll end up giving time to my company, but I like writing. While I don't get paid nearly enough for what I do, I'm willing to be generous in order to continue writing. I don't know if I will look for another writing gig if I remain underpaid and overworked, but as I have told my husband continually since being hired, I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.

A co-worker and I started work on a tough story on Tuesday, one that I will write about later in this piece. It was not pleasant.

Long Council Meeting

Tuesday night I went to the Mabton Council meeting. This is an interesting situation. They have a workshop meeting for an hour before the regular meeting. In my experience, the workshop meeting tends to cover issues that will eventually come up in the regular meeting and if you miss the workshop, you will miss a lot of detail that might later come in handy while reporting on the city. However, the person who was on the beat before me (I just took it over) believed that the workshop meetings are a waste of time and didn't go to them.

I went. I'd rather be bored and better informed than miss a major story because I was too lazy to sit another hour. Interestingly, the council and the city clerk seemed very happy to see me there for the workshop.

I can't say the topics were groundbreaking, but I did learn quite a bit during the workshop, and now that I'm on the beat regularly, there might be some of it that will be good to know in the future. I wasn't actually bored at all during the workshop meeting, as it was conducted to get through the agenda quickly enough that the regular meeting started on time. There were three main topics, including two I ended up writing up as briefs since I believe the folks in the city ought to know about them. The third topic still needs some action to be taken to make it newsworthy.

The main meeting was different. It started out well enough, but got increasingly slow. The main slog came when the council tried to swear in the new police chief, and one of the council members objected because he thought there was more of a process to go through. Well, it turned out that the position, which had been advertised for more than a month, only got three applicants. How qualified the other two were is impossible to say, but the council decided at its last meeting to pick the guy who's been in town for the job. However, two of the council members were absent during that particular meeting and one of them was never informed of the decision by the mayor. Oops.

The result was a very long conversation about hiring police chiefs and, for that matter, the fact that a newly hired officer the next town over could earn more than their police chief with just a bit of overtime. Which might possibly be why the position only got three applicants. Regardless of the city's problems, that conversation really bogged down the meeting. And about halfway through it, my eyes started to glaze over. I had to concentrate on writing notes to keep from falling asleep. We'd already been through two public hearings, which had a lot of information but not much action. Finally they stopped talking and swore the chief in... thank goodness, because it meant I got to stand up and take photos.

After that, there were a few snappy items, but then it bogged down again as a resident made a claim against the city that was appalling and more than a little terrifying. She also took a very long time.

I figured the council would be ready to adjourn after she was done, but no, ha. They had still more ground to cover, slowly but surely. Eventually they got to the last item on the agenda and... spent another half hour going over information that could have easily been covered in two or three minutes by any normal group of people.

Since I started covering meetings of all stripes for the newspaper, I have learned to really appreciate the masters of Robert's Rules of Order, those who not only understand the procedures and wield them to keep meetings moving along, but also those who have a notion of when further discussion is plain useless. Such people are rare. Some are far better at it than others, while some simply haven't got any skills at running a meeting at all. I don't flatter myself: I suspect I'd be extremely bad at it, personally. But I admire those who are good at it a great deal. It's a skill like any other, and some even have it as a natural talent. Should I ever get in a position where I have to lead meetings, I hope to heaven I can develop the skill. It makes life so much easier for participants.

My Job Gets Annoying

Wednesday morning was tough again. The editor did not like my choice of main story for the paper, and I didn't disagree with him. There were things done and said at the meeting that I wanted more background on before reporting on, and things that weren't enough to fill a story, which left me with the choice to inform about upcoming street projects. So the end result was a very lame lead story and a lot of briefs.

After deadline we had another meeting about the difficult story, then I headed over to the high school to attend Princess School. It was fun. I had to spend a long time to get a wide enough variety of photos, but I also got to talk about the difficult story with someone who was involved in the situation and was willing to give me information off the record. Her on-record statement was tame, but I got an earful of background.

I parked my camera bag away from the little girls and took photos of them. I ended up eating lunch with them and doing a very small amount of directing, as one of only three adults in the room. There were a lot of teenagers and 11 little girls. After two hours of fun, I left the building only to discover that the girls had somehow magically transported glitter onto my camera bag. I'm still not sure how it happened. Fortunately, it wasn't a lot of glitter, just enough to surprise me.

I meant to go to the pet clinic after the princess thing, but forgot. It just completely left my mind. Possibly because I didn't write it down. In any case, I popped by home, kissed Eric and played with Inky a bit, then got back to work. I stayed for several more hours, then ran up to a health fair to get a photo. It was a heavy afternoon.

Wednesday night I headed out to firefighter training. The local firefighters have weekly training sessions, and I got to attend one to learn more about the volunteers and how the system works for a special section story. I interviewed two firefighters and talked with some of the cadets. It turned out to be a quick evening, and I was home with more than enough time to relax before bedtime.

Weary Days

Thursday morning I realized I'd forgotten to write up a story. Fortunately, I'd done all the interviewing and such, I just needed to slap it together. I got it done in short order, feeling dumb that I'd forgotten. Then I wrote up the captions for the princess photo page, and zipped through the police logs. It was a moderately calm day, except for continued work on the tough story.

For lunch, the girls and I went to Cactus Juice, which will be closing at the end of the month for good. I invited Eric along, and we had meatloaf sandwiches, which were really good. I hope to get in there once or twice more before the end on the 28th.

After lunch I worked on the firefighters story for a very long time, struggling with it on every level. Some days the story just doesn't want to come out, so you fight with it until you have something you can edit later. I stayed until about 4 p.m., then it was time to face the unpleasant story head-on.

The local chamber of commerce has run into some tax and financial problems. The problems may have been there for years, but only recently the executive director left and an interim exec discovered the problems. While there's plenty of blame to go around, the tendency is going to be to focus on the previous exec, because it was definitely her job to sort these things out. But there was also a responsibility on the board of directors to be checking her work. And, worse, there is confusion among people who were previously board members about who was responsible for what parts of the organization.

The unpleasantness comes from the fact that I like just about everyone involved. I find it difficult to accept any possibility of malfeasance, but there is a definite likelihood of, at the least, some level of incompetence among all parties involved. And that's a really hard to take. These aren't stupid people. So my heart is breaking just writing about it.

The meeting was a bit over an hour long and there were a lot of questions asked. I took photos while my co-worker took notes for the main story. Between the two of us, we'd also contacted many of the previous board members to get comments, mostly getting "no comment" from them. The attendees were a "Who's Who" of the city, including the city manager, the port executive, the mayor and a few other notable citizens. The group was one shy of being a quorum of council members, as well.

While there were a lot of good questions, there were no spectacular surprises in the meeting. I'm glad I went (a last-minute decision by the editor to send both of us) but it would have been ok if only one had attended, I think.

End of the Week

Thursday night was "get ready for guests" day, including washing Inkwell and lots of laundry. I was pretty slow getting up on Friday, but actually got to work a few minutes early. I did the police logs, checked my co-workers story on the chamber, worked on special section stories and generally got things done. At about 10 a.m. the editor suggested I get out of the office, as I am working all day today (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the council retreat on the budget) and sent me packing. However, I had a couple of more stops, including a trip to the fire station to ask a couple of clarifications, a visit to a local charity that assists women and, after lunch, a trip to follow-up on that story at the Mabton council meeting about a woman whose home was flooded by a back-up of the city's sewage system.

The fire station took five minutes: most of that was parking and walking into and out of the building. The charity took longer, but I spent some time reading children's books in Spanish. Lunch was quick, then I headed down to check out the house.

As I haven't written the story yet, or even determined if there will be a story, I'll keep my summary of it very short. She's lived in the house for 30 years. In 1999, there was a stormwater backup that damaged her basement and the city's insurance made it right. In January there was a major sewage backup in her basement, but the city's insurance denied the claim and she's been living in a nasty, sewer contaminated split-level for seven freaking months. She can't afford the clean-up on her own. Her insurance didn't pay nearly enough to cover the damage. The city said they would clean-up, then stopped when the person helping her left the city. In any case, I went into her house to take pictures and stayed inside for about 25 minutes, taking photos and talking to her. At first I didn't notice anything more than a slight scent, but the longer I stayed, the sicker I felt. The clean-up had been started, it wasn't like there was raw sewage sitting around in the basement, but there was enough remaining that the only thing I was certain of was that I needed to get out of there quickly.

By the time I left I was feeling like I needed to clear my throat. I stepped outside and took a deep breath of Lower Valley air, complete with cow manure smell, and it actually felt better. I had to check the next door building and take some photos of the drains and such, then I headed over to city hall to sort of let them know I was buzzing around and looking at the situation. I still felt nauseous and was coughing a little by the time I finished. Then I headed home.

I felt horrid for several hours after, even as our Oz guests arrived for the weekend. Eventually I got to sleep.

Today I got up slow, spent a bit of time goofing off on the 'net, but have an all-day meeting to attend. So off I go to the budget meeting. See you next week.