On matters of technology, poultry and pigskin

This column is dedicated to cell phones, chickens and frozen football fans.

An interesting issue passed through the pages of The Citizen recently. A reporter noted that at a Park Hill Board of Education team building exercise some differing opinions about cell phone use during meetings arose, including closed sessions.

One official offered that cell phones should be turned off and unavailable during meetings. Others wanted them on to keep in touch with family or for other important matters.

I’m old enough to not take for granted today’s digital technology and to be amazed at what is now possible on computers, pads, cell phones or anything now loosely termed digital devices.

I think live digital gear during a meeting is a real issue for officials, journalists and involved citizens to ponder. There are small reasons and big ones for bringing up the subject among a body of elected officials entrusted with public policy and money.

Civil courtesy is one reason.

Whether it’s big or small, I guess, depends on your values. In the olden days when a speaker was speaking at a meeting, a listener could easily allow thoughts to drift off into daydreams about personal affairs or perhaps contemplation of another civic issue before elected body.

Speakers can usually tell when they’ve grabbed an audience or not, even if all eyes are directed their way. But these days a person can be making a presentation at a meeting and see numerous people looking at or pecking on the cell phones, checking e-mail, texting someone or inspecting a website for information such as lunch hours and menus. The onlookers paying attention notice, too. Somehow the entire meeting or presentation seems to have less value when there’s open avoidance.

A bigger issue is communication between elected officials during official meetings.

At times, that’s during open meetings with journalists, staff and the public present. At other times, it can be during sessions closed to the public that involve personnel, legal or real estate matters. But even in closed sessions, all at the table should know what is being said by whom.

I supposed people have always kicked one another under the table, given a knowing look or signaled somehow their thoughts without speaking. But today, a note can scroll across a cell phone, pad or computer monitor screen with ease.

In my own professional life, I’ve been involved with meetings where office communicator pops up and there is quiet discussion.

Usually this involved humor or howdy, nothing that affects public business, but it does show me what is possible. Digital technology makes reduction in the transparency of government policy possible.

I hope elected officials such as school board members continue to speak up about this issue.

On chickens, the nostalgic side of me is always interested when the old becomes new again. The Platte County Commission recently approved a zoning code change that makes it easier for acreage owners to keep farm animals. The old code unfairly clamped down on properties in unincorporated areas that included fairly large plots of land but were tagged as industrial or multi-family zones, and they were not yet built out.

Now those with five acres or more can turn horses or cattle out in the back pasture, but also, people with property of at least 15,000 square feet can apply for permits to keep chickens.

The latter issue, chickens in town or the country, has been advancing in recent years with several cities tackling the issue, including Kansas City. The Kansas City Star recently had a major feature on a woman promoting urban chickens. People would have thought nothing about chickens in town in 1914. A century later, chickens are making a comeback after being mostly banished to the farm.

Many neighborhoods are prissy and standardized these days. Chickens and good eggs make the suburbs less boring.

Regarding cold, I’m here to testify that fans sitting on the east side of Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday shivered mightily and earned their satisfaction from the Kansas City Chiefs narrow win against the Seattle Seahawks. Neither my body nor my mind is adjusted to deep winter cold. Neither has completely thawed out.

What reportedly was 17 degrees at kickoff felt more like minus-7 in the shadows and in the breeze at upper level seats.

A person who reads the patterns in the center of persimmon seeds, and takes them somewhat seriously, assures me they all have the patterns of spoons, as in shovels, as in lots of snow. The oldtimers will say winters used to be colder and snowier. That’s one part of nostalgia I’m not welcoming. The unseasonably warm winters seem a far fonder memory as I search my pickup for where I left the ice scraper last April.

Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at editor@plattecountycitizen.com.