Dad wasn’t the only one in municipal politics.
My Uncle was the fire chief.
My cousin was a Building Inspector.
And my mother ran the roads.
But my father Jim Kimmett was the township clerk.
I just want to be clear about something, my Dad wasn’t the town clerk of Napanee. This was before amalgamation. He was the town clerk of Richmond Township. Not North Fred, Not South Fred.
Richmond. And he wanted to make that perfectly clear.
He drove down the streets like he was running for mayor. To an outsider, it might look like nothing was going on in Richmond Township but there was an underground pond of mystery and intrigue.
My Dad always was a forward thinker. A person who said yes to exploring new ideas for his community. He was the first clerk to actually enforce the dog tag payment, bylaw.
And this may have been an improvement, for the tax base, but let me assure you it was not met with a warm and fuzzy response by the taxpayer.
People would call Dad at home at eleven at night asking why there was a differing pay scale for the different sexes of dogs. And if you were listening in you would have heard my beleaguered father say, “Well if it’s a male it’s thirteen dollars, if it’s a female it’s 18 unless it’s spayed.” Then there would be a long pause. “ In order to tell? I see. Well, lift up the tail and check…”
After a few of these late-night calls, he came up with another bright idea. Why not get my kids to sell dog tags door to door?
Today this would be called patronage but we called it child labor.
Let me say: You learn a lot about the public, when you sell dog tags.
People lie a lot, especially about having pets.
Despite the fact there would be barking as you came up the driveway, despite the bowl of kibble and pillow full of dog hair at the door, people would lie barefaced about having a dog.
My sister tried to trick them and put red meat in her pocket and one of them ended biting her and she ended up getting rabies shots.
Of course, we couldn’t complain!! My Dad told us we were ambassadors of Richmond Township.
Then he hired me in the office, one summer:
And I learned there were two council meetings each month.
One in the township hall. And one in the driveway afterward.
Dad would sit out in the van with his posse of men, drinking coffee and waxing poetic.
“Everybody wants progress nobody wants to change.”
‘The government’s view of the economy can be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it‘.
I found out later he absconded his great sentences from Will Rogers and Mark Twain or Norman Vincent Peale.
I am sure this all sounds cute –kind of hokey in retrospect.
Because things have changed since my Dad’s days in public office.
The public is demanding more and more from people in public service.
Today people would have googled what he said and accused him of plagiarizing. All of his folk wisdom and then would’ve shredded his reputation in their Twitter feed.
Although transparency is vital. Accountability is key. Working in civil service is a tough job and in order to stay on point and keep passionate about your community, you need to fill up your mind with positive thinking.
I joke about my Dad taking others’ quotes, in order to stay inspired he was constantly listening to motivational leaders whose thinking was more global than his. He quoted good men and women because they had walked the walk before him and he knew of what they spoke.
MY DAD AND THE ROAD TO NOWHERE
There were several incidents when Dad’s name dragged through the mud.
One time he and the township sold lots to develop Richmond Township and then the council decided not to finish the road they had started. This meant the road ended and all of the lots sold were not serviced. My father started calling this the Road To Nowhere.
The township got sued. He got sued. Lawyers were called. One guy came up and spit on him at the local picnic.
And then as it is with all things, the winds changed, and after he died this same road got finished. And they named it after him. The road to nowhere became Jim Kimmett Blvd.
He would have liked this tribute but I also know he would have had a smart ass response.
“ Working in local government is a lot like life insurance. You’re worth more dead than alive.”
The things people will kill you for is the same thing they will honor for you later.
After I left the ribbon-cutting for this road, I remembered a time when I was younger. I was driving his van and slid off into the snowbank. Even though I was hysterical Dad was nonplussed. He got out of the van, lighting a cigarette and seeing the tire walls full of snow he mumbled, “Well this is a helluva mess.” Then he climbed back in the van and turned on the radio.
“Aren’t you going to do something, old man?” I asked.
“Deb this is Richmond Township, they’ll find us
Janet will go by on the bus, mouth off at the store and Delbert from the Roads on the crew.”
“So, Dad- Delbert will come for us?”
“No Delbert is a yes man so he will call Harold. And Harold will be out plowing. Of course, Harold’s not allowed to plow this road- because its un-serviced but then again Harold hates the SOBs on council so he ploughs it first just to bug them.”
“ Ah! There he is now.”
Harold was in a huge snow plow and he got us out.
It’s just like Dad said, – or the anthropologist Margaret Mead –used to say,
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Want to come to my new show? Downward Facing Broad Tour for 2020