Okay, I have to admit something: I had a hard time focusing on the Beloit city council meeting. It’s not because it was boring (it wasn’t). It’s not because I was under the influence of alcohol (I was).
It’s because all I could think about…was the wall.
The brick wall. AROUND the city council.
Is it art? Is it a metaphor? Or is it a way of saying, “the only way you’re gonna ‘stick it’ to City Hall is with a bulldozer?”
Regardless, the city council had four more walls to worry about: a proposed “indoor entertainment venue.” To approve or not approve was the question.
“We were contacted by five neighboring property owners who are opposed due to concerns about traffic, parking, noise, and loitering,” a bespectacled city staffer informed the stern-looking councilors.
“The planning commission reviewed this and voted 6-0 to recommend denial.” She nodded to the building owner sitting alone in the audience. “I don’t think he’s trying to negatively impact the neighborhood.”
The man cautiously approached the wall. He was wearing a Carolina Tarheels fleece under a puffy jacket. “My name is Mario. I’m the owner. I’m trying, you know, to do that thing. Whatever that thing…” he stuttered with a heavy accent.
“My English is broken so hopefully you understand me,” he apologized. “If you guys say no, throw away that idea then continue. So technically you’re the boss.”
But Councilor Sheila De Forest looked intensely grief-stricken. “I want to make sure that you were understood at the planing commission. Did you have a translator there at the meeting for him?”
The staffer slid next to Mario at the podium. “He didn’t ask for one. I didn’t know he needed one.”
“Did we OFFER him one, though?” De Forest pressed angrily.
“I…don’t know,” sighed the employee.
Councilor De Forest was livid. “I guess I’m not comfortable proceeding until we offer him a translator,” she demanded.
City Manager Lori Curtis Luther jumped into the fray. “I just want to make a cautionary note that we shouldn’t ASSUME what someone does or does not want,” she attempted to out-sensitize De Forest’s sensitivity. “I don’t want to imply that we think you NEED a translator. I think that can be insulting to some.”
Riding in to the rescue was the third Good Samaritan, Councilor Marilyn Sloniker. “Would you like ME to ask him in Spanish if he understands what’s going on?”
Council President David Luebke quickly tried to sort out the ethical dilemma roiling the council. “I think…I think that’s…we’re pushing it too far. I don’t want to insult anybody’s intelligence.”
“I understand,” shrugged Sloniker. It’s no small irony that the council who erected a wall around themselves was worried about how to be properly inclusive.
However, when it came to Luebke’s fellow councilors, the gloves were off.
“The Holidazzle was fantastic. I happened to go in where you work, Mark,” he slyly grinned, referring to Councilor Mark Preuschl’s candy shop.
“They had samples up there, but for every one he gave out, he ate a piece too!” Everyone had a much-needed and de-stressing laugh.
No translation needed there!