Saturday, July 19, 2008

Laying traps for Troubadours

Monday night in an informational session slated for a half hour before the actual City Council meeting at 7 PM (and after the session on the audit of the Finance Department at 6 PM), the Norwich City Council will converse with its Chief of Police, Louis Fusaro, on a variety of topics (I suspect) but mostly on a survey conducted in March of 2007and how the Norwich Police Department has implemented the study's recommendations. For those with fancy watches, this session will start at 6:30. Between you and me, I'm not sure why this conversation isn't part of the actual City Council meeting, but my evil twin, Skippy, is willing to wager the explanation would be a doozie.

Monday's are not always the most exciting night out in Norwich if you choose to attend a Council meeting (I prefer Twofer Tuesday specials at the launderette around the corner from the Wauregan Hotel because I have a lot of unmatched socks to wash) but it can be a pretty good lesson in civics. As a matter of fact, it's not unusual during the academic year to encounter high school students from across the area (though never from Norwich Free Academy, come to think of it) who, as part of a class they're taking in Government or History are in attendance at a variety of public meetings. They always approach someone in the front of the room before the meeting starts to get a signature (otherwise they receive NO credit from their teacher) certifying their attendance.

Getting the signature early means they can bug out (and why not?). We who live here seem often to pay little attention and don't require signatures (though I always bring a pen, just in case). I usually sit through the first hour or so and then head home, where I can watch the rest of the Council meeting on my cable system while shaking my head or sipping my soda (I tried to do both simultaneously. Not pretty and it made a mess on the carpet). In recent months, our Council meetings have been long affairs, I'd like to think because there are so many facets of an issue and impacts of a decision.

The conversation with the Chief of Police at the informational session, (it's not on the actual agenda of the Council meeting because the session is a meeting before the meeting even though it's with the Council. My brain hurts.) will be in open session (as opposed to executive, which is reserved for specific and specified purposes having to do with contractual negotiations, possible property acquisitions and/or personnel evaluations) and I'm confident a frank discussion will be had, because (my opinion) we have some issues (= a rash of unpleasant headlines) in need of address and redress and the police department should be both transparent and invisible to me, the law-abiding resident. We are fortunate to have so many good men and women in all of public safety (and the public sector, for that matter). Too many, in fact, to allow negative exceptions, even when they end up on the front page of a local newspaper, to overshadow the everyday excellence of the vast majority. Quite frankly, those officers, and we, deserve far more than thirty minutes, members of the City Council, but I'll take the informational session as a good-faith down payment for a start.

When I was a kid, my mom told me if I got lost to find a policeman and he would help me get home (and then my parents moved. Kidding!). And that's what I told my children (who are now adults themselves, and have GPS). We grew up with a mental movie that teachers and police officers and firefighters were brave, smart and true--role models--and we may have lost sight they, too, are people like we are, only more scrutinized and less forgiven.

We, not just in Norwich, deserve the finest people from our communities in public service, from our elected and appointed officials to and through the sanitation, education, engineering, city hall services, utilities and any other office we can think of. We pay for professionals who have a right to work for a living wage in an ethical environment and for honest people. It's not only okay to be concerned when there are instances of malfeasance or poor judgment or undesirable behavior-it should be a residency requirement.

All of us need to roll up our sleeves, prop up the hood and repair the engine of governance that we've created for ourselves. We need to stop searching for the guilty and fix the problem. Specifically, we need to read the Chief of Police's update on his responses to that March 2007 survey and, when we attend the City Council information session Monday night at 6:30, be prepared to ask questions relevant to fixing problems and listen for answers-even ones we don't like. Perhaps, most especially, ones we don't like. I don't know about you-I like to learn, but sometimes I don't like being taught.
-bill kenny

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