Government, Patience, and Thick Skin

By Kathryn Eklund

In October I officially started my second service term as the Energy Corps member for the City of Red Lodge.  I spent the month getting back into my work routine, reconnecting with local partners, and picking up projects where I had left off. In the midst of all this, a new project popped up.

Red Lodge Ice is a local group that operates a free ice skating rink during the winter months. The rink is located at Lions Park and locals play hockey and skate each night by the dim light of four High Pressure Sodium streetlights. Red Lodge Ice approached me in July about changing the light fixtures and retrofitting to LED. I reached out to North Western Energy with their inquiry, and discovered that the City owned these four lights and could do with them as they pleased. The prospect of an LED retrofit became real and I started reaching out to various people in town who could help with the project.

After a few weeks of digging, I nailed down partner organizations that would all chip in to pay for the retrofit. Red Lodge Ice offered to pay for the fixtures, the City found money to pay for new light poles, and free labor was pledged by Beartooth Electric Co-op and Hi-Altitude Electric. An analysis of the rinks’ lighting needs was performed, fixtures and poles were selected, and the ad-hoc lighting group was rearing to break ground before the ground froze. It was at this moment that the bureaucratic process kicked in and I had to tell my lighting partners to press pause. They thought that it was time to write checks and start removing and resetting light poles, but that is not how government works. I explained that before moving forward, we had to present to the Parks Board, the City Council, and approach any neighbors who might be affected by the new lighting.  Unfortunately, these duties will slow us down and most likely prevent us from completing the retrofit before the ground freezes.

Needless to say, no one was happy to hear this. Some rather aggressive emails were sent my way, but I was unfazed. At this time last year,if one of my projects had been sidelined by public meetings and Council approval, I would have been upset. I was not accustomed to the processes that are ingrained in government work, and I had never before received a passive aggressive email from a grown man. Working for local government is its own animal, complete with glacially slow progress and red hot public anger, but I am proud of myself for the patience and thick skin that it has given me.

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