For almost two years now, I have been able to sit back with Chris Marley, the two-term mayor of Chino Valley every couple of weeks over a cup of coffee and a donut (or two or three) at one of his local haunts. This informal setting has allowed both of us to bounce ideas off of each other, me getting a closer look at town politics, him getting to see how many crullers can fit in my mouth at once (4).
Some of what we talk about turned into stories for my former employer, some were just ideas that I squirreled away for a rainy day. Some turned into what we started calling "Headlines you will never see in print". Unfortunately, most of those aren’t fit for mixed company, so they’ll just be our little secret.
Since I left my old job a couple of months back, these little Friday morning meets have taken a back seat to my strict regime of late night movie watching, so this week we tried to make up for lost time. After a few missed opportunities, we finally had a chance to meet up after Tuesday night’s Town Council meeting. Unfortunately, Tuesday’s 300 or so page agenda turned into a four hour marathon, so by the time we pulled into the only fast food opened in town at that hour, coffee and fried dough was replaced by cheese burgers and tater tots, which is A-O-K in my book.
What I first noticed about Hiz Honor was that he looked tired. Not a 10:30 p.m. on a Tuesday tired, something a little deeper.
Me: "How you doing?"
Marley: "I tell you, I’m tired. And my sense of humor just isn’t what it was two years ago."
Over the course of our little talk, Marley said the politics of small town America can be the biggest stumbling block to getting things done.
"I have no use for politics," said Marley. "I never wanted to be a politician; I just didn’t want the crooks to do it."
So did he run on a "lesser of two evils" platform? He answered with a laugh.
"Well, a buddy once told me he went to a funeral, and they all held hands in a circle, waiting for the spirit to move someone to say something nice about the person," said Marley. "My buddy said no one could think of anything nice to say because the guy was so mean. Then one kid said ‘Well, he wasn’t as bad as he could have been.’ I guess that’s what I want them to say about me."
So how’s the town doing as his second term enters into month three?
"I’m hopeful," said Marley. "Slowly but surely we’re going to get some jobs here. But I don’t do well with pettiness. I’m a big picture kind of guy."
So how’s the "Big picture" on his administration so far?
"Well, it looks like financially we’re going to be in the black this year, and that’s due to our Finance manager (Joe Duffy)," said Marley, which is a big change from where the town stood three years ago, on the brink of bankruptcy. We still have a tremendous debt service to deal with, but I would say we have gone from a ‘Critical’ to a ‘Guarded’ condition."
"Are we on the mend? I guess time will tell," Marley said.
How does Marley grade himself on the scholastic scale?
"First term, I think I did reasonably well, keeping my eye on the goal of getting the town right side up financially," said Marley. "Second term (with a chuckle)? Suicidal. I’d say I did about a B-minus."
I’d have killed for a B minus in sophomore geometry.
I gave my burger an A.