Prior to moving to Iowa to pursue my journalism career, I had never even attended a public meeting let alone covered one.
In college, I was a sports reporter/columnist who occasionally wrote news features with dreams of becoming the next Joe Posnanski or Kansas City Star-era Jason Whitlock.
Needless to say, I was a bit surprised when I landed my first job and found out education was one of my beats and that it required me to also cover Newton Community School District Board of Education meetings.
I remember being extremely nervous covering that first meeting and taking notes on every single thing that happened no matter how relevant or irrelevant it was.
I’m sure I would cringe if I reread that first story now; however, by the time I left Newton, I had come a long way in my meeting coverage.
Besides Newton's school board, I added several other boards/councils to my resume and I spent pretty much every Monday night when I lived in Jasper County covering a meeting, which I didn’t mind.
In fact, I can actually say I love public meetings and one of my favorite things to do with other reporters is to talk shop with them after they’ve covered a meeting.
Seriously, if I’m in the office when Ian Richardson gets back from a Sioux City Council meeting or Bret Hayworth returns from one of the billion boards he covers I’m grilling them right away! GIVE ME ALL THAT EXPERT INSIGHT!
Local governance interests me far more than national stuff because of the direct access we have to policymakers and it’s an incredibly important yet under-appreciated part of our society.
I've admitted to not always being so aware of the value of these meeting; however, this profession opened my eyes to the importance of it.
Now, with all of that being said, sometimes public meetings can get weird.
I don’t cover as many meetings here at the Journal as I have in past jobs, but throughout my career, I’ve covered some pretty interesting gatherings.
So, I want to share five of those stories from some of my various stops.
At this particular meeting, a Newton resident named Max Rabourn was quite upset with the Jasper County Secondary Roads Department for using salt on roads. Yes, you read that correctly.
He expressed his frustration to the county’s board of supervisors and later went to the Newton City Council to do the same. I do recall that during Max's exchange with the supervisors, he began insulting county employees and the board chair stormed off in protest.
I left Newton a few months after I wrote this story, so I'm not quite sure if this ever was resolved.
Some of you may recall the litany of Big Ox Energy related stories we have covered here at the Journal over the last few years, which is why I was at this particular meeting in South Sioux City.
The Big Ox stuff was tabled, but a tense situation between neighbors — one of whom was a sitting South Sioux City councilman — caused me to stay and see this meeting through to the end and boy was it a doozy.
Because space in the paper was limited and I returned from the meeting later than expected, I didn't get to put as many quotes as I would have liked into the story but you get the gist of what went down.
I can’t find the original link to this story so I created a Google Doc to share it. This meeting was probably one of the most surreal moments of my career.
I knew something was up because just about every department head in Jasper County was at this supervisors meeting and they were all smirking.
It turned out that a local attorney had gotten himself placed on the agenda so he could formally make a complaint about the hold music the county used when he called … I'm not kidding!
I went back-and-forth between taking notes and looking back at the pews of county officials not even attempting to hold in their laughter.
It’s been almost four years since this meeting and on occasion, I ask myself did that really happen or was it a vivid dream that I wrote detailed notes on and recorded?
However, if you click this link, it'll show the agenda for that day's meeting and confirms this was indeed a thing that happened.
My lede should tell you all you need to know about this story: “ARCHER—Archer officials made a change to the public library’s internet policy after one local youth was caught red-handed abusing the policy.”
For the most part, Hull, Iowa, is a quaint and quiet community probably best known as the headquarters of the Foreign Candy Co. and being the original home of Pizza Ranch.
So I was a bit surprised when I heard some rumblings that locals were at odds about a proposed dog park and I attended a city council meeting where the issue came to the forefront.
This one isn’t as strange as the rest of the items on this list but it was still a pretty odd meeting to cover. Plus, I don't think anyone else wants to read about the various fecal matter-related stories I've covered.