If you’re a fan of the television show “Parks and Recreation,” you’re familiar with Ron Swanson. He is (or I guess I should say was) the head of the Parks and Recreation Department of the fictional town of Pawnee and was Leslie Knope’s boss until Knope’s eventual election to the Pawnee City Council.
In demeanor, political philosophy and work ethic, Knope and Swanson are polar opposites: where Knope is sunny and outgoing, decidedly liberal and constantly working, Swanson is distant, and as a staunch libertarian, is a strong advocate for small government—stating his belief that government should be privatized—and therefore believes that the parks department should not even exist.
Ron, who has an extremely deadpan and stereotypical masculine personality, actively works to make city hall less effective and despises interacting with the public. According to Wikipedia, he loves meat, woodworking, hunting, whisky, breakfast foods, nautical literature, and sex.
Ron is a likeable -- in fact loveable -- character in this fictional television show that, in so many ways, accurately portrays the challenges that municipal governments face in small communities.
Viewers of the show will learn that despite what seem to be deeply ingrained personal characteristics, Ron can be unpredictable at times.
And while he may despise the government, he is incredibly devoted to his co-workers.
I’m talking about Ron today because the city of Vermillion needs someone like him. Sort of.
We don’t need someone who is distant, like Ron. We don’t need someone who thinks government should be minimized to the point that it can’t be effective, like Ron. We don’t need someone who actively works to make city hall less effective, nor do we need someone who despises interacting with the public, like Ron.
We do, however, need someone with the overabundance of devotion that Ron Swanson surprisingly and frequently displays.
There is a vacancy on the Vermillion City Council. Vermillion’s Central Ward is lacking a representative on the council. Following the recent death of Mayor Jack Powell, the city council appointed Central Ward Alderman Kelsey Collier-Wise as the city’s new mayor, meaning she had to resign her post as the Central Ward’s rep on the city council.
If you live in the Central Ward, this is where you may come in. The city council has been one person short since Powell’s death and Collier-Wise became mayor. It is looking for someone who resides in the Central Ward to fill that open position.
You’ll soon see notices on the city web page, on social media and likely in a notice in this newspaper, asking that interested Central Ward residents think about submitting their resumes and other documents indicating they are interested in becoming a member of the city council to city hall.
The city council hopes to fill the Central Ward vacancy at its June 1 meeting. I encourage you, if you reside in that ward, to think about applying.
However, if you, like Ron Swanson, despise the government and have a deep-seated belief that the city council is only out to misspend your tax dollars, don’t apply.
If you believe being an alderman requires little more than showing up to meetings twice a month, don’t bother dusting off your resume.
If you see this as an opportunity to bring a “clean up city hall” and “my way or the highway” approach to Vermillion municipal government, I’m sorry. The Central Ward doesn’t need you on the city council.
All of this may sound a bit strange coming from, of all people, someone who works for a newspaper. The press is the public’s watchdog of, well, everything. That doesn’t mean the press must be critical of everything -- it must be critical of only those things that deserve criticism.
Is the city council perfect? Probably not. It’s made up of women and men who bring their strengths and their flaws to the job.
If you believe your positive attributes outnumber your negative ones, and you live in the Central Ward, give it a shot. Submit a resume or a form and whatever else the council may require.
But do it knowing this:
Vermillion, like the rest of South Dakota and the nation, is facing an incredibly challenging time. The COVID-19 pandemic means local businesses are hurting. Some may not survive. At the same time, a recession is settling in over the nation and it’s being felt here.
Municipal government is funded, in part, by sales tax collections. When that revenue shrinks, so does the city budget and that means you and your fellow council members must decide how best to tighten the city’s belt, so to speak. It’s a complex, painful process.
You’ll only be in office for about a month when the city council begins its annual process of working on next year’s budget. If you’re not prepared to read A LOT while also listening to the input of city staff who are the professionals who best know how to keep the various departments of the city operating, don’t apply.
Also, if you like to work hard and also play hard, setting aside time to have fun with friends, family and hobbies -- maybe you like to go camping, for example -- be prepared to tell your spouse and kids that the camper will be taking fewer trips and stay parked longer by the house this summer because you’ll be inside reading and poring over numbers and learning the important stuff about what keeps the city of Vermillion working to meet its citizens’ needs.
By all means, however, don’t shy away from bringing your love of meat, woodworking, hunting, whisky, breakfast foods and whatever else to the job.
Oh, and that devotion that we mentioned earlier? Provide an unending supply of that.
Central Ward citizens and all of the folks of Vermillion may then rest easy.
We’ll know that we’re in good hands.