Thursday, May 7, 2009

Putting the "May" in Mayor

If you've casually followed this scribbling for any length of time, you're aware I'm a bit Norwich-centric, often to the exclusion of other concerns in other worlds. Those are days when you may feel like you're outside looking in, except there's not a lot to see and even less going on. I'm sorry that today is one of those "Norwichean" kind of notes, like it or not.

The voters of Norwich, Connecticut, in March of 2001, approved some significant changes to our city charter, the first approved changes since 1951 as I remember reading, to include a return to a Mayor as the senior elected leader, while working within a City Council/City Manager style of municipal governance, that hasn't always been conflict-free and whose progress has often been hard to track or measure.

Our first Mayor, after charter revision, Arthur Lathrop, a Republican, served one term as Mayor and chose not to seek office for the Fall 2005 election. A Democrat, Benjamin Lathrop ('no relation' as the newspapers always say, but we share the same biology so somehow we are connected and interconnected; at least I hope so) was endorsed by both his party as well as the Republican Party and, not really a surprise, he was elected rather handily. Yesterday, as we continue to prepare for our 350th Anniversary, Mayor Benjamin Lathrop announced he, too, would not be seeking a second term of office.

Of course, I'm going to comment on his decision. Is a bear Catholic? Does the Pope--well, nevermind about His Holiness. Wild horses couldn't keep me from opining, but as a disclaimer and a preface, let me suggest the Mayor's announcement is the conclusion of a chapter and not the end of a novel. What he did for his city and his family should make him proud of his service, as I know it does, and it, in turn, becomes part of our communal heritage and history as we choose what path we should next take and why.

Here's what I rattled on yesterday about in terms of all of this and sorry if none of it applies to how you feel about where you live, except, I suspect at some level it does or it should (you could consider moving , you know, to someplace where you did get passionate about 'stuff' like who's in charge and what they're doing.). And that's okay, because in its way, that's the miracle of democracy all those grainy film strips in grade school were talking about.

"(My) Deepest appreciation and best wishes for every continuing success to Mayor Benjamin Lathrop and his family and thank you for your many years of service to our City.

As Mayor Lathrop looks forward, so, too should the rest of us and start to analyze where we are as a city today and where we'd like to be five years from now, ten years from now (and more) and consider what action we need to take, to get to where we'd like to be. As much as we may all hope tomorrow will bring a better day, hope is NOT a plan--only a plan is a plan.

For me, at this moment the mayoral candidate with a plan, and a history of accomplishment, is Robert Zarnetske. I'm confident you'll explore his website, and come to your own decision. That is, after all, why we live in a democracy.

When my wife and I arrived in Norwich in the fall of 1991 we had two small children who have grown into adulthood while we have lived here. As much as both appreciate everything done for them and everyone who's helped them along the way, one of them has already started a life beyond our city and I expect our other child to do the same.

Norwich really isn't a place anymore where generations of families grow up and grow old together. We are not a city that our children want to come home to. Instead of concentrating on the values and actions that could produce that city, we've become preoccupied with downtown bricks and mortar, and created monuments to failed dreams on every street corner as we speed on our way to someplace else.

There's much work to be done in Norwich and our progress, in my opinion, has been fitful at times-often one step forward and two steps back. As a city, we've continued to fret over the Norwich Hospital property while seeking a 'sure fire development deal' and have ignored all the quiet losses as homeowners on the brink of foreclosure, small businesses drowning in debt, and families in need of social services that are disappearing as 'overhead costs' are reduced, all fade from view in a harsh realm where neighbors are treated like strangers and strangers are shunned.

For the most part, we expect all government but, sadly, most often, local government, to work poorly at best and seem to be surprised when promises are kept and goods and services are delivered on-time and under budget.

We have no patience for solutions that can't be implemented by the time we reach the end of this sentence. And we have no memory of those whose facile and glib, rehearsed assurances have brought us to the brink of economic and philosophic bankruptcy. We are silent and sullen in the presence of our elected and appointed leaders' efforts to create a dialogue with us and become disagreeable while disagreeing with them, and one another, over the courses they chose.

And then we wonder why our local elections have such poor voter turnout as we face a choice of cancer or polio on the ballot. Could some, part, or all of this be because we see municipal government as something done TO us instead of FOR us?

More importantly how do we make Norwich, again, a place for all of us to come home to? The politics and personal agenda of the past is how we got here. Where to next, and how? It seems to me, the Next Norwich cannot be built as we've done in the past. If you always do, what you've always done-you'll always get what you've always gotten. The difference between a rut, which is where we are, and a grave, which is where we are heading, is the depth of our habits.

We need to think again and start to think for ourselves. We need to believe we can do better and seek out those with innovative ideas and a desire to serve. We need to be One City, proud of its past and confident of its future. We've spent too long waiting for rescuers who are not coming when all the help we need is ourselves. If not now, when? If not us, who?
-bill kenny

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