I had an absolute blast interviewing Avon, Ohio’s retiring city council clerk, Ellen Young. She’s been working the council meetings for an impressive 16 years!
During her final week on the job, she told me about keeping calm, checking your ego, and friendly rivalries.
Q: First things first: Avon doesn’t have video of its council meetings! Why not?
A: I’m not sure. It’s been brought up occasionally but it never seems to go anywhere.
Q: How many people show up to watch?
A: Almost nobody. They’re very poorly attended. Typically there’s only one or two people that come because they find them interesting and it’s their Monday night out to see what’s going on in the city.
Q: Wait. You’re saying there are people who ENJOY coming to the council meetings? Like it’s a date night at the movies?
A: Well, maybe. Maybe it’s something to do to get out….They’re from an era when being involved in government was more of a privilege than a burden, you know?
Q: I wouldn’t know–I watch city council meetings for a living. Speaking of which, what’s your job during the meetings? You read everything, right?
A: We read legislation by title only. The person who is replacing me came from Rittman, Ohio and THEY read the entire document.
A: She just clerked her first meeting on Monday and she’s a fast reader, I’ll tell you. She flew through that stuff.
Q: How do you prepare for a council meeting? Do you meditate? Listen to metal music?
A: I’m one of the most laid back people you’ll ever meet. If I know something’s going to be happening during a council meeting that’s controversial, I just prepare myself mentally for a longer meeting, that’s all. I’ll probably live forever! I stay pretty calm. I do a lot of muttering under my breath–THAT blows off steam!
Q: Really, you don’t get upset?
A: I was a bartender for 17 years and it prepared me eminently for working with the public. I spend as much time as people need explaining things to them. It’s all about being a public servant and understanding the meaning of those terms.
Q: You sound practically like a council member yourself! Do you ever feel like you should be on the council?
A: [pause] I probably wouldn’t be a good person to be…well…maybe someday. I wouldn’t mind serving on a council somewhere.
Q: Do you ever talk to other clerks about each other’s city councils?
A: I go to conferences and hear people talk about what’s going on in their city and I come back so proud of Avon because people here don’t behave like children typically. And I’m really delighted that egos don’t seem to play a big role in public meetings.
Q: I noticed there’s an Avon, Ohio and an Avon Lake, Ohio. Is there a rivalry between you guys?
A: Personally, the clerk of council in Avon Lake is one of my best friends.
Q: Who would win in a skeet shooting competition: you or the clerk in Avon Lake?
A: I’m an excellent shot, so I think I would win.
Q: What if I told you I talked to her yesterday and she said that she would win hands down?
A: Ha! It wouldn’t surprise me at all.