If you are ever invited to travel to Washington, D.C. and tour the White House, take it.
When Barry County Commissioners Vivian Conner got that invitation, she wanted to, but was undecided; it was very short notice and she would pay her own way.
“Go,” her daughter Amanda said. “I don’t care what it costs you. When are you ever going to get a chance to see the White House again?”
Conner went, is glad she did, and would happily do it again. Next time she would stay longer and see much more of the nation’s capital.
The invitation to every Michigan county commissioner came from Billy Kirkland, deputy director of intergovernmental affairs, the liaison between state and local governments and the White House.
Commissioner Ben Geiger also went to Washington; he too paid his own way.
The one day conference was to develop a working relationship between Michigan county commissioners and federal agencies on Aug. 8. A tour of the White House was part of the day.
It was a long day, with a ride on the Metro, a tour of the East Wing, orientation, a buffet, presentations by representatives of a dozen federal agencies with familiar acronyms like FEMA,NASA, HUD, and EPA at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
After the meeting, Conner visited the Washington Monument before going back to her hotel. On her own the next day, Conner visited Michigan’s 3rd District Congressman Justin Amash’s office to talk with his staff about her concerns about federal programs for seniors, and drug and insurance companies practices.
A visit to the National Building Museum was impressive, she said. Built in 1887, it was the Pension Building to pay the pensions for Union soldiers after the Civil War, it is now a museum of architecture, design, engineering, construction and urban planning displays. “The displays change; now there’s a display for Frank Lloyd Wright,” she said. That building has hosted more presidential inaugural balls than any other building in the city, she said.
She saw lots of well-managed security, there was plenty of traffic, and she did a lot of walking, but the overwhelming impression she got of Washington was the friendliness and helpfulness of everyone she met. Several asked her if she needed help. “They probably figured out I was a tourist,” she said.
One gentleman, who didn’t speak English, through sign language offered to take a photo of her in front of the Capitol Building with her camera.
When she got caught in a building after hours when all the exits were blocked, the maintenance staff showed her to their exit.
Prices at restaurants near her hotel were about the same as in Barry County and the food is excellent, she said.
The most important “take away” from her visit for her, was the interest and responsiveness of federal officials. “They were very engaged with us,” she said.
Berrien County Commissioner Ezra Scott asked for help from one federal agency representative with a Lake Michigan shoreline erosion situation. Within a week, he received calls from two more federal agencies with offers of help, Conner said.
Michigan was the third state for county commissioners to be invited to the information sessions, following Florida and Pennsylvania.
Photos: (upper left) Barry County Commissioner Vivian Conner stands in front of the east side of the Capitol Building.
(lower right) Barry Commissioner Vivian Conner at the East Wing exit of the White House.