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June 10, 2003

Our city councillors now have a handsome new boomerang-shaped desk for their regular meetings, and the meeting room itself in City Hall on the south side of the square has been reconfigured to provide the best sight lines and acoustics for the public and the officials who attend. It looks like a giant step forward. The council's new desk was crafted by Sondra Garvey who is building quite a reputation in this region as a skilled craftswoman. Her husband, Jim Garvey, also is making an impact with his clever wooden art. Jim and Sondra are both very deserving of all the accolades.

I understand one reason for these improvements is the live television coverage now being provided on channel 19 by the Perry Information Network (PIN), for those who are served locally by the Cox Cable system. The TV camera now will be looking head-on at the council members. Until this became possible they were mostly faceless voices for TV viewers watching the council meeting "live." We are indebted to the Exchange Bank for the council's new desk and to PIN for their coverage of council meetings.

All this talk about the council chambers and the facilities they have had for their regular and special meetings through the years brought back a lot of memories. There's no easy way to reconstruct mental images of those locations, but a few of them stand out in my head, the result of covering so many of them as a reporter for this newspaper several years ago. The first meeting place I remember was in the early 1940's. At the time I think The Journal just reprinted the official minutes of council meetings, rather than staffing the meetings with a live reporter. Very soon I was given that assignment, and I think the meetings then were on the first and third Wednesday night of each month. At the time, Sunday and Wednesday nights were pretty much reserved for church activities, so in due time the councilmen were persuaded to try another night. That's when the Monday night meetings began. The council met in the compact little water and light office at the west end of the first floor of the Masonic Temple. That space is now used by the Victory Baptist church. The congregation also is using the adjacent room, which once was the home of the Arcade Beauty Shop operated by Mrs. Elsie Boggs at 706 Delaware. Remember all those dangling lines hanging menacingly from the “permanent machine,” like some devilish device from “the Matrix?”

As a further sidebar, sometimes those meetings ran rather late, often adjourning after, midnight. Some of the aldermen were hungry by then and they invited me to go along with them for a piece of lemon pie or bowl of chili and a cup of coffee at one of the local restau-rants. A lot of good-natured banter and just plain gossip took place at those sessions, and it was a good time to learn what was really going on in Perry. Most of those conversations were unprintable. The late hour also meant that I had to retire to the The Journal office to write my story for the next day's paper, usually finishing about 2 a.m. or so. It was disruptive to family life but essential for job security.

The council had eight members, all of them of the male gender, plus the mayor, city attorney and the city clerk. Various men filled those posts depending upon the voters' whims. Women almost never sought those offices. I remember Fred Kretsch as mayor, Robert Wilson as city clerk, and Kenneth Reed as city attorney. They sat on hard, unyielding tall-back wooden chairs without cushions, leaning elbows occasionally on the council table. At that time the table was nothing more than a long conference table, and it was crowded when all those gentlemen were in attendance. They made room for the newspaper reporter at one end of the table, but still some of the dialogue on various topics was hard to follow. The reporter's seat also was unpadded. Woe to the visitor or council member who was not paying attention. The city officials did not like to repeat their statements.

Years later, City Hall was moved to the present location on the south side of the square in the old Southside Pharmacy building. Still later the city purchased the next-door building where Dotts Hardware and Lester Barge's grocery business had been located at different times. By then the councilmen were allotted more space for their meetings but they still faced each other around a long table.

Now with the new desk, padded seats and more elbow room, our new mayor, Etsell Emde, and his city council will look fashionable on TV and spectators at the meetings will be able to hear and see the councillors as they perform their duties. You really ought to set aside a Monday night to attend one of these meetings. You will be welcomed, and it will give you a better understanding of how our municipal government functions. You might also want to take along a pillow to sit on.

Perry City Council members in late 1930s met in the water and light office at the west end of the Masonic Temple. We're not sure that all of these men are correctly identified, but this is how we have them, clockwise from lower left around the table: Councilmen E.H. Adams, Guy Folger, next two unidentified, City Clerk Charlie Guthrie, Mayor Fred Kretsch, City. Attorney Kenneth Reed, Councilmen Floyd Laird, John Ames, H.A. DeLashmutt and Chester Swart. Do any of our readers have information about this group?