After many weeks of missed opportunities I was finally able to coordinate schedules with incumbent Board President Gail Robinette. We had previously agreed to meet but due mostly to my lack of follow-up that meeting never got scheduled. We picked a date and time, and agreed to meet at the Coffee Den on Main Street. Realizing that our appointment was late in the morning, I went ahead and made my own whole wheat toast.
When Gail arrived, we ordered coffee and then discussed where we would have our conversation. It was at this moment I became aware of “THE VAN”. I’d heard talk of this vehicle, often in whispered tones, voices unsure what was behind the sliding door. Walls lined with maps, charts and satellite recon pictures of the greater Cambria area? Multiple screens linked to cameras secreted in scarecrows around town? Rows of textbooks, notebooks and coloring books? Amway? I was all atwitter, nearly spilling my small regular coffee on my blue shirt.
Gail swung the Starship Robinette into a corner space, opened the door and invited me in. My mouth was dry. My legs a bit weak, Voice a mere rasp. Yes, my cold still lingered. I wasn’t going to give up, though. I had carried on through post-meeting high noon encounters and Farmer’s Market debates, all the while trying to stay upright. Now, with the secrets of “The Van” about to be revealed, I reached down for that last reserve of Robitussin and stepped in. And it was…
Very nice! Thoughtfully equipped, sensibly laid out, comfortably appointed. Practical, low-key and designed to maximize the space. Detail was everywhere, but not in a flashy or attention-seeking way. The van was neither Scooby nor A-Team. And it made perfect sense. Very much like Gail Robinette.
The Back Story
Our conversation was very different from the ones I had with the other candidates. Gail spent a fair amount of time sharing her journey, speaking lovingly (yet reservedly) about her memories of people who made profound impacts on her life. A second grade teacher who recognized something in this young girl, and offered the interest, encouragement and mentorship that ignited a love of learning that guided Gail’s life. It carried her through her pursuit of education and through her long career as an educator, administrator, writer and consultant. This conversation wasn’t about her public service, but about why she feels public service matters. It certainly wasn’t all about her – she asked me about my background and experiences. We shared our journeys that led us to Beautiful Cambria. Rather than a deep political discussion between candidate and writer, we got to know each other as individuals. And then two hours had gone by. Gail had to attend a long list of meetings, and I was overdue for a long slug of cough syrup. We agreed there was more to discuss, specifically around the upcoming election.
We were able to reconnect the following week, again using The Starship as our conference room. The doors and window were opened – true transparency – and we dug in to the issues.
The discussion was, once again, more of an education. Gail has a long record of public service, so there isn’t much unknown about her positions and actions on key issues, nor any doubt about her support for the Sustainable Water Facility. What was helpful to me was hearing the history of how we got to the current situation.
Gail went deep, sharing examples of meetings, workshops, reviews, and conferences that included citizens, environmentalists, urban planners, disaster management professionals and government agencies – a laundry list of participants you would want involved when you are seeking the best possible solutions. Gail noted each participating agency and when they engaged – making me question much of what I hear from those who claim that the CSD has ignored or avoided those same agencies. She hit all the decision points while highlighting the methods used to keep the public informed and involved.
With time again growing tight, we moved a bit more quickly through a few topics that I saw as important. First, I asked her the same thing I asked all the incumbents – her perception of how the Board operates as a team. She was very thoughtful, and honest. She believes that overall they work fairly well together, though there are issues and events that can and do cause some stress. She sees beyond the conflict and looks for ways to navigate through the tough and sometimes contentious discussions to get to reasonable solutions. She is a firm believer that her role as President is to help find those solutions. She also stresses that every Director’s vote carries equal weight. Her approach to reasoned and inclusive problem solving is a reflection of her life philosophy; stay calm, stay positive and stay focused.
I asked her about the water wait list. Specifically the oft-stated opinion that it is loaded with people looking to make windfalls from selling when water connections are made, her own lot that sits in the queue, and the idea that she should recuse herself from any decisions that might result in personal benefit. Her response is clear – if people bought lots with the sole goal of making a big return, well perhaps they weren’t very good investors; she points to the long years of paying and waiting with no clear end in sight. As to her own position, Gail simply states that she has spent a good amount of her own money to look into the issue, and feels confident that her actions are legal, ethical and in no way affect how she acts and votes on water issues.
On public trust, transparency and communication Gail acknowledges the balancing act she and her fellow Directors face as they do their jobs. Gail believes (as do each of the candidates I’ve spoken with) that there is a need for continued dialog and information exchanges between the CCSD and the community. She supports more positive community involvement, including an appropriate use of standing committees as a method of collaboration and governance.
When it comes to individual dialog, Gail was pretty frank. She frequently meets with members of the community, and welcomes any opportunity to listen to input and feedback. She takes it a step farther then anyone else has so far. She is not interested in meeting with someone who has the intent of harassing or causing deliberate disruption or intimidation. She respects the community, but her experience has shown her that there are sometimes those who approach with less than good intent. It was a bit sobering to hear that, and to read between the lines – a read that leaves me with the impression that she has experienced things in her public service that give her reason to be vigilant. Food for thought.
Another two hours had flown by, and we wrapped up and said our goodbyes. Gail energized the transporter and beamed me back to Main Street. Thinking back on our time together, I don’t know that I learned anything policy-wise that I didn’t already know about Gail Robinette, CCSD Board President and Candidate for Re-Election. I did learn a whole lot about Gail Robinette, teacher, leader and peaceful warrior for the community she loves and serves.
A pretty good episode!