Richard Slack

Column: A councilman’s lessons learned

I have learned a great deal in the short time I have served on the City Council. While my colleagues and I have tackled meaty issues in this short period such as Rye Playland, the affordable housing project on Theodore Fremd, the graveling of the parkette on Central Avenue, Whitby castle, the police contract and the resignation of our city manager, some of the most important lessons have come from elsewhere.

My education as a councilman started on the first night of my service. Richard Slack

A mere five days after agreeing to serve and being interviewed by council members, I was sworn in and sat on the dais. The public meeting lasted until late in the evening and we moved to an executive session in the side conference room at City Hall.

As we moved to the conference room, I looked at my new colleagues, announced my thirst, and asked, “Where can I get a bottled water?”

Councilwoman Laura Brett immediately replied: “There are no perks in this job.”

I was pointed to the drinking fountain in the hallway.

As I sheepishly made my way to the drinking fountain, in that instant, I realized it was not about the water; the city is not so hard pressed it can’t afford bottled water for council members. Rather, Councilwoman Brett’s admonition reinforced this job is about service to the community; there are no perks other than the satisfaction of accomplishment.

My second lesson occurred on the streets of Rye.

I have lived in Rye for nearly 18 years and, on many occasions, have walked in town to get a cup of coffee from Starbucks, a newspaper from the smoke shop or some other item or service. Many of these times, I am like a spectator; watching others do their business while I do mine. Soon after I joined the council, I was walking in town when a gentleman I did not know walked up to me, recognized me as a new councilman and launched into a discussion of a personal issue of great importance to him.

After 17 years of relative anonymity, I realized right there the job of councilman is not just preparation for and an appearance at a Wednesday night gig. Community members have the right to access their public officials and I need to listen to concerns from any one at any time.

A third important lesson is one from Mayor Sack, who is also our most experienced member of the council.

It was evident even before I joined the council some members of the community were more active and vocal at meetings than others. Almost all treat the council and other community volunteers civilly, and perhaps even kindly; a few do not. While I strongly believe that everyone—starting with the council itself—should treat others, and especially public volunteers, civilly, it would be too easy to discount the substance of a statement made because of the demeanor of the person saying it.

Early on, however; the mayor provided the following advice: treat everyone the same, listen to and evaluate what is being said regardless of the demeanor of who is saying it. This is good advice that I have followed and will continue to follow.

So, there you have it; a few lessons that made an impression on me.

The learning continues, and I look forward to the journey.

The Council Corner is a new bi-weekly column which will alternate amongst the seven members of the Rye City Council. The next installment, on June 27, will feature Councilman Richard Mecca.