CONVENING IN SOLEMN SESSION, THE TOWN COUNCIL OF CLAYPOOL, Okla., has assembled to debate the great questions of the day. First, though, some other pressing issues need to be addressed. For instance, Mayor John Edward Hiller wants juice, not milk, with his cookies. And Police Chief Dalton Steve Howard has a job-related complaint. "I don't want to be police chief," he says. "I want to be a cowboy."
In Washington, politicians throw tantrums and act like children. The same thing happens in Claypool, but the politicians there have an excuse: They are children. In this sprawling community of 84,480 acres in southern Oklahoma, home to exactly 62 citizens, no one over the age of 5 is allowed to hold public office. Mayor Hiller is 3; Police Chief Howard is 4; and Treasurer Monica Lynn Hiller is 1.
Claypool's experiment in pediatric government is the brainchild of Hollis Dickey, 73. A descendant of 19th-century settlers, Dickey has worried for years that the area's rich frontier history—the Chisholm Trail passed through there on its way from Texas to Kansas—is being forgotten. But how to rejuvenate that pioneering spirit? Simple, he decided: Put very small children in office. After all, a 3-year-old mayor can't just drive himself over to a town council meeting, can he?
Incorporating the area would be a sensible first step to rebirth, Dickey thought, so three years ago he launched a campaign to make the world-recognize Claypool's existence. Finally, in January of last year, Gov. Frank Keating signed a proclamation, and the town of Claypool was born. "We only have one bylaw," says Dickey. "It states that no one over the age of 5 can serve as an officer. We had 11 offices, and luckily we had 11 children."
Having a kid to fill every office obviated the need for elections—and Dickey decides who gets which job. Of course, every child comes with at least one adult—and crucial issues, such as law enforcement, highways and fire safety, are taken care of by the state or Jefferson County. The kids, who meet twice a year, at Easter and Christmas, get to vote on such hot potatoes as whether to invite the Easter Bunny to Claypool's annual egg hunt. (The vote, in the affirmative, was unanimous.)
"To take it down to the kids' level," says Dona Brooks, 46, the council adviser, "I believe that this teaches them to be friends."
Now that Claypool has its own highway sign, its power brokers have grand plans to raise the area's profile. The mayor's mom has gotten together with the town clerk's mom and the town judge's mom to design T-shirts that say, in childish block lettering, Claypool: Where Kids Rule. They plan to sell the T-shirts at $14 each.
Oh-oh! Sounds like a case for the council's ethics committee. Or is it nap time?