I served as City Attorney for the city of Lansing, Kansas for a couple of years in the late 1980’s. At that time Lansing was a pretty small city, and City Council meetings were held in a small room in which we all sat around a conference table. As City Attorney I sat in on all meetings. Kenneth Bernard, who was mayor at that time, was one of the finest public servants I have known, and I’ve known a bunch.
The format for the meetings was that we would take care of all items that required council action, and then the Mayor Bernard would go over documents that had come to the city that didn’t require action. There were usually about a dozen items in each council member’s folder and the Mayor would identify each one and ask if there were any questions or comments, or if anything required council action.
The city had recently installed a modern waste water treatment plant and closed its sanitary lagoon. So this evening as Mayor Bernard was going through the documents in the packets he said, “And this next item is just a letter from KDHE telling us that our lagoon site is free from any residual dangerous orgasms.”
There was a moment’s pause, then two people made eye contact, and that was it. The whole room erupted in laughter. We laughed and laughed. Every time the Mayor opened his mouth to say anything we laughed some more. Finally he just rapped his gavel and said, “Meeting Adjourned.”
It was one of the funniest things that I ever saw in a public meeting. But the story doesn’t end there. One of the councilmen was Bill Bailey, who worked as a sign painter. A few weeks later when the city announced the grand opening of a softball diamond at the former lagoon site, Bill, knowing that the Mayor would arrive at the site long before the ceremonies, posted a sign. “Mayor Kenneth Bernard Has Declared This Site To Be Free of Residual Dangerous Orgasms.”
Sure enough, the Mayor arrived early, laughed a bit nervously at the sign and said, “You are going to take that down before people get here aren’t you.”
City government is serious business, and as I said, Ken Bernard was a fine, dedicated public servant. But he understood that the most important feature of a sense of humor is the ability to laugh at yourself.