Nyssa Mayor Betty Holcomb looks over a zoning map with city manager Jim Maret last week. Holcomb was elected mayor by the city council recently. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)
NYSSA – One of Nyssa Mayor Betty Holcomb’s most poignant lessons in small town politics involved a turkey.
A local resident kept a pet turkey at her house but city code prohibited the bird and city officials told the woman the turkey had to go.
Holcomb said the woman wanted to change the rules and sought to address her grievance with the Nyssa City Council.
Paying attention to such small-town matters is important to Holcomb, who was recently selected by other councilors to serve as Nyssa mayor.
The turkey issue came up a year or more ago. The woman appeared at a city council meeting where about six or seven other residents were on hand to discuss other issues.
When she spoke to the council about the turkey, the other attendees piped up on the matter, said Holcomb.
“They wanted to know why she couldn’t have a turkey,” said Holcomb.
The woman used her allotted three minutes to argue for the freedom of movement of the turkey on her property but the council was hamstrung by the existing ordinance, said Holcomb. Eventually, said Holcomb, the woman moved the turkey “out to her dad’s place.”
If the surface of America is, as Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, covered with democratic paint, the brush rests in the hands of small-town government councils.
The turkey incident personifies that theme. While a seemingly insignificant incident, the turkey owner was able to take her issue to her elected neighbors to seek a solution.
“It is just one of those things that happen where people think we can make a change,” said Holcomb.
“It’s pretty neat,” said Holcomb last week.
Holcomb, 64, was born and raised in Nyssa and was elected to the city council in 2018. She retired from the U.S. Postal Service two years ago and said she decided to get involved in city politics because she wanted to help senior citizens.
“My heart is for the elderly,” said Holcomb.
Holcomb said it was her work 35 years at the Nyssa Post Office that introduced her to the challenges and struggles many senior citizens face.
Often, said Holcomb, the seniors told her about their struggle to pay their bills. Or, she said, they worried about receiving a citation for violating the city’s weed ordinances. Seniors with disabilities or chronic health issues couldn’t spend a day or two weeding their properties, said Holcomb.
Their concerns touched Halcomb.
“Some did receive citations and sometimes my granddaughters and I have gone over and pulled weeds for them,” said Holcomb.
Halcomb said she isn’t sure what the answer is to help the town’s seniors but she is working on several plans.
“I would like to incorporate the high schools, when kids need community service, that perhaps the elderly could call them and say I need help removing weeds,” said Holcomb.
Holcomb said she also reached out to local Boy and Girl Scout troops to help paint the fire hydrants in town.
“These are things I know that are kind of simple but they are also kind of a big deal,” said Holcomb.
Another point of concern for many residents – especially seniors – said Holcomb is the city’s water bill.
“But that is not anything I can change,” said Holcomb.
Water rates did jump by $12 for the first 1,000 gallons of water just after the city finished the $5.7 million upgrade in 2018. The new water treatment plant and replacing some water lines was triggered by a new arsenic standard from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The city used state grants and loans to pay for the work.
Holcomb said another key lesson she learned is the limitations on her power as a mayor.
“I am one vote of seven people. I would like to solve every problem that comes in the door but that isn’t realistic,” said Holcomb.
Holcomb said one of the things she likes best about her town is its generosity.
“It is as friendly town. You can’t come in here and bulldoze people and get away with it and we won’t allow someone to suffer if something is wrong,” said Holcomb.
She said she enjoys her work as an elected official.
“I guess I like speaking up for the people. Just being able to be a voice for the people, that feels good even if sometimes I can’t change anything,” said Holcomb.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].
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