Many who are in this business know that one of the really fun parts about it is getting to attend Municipal Meetings at night, after work, and after dinner. There is nothing better than ending a nice long day of work at a Township Meeting that starts at 7:30 pm and goes until 9 pm, 10 pm, or sometimes 11 pm. My personal world record meeting was in East Whiteland Township, where I had the privilege of staying AT the meeting until 2:55 am. To say it was awesome would be an understatement. Now, as if the meetings were not fun enough, you could always count on 1 to 30 very angry residents attending and going into rants about traffic, stormwater, and kids. A vast majority of them moved into the Township in the last year or so, which is totally fine. There is absolutely NO hypocrisy there. They always hate more traffic, and who wants more stormwater with all of the climate change making it rain more, right? But hey, we can always widen roads, add traffic signals, and dig bigger and bigger holes in the ground to fill with stone and stormwater, but we can’t Zone away kids. Yeh, kids… are bad. Kids cause trouble. They speed, and worst of all, they are a burden on the school system. Add a kid to a Township and look out… you will need more police, more schools, your taxes will skyrocket, and you will likely also have more kids, as they tend to attract each other. But I can handle this night in and night out, and I mean NIGHT IN AND NIGHT OUT. Like a broken record over and over while stabbing yourself in the eye with a No. 2 lead pencil. What I can’t seem to handle is the apparent rampant rudeness that many elected and appointed officials seem to have these days. Back in the day, there was always one in every Township. You know, that person that got on the board or commission because they spent their middle school years getting teased and getting wedgies and felt this would be the best way to get revenge. But that ONE person was easy… we just avoided them at all costs. In need of a variance? No thanks, Bob, Fred, or Bill is on the Zoning Hearing Board and will just deny us. Ok, let's move ahead with a crappy plan RATHER than go in and request relief and make a better plan. Yeh, this happens and it still happens every day. Back then, and I know this may be hard to believe, my strategy was to TRY to kill them with kindness. It worked sometimes, but overall avoidance was the best.
After being in the business for 29 years, I still do a lot of meetings and I still “enjoy” them. That is to say, I enjoy the challenge, I enjoy the fight, I enjoy the problem-solving. But what I DON’T enjoy is the rudeness. And I will tell you, it seems to be spreading faster than Covid. The level of disrespect at meetings from elected and appointed officials is on the rise and almost seems fashionable. I don’t even eat dinner before a meeting now because I know I will have 2 to 3 hours of biting my tongue coming soon. If I had to attribute it to something, I would have to say it is a trifecta of immaturity, insecurity, and lack of education. The immaturity part is easy to spot, which only takes a few seconds and can often be detected through visual observance. The lack of education part requires at least a few sentences but is also easily spotted. The insecurity part is the tough one as it is usually a self-recognized yet carefully hidden trait. Listen carefully, watch closely and it will show itself. Sadly, but importantly this is a skill we MUST instill into new engineers preparing for a career of presenting projects, being abused and being treated like crap. Now, we can’t explain it like this to them, of course, because who would ever want to work in the field then? So… I call it “reading the room .”We, again sadly, must prepare them for this in an attempt to manage their expectations of a meeting. Would you want to walk into a room and unexpectedly get slapped in the face or walk into a room KNOWING you are getting slapped in the face? Obviously, the latter is preferred and can be planned for and preparations made on how that will be handled. And so, while I wish being respectful to each other was something that could be taught or encouraged, the past proves that respect is a dying trait. I see it, my colleagues see it, and many have uttered this exact sentence to me… ”Denny, I don’t know what has happened in this business, but I just cannot handle it much longer.” Well, I can. It frustrates me and has forced me to skip dinner to allow room in my stomach for pieces of my tongue, but it has also made me ramp up my “reading the room” skills. So, next time you see me at a meeting, just know, I am watching, I am listening, I am remembering what you say. I am reading every inflection of every word and making split seconds decisions and seeing what Google says about you all while wearing my pink pants from Tommy Bahama. Don’t be fooled. Can Denny come out and play? Yes… he can!