There's a little bit of Washington in every small town
We are meeting in the basement of the firehouse to consider whether the town of Davenport really wants zoning. Minutes of the last meeting are read and approved.
In Washington, Congress has recessed for five weeks - but in towns throughout the nation, a vital governmental process continues.
With a fire truck on one side and a red banner of the Ladies Auxiliary on the wall, some dozen members of the Committee of Concerned Citizens are discussing local problems.
The goldenrod is tasseled yellow and the cicadas drone outside, but otherwise there is really a good deal of similarity between the meeting of Concerned Citizens here and of Congress in Washington.
They are both about self-government. One gathering is the extension of the other. Meetings like this, in one shape or another, are going on all over America during the congressional recess.
A Washington correspondent looks at the credentials in his wallet. There is one with a photograph in celluloid, admitting the bearer to the press gallery of the 98th Congress. Another has an elastic attached that is supposed to hang from the neck at White House press conferences. It is rather enigmatic, and says ''P R R'' on it (which means something to Secret Service guards).
The most impressive one says in big letters ''WHITE HOUSE (No. 157): issued by the Correspondents Association.'' Nobody asks me for it as I enter the Davenport firehouse. There is just a touch of self-conciousness, a little embarrassed smile as a member of Concerned Citizens acknowledges the newcomer with a not-too-friendly question: ''What do those fellows down in Washington think they're doing?'' It takes quite a while to answer.
One question is about Central America: Are we going to have war there? The tone is anxious, and there is always an element of cynicism in it. How about taxes? And above all, questions about the deficit: Why doesn't America live within its means - pay its debts?
Queries like these will be made to the nation's 100 senators and 435 representatives - routinely, endlessly, anxiously - all over the country in the next five weeks.
According to the Planning Newsletter of the Delaware County Planning Board: ''Les Gregory, Delaware County fire coordinator, is making plans for two training sessions for local building inspectors. . . . The Code Enforcement Practices Course will provide local town and village fire and building inspectors with the necessary training they will need to administer and enforce the new Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code effectively on Jan. 1, 1984, in all communities across New York State.''
There is something about the tone of the language that reminds me of Washington. But a brave effort has been made to break away from bureaucratic jargon.
It asks the question, ''But What Does a Planning Board Really Do?'' The answers: ''You don't have to crank out population projections, or draft maps. There are ways of getting this done by people skilled in such tasks. . . . The professionals are experts in compiling technical data, . . . but you are the expert when it comes to your community.''
The problems in Washington are the same as those in Davenport, only bigger. Somebody has to move in, take charge.
Sen. Robert Dole (R) of Kansas, chairman of the Finance Committee, recently voiced alarm at the series of $200 billion annual deficits the nation faces. He advised President Reagan Aug. 3 to call a ''summit meeting'' with Democratic adversaries to respond to danger signals already visible. ''The time is now. . . . The August recess is the perfect time to tackle the risk of renewed recession.''
We smile and wave as our meeting in the basement of the village firehouse formally breaks up. What is America thinking at this time of ripening corn and haying? It is glad to have many of the things it has attained. But it is also restless and a little anxious.