Blanket Powers

July 13th, 2007

My primal image of comfort is of my father tucking me into bed, under the covers, when I was little. Now that I have entered politics, as an energy commissioner for the City of Berkeley, I've begun to experience what it means to be the grown-up, seeing to the little details that preserve and protect the body politic.

It's all details -- that's my take from the first meeting I attended, in a comfortingly drab room at the North Berkeley Senior Center. (The commission meets the fourth Wednesday of every month.) There are Robert's Rules of Order to follow -- a set of rules of etiquette that would be easy to lampoon, but actually allow for the respectful (and relatively efficient) exchange of ideas on a series of topics. There's an agenda to follow. The issues mostly sound dry -- though what they address are often life-and-death matters, especially (but not exclusively) when they deal with local approaches to fighting global warming.

The commission is appointed -- Mayor Bates appointed me. At a recent groundbreaking for a municipally owned wind turbine near the Berkeley Pier, I was excited to be on the list of speakers. By the time I was called up to the podium -- following various electricity and wind-power experts, as well as Mayor Bates himself (pictured here with two young volunteer ground-breakers) -- I was feeling singularly unqualified to speak. What did I know? Well, in truth, not as much as I hope to, as I study these issues. But my tentativeness also struck home to me how singularly different it felt to be in the role of someone who's supposed to think about this stuff -- and not just think, but do.

Later, at the commission meeting (here you can see me being sworn in by Berkeley energy czar Neal DeSnoo), I quickly revealed my (political) greenness. I was quite anxious to participate in my first vote as a political appointee, and I thought the opportunity had come when the commission chair called for a vote to ratify the previous meeting's minutes. So along with the other commissioners, I raised my hand and said, "Aye." At which point one of them gently pointed out to me that, since I hadn't been on the commission at the previous meeting -- indeed, hadn't even attended the previous meeting -- I might find myself on firmer ground by abstaining.

Ah, yes. Of course. I'll get it right the next time.

I did get to vote to adjourn, however (since the meeting had lasted nearly four yours, this vote, unsurprisingly, was unanimous). And I walked out into a delightfully chilly Berkeley night, blanketed in fog, proud to have begun my service.

Today I have to send in my conflict-of-interest form -- required of all California politicians, whether elected or appointed. Since I'm not aware of having any interests, this should go pretty smoothly, I think.

Entry Filed under: citizenship,project quixote


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