I’m not one for “leaning in” Sheryl Sandberg style. I’m not even one for volunteering beyond one-off opportunities. I don’t like long-term commitments because they usually mean I can’t just walk away when I want to spend a day reading a book instead. But I recently got involved with a city project, and I’m remembering why I hate helping.
Because politics, especially local politics, are the worst.
The city project is a local dog park. Last year, the small southern Indiana town of Batesville, Indiana put in a temporary dog park, with the understanding that if users followed the rules and extra funding could be raised, it would become permanent the following year. Last fall, when all the temporary fencing was removed, the dog park was deemed a success. People loved it and wanted it back after begging for the opportunity for five years. (The mayor insists that it was put in because a little Girl Scout asked about it last year. This is untrue. Or at least, it’s not the whole truth.)
This spring, it was suggested that the dog park be made permanent, and the council agreed. They asked for volunteers to form a committee and start making plans. The owner of the boarding facility I frequent and the trainer who works there (who is lovely) headed up the committee, and they asked me to join after I showed up to a city council meeting in order to support their efforts. I eventually became the secretary.
At the first city council meeting, we requested $5,000 for double gates that help keep animals safe by not allowing them to run out. They were going to be expensive gates, but we wanted them to match the overall aesthetic of the park and to last for a long time. We were told to get more quotes and that we could have $1,500 for fundraising and to put in the drainage pipes that the area they were willing to let us use so desperately needed.
Two days later, the local paper ran an article about the projected dog park in which they mentioned that the local funding grant. This grant, which allows city projects like this to happen, has about $60,000to be used this year.
So we found new price quotes. Three quotes for all the basics: Fencing, doggie bag stations, gates, a bench or two, and signs for the rules, as well as a few other miscellaneous items. We made fundraising plans to show what we thought we could raise this year alone, if we could just get started. We brainstormed, planned, and when we thought we had a great proposal, we asked for the moon, hoping to land amongst the stars: $15,000.
We got $5,000. Earmarked just for fencing. And a lecture about how the project seems rushed. And debate about whether the dog park would disturb the players on the tennis courts. (As a rule, the tennis courts are barely used, and we have offered to use the funds to put up a wind screen.) We were also asked why we were expecting this to happen “on a whim,” as if they had no notice that this plan was even a possibility. We have tried to explain that without some kind of structure, it will be hard to raise money since no one will be able to enjoy what they’re paying for.
All of this has fallen on mostly deaf ears. Apparently if you’re not a little girl scout, it’s impossible to get anything done in local politics. I feel your pain right now, Leslie Knope.
It’s infuriating that when there’s a good story involved, politicians will do anything for a baby-kissing moment, but as soon as there’s nothing to be personally gained, bureaucracy takes over and nothing can be done, regardless of the money available. And if this is the local level, it’s no wonder that nothing can be done at the state or, heaven forbid, national level.
The only good thing about this problem is that it forces citizens to come together and demand what they want while also showing that they’re willing to work for it. Hopefully, we can coax more cash out of the fund and make some good money over the next couple weeks.
Has anyone else ever worked on a project like this? I know PMaggers are used to fundraising for their own causes, so what advice do you have? I’m taking all kinds of tidbits, and would love to know techniques that others have used when dealing with local politicians!