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Feb. 17, 2011

Community College. Community service.

Blinn’s social science leaders in Brenham, Bryan serve on respective city councils

Earlier this month, Blinn College-Bryan social sciences chair Dr. Blanche Brick was observing a government class as it discussed the intricacies of public vs. private rights.

Dr. Blanche Brick

Dr. Blanche Brick

As she listened, Brick couldn’t help but think of her own experience on the College Station City Council, where she had spent the previous evening deliberating citizens’ ability to park their boats and trailers on their lawn. On the one hand, it was the residents’ personal property, and the government had no business regulating it. On the other, such lawn displays could lower the value of neighboring properties.

“Public rights vs. private rights weren’t quite as clearly delineated in the real world as they seemed in the classroom,” Brick said. “I think that’s where the challenge is and that’s what makes politics so interesting.”

Brick isn’t the only social sciences division head at Blinn who can call upon her experience as a city councilwoman in the classroom. Dr. Mary Barnes-Tilley, the social sciences division chair on Blinn’s Brenham campus, was elected to the Brenham City Council in January, taking the seat her mother, Mary Barnes, held for a dozen years.

For both, the decision to devote countless hours in service of their community came from a sense of duty.

“I’ve always felt that if we as citizens want to make sure everyone is provided for, then we have obligations to serve,” said Barnes-Tilley, who was her mother’s campaign treasurer and helped to design her marketing materials during campaigns in the late 1990s. “I’ve grown up with a grandfather who was Washington County sheriff, and I heard stories of how important it is to serve the community and volunteer your time.”

But even with Barnes-Tilley’s experience in teaching government courses and her family’s history with local government, she was still surprised by what she found out on the campaign trail.

“It was eye-opening,” she said. “You can teach all day long, but when you actually go out and figure out what your signs will look like, how many to order, ask people for donations, try to remember every event you need to attend and ask for votes – it’s an exciting process, but it’s really exhausting.”

Dr. Mary Barnes-Tilley

Dr. Mary Barnes-Tilley

Barnes-Tilley won enough votes that no run-off election was needed, and she was sworn into service on Feb. 2. Since then, she has devoted herself to learning the intricacies of Brenham’s city government. After years teaching Blinn students about government, Barnes-Tilley is now getting an education of her own.
“You think you have knowledge of local government and how it works, but I feel like I’m going back to school because I’m trying to absorb so much,” she said. “There’s a big learning curve.”

And the more Barnes-Tilley learns, the more she can pass on to her students at Blinn.

“I could not imagine a better experience to bring to the classroom than something like this,” she said. “What I hope is that I can help our students understand how important they are. So many of us today have the opinion that our vote doesn’t count and no one listens unless you have money, but it matters, especially in a small town like Brenham. I hope I can bring my experience making decisions on ordinances, utility services and budgeting to the classroom and tell them how it directly affects them right now.”

Brick joined the College Station City Council last May out of a similar sense of civic duty, but also because she wanted to make certain the voice of educators was present in the local government. She made an unsuccessful bid for state representative in 2010, but won her bid for a College Station City Council position last year.

“I felt like we needed a representative more in tune with education – both higher and public education – and that we didn’t have that kind of representation in the state legislature,” Brick said. “I felt it was important to bring those issues forward.”

Brick, who called herself a “radical moderate,” hadn’t planned on running so soon after her campaign to be elected state representative, but was concerned about the partisanship she saw on the College Station City Council and wanted to do what she could to help.

“I’ve said many times that my commitment is to bringing forward the best ideas that I have and standing up for what I think we should do, but at the same time listening to others and not feeling that I have all the truth,” Brick said. “We need to profit from the process, respect the results and move on. On some issues I’ve won, on others I’ve lost, but every time I have respected the process.”

Like Barnes-Tilley, Brick said her hands-on experience in local government has made her a better professor for Blinn College.

“I’ve always enjoyed looking at how we make the democratic process work, and this is what teaching history is all about,” Brick said. “History is all about us creating a democratic form of government and making it work for everyone. Sometimes it’s done well, other times it’s not, but it’s important to look at how we govern ourselves at every level and make certain we’ve preserved the democratic process.”