I take prolific notes during committee meetings. It helps me remember things later on, it keeps me focused, and it prevents me from changing my hairstyle every 20 minutes because my hands are busy with a pen instead of messing with my hair. (There’s a real pull between wanting to look OK up close on YouTube all day, and also not wanting my hair in my eyes.)
Because my committee, House Government Operations and Military Affairs (HGOMA) has jurisdiction over a lot of topics, many of which are incredibly unrelated to each other, my notebooks can be a real roller coaster. One minute we’re talking about cannabis and the next we’re talking about EMS dispatch and the next we’re talking about state employee pensions and the next we’re talking about the Vermont Supreme Court’s internet limitations.
One thing I’ve noticed as we cover all these topics is the lingo. Every occupation has one, and the legislature and state government in general has a whole group of words that I’ve never heard used anywhere with such alarming frequency. I started jotting down every time I heard them. There are little notes in the margins of my notebook that say “HIGH LEVEL!!” and “SILO!!”
We aren’t talking about land or farms. We’re talking about information and the way it’s delivered and to whom, and a big favorite of us government types is high level. There’s always some kind of high-level overview going on, or we’re just going to take a few minutes to give a high-level presentation about something, or someone will talk for a long time and then say, “Okay, that was just a high-level description of the topic,” which makes me worry about how many lower levels there are and how much more information there could possibly be on this particular subject. (A lot, it turns out.)
High level doesn’t mean what I thought it would mean — in this context, it’s always used synonymously with the idea that it’s broad, overarching or even general. So, not specific or on a higher level at all.
If you think about a silo, it’s full of stuff over there all by itself. In this case, silo does mean that, but it’s with people or departments or positions or committees, or really any groups that in theory should be working in tandem but instead are off by themselves doing their own thing. Silos are important on farms. I don’t think they’re that helpful when it comes to spending our money efficiently or solving problems creatively or finding a way to get from point A to point B without running all over the entire farm first. We do like to talk about how things shouldn’t be siloed, though. Yes, it’s an adjective, too!
And then there are the flags. So much flagging! It’s like the front of the United Nations over there in Montpelier with all the flags everywhere. Thanks for the flag! That’s not germane at the moment, but I’ll flag it for later. Let’s flag that and talk about it next week. Once I heard someone say they were going to put a flag in something, but I think they meant they were going to put a pin in it, which is also something that happens on occasion, but pinning isn’t as common as flagging. I wish I had known this term when my kids were toddlers, because instead of saying, “Maybe later,” or, “Let’s talk about your Christmas presents in the fall because in April it’s not going to really stick in my mind,” I could have just cheerfully thanked them for the flag, flagged it, and then not really followed up on it but made them feel like I was listening.
Even though there’s only a cafeteria and not a formal dining room in The People’s House, that doesn’t stop us from setting the table. It’s always being set, and we’re always thanking people for setting the table for us, and acknowledging that the table has been set. I love this metaphor for setting up an information session or introducing a topic, and wish we could take it further and say we’re serving up some roasted data or plating some piping-hot testimony, but we only ever get so far as setting the table.
There was some drama earlier this year about whether or not math was done on the back of an envelope or the back of a napkin, but that relates to the Affordable Heat Act and we won’t have more information about that until later next year: September, to be exact. But I’ll flag that for another column, I promise.
I hope I don’t sound cynical, because I’m not; I just love language and the way people use it in different contexts. If you feel siloed or want to give me a high-level overview of anything that’s on your mind, please be in touch any time. My cell is 917-887-8231 and you can call or text me, or you can email me.
(Chea Waters Evans, a Democrat, represents Charlotte and Hinesburg in the Chittenden-5 House district.)