"Doc Davis actually looks sheepish," Charlotte Robinson thought. The town physician had come to visit her at her office in the First Church of Almond Springs, California. "Pastor, I wanted to run something by you," he said. "But I'm not sure I should say anything about it." It was a brisk Monday afternoon in November. Charlotte put aside her planning for Advent and said, "Please don't break any confidences, Doc. She knew that doctors, like pastors, discovered things that they could not discuss.
"I want you to hear this from me," Doc continued. Now Charlotte was worried. "Where do I start?" he said almost to himself. "Well, since Vic died, you know that we'll have to replace his seat on the Town Council." Charlotte nodded. "And according to the town regulations, that task falls to the council's Executive Committee. The mayor (in our case Louis) nominates someone and then the Executive Committee either accepts that nominee or chooses one of its own. The full council never actually votes on the matter." Charlotte was confused.
"So why does the mayor bother nominating someone?" Charlotte asked. "I'm not sure," Doc said with a bewildered shrug, "This is the first time that part of the town charter has ever come into play. But it gets more strange." Charlotte waited, wondering what all of this had to do with her church.
"I'm the only living member of the Executive Committee," Doc continued. "Vic was the other member. And, since he's gone, our attorney says the decision is solely mine."
"That's a lot of responsibility," Charlotte commented.
"More responsibility than you may know," Doc said. "It's clear to me that the person I appoint will have the swing vote on whether to allow the new housing tract. Ansel and Morris are dead-set against it. Louis initiated it. And I'm on record supporting it."
"Tell me," Charlotte said. "Why doesn't Louis have to recuse himself from the vote? He is bound to be making a lot of money by selling the land. And a developer would never have purchased it without certain zoning guarantees."
"It's a complicated situation," Doc said. "For years Louis has said publicly that his first priority as mayor is to build the economic base. So a year or so ago, Louis and Vic bought the land. They had an independent appraiser come in to assess its value and paid exactly that amount. Then, when they found the developer, they had the same appraiser come to re-assess it. And that's what they sold it for. The appraiser worked in both situations under the assumption that it was not zoned for houses. They guy who makes all the money is Dorn, the developer. But even Ansel says that there is no monetary conflict of interest or self-dealing for Louis." Charlotte was not so sure but she let it go.
"So that's why you've come?" she asked.
"Actually, I want to tell you who I will be appointing to fill Vic's term," Doc said. Charlotte looked puzzled, "Why tell me?" Doc smiled a pacifying smile, "Because my next stop is to talk to Ansel and I know that he blamed you last time her was out of the loop. And I want you to have the whole story this time." Charlotte did not quite see the connection. "There's something more going on here," she thought.
"I'm appointing Laura Webber," Doc said. "And I want you to know that I have not asked her what she thinks about the housing development. If she votes her conscience and it tells her to reject the zoning change, then so be it." Charlotte thought there was still another shoe waiting to drop.
"I, um, err, also wanted to tell you..." All of the sudden Doc looked uncomfortable. "Um, I wanted to say that I wouldn't have been able to select her before you arrived. You're the most public woman we've ever had in Almond Springs. Laura runs the school, it's true. But she is technically the vice-principal behind a well-established man. You're the first one who speaks each week and runs everything." He started to stand before he had finished speaking. "I just wanted you to know that," he said as he headed for the door.
"Thank you," Charlotte said, trailing after him. "I really appreciate what you just said." Doc shrugged uncomfortably. "Well, you deserve it," he said as he walked through the door.
"So that's it," Charlotte thought. "He wanted me to know that I was doing OK. But he felt really uncomfortable doing it directly." She wondered why. Then it came to her. There was a bit of a shadow side to the compliment. "Apparently," the pastor thought, "there are some who were not so sure when I got here about the merits of a public woman." Then she smiled as she walked back to her desk, "Good thing I didn't know that when I arrived. I'd have been a lot more nervous."
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