A vacation spent pondering change

Monday, August 18, 2008

I spent much of the last week reviewing my possessions, making choices — some hard, some not so much — about what to keep and what to let go.

My sister Andy maintains that elves carry things into the house as we sleep. I think most credit card companies would disagree. Either way, I faced what seemed like a mountain of boxes in the basement, some unpacked from two moves ago, and began a culling process that included a garage sale.

I suffered nary a pang in selling the small dressing table bought for $2 from another garage sale years ago. Stripped down to bare wood and repainted white, it was my daughter's homework desk for a while and my writing desk for several years. A stranger paid $10 for it.

But I held onto one of my two copies of that scholarly treatise on change, "The Monster at the End of this Book," in which lovable, furry old Grover shows how the sameness of everyday life can be boring — but change can be really scary if you have no idea what's next. I won't spoil the plot for those of you who haven't read it yet.

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What to keep and what, if anything, to change will occupy a group of the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce volunteers Aug. 28. John Mehner, the chamber's chief executive officer, said the committee includes members of his organization, the Jackson Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters. They will be talking about whether Cape Girardeau County would benefit from a charter form of government.

"This is not a government overthrow. It's not a coup," he said. "We just want to look at a form of government that's been successful in the city of Cape."

The assessed value of Cape Girardeau County property and the complexity of its government are the reasons behind the charter talk, Mehner said, adding that it started nearly a year ago, "before anything happened at the county level. It had nothing to do with private taping and Sunshine Law suits," he said. "It had to do with being aware of surrounding counties. Jefferson and Franklin counties are both going through the process, and other counties have already done it."

Others, such as Boone County, have tried and failed to convert to charter government. Mehner said counties that have been successful in making the change have taken into account the need to replace elected officials with a part-time executive board.

"We need to be honest about this. There are elected positions that go away. We realize we're talking about people's livelihoods and anytime you do that, you can't do it nonchalantly," he said.

Cape Girardeau has two options for moving toward a charter form of government — not that converting is required — under guidelines set by state law. The county commission can vote to put a charter question on the ballot, or voters can petition to have it put on a ballot. If voters approved the question, the next step would require having an appointed committee draft what amounts to a county constitution, which would also be put to a vote of the people.

Mehner said the fact-finding group is simply examining the pros and cons of a county charter, not mounting a campaign, in part because the committee "is not poised to raise money" and in part because "we are not ready to run it up the flagpole and say we're for this," he said.

The fact-finders will begin meeting privately, Mehner said, as do all chamber subgroups. But shortly after, he said he expects to share information with chamber members and the general public.

"We plan to take it slow, listen to people, gather information and bust myths," he said.

Questions, suggestions or tips for Lost on Main Street? E-mail pmcnichol@semissourian.com or call 335-6611, extension 127.

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