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civil civic servants

I keep joking that my job equals earning a degree in recycling with a minor in the city of St Paul. Over the course of the last three months I have learned about their city government, especially the district councils. The capital of Minnesota is surprisingly de-centralized. The city is divided into around twenty neighborhoods or districts, which each have their own board (elected by the residents) and small non-profit organization. Between city allocations, grants, and neighborhood fundraisers, the non-profits manage to have a few staff to work on neighborhood improvement projects.

The staff at non-profits are rarely compensated adequately for their work. However, that underpayment pales in comparison with many other people I work with who are full time volunteers. Some of these people are retired but I don't know (and am afraid to ask) about the rest of them. Many may be on these event committees as part of their job or college education but I recently realized that for some, it might be an alternative type of social life.

I think back to all the years my grandmother donated to the Democratic Party (she eventually got an award of recognition) and realize that for many people who are civic minded, don't care much for bars, games, or "just hanging out" this is what they do for fun. In the long run it can pay off too. In earning a reputation for ambitious volunteering they meet interesting people, learn a lot, and are able be social and productive at the same time.

Recently, while planning an event, we had an issue, wondering what was happening with a bit of road supposedly under construction. A dedicated member of the committee said he would make a call to find the information. I was shocked - he said "make a call" - not several. It would take me at least half a day to track down whom to even call to find out about such things. This is the not the first time I have seen examples of people who are aware of intimate government details.

I still don't fully understand how the city government works. Sure, I know enough to elect my city council member and other representatives, but who ever pays attention to the public works manager? Who is the person who decides the garbage contracts for your city? What about school issues? Government assistance allocation? City business development? There are so many cogs in the wheels of a city that I can only imagine them. Perhaps this is something people learn in civics class. However, judging from the ways in which Minneapolis is different from St Paul, from Bloomington, from New Brighton, and on and on, it might take a bit more than a high school or college course to figure out this tangle. Looks like I have a ways to go before I complete my degree, eh?

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