Grab your banjo and hop a freight train with me down to Paducah, Kentucky. Home to Dippin’ Dots, the Paducah International Raceway, and the National Quilt Museum, y’all best mosey on over to city hall, where every Tuesday night Paducah Sun reporter Lauren Duncan watches the city commission meetings.
She talked to me about how everyone always gets along…or do they?
Q: How long have you been covering the city commission?
A: I have been here just two years–and today is my last day.
Q: Oh, no way!
A: I’ve got a city commission meeting tonight and [then] I’ve got a job in Chicago.
Q: Do you think the commissioners are planning a surprise party for you?
A: I don’t, but they have all been very kind to me. Paducah is a pretty small town–I run into them out and about.
Q: When you see them outside of council meetings, is it like when you were in school and you would see your teacher in the grocery store and it would feel super weird?
A: Haha, I get what you’re saying. One of our commissioners, he owns a coffee shop in town and so he is just one of your popular neighborhood guys. But he’s also the commissioner who get the most votes every year. He’s one of those people where if I weren’t a reporter, I’d probably be friends with him, you know?
A: This town is just like a PBS special. Our city commissioner who owns the coffee shop…we’ve got a train down by our river, and they were going to get rid of it because it was falling apart. He went out and painted it all up himself. He spent, like, a month with his wide-brimmed hat out there on top of the train.
Q: So I’m assuming everyone is pretty friendly during city commission meetings?
A: There has not been a single shouting match between the commissioners or the mayor or the city manager. That is mind boggling to me.
Q: It sounds like the “Stepford Wives”–everyone is happy and cookie cutter.
A: A lot of stuff happens behind closed doors. All of our meetings are live broadcast and I think there’s sort of a fear to have frank discussions.
Q: Is that a southern thing? A small city thing?
A: That’s something I’ve never seen before. I think it’s literally just the fact that they’re being televised and they’re nervous about public perception of having a heated debate that people can see.
Q: Suppose you and your best friend sign up for a cooking class, but she gets sick and has to cancel. Which commissioner would you invite to do the cooking class with you?
A: You’re basically asking who’s my favorite!
Q: Sure. Or who makes a great casserole.
A: That’s easy because he’s one of the most personable guys in town: it’s Allan Rhodes, the commissioner who owns the coffee shop and paints the trains.
Q: All around good guy. Regular Mr. Rogers.
A: He was the first guy I talked to here. I was looking for a place to live. Someone said, “talk to Allan Rhodes.” And he gave me all kinds of advice for moving here!
Q: Well, I hope there’s another Allan Rhodes waiting for you in Chicago.
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