I came home from the Michigan Townships Association conference last Thursday. While there is much to share about the conference, what I've thought about was the ride home. Jane Keen, our township clerk, volunteered to drive. I rode shotgun while our town supervisor, Harry Larkin, rode in the back seat. As 3/5 of the Town Board, we had an obligation to steer the conversation away from specific matters of township business, so as not to violate the open meetings act. On the four hour drive, the conversations pretty much centered around our families, the economy, and cars. We were riding in a 2003 Jaguar that Jane's husband had found while working in his retirement business, which I understood to be custom detailing for car dealerships. With business so slow this winter, Jim had recently laid himself off so that his two employees could keep working. They were looking forward to a father-son snowmobile trip this week and expecting another grandchild. Our supervisor's business centers on automotive parts manufacturing, Jane knows the dealership end of auto business, and I am the environmentalist casino dealer trying to figure out how we are going to live sustainably, with or without the internal combustion engine, so there was a lot of car stuff to talk about, even if we hadn't been en route to The Motor City.
On the way home we talked about the conference. We compared notes, measuring our township's procedures against what we had heard the experts describe as wise or lawful or proper. Since I'm new on the job, I had a lot of questions, and usually I found out that our practices were pretty much on the mark. We also shared some of the horror stories that had come out in the question and answer periods. I'm sure glad I'm not in the township where the board won't approve any of the supervisor's appointments to the planning commission and the guy whose term has expired won't give up the seat. After sitting through an insurance presentation (for the free lunch) I'm glad that we don't have retirees with benefits to fund, either.
Jane and Harry observed that the level of competency at these conferences has gone up over the years, even as the average age of township officials has gone down. They attributed this to the modernization of statutes governing townships and how people who couldn't learn and change, the "that's the way we've always done it" crowd just couldn't keep up. At the conference the discussions kept coming back to the importance of ethics in government. Almost like an arranged counterpoint, we heard a car radio broadcast of Rod Blagojevich's impeachment speech, which oddly echoed Randy Orton's caricature of a canned apology on last week's Monday Night Raw wrestling show.
I was still feeling good the next morning when I posted a comment on No Impact Man's blog about counting one's blessings. It was a shock when I called Chauncey, our county commissioner, and heard from him that Jane's husband had passed away at home while we were driving home. She had come home and found him already gone, an apparent heart attack. I keep thinking about what a presence Jim had been during that car ride. What strikes me in retrospect is how much she talked about him, and how much she seemed to appreciate him. I told Jane as much when I dropped off pies on Saturday for the family that was gathering. "What a difference a few hours can make!" was her summation of the situation.
Services for Jim Keen are to be held next Saturday, February 7th at 3 pm, ay the Leland Community United Methodist Church, as announced on The Leland Report. I titled this post "Why Appreciate" as a companion to the How to Appreciate I posted a few weeks ago, but it might as well be "When to Appreciate."
The answer is: "Always. Who knows when you'll get the chance again."