BRIGHAM CITY — “Any public comments?”
And into the void they step.
“Who’s counting the ballots?” Deanna Hardy asks the Box Elder Commission. Mail-in ballots, she adds, may be too costly.
And across the parking lot, Bonnie Germer is reminding Brigham City Council members that, hey, they’re out there — these people who cast the votes that landed them in their seats.
“How much is the loan for Academy Square, and who is it from?” she asked at a recent meeting, as she ticked off a list of questions. “I’m not being rude, please don’t take it that way,” she added. “I just have questions.”
Germer and Hardy don’t know each other well and have little in common. Their political views don’t always jibe. Hardy lives in the county, Germer the city. But they do share this trait: They show up. They’re there at most public meetings, keeping notes, listening closely and, when the mic opens for comments, on their feet.
Many times they’re the only citizens there, other than a handful of staffers. Especially as the clock moves toward the hour or two-hour mark and others drift out, bored by the details that make up city and county government.
But for Germer, a nine-year Brigham City resident, it’s “like a soap opera,” she said. “I like to know what’s going on, but the more I go, the more I find out. You go back to find out a little bit more.”
More than that, though, both women feel a responsibility to the voter or neighbor they don’t know. Someone has to keep watch, they say. Someone has to make sure questions are being asked. And so they willing take on the role of gadfly.
About that weed grant, Hardy questioned Box Elder commissioners at a recent meeting. Isn’t that something that the private realm should be doing? Can’t that farmer spray his own thistle?
And, asks Germer at a mic in the Brigham City Council chambers, shouldn’t there be more time for the council to listen to residents?
Hardy and Germer didn’t aspire to this role of volunteer observer. In fact, it’s only in recent years that the women have begun attending city and county meetings. Beyond voting in every election, neither thought of themselves as being political.
For Germer, it was the issue of dust from Brigham City’s gravel pits that first pulled her in about six years ago. Unlike most others, who never returned once the issue was resolved, Germer came back, arriving early to sit in the same seat at the twice-monthly meetings.
“I like that seat,” she laughs.
She comes from a Burley, Idaho, family whose political views leaned left, she said. But as the manager of a couple of gas and convenience stores, and as she watched the career of her husband, Ron Germer, as an executive with Flying J, her political convictions grew more conservative.
These days, she worries that the council is helping some businesses to the detriment of others. “Private industry and government are two different things,” she said. “And I feel that Brigham City is getting involved in building businesses that are in direct competition with private enterprise.”
Attending the meetings, she adds, “helps us feel we have some control.”
On the political scale, Hardy is further to the right, taking as her role model such figures as Cleon Skousen. The eventual socialization of the United States is a real threat, she believes. And she’s fearless as she stands, time after time, in her local forum to explain that.
“I was one of those children who are shy and afraid to say anything,” said Hardy, a lifelong Box Elder resident. “When I really started getting in politics, I decided I needed to start standing up and saying what I think.”
Hardy grew up understanding the value of a buck. She was raised in a conservative family that fell on hard times following her parents’ divorce. She’s been politically aware for about a year now. She says it was the election of President Barack Obama that prompted her to provide some kind of local input, because “that’s where it all starts.”
“If you can start changing things in your community, you can effect change all the way up to the top,” she said. “So I made the decision to get involved and actually watch what local officials are doing.”
The interest in politics prompted each woman last year to run for seats on the boards they watch — Germer for the Brigham City Council, Hardy for the county commission.
Running taught Germer that there was a “game,” the rules of which she didn’t know.
“Talk about stuff you don’t know,” adds her husband, Ron Germer. “We were pure as the driven snow.”
Brigham City Mayor Dennis Fife said he welcomes the questions from residents like Germer and Hardy.
“It’s good to bring up any ideas and comments,” he said. “My only response is I hope they study the issues so they don’t confuse or misunderstand them. We’ve tried to go over their questions as they bring them up. I welcome them.”
He adds, “They’ve got good hearts, and they’re trying to do what they feel is right.”
Even though it’s lonely on the back row of the commission chambers, Hardy understands why council and commission meetings aren’t a bigger draw.
“The problem we have is we’re complacent, or we’re too busy with our family and jobs,” she said. “I know if I had a young family, it would be difficult. I’m at a point in my life that I can be more watchful of what’s going on.”
Germer agrees that Americans are just too busy.
But it’s also because, in the Brigham City Council’s case, residents feel unwelcome, she said.
“There’s a feeling that the council gives to the audience of ‘I don’t want to hear from you,’ ” she said. “They’ve got to have a public comment period. So it’s, ‘Let’s do it right at the beginning of the meeting. We’re not going to answer you, and we’re going to limit you to three minutes. Then we will carry on with our meeting.’
“People say to me, ‘Why in the world should I go to meetings, because I get treated like a second-class citizen?’ ” she said.
She also frets, she said, when council members whisper to each other. “I’ve asked them to get lapel microphones, to where they can turn anywhere they want and we can hear them. But they won’t do that.”
Hardy said she understands that her views are unpopular — and, as a result, her presence is unpopular.
“I think they’re not very happy with me. I say things they want to ignore,” she said.
Germer has the same perspective.
“I get under their skin,” she said. “I’ve interrupted and disturbed the council members for years, simply because I ask questions. … If the questions are not there, then someone has a script; you can’t run government by everybody getting in a huddle and saying, ‘OK, we’re all going to agree with this.’ ”
Each woman has her own questions, but both believe they’re helping the community, even in a small way.
Germer hopes her presence will prompt others to attend.
“I want people to understand that it’s OK to be at these meetings. Sometimes you just have to go and find out.”
Hardy adds, “People are just trying to survive, and even if I can do just a little bit by being there, maybe that little bit will help.
“We need to stand up and start fighting for our country, because I fear we’re losing it. … I know if I give up and don’t do anything, they’ve won. I’m going to keep trying and keep speaking out.”