Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Change Is the Only Constant

I've attended Norwich City Council meetings since the winter of 1993 when those on that Council and the members of the Board of Education differed so strongly on the funding levels for the school system in the proposed budget that the Council's hearings were relocated, as the hearing was just beginning, from City Hall to the gymnasium at Kelly Middle School where, literally, dozens of speakers implored and berated the aldermen (and woman) to reconsider allocations for the Norwich Schools while hundreds of others sat and listened.

For the last decade and half, we've had the same struggles on the same topics at this time of the year, every year. The people in the front of the room have changed and as I've looked around City Council chambers, so, too have those of us who attend the meetings. With cable access coverage of Council meetings, meeting agenda and minutes readily available from the municipal website, extended accounts by local newspaper reporters, and sometimes caustic comments from those newspaper's readers (guilty as charged), the scale and scope of involvement has expanded.

The issues we come to the Council with haven't really changed all that much--they are the folks to whom we turn for repairing our roads, extending a sidewalk, asking about additional police patrols, understanding why schools close--the daily operation of our city. They, in turn, route our concerns and questions to and through the City Manager and his Department directors for answers that more often than not generate additional questions and sometimes don't end with the happy ending we sought.

I'm not sure, though we voted for a City Council to partner with the Mayor to work on Big Picture issues like long term economic development and community improvement, that we're all that comfortable with having anyone actually do that. Many continue to divide our city into 'us', never well-defined perhaps because 'we' already know who 'us' is, and 'them', another unknown group who is keeping 'us' from returning Norwich to its days of grace and glory when downtown was jammed on Thursday nights and Eisenhower was President.

If it were only that simple--sitting at the confluence of the Shetucket, Thames and Yantic Rivers we, of all Connecticut cities, should be most aware no one one steps into the same river twice because both we and the river have changed. Yet we want someone, somewhere to make the cost of city government what it was in (pick a year, or better, a different decade) when times were good and the living was easy. This budget, in this very austere financial environment, has been painful to watch as it has developed.

We, as a city, a state and a nation have spent money for decades (at least as long as I've been alive, not that I'm suggesting cause and effect) as if we'll find another enough paper money in a trouser pocket to pay for school resource officers or enough change between the couch cushions in the living room to fund the pension shortfall. We haven't had to live within our means for a long time-and now we have no choice.

With a few exceptions, we've had a very civil discussion, as residents and taxpayers with one another and our elected leadership on what we are willing to invest our tax dollars in and our expectations for how that money is to be allocated. There are those who wish to 'share the pain' of reductions more equitably and those who are more concerned with placing financial resources where they are needed than in the revenue that's required for that funding.

'They', and all of 'us' will have one final opportunity to share our thoughts and feelings with the City Council tomorrow night at 7:30 before the Council itself votes next Monday evening after which we must all move forward together in good conscience and take what we have gathered from coincidence. It's what we choose to do, and choose NOT to do, after we've made our choices Monday night that will shape our city.
-bill kenny

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