Monday, May 4, 2009

Meetings and More in Norwich

It was an interesting week in the Rose City last week, with much of the action happening beyond the halls of City Hall as we filled the vacancy on our City Council (well, a few of us did; a lot of us couldn't find the time in the fourteen hours the polls were open to vote), watched as a landmark of downtown Norwich closed its doors after 123 years in the same location (Len Barry would have been very proud) and followed with morbid fascination a news story in which a mail carrier was mauled by two young pit bulls who were subsequently destroyed (and whose owner probably got a stern talking to).

Meanwhile, this week in and around the Rose City, things are buzzin' (I have people who come up with this stuff, seriously. Obviously, they're on vacation and I've been left to my own devices).

This morning at 8:30 in the Business Park where the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments has its building (the old soccer business building) is a meeting of the Executive Committee. Strictly speaking, there are no Norwich representatives on this committee but the actions they recommend have, of course, an impact. You'll have to take my word for that since their website seems to be suffering from an acute shortage of meeting minutes, as mandated by Connecticut's Freedom of Information Act that went into effect on 1 October 2008. Between us, I think municipalities and public agencies follow that mandate the way so many of the rest of us follow that 'hands-free-cell-phone-in-the-car' law.

At 7:30 tonight, is the first meeting of the fully reconstituted City Council with a large amount of work on their plate, among other things formally swearing in Alderman Peter Nystrom (he still has that newly-elected smell). Considering aldermen are seated in Council chambers in the order of votes they received in being elected, I'm wondering where in City Hall, the new alderman (with slightly more than 600 votes cast out of over 20,000 registered voters) will wind up putting his desk. Quite possibly Ocean Beach, New London. And for those in Norwich who insist 'we' still don't need charter revision....ask the Registrars what an election, that attracted a total of less than 900 voters, for a seat to be filled for five months, cost the taxpayers.

Apropos cost, a funny thing about this year's proposed City Manager budget, which is about to receive heavy scrutiny from the Council. The online version of 242 pages is very straightforward without a lot of surprises, for me, until I look at page 189 and see $150,000 budgeted for the Norwich Community Development Corporation, as opposed to previously the conveyance tax had paid for the development arm of the city. When you go back a page, to 188, in section 65. Economic Development, you'll find a summary of the mission statement and goals, as is the case for all other areas of municipal operations, but there are NO accomplishments for anything listed with economic development.

I'd assume there must be some, measurable and empirical, but I can't find them anywhere in the narrative of the proposed budget and it seems to me anyone who takes public funds should be able to file a simple report telling us what they did with our money, especially NCDC which has (how shall I say it?) a somewhat controversial place in the municipal discourse. It's very binary, really. Either you are increasing and enhancing the municipality's bottom line, 'One', or you are not, 'Zero.' I like to think of it as 'have a reason for everything you do'. Around here, tradition and habit seem to be reason enough. Too bad, really.

Tuesday night at 7:30 in City Hall, is a public hearing by the Connecticut Public Transportation Commission and an opportunity for people to comment on all matters related to public transportation (and stunning absence thereof, or any semblance of a plan to create some). On tap is a 'brief' presentation by the CT Department of Transportation regarding the state's rail plan. If you cannot attend but would like to share ideas, suggestions or comments with the commissioners, you can mail those comments and such (I have no idea what 'and such' is but I'll have a heaping helping anyway) to Mr. Dennis J. King, CPTC Liaison, P.O. Box 317546, Newington, CT 06131-7546.

The commission advises the governor, the transportation commissioner, and the Transportation Committee of Connecticut's General Assembly on public transportation issues. Whether they listen is a matter of some speculation and conjecture but being a bleary-eyed optimist, I'll just note Alderman Robert Zarnetske is southeastern Connecticut's representative on the commission.

Wednesday afternoon at 3:30 is a public hearing on Public Services in Room 335 by the Community Development Advisory Committee to lay out the ground rules, so to speak (and explain program requirements and to receive recommendations from us, the public) on community needs and use of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds for PY 35. These are some hard-working volunteers who have difficult decisions to make about an ever-shrinking pool of money that has to be stretched farther and farther every year as more programs request support.

Later Wednesday afternoon, at 5:30, is the next meeting of the Norwich Public Schools' (Kelly Middle) School Building Committee, in the Central Office (you might still call it the John Mason School) across from the Norwichtown Green. They are fine tuning the taxpayer-approved bonding initiative to rebuild Kelly Middle School. Here's what they talked about in April (it's interesting to me after decades, how the same names keep popping up on projects), so if you're going, you have some idea where this process is at the moment.

Also Wednesday, at 7 PM in Room 210 of City Hall is a meeting of the Republican Town Committee. I think, like those of the Democratic Town Committee, the meetings are open to the public but you must be a registered member of that party to speak or vote or dance (or two out of three) which seems like a logical idea to me. (If Plato dropped in, would he be considered an honorary member?)

And on Thursday, at 7 PM at 23 Union Street (next door to City Hall) is a regular meeting of the Inlands Wetlands, Water Courses and Conservation Commission. In addition to being our neighbors who are the environmental stewards, if you will, on our behalf, reading their April meeting minutes, I also applaud their commitment to parliamentary procedure and Roberts' Rules of Order. Two members of the commission showed up AFTER quorum call and, correctly, were participants, but NOT voters, in the matters before the commission. Thank you for not only setting an example but in being as well.

City Council members are edging ever closer to making decisions on the City Manager's proposed 2009-2010 budget that will have an impact on every one of us who lives in Norwich. We elected them to a very thankless job that they each try to do as best as they can, even when they know we won't like everything they decide. Meanwhile, if you've been studying your copy of the budget and have a comment, an insight, an idea or any words of close-to-wisdom that you'd like to offer them, you'll find their snail mail and/or email addresses here (except for Mr. Nystrom's which will be added soon enough, though I wonder on what site. KIDDING!)
-bill kenny

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