Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Seventh Sojourn of the Seven Dwarfs?

Personal for Snow White:
Let's continue that discussion on why you think seven is a lucky number. Call me.

Monday night's Norwich City Council meeting marks the half-way point in the first year (of the two year session of the Council) for this City Council and Mayor and City Manager, though the City Manager is a hired, not elected, official whose precise responsibilities are as less than fully defined as his predecessor's were when he was bought out by the previous City Council for not being a 'team player' as one Norwich resident who makes his living (and judging from his suits, a good one) representing developers, so scathingly phrased it last March. That City Manager was Not One of Us, and neither is the current City Manager. Neither am I.

I live in Norwich, not because I was born here or because my parents carried me off to here at a tender age, but rather, because I choose to. When I am unhappy at how we progressing, or NOT progressing, as a city, in terms of taking care of the basic needs of all of our citizens, I know the processes and practices to attempt to initiate discussions, create coalitions and develop solutions. And right now, I'm a little short on 'benefit of the doubt' when it comes to the well-meaning men who sit as my representatives on the City Council.

Last November, six seats were open for renewal or replacement (alderpersons are two year terms while the Mayor is a four year term) and we chose five NEW brooms to, seemingly, continue to sweep old dust. Last Fall, during a very informative (imho) election campaign, everyone now on the Council, promised to examine and evaluate the City Charter, last revised in March of 2001 (I was on that Charter Revision Commission) but still in need of further definition (what are the Mayor's responsibilities and what are NOT those responsibilities-two areas that caused a LOT of difficulties in recent years, though one party in the disagreement preferred a proxy war to an open and frank exchange that might have resolved some of the problems. We like to talk at cross-purposes here in the Rose City, maybe like where you live?) with an eye towards additional review and possible repair in other areas .

Six months into their terms, this City Council has discussed once the idea of reviewing the charter and then closed their eyes. Can you detect my annoyance? Another hot topic during the election campaign was ethics reform (the current charter has a small section on ethical standards and behavior, slight enough that all of us can overlook it without turning red) that all agreed was very important, though six months further up the road, not very important enough to have actually done anything after accepting the final Ethics Review Committee report in March.

I told you I'm old enough to know how to use the system to fix the system when needed. Remember, Democracy is a contact sport, so wear a cup, my brother (and sister). Here's what on tap for Monday's meeting. You be the judge about 'talking the talk and walking the walk.' And lest anyone get confused, I have (extremely) high expectations for this Council and that just sharpens my disappointment and heightens my anger.

Growing the Grand List was of the utmost importance all the candidates told us last fall. I fear what they meant was talking about growing the Grand List was important because that's all they've done since--the Mayor's Economic Development Round table last Monday notwithstanding. And as Dylan once noted, 'nothing is revealed.' And in case you were betting I'd forgotten, Council members who worked to dismantle the Administrative, Planning and Economic Development sub-committee of the City Council, you lose. And the two of you who engineered that maneuver know who you are-and now know I know who you are as well.

In recent weeks, some residents have become concerned about 'new problems in our Police Department' (a public hearing between the Police Chief and City Council is slated for two weeks from Monday, on 21 July) but, for reasons that are home-grown, too many don't want to concede that the discipline and eccentric behavior (I'll call it that since a person is presumed innocent) aren't new and aren't actually the problem-but rather, a symptom of the problem.

We here in the Rose City have a long and proud heritage of ignoring problems and hoping they'll go away. We have a Norwichtown Mall (or Mausoleum as I call it. The Chinese take-out place closed a week ago, Friday, after 23 years there. How bad does it have to get that Chinese take-out places go out of business?) with close to no tenants, a downtown with ornate architecture but practically uncontaminated by the presence of residents, commerce or visitors, a school system that annually requests more money than it knows it can receive and then talks about 'cuts' in its operating budgets (but NOT nearly as loudly as it should have spoken about its State-mandated reading remediation strategy that it was required to develop because it has failed its students and because our children fall farther and farther behind the standards outlined in No Child Left Behind. Throwing money at the problem didn't fix it. What a surprise.) to show for our efforts, and lack of same. Quite frankly my fellow Rose City Resident, iIf you are not outraged at how we don't get things done around here, you just haven't been paying enough attention.

Perhaps we could all get away with empty rhetoric in good economic times, but for the moment those times are gone. The rising tide of prosperity didn't lift all of our boats here in Norwich and when the levee breaks, it doesn't promise to be a pretty picture for anyone in these parts. For the seven elected folks in the front of Council chambers at City Hall--meaning well and doing well are TWO different situations. I voted for change last November and staging a tabla rasa a year from this November doesn't frighten me at all. Gentlemen, I'm starting to wonder about which one of you might be the tallest-and in the context I'm thinking of, being tall ain't anything to be hometown proud about. Norwich can never suffer from Future Shock--we're unable and unwilling to overcome our own past and, besides, it's Present Shock that's crippling us.
-bill kenny

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