The tall, thin man with the flowing white hair stepped to the podium and, in a crisp voice, spoke to the matter at hand.
“I’m nothing special,” Eric Greening said. “I’m what is called a citizen. In this country, the highest office is citizen.”
Brief and to the point, as usual.
The “matter at hand” in this instance was Greening himself, who was being honored by the Board of Supervisors for his decades of participation.
You might think the public acclaim would unnerve him a bit. He has spoken about countless other matters in many forums over the years, but I’m guessing he has rarely, if ever, been the topic.
But Citizen Greening, 65, of Atascadero, does not rattle easily. He knew this tribute was coming, and — as he has done so many times — he thought about what he wanted to say, pared it down to exactly three minutes and spoke his piece.
“We set our watches by Eric,” Supervisor Jim Patterson quipped.
The ability to stay on schedule was the least of the encomiums that poured in for Greening on Tuesday.
He was praised for the breadth of his advocacy — from public transit to the arts to the environment to the homeless to the powerless to … well, there just isn’t room.
Supervisors and others lauded him for the research he conducts before he speaks. Like many others, he is passionate, but, unlike some, he backs up what he says with documentation.
He doesn’t always take a position, the resolution that supervisors gave him noted:
“More often than advocating a particular outcome, Eric instead poses questions; and those questions shed light on the entire issue — both as to the specifics and to the principles underlying them.”
If there was one trait that all five supervisors and the several speakers from the audience stressed in Greening’s tribute, it was this: He is relentlessly civil.
“Unfailingly civil and positive,” said Mike Winn of Nipomo, another frequent speaker.
“Passionate, but civil and cheerful,” Patterson said.
In this, Greening truly stands out in the current group of regular speakers at Board of Supervisors meetings. While many support a particular cause with facts and figures, they seem unable to do so without venom, anger, character assassination and, occasionally, slander.
But not Greening.
“He has never gotten personal with anyone,” Supervisor Frank Mecham said. “He’s always very thoughtful and respectful.”
Supervisor Adam Hill noted that Greening’s voice, which has influenced so many in government in so many city halls and other venues over the years, reaches into the community at large.
Hill said he frequently speaks to constituents who listen to Board of Supervisors meetings on KCBX public radio and tell him that Greening stands out.
“Eric comes on in public comment, and people listen,” Hill said.
That outlet will be silenced in January when KCBX pulls the plug on broadcasting supervisors’ meetings.
The good news is that Greening is not going anywhere, and his cogent comments will continue to be heard regularly, albeit not on KCBX.
It was Patterson, who is leaving the board in January, who pushed to have Greening receive the proclamation. Patterson, also from Atascadero, has watched Greening at work for nearly two decades.
“He gives everything he touches real warmth,” Patterson said.
Now the county has given some back.
Reach Bob Cuddy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 781-7909.