Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Go "Team Norwich!" But How and Where?

I've worked very hard for the last week or so to not descend into "rant mode" by commenting on the actions and activities of the members of the Norwich City Council (after their 21July meeting with the discussion and decisions, or lack thereof, on disbursement of the Sachem Fund and the road ahead on Charter Revision, I've been biting my tongue for so long, I have a hole in it).

The aldermen receive a stipend (and that's one of the kinder things it's called, pittance is probably closer to accurate) for their labors, that, figuring actual Council meetings, sub-committee hearings and constituent services, probably works out to about eleven cents an hour. You have to love what you do a whole lot to be willing to serve as an alderman in a city whose best days, by many of its own residents' accounts, were half a century ago.

The voters held a please-get-out-of-politics sale here last November in our Council elections, with two members of that six person council choosing to not be on the Council and three others being chosen by the voters to also not be on the Council. The miracle of democracy is often unkind and in some instances, the Revolution, while not televised (as in the night of 21 July, Comcast) still eats its own children (that's why we have those little forks, right next to the regular size ones).

Last fall was an election campaign of poems and prayers and promises (as John Denver might have sung had he lived to participate in the Norwich Semiseptecentennial) but at times it looks like we've gotten lost on our way to the fair. This council took office at its first meeting in December and while we've experienced a not insignificant amount of Shock since then, the Awe has been absent.

Last Monday in a meeting (technically an informational session) prior to the actual City Council meeting, the Chief of Police reported on his progress in implementing responses to a March 2007 survey of his police officers that indicated there were some problems. The rank and file, as I understood one of the alderman to say, had not been very kind in evaluating the Chief's leadership abilities, and he, in turn, reported one of his initiatives has been in reestablishing black and white as the color scheme for police cruisers. Yeah, reading that, it does seem a little surreal--but maybe you had to be there (though I was, come to think of it).

We've talked about economic development a lot around the Rose City for most of this decade and I was part of the last Charter Revision Commission who reconfigured municipal governance with a belief that making it more agile and responsive might streamline the decision making process and enhance the effort at creating a more robust economic infrastructure. Turns out, meaning well and doing well are two very different things.

Considering how much talk those running for City Council last fall did about charter revision, I'm more than crestfallen that now they cannot agree on how to proceed. It's like watching Goldilocks and the 'this is too hot but this is too cold' decision making model, though there's a bit more grey than gold in some of those hairlines, and not so much hair either. Again last Monday, the City Council decided it didn't want to hire outside professional assistance (I'm wondering if 'outside' was the deal-breaker?) to look at the Charter, but there seems to be no consensus on what it does want to do next. This, as is so often the case, is considered by some to be GOOD news, because if we don't do anything, we can't do anything wrong. We believe indecision to be patience, but as Voltaire noted, 'if twenty million people believe in a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.'

Now that I've finally warmed to room temperature, let me dig in and sit dead on red (and if you're not from Norwich, this might be a good time to mosey on as the rest of this may read a lot like 'Inside Baseball'.) And, no, I'm not cranked at the City Council (or more precisely, only, at the City Council), I'm an equal opportunity raver. As fond as I am of humanity in the abstract, I'm not all that big a fan of people, nor they of me.

It is not the City Council's responsibility to improve the process and practice of life in Norwich. That is a shared responsibility of each of us who lives here (and if our neighbor isn't carrying her/his share of the load, you and me have to make that up). The City Council is a tool and it's a poor craftsman who blames his tools for his failures. With apologies to John Donne's Bell, no matter who you are or where you live, you must accept the consequences of every action and every inaction (having raised two children--okay having lived in the same house while my wife raised two children), that's the hardest part about becoming a grownup, accepting that responsibility.

We, wherever we live, need to be telling those whom we have selected and elected, what we expect of them. We define the goals and they refine the methods. When they succeed, we succeed; and when they fail, we all have to try again and try harder. In Norwich, it's the usual suspects on those Mondays when City Council meetings are held. I see the same faces I see at Board of Education meetings, that I see at economic development workshops, who attend the meetings on the Commission of the City Plan and the list goes on forever.

I am often accused of being 'too hard' on those who volunteer their time and talents. I should and could apologize for my poor manners-my Mom raised me better and my wife insists I behave--but I'm afraid I can't. I demand the absolute best of, and from, each and every person who chooses to help make where I live a better place. I do not expect them to work as hard as I can--but I insist they work as hard as they can. And the rest of us need to get our feces amalgamated as well and do the same.

Let's all stop using the past as a pretense to not map the future. When does a second chance become a last chance? And, more to the point, when does a 'last opportunity' become a lost opportunity? If not now, then when? If not us, then who?
-bill kenny

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