Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Simple Solutions

A week and a day after the men and women of the Norwich City Council, working with the City Manager, the Superintendent of Schools and the city’s comptroller, devised their best good-faith budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, there are still murmurings and mutterings. Not everyone gets everything--it's true in government as it is in any other relationship, so perhaps we might spend a moment and define what our relationship with our city government is, and/or should be.

We form governments, local, state and national, to do for us collectively what we, as individuals are unable or unwilling to do for ourselves alone. Some of the tasks are easy--provide for the national defense. Some are harder to define and execute-provide a quality education for our children to enable them to be productive members of our society as they become adults.

The challenge, as is so often the case in our daily interpersonal relationships is in the details. Compound all of that by putting a price on each action, and every step of each action, until the municipal budget exceeds one hundred million dollars. That's a lot of money and a lot of responsibility. I imagine there were nights the alderpersons didn't feel quite as happy sitting on the City Council as the night they were elected to it.

I voted for neighbors, known and unknown to me, who volunteered to do their best as they saw it on my behalf no matter how I felt, personally, on any given issue from closing off a street throughMohegan Park to developing the city budget. What we saw through the Spring as the budget process rolled on was people facing the critical question: do you do something right, or do something right now?

I didn't intend that as a philosophic question-we all know the economic straits we are in and the temptation is to search for the guilty, which will make us feel better but do little or nothing for the bottom line. Politics is often called 'the art of the possible', but we, the people (at all levels of government) can make that art impossible by elevating our expectations and the volume of our voices when speaking about our expectations.

Not helping matters is our representational form of government where, from the speaker's podium at a city council meeting (or a once week rant in a daily paper) to and through the curtain at the voting booth, we can drown out one another if we work at it. This budget season, more so, I think, than in recent memory, we spoke more often to, rather than at, one another.

No one wants to have fewer policemen, or more children in a school classroom or a library that can't be open to serve a general public in need of its services, and negotiating a budget that had elements of all those sacrifices, and many others, while also keeping the lights on and the roads paved was no small feat.

A lot of us remain very unhappy at the state of affairs in The Rose City and the rate and pace of change and improvement still needed. But we have started to learn to do something that many of us feared was lost along the way and that's to work together. To discover and then celebrate the commonality of our shared vision of what we want Norwich Next to be and decide how important our differences are in pursuit of a common goal.

So, back to my original question: do you do something right, or do something right now?

-bill kenny

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