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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

All's Well that Ends.....

Any time I'm accused of being a cynic (and you may not be shocked to learn that it has happened), all I have to do is open a newspaper, catch a news vignette on the electric fire or grab an RSS feed from any outpost in the global village and I look and feel like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (I told you I had been in the military right? Don't act so surprised).

There's been talk in recent days about a college quarterback who may/may not have taken money to join a particular university program and that's just the most recent iceberg on the glacier that is filthy lucre and professional amateur sports as operated by your alma mater, or alma pater since I am not a sexist. Yesterday afternoon seemed like something out of Where in the World is Carmen San Diego, except if they made that a sport, nobody would be interested unless it was a Title IX program.

The folks who write Carmen's lyrics may want to replace Berlin with "Fort Worth, Texas" (the meter is off, but kids these days don't care about that) as Texas Christian University is the newest member of the (waitforit) Big East 'in all sports' according to the press release (because swimming really draws the big bucks and good news! you don't have to shower after being in the pool).

I'm not as excited as I'll be when Villanova takes the football plunge though I'm sure PETA is salivating at the opportunities when the Wildcats and Horned Frogs tangle. The Big East used to have Eagles from Boston College, Sebastian the Ibis from Miami and Hokies from Blacksburg, Virginia, though all three went to where the fields were greener and the sponsorship dollars were bigger. How hard will it be to keep a straight face if Boise State's Buster Bronco shows up behind the podium at a press conference? As if anyone would notice.....

And if you think alumni are revved up now, wait until they see who the Rutgers Scarlet Knights have signed to run their School of Communication, Information and Library Studies. The Red Storm of St John's is tired of being a one-dimensional 'basketball school' and is talking some serious smack about the dollars they're spending to sign muscle for their Peter J. Tobin College of Business. "Business means more than numbers," says Elizabeth Stylaniou, Class of '10, who hasn't made an open field tackle in her life.

Let's face it most world events right now look like they're being managed by brain-dead frat boys, may as well as make sure we're breeding the genuine article. College is over-rated anyway. Just need to be able to count to seven. Well, or maybe eight if we go for two. "Good things are coming if we stick to the plan. Keep your finger on the trigger and stick to the plan." It's up and it's good!
-bill kenny

Monday, November 29, 2010

Another Born Romantic That's Me

It's not really the size of the city I look at it-it's the size of the people in the city. I try to track folks who spend a lot of time staring at what their neighbors have, worrying about holding on to what they've got or thinking that if someone else does well, it diminishes their own chances of being successful because I don't really want to be with such small people, no matter how big or small the city is in which we all live.

We're living large here in The Rose of New England this week-so if you're looking to settle someplace that's just about caught its second wind and is set to start making up for lost time, this may be where you want to be heading. If you're a business, start here. And if it's just you and your family, here's as good a place to start as any. And remember, it ain't bragging if it's true.

Here's how we roll in Norwich in terms of civic involvement-so grab a pencil and start writing down stuff you think is important, because whatever you write down, is. Okay?

Tonight at six sees two special meetings (because they were rescheduled from last week) of both the Board of Public Utilities Commissioners and the Sewer Authority (only a mother can tell them apart and don't ask me what kind of mother).

At 6:30 in the Kelly Middle School (with an encore Tuesday night at 6:30 in the Teachers Middle School library) is a public forum, "Norwich Education Excellence for Today and Tomorrow's (NEXTT) Schools." Don't be intimidated by the title-what's important is the purpose (that's why I shared the article from the Sunday newspaper). If you have/had children in Norwich Public Schools or are paying taxes in the city of Norwich, you've got skin in this game and over the next two nights is the time to talk and listen. We're a lot smarter together than by ourselves.

Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 in the Mahan School is a regular meeting of the Board of Education's Building and Space Committee (someone had to take up the slack for NASA and I love Tang so there you go).

At five in the Otis Library is an informational meeting by the CT Department of Environmental Protection on the fish restoration program (I eat fish sticks, so I'm not the guy to ask about this; suspect Jerry M is up on it) but here's an idea, after that meeting head for the community room since at six, they're showing The Last Airbender .

As noted above there's a second sitting for the NEXTT forum and because you went Monday doesn't mean there won't be more great ideas offered on Tuesday (just sayin'....).

Last Tuesday's Public Parking Commission meeting was cancelled because of a lack of a quorum (it had nothing to do with not being able to find parking spaces, I'm told) and is slated for this afternoon at 5:30 in the commission's offices at the Buckingham Memorial. Maybe just me, but Norwich public parking seems to be a lot like the weather in terms of the volume of complaints and murmurings. If you've got a bouquet or a brickbat to offer about the recent changes to downtown parking, you owe it to everyone else to make the meeting.

Wednesday morning at 7:30, courtesy of the Community Economic Development Fund and the Greater Norwich Area Chamber of Commerce, at the Holiday Inn on Laura Boulevard is a business summit with eighteen agencies and organizations offering technical advice and lending programs to help local businesses expand and improve.

Wednesday afternoon at 5:30, it's a regular meeting of the Board of Education's (Kelly Middle) School Building Committee that the city's website says is happening in the central office, across from the Norwichtown Green, but previous meeting minutes suggest is convened in the library at the Kelly Middle School. I'd call 860.823.4200 before heading out to make sure you're going to the correct location.

Also at 5:30 in the Planning Department's conference room at 23 Union Street, it's a regular meeting of the Board of Review of Dangerous Buildings whose archives of meeting minutes, as posted on the city's website, are pathetically outdated, almost willfully poorly-maintained. Having as the only entry for all of 2010, the agenda of the January meeting (yeah, eleven months ago) is not even vaguely humorous.

Thursday morning at 7:30 in the offices of the Norwich Community Development Corporation at 77 Main Street it's a regular convening of the "Norwich Mayor's meeting/Team Norwich" on Economic Development--don't look for the minutes from previous Wednesday meetings as they 're being filed, I suppose, with the Board of Review of Dangerous Buildings' minutes (= your guess is as good as mine and probably better).

Speaking of "Where's Waldo?", there's a 5:30 meeting Thursday afternoon of the Downtown Neighborhood Revitalization Zone (NRZ), according to the city's website. The location is to be determined. Again. You'll NEVER figure out where it'll be based on reviewing the minutes of previous meetings, since the ONLY meeting minutes from 2010 are from August. I'd assume with the passage of the downtown bond proposal, there'd be increased activity and a larger role for the NRZ. Then again, the Feast of the Assumption is also in August, though NOT reflected in the meeting minutes (so I guess that meeting wasn't at St Patrick's).

And Thursday evening at seven in the Planning Department's conference room at 23 Union Street is a regular meeting of the Inlands, Wetlands, Watercourses and Conservation Committee whose October meeting minute are here but whose November minutes I can't locate anywhere.

Saturday morning at ten, in the Central Fire House is an informational session with the City Council and the Board of Education. If you attended last Saturday's presentation "Connecticut's State and Local Government Crisis: A Perspective for Norwich" by Marcia Marien, the President of The Connecticut Society of Certified Public Accountants (it's not on the website; maybe you can get it from Ms. Marien at Marcia@MarienCPAs.com), and there were only four of us there, you know 'train wreck' is NOT hyperbole in describing what the next local budgets across the state will look like. Before you attend, you need to understand Connecticut's cities are fiscally NOT skating on thin ice, they are walking on water. The only question is for how much longer. You might wish to emulate W.C Fields and avoid water, though I still hope to see you at something, somewhere this week.
-bill kenny

Sunday, November 28, 2010

New Routine

Saturday mornings I hit the local Micky D's. Yesterday was nice because I ran into an acquaintance I hadn't seen in some time, or at least since the economy went south. He had his own financial consulting firm and I'd thought about him in random moments watching the bears and bulls of Wall Street make like lemmings from the side of an embankment.

I always hoped he was okay but feared he wasn't. We both sort of got our wish, I guess, as he's now got a new business as a personal trainer and seems to be happy and doing well. I'm not sure how you transition from one career to another like that, but I guess that's another definition of agility and any landing you can walk away from is a good one, I suppose.

He was heading out to see a client and I grabbed a table and chair and was grateful, in the event there's an earthquake, that both are bolted securely to the floor. That Ronald, he thinks of everything. I was near, though not part of, a group of guys rehashing the world order over senior coffees (the logic behind who gets one and the explanation as to why it's not quite a small but not really a medium makes as much sense as a golden oldie from Donovan; okay, maybe not) but the boys were wailing yesterday.

Of course, we were talking about Black Friday, to include two guys who had NO idea what the phrase meant (didn't stop them from chiming in). One of them was watching the plasma screen in the corner that was tuned to the Chinese news station that has started popping up on cable systems all across the country. I have the funny feeling he doesn't get that either.

Then one of them discovered the nutrition information on the tray liner was written in English and Spanish and it was off to the races or should I say y estaba apagado a las razas. There was a torrent of 'back in the day' stories and a heaping helping of 'if people want to live here they should learn to speak English' which, especially this close to Thanksgiving I always find amusing (it was the Pilgrims, let's remember, who were the interlopers and who made ZERO effort to learn their host's language and had no regard for the customs of any of the natives). History and who gets to write it, comes to mind which may have something more to do with that Chinese language newscast than most of us would like to admit.

With such a conversational table-setter it is was a relatively short leap to an analysis of the current occupant of the White House, for whom none of the the guys knocking back the senior coffees had voted, with his 'socialized health care coverage' that will kill, long or short term, all of them. I waited, I confess somewhat hopefully, but no one dropped (or even wobbled) while I was sitting there. Still, I live in hope, which is where another former resident of the White House hails. They didn't vote for him either.

Some of us then discussed death panels, while others got upset about how this health care no one wants is being paid for by Social Security and that what this country needed was another Franklin Roosevelt, whom I'm pretty sure, the guys at the table didn't know had been the original mad refrigerator for socialized health care and who was also the father of Social Security. At least two of the crew were Korean War veterans and offered a distressingly original combination of foreign policy and applied nuclear armament as a solution that was oddly appealing in its directness and simplicity.

All the usual suspects and subjects came up as topics and I'm wondering if I monitor the Saturday Sessions if I won't discover in six months or so that the topics never change, only the guys sitting on the chairs nearest the drive-through window. I'm so sick of this place, I'm so ready for a change of pace. I'm just looking for a new routine. And then I look in the mirror at the face of the young wise-guy who's not nor is he so smart and wonder if I should pay closer attention the next time the hostess explains those senior coffees. That kind of information can make or break a guy's Saturday morning.
-bill kenny

Saturday, November 27, 2010

That Same Small Town in Each of Us

Sigrid, Michelle and I hiked down to City Hall last night in downtown Norwich, CT, for the annual lighting of City Hall which marks the official unofficial start of the holiday season. We passed a few more 'for sale' signs on houses along the way than we did last year when we walked down Union Street which serves as more confirmation of what we all know about slow times. This year's event at City Hall was slightly different in that the lighting only happened because the city employees came together to make it happen.

I'm not sure what the costs are, which makes me an almost ideal person to work for the government where value is never an issue and price never a concern, but there's certainly money involved in getting all the public safety, the lights and sound equipment, the various performers (to include Santa, you have to book him months in advance), and all the other support for the ninety-or-so minute ceremony all assembled. Times are tough all over and the city coffers just didn't have the money, so thanks to the city's employees there was a lovely event attended by a couple of hundred youngsters as well as those of us young at heart.

Some years it's snowed, others have had a storm force eight gale wind while others have been so cold you can't feel your feet-but this year it was close to 45 degrees Fahrenheit (1/10 of the temperature at which a book burns) and quite pleasant for all. My thanks to the church across the street from City Hall on Broadway, for collecting donations for the food pantry and my especial gratitude to those who also donated. By the time troubled economic waters have risen so high that most of us notice, some have already drowned.

Between Black Friday and lighting of our City Hall, the holidays are off to a good start. For the next month or so, we'll meet and hold the gaze of people we encounter on the streets or in the shops for just a moment longer and, perhaps, with more kindness. There'll be a little more 'after you' at the entrances and exits to stores and more time spent chatting up neighbors we meet in the aisles of the local grocery. "Who knows how long this will last, now we've come so far, so fast. Offer up your best defense, but this is the end, this is the end of the innocence."
-bill kenny

Friday, November 26, 2010

Part of the Fire that's Still Burning

I've never understood why today, the day AFTER Thanksgiving, isn't a holiday as well. There were a lot of articles on line yesterday about how Thanksgiving is the most American of holidays--and others about how most of us checked our work email even if we were off (I didn't actually see any of those articles but someone emailed them to me at work).

My wife, daughter and I spent the day at Patrick and Jamie's home, which was a first for all of us and most especially so for the turkey which Patrick prepared and which we all ate with gusto (it was my job to bring the forks and I forgot, so we used gusto and tweezers) and it was all quite nice.

I regard being a father of our two children as the second most important job I've had in my life-first, being my wife's husband (she's said I almost screwed up the interview on that) even though our children are now adults themselves. I realize I will fret and fuss about both of them until the day I die, and I think they've made their peace with that as well. (Gotta admit, their not being five anymore and no longer thinking their Dad is the smartest guy in the world really sucks, a lot.)

If you've already gotten up today to either shop or work one of the Black Friday sales events across the country, enjoy, though I'm not sure that's the proper word. We're now UNDER thirty days to Christmas (I like the way it's become a sprint instead of a marathon) and if you have a good finishing kick (Adam, are you paying attention?) now would be a good time to bear down and use it since whoever dies with the most toys, wins.

I hope you don't get too bruised and battered out there in the madding crowd and lose sight of why you'd waded out into the deep end in the first place. In our neck of the woods this afternoon, starting at 4:30 (in the gathering gloom) we'll wander towards the center of Norwich (CT) for the lighting of City Hall.

There will be entertainment, hay rides (but NO pony rides?) and hopefully someplace to buy the 2010 Norwich Christmas ornament as well as a collection point to drop off canned goods for the food pantries who have seen demand sky rocket this year (poverty isn't political and crosses party lines; such a pity we don't).

The Lighting of City Hall isn't the dropping of the ball in Manhattan's Times Square on New Year's Eve but it's a great reminder of life beyond the bright lights and big cities, to a place and at a pace many of us call home. However and wherever you mark the beginning of your holiday season, I hope it's the start of another wondrous chapter to the story in your eyes.
-bill kenny

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Make Thanksgiving Last More than a Day

They were very poor and had come a long way with very little money and less hope. The lives they led had been so desperate that arriving uninvited in a nation that had no use for them seemed attractive.

The first months were terribly hard. The immigrants didn't know the customs, didn't understand the language, had little grasp of the nature of the place they had come to live in and even less desire to learn of it. Arriving in the middle of winter, totally unprepared for the season's savagery by their experiences in their own country, nearly half were dead by the Spring.

Their hosts had difficulties with the settlers. Their customs, their language, their religion were all so different from what they had known-it was hard to see the point of attempted community. On more than occasion, as it had turned out, befriending the new ones had proven to be unwise as more of their sort just kept showing up and crowding out those who had lived in the area for so many decades.

The emigres were in a precarious predicament. It had taken almost all of their savings to make the trip to what they hoped would be a fresh start. They believed, or wanted to, that if they worked hard and did well, one day they could send for family and friends to join them in their brave adventure. But everyday was a challenge and more often than not, often without a victory. They were isolated, decimated and left to their own devices. It took extraordinary hospitality and courageous kindness by one of the long-time residents of the established community to extend a helping hand and organize support so as the following fall approached the new people had reasons to believe.

How fortunate there was no Secure Border Initiative. Fortunate for us, that is. We, the direct and indirect descendants of those first arrivals four hundred and ninety years ago, are today remembering Thanksgiving, possible only because Samoset ignored the arguments and fears of so many of his fellow Abenaki and welcomed the Pilgrims to the New World, establishing even before we were a nation, our national legacy of welcoming all to our shores.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gratitude is the Attitude

It may be a a little premature and, in light of the year some of us have already had and the forecast of challenging times yet ahead, perhaps presumptuous, but all the best to you and yours as the holiday season begins in earnest.

We can lose sight of the blessings for which to be grateful as events blur as they rush one into the other with tomorrow, Thanksgiving, chased by Black Friday mall sales that start in the middle of the night, followed by Friday afternoons's Light Up of City Hall with next weekend's 16th Annual Winter Festival as seasonal celebrations intensify and temperatures drop.

Instead of enjoying a moment to appreciate the gifts of hearth and home that we have, we sometimes look to the lives of the famous and fortunate and yearn for that which we don't have. The ringing of the kettle collection bell, this year earlier than I can ever recall, doesn't cause us to count our change along with our blessings so much as to worry about for whom the bell tolls and when it might be ringing for us. We should be cautious, but not fearful.

We have much to be thankful for as a city. We have hundreds of volunteers not just for the lighting of City Hall and the Winter Festival Parade but as coaches in youth sports, advisors for after-school activities, members of boards and committees involved in nearly every aspect of our municipality. Each of us has a neighbor who has a community project and each one of our neighbors can say the same.

We have professional emergency medical services and own our own public utility. We have teachers and schools the envy of cities ten times our size, a community college that calls Norwich home, a spectacular public park and a location between Boston and New York, straddling two popular casinos in the middle of Mystic Coast and Country here in the Northeast Corridor like few other places.

We're not yet a city that's turned the corner, but we're getting there with every new participant in a neighborhood watch, every new small business that opens and every time someone new moves into one of our neighborhoods. Norwich in years past waited for the world-now we are preparing to meet the world, to be more active and engaged with it and one another than we have in decades.

There are challenges ahead and not the easiest of times awaiting us. But we should be thankful we have one another and are developing the confidence to live out loud. Don't mourn what we've missed, celebrate what's yet to be. To those whom much is given, much is expected-and we should expect much more from our city and from ourselves, not just this holiday but everyday.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What Else Do I Have to Say?

The expression says if you wait at the bank of the river long enough, you will see the body of every enemy float past you. I'm reaching an age where that may be true, but I probably would no longer remember them and that's scary as well since those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it.

I mentioned to a young colleague yesterday that it was the anniversary of the Kennedy assassination to which, somewhat alarmed, he responded 'someone killed her?" Welcome to the Feast of Unshared Assumptions-the Holy Father hasn't quite gotten around to recognizing it yet, but it's on his list of projects after he closes that endorsement deal with Trojan.

Actually I'm making up part of the previous paragraph (HINT: not as much after the last conjunction as you'd hope). For people under the age of thirty (which my chum was), a valid question would be who is Lisa Kennedy Montgomery? No, she's not related to Jamie though the argument can be made she is about as annoying. (I love Tori Amos and when the interview concluded I wanted to whack someone with a mallet.)

But I digress-the larger question as someone who will not see fifty-eight again (though I have been known to celebrate the anniversary of that birthday) is when did the murder of John Fitzgerald Kennedy shift from memory to history? It depends on your age, of course, and how empathetic you are to doddering codgers like me who too often use the past to avoid the future.

His death was, for Baby Boomers, the first seance if you will, that we all experienced. Everyone to and through a certain age stayed home from school and watched three days of relentless black and white news reels as haggard reporters in their white shirts sat in airless studios attempting to come up with new ways to tell us the US President had been murdered. By the time we reached the on-camera live from coast to coast killing of the man who was accused of murdering the President, I don't think very many of us were left to do any critical thinking about anything for years afterwards.

A lot of things ended in the days following the murder of John Kennedy, but even more began, to include the world as most of us now know it (I didn't say it was a world many of us liked). The assassination lasted only a moment and took only one life but in the flash of the muzzle fire, everything was swept away and what we are now is heavily colored by what we were when. If you don't get given, you learn to take. And learn we have, and take we do.
-bill kenny

Monday, November 22, 2010

East Side, West Side, Give up or Surrender

This a short week, hopefully filled with family and friends near the end of it, but there's still the bump and grind of daily governance and if you think bump & grind isn't an appropriate description for what goes on sometimes, you need to get out more.

The Redevelopment Agency which normally meets the last Monday of the month (i.e., next Monday) won't be, and instead is holding a special meeting this afternoon at five in Room 210 of City Hall. The draft minutes of the October meeting suggest the discussion on Brownfields is continuing though I'm not sure I understand what the consensus is. I wasn't sure what to make of most of item VII, 'citizen comments' since some are from folks whom I assumed, because I saw them at Saturday workshops, were involved in the downtown development planning process. Now, not so much....

Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 in the Central Office conference room of the Norwich Public Schools (across from the Norwichtown Green) is a regular meeting of the Board of Education's Policy Committee. A review of their October meeting minutes leads me to conclude they've hired a recording secretary whom they must pay by the word. If that's the case, I salute their frugality. If we're gonna edit and condense, let's take a page from the RSC, okay?

Also Tuesday, at 5:30, the Public Parking Commission has a special meeting at 5:30 in the Buckingham Memorial in place of the meeting slated for last Tuesday that was cancelled. Parking (and/or the ease and access to it) in downtown Norwich remains an issue, judging from the September meeting minutes, despite ongoing efforts to address short and long term concerns. Sometimes one man's ceiling is another man's floor but let's agree now that any effort to resurrect the Chelsea District will require casting a large enough net to include volunteer panels like the Historic District Commission, the Redevelopment Agency and the Public Parking Commission.

At 7 PM, in their offices on the New London Turnpike, it's a special meeting of the Norwich Golf Course Authority who are continuing their negotiations with their facility manager and course pro, if I'm reading the agenda correctly. Regular meetings of the Harbor Advisory Commission as well as the Board of Public Utilities Commission and the Sewer Authority have all been cancelled. Actually, the latter two have been rescheduled to next Monday, the 29th, at six PM in the Norwich Public Utilities' building on Golden Street.

The municipal website schedule for Wednesday is a mish-mash as there's a listing for a Golf Course Authority meeting that seems to have taken place the day previously-a Recreation Advisory Board meeting that, elsewhere on the website, is listed as cancelled as well as a listing for a Board of Education Building and Space Committee meeting that the Board's website indicates is next Tuesday, the 30th. And meanwhile I get annoyed when more members of the public don't attend meetings....I just crack myself up.

Friday afternoon, it's a hurry home early, hurry on home situation, for the annual Lighting of City Hall beginning at 4:30 (and the back story is almost as interesting as the event itself) especially since an on-0line reader wondered why there's no collection of canned goods to benefit local food pantries. There can be (pun intended), if we each bring something-so thanks for that really good suggestion "Norwich Taxpayer and let's all promise to do just that Friday, okay?

My family always attends because that's when we purchase the Norwich Holiday Ornament. This year we'll bring a canned good or two (or three) for those who need our help since we're meeting neighbors downtown and neighbors help one another. You should come, too, if you're near Norwich on Friday (canned good donation optional). We have a lot of fun and I promise to NOT sing out loud which will please my wife and daughter, as well as everyone around us. We have more to be thankful for than many of us think so as you sit down with family and friends this week to count your blessings, think about absent friends and their role in making wherever you live the best hometown it can ever be.
-bill kenny

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The OTHER Big O

The downside for merchants in tough times is that they have to goose their sales pitches-start them earlier, make them last longer, offer pony rides for birthdays, throw in pom-pom girls for Gaudete Sunday, just a lot of extra work they could otherwise skip if the economy weren't so out of sorts.

I fell in love with online shopping, not that I do a lot of it, but I love the concept of it, when one of those sites had a commercial that involved shooting gerbils out of a cannon. The spot was only partially effective because I had forgotten until watching it again the site didn't sell everything, it specialized in computers. Obviously not enough since when you type in www.outpost.com, well, you already see what you get instead. If only they had unleashed this gem earlier. He's right; that is good stuff.

Of course, these days when we think on-line shopping we think of the site named for one of the rivers of South America, but none of us remember it that way. No wolves, no gerbils, just everything rushed to your house at the speed of mouse. Now, in fairness, they're not the only site like this and these folks who've spent close to a decade saying "The Big O" as their tag line without winking or blushing are still alive and well, even if their actual employees are not actually in tune.

Jaysus! You see the size of the guy on the forklift? They'd have needed a howitzer to get enough lift to thrust his chunky torso through the "O", but I digress. My favorite part has nothing to do with the attempted singing but, rather, twenty-two seconds into it the proud proclamation they are "#2 in Customer Service." I think I'd have actually preferred watching the wolves gnawing on forklift guy, there's certainly enough there to keep 'em fed through the NFL Thanksgiving football games.

If you're like me, you love to chant "We're Number 2" all day long. (I couldn't figure out how else to phrase that, but you're welcome to try and let me know how it comes out (good Lord, what's the matter with me?)) but I bet I can guess what else you were curious about. Mystery solved. Oh, for the record, no high school marching band musicians or gerbils were harmed in the writing of this blog or in the making of this spot. You're welcome.
-bill kenny

Saturday, November 20, 2010

They Shoot Doorbusters Don't They?

This past Wednesday, ducking into my local supermarket to swing by their salad bar for my following-workday-lunch (I'm still doing the 'let's eat healthy' thing and hoping to get the gerbil exercise wheel for my birthday; I already have the water bottle) I heard the ringing bell of the Kettle Person from the Salvation Army.

It's not surprising, with times as they are, that the holiday collections for the less fortunate would start earlier than I ever recall. Some of that doesn't have as much to do with current conditions as we'd like to think (in my opinion). Southeastern New England has been hemorrhaging skilled (and well-compensated) jobs in manufacturing and pharmaceutical research (all heading not so much South, as off-shore) while creating service jobs for two highly successful casinos who almost, but-not-quite, were immune to the financial turbulence that engulfed the rest of the world. Turns out, some of us didn't have as far to fall when the bottom dropped out.

I don't know if it's the same person from the Salvation Army who stands there everyday ringing the bell. It seems to be, but that might be because I get to there at about the same time everyday. A lot of us start digging through our pockets in search of change as we walk away from the registers though the way things are going I'm starting to think we need to be concentrating more on folding money than coins. As the autumn gets cooler and the jackets get thicker, I find myself searching through more and more pockets, faster and faster, heading towards the door. Scary thing is, we're gonna need a much bigger kettle.

I don't have Lori and Ryan Davenport's problems, that's for sure but luckily for them, they don't have my weather either. On the same day we started dropping change in the bucket at a grocery store in Norwich, Connecticut, the Davenports started their Black Friday Camp Out at the Tyrone Square Best Buy in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Davenport Family maintains a vigil during the day and is spelled by another family who works the night shift...they can't very well be the first man on the moon, so this is as good as it gets.

Not too many more days to go before Black Friday arrives and the Davenport's exercise in self-actualization and spontaneous consumer combustion can end as The Lord arrives in His Heavenly Airplane or Donald Trump rolls down a tinted limo window and mutters imprecations that all conclude with 'you're fired.' I cannot wait to see what the 'special gift' is that the Best Buy manager has picked out for them. I'm thinking maybe it's a big screen television for their living room, the kind that comes in a large cardboard box that's just perfect for a family living under a railroad bridge waiting for the rising tide of prosperity to lift their boat.
-bill kenny

Friday, November 19, 2010

Grizzly Adams Would've Feasted for Days

Not sure if the Crystal Ship is being filled, but if it is, soon to be former- Governor Charlie Crist isn't traveling in stowage. Yeah, if Chuck has his way, on December 9th, a State of Florida parole board will grant The Lizard King a pardon for exposure (maybe) conviction on stage in Miami in 1969.

If he's waiting for me to pardon him for penning 'no time to wallow in the mire' that'll happen over my dead bo--well, never mind that. Regards to Pam, btw. Gotta admit, enjoyed a lot of Doors' music but never held them in the regard so many others had for them, which is why variety is the spice of life. Maybe if the pardon goes through, the next step is working on that being buried in Paris thing, though I've read a lot of men have been buried in Paris. C'est Chaud.

Of course, there's things worse than being a dead, unpardoned, Jim Morrison. You could be Harvey Westmoreland, though it's easy to imagine why you'd rather not be. I'm trying to figure out if Jackie Congedo lost a bar bet or if the Lex 18 Big Story Bar in Lexington, Kentucky, needs to be recalibrated. Seriously? Harvey and his brother being forced to eat their beards is the Big Story?

Were you surprised to learn folks getting their drunk on was part of this story or, like me (Jersey raised and purple hazed), did you think ZZ Top were holding open face auditions? I do take comfort from knowing more than one TV station covered this story (the story was probably too big for just one station) but I'm having trouble following the narrative twist where a twenty dollar lawnmower is sold for $250. However, I do admire the clarity of 'he thought I was trying to cheat him.'

We're going bankrupt, sending the flower of a generation to bleed among the poppies in Hindu Kush, have almost 10% of our population unemployed but let's keep our eye on the ball: Harvey's beard is growing back just fine. If Edward R. Murrow calls, do him a favor and hang up.
-bill kenny

Thursday, November 18, 2010

And You'll No Longer Burn to Be Brothers in Arms

It's possible most of us missed this Tuesday, because it wasn't the lead on TMZ, and it didn't involve any BFFs of Kim or the KitandKaboodle Krew. And since poisonous palaver sells better than sober reporting, the Kids in the Hall (Fort Lee, NJ, branch) and the three-piece suit-covered suet sacks over at Faux Gnus probably didn't know what to make of it either. That's why I rely on the unadorned straight-forward reporting of NPR, elegantly simple and simply elegant to place events into perspective.

Salvatore Giunta reminds me, again, that while celebrities make headlines, it's heroes who make a difference every single day. "There's so many different worlds, so many different suns; and we have just one world, but we live in different ones." I'm not foolish enough to think I could ever be as brave as Staff Sergeant Giunta-perhaps you could, but because of men and women like him, the rest of us only need to be as brave as we each can be, in our own way.

If having civil courage means helping an elderly person carry groceries to the car, slowing down in a school zone while driving because you know kids don't always pay attention to traffic, picking up a discarded fast-food wrapper instead of walking by it and shaking your head or any of the hundreds of random acts of small kindness that make wherever you live your home, then, by all means, thanks to the sacrifice and example of SSG Giunta, be as brave as you can.

To run toward the sound of guns-to be willing to forfeit your life for comrade, unasked, instinctively and without thinking, is probably equal parts nature and nurture but all of it is heartbreakingly breathtaking. We put sports figures in open cars and drive them through a hailstorm of confetti down the Canyon of Heroes for winning baseball games. And for this twenty-five year old, who was younger than that when he was so heroic so far away, all we need do is agree with the President when he declares 'he is what America is all about.'

When we have people with the courage to die for what they believe in, such as Salvatore Giunta, how is it that so often, too often, we can't find the courage to live for what we should believe in? "Now the sun's gone to hell, and the moon's riding. Let me bid you farewell; every man has to die. But it's written in the starlight and every line on your palm. We're fools to make war on our brothers in arms." What fools we mortals be.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In or Out

One of the curiosities of representational government is sorting out who, exactly, is being represented. A President, a Governor, a Mayor, any and all who are elected to such offices, have to reconcile their 'election mandate' with the simple reality that not everyone voted for them. Additionally, sometimes it's hard to define what we want of our elected leaders-do we want people who reflect our wishes and do our bidding or do we want those in office who see their positions as striking off and striking out in new directions for the betterment of all of us.

When we all clamor for those in charge to 'listen to the people' we sometimes forget, we, the people, don't speak with one voice or have one thought. From the first tea party in Boston Harbor to more recent incarnations across the country this past Election Day, we're still working to define, and then refine, what we, the people, want of those whom we elect.

Locally, and as someone who is NFH (Not From Here) I apologize if I offend (I have to say that; you know I don't really mean it), we've spent decades talking at one another instead of with each other. We've often substituted diatribe for discussion and have employed historical examples of past failures to rationalize opposition to planned improvement efforts.

My wife and I raised two children to caring and responsible adults here in The Rose City and always had an interest and engagement in school and after-school activities, ranging from the PTO through the Board of Education. As the years have passed we've come to think of Norwich as where we live, not where we live right now, and have expanded the range and scope of meetings and volunteer commitments, from fund-raising for a variety of public health issues to serving on advisories and committees. We've seen all good people lend a hand to those neighbors whose need is greater. It's time for all those hands to join together again.

The Winter of 2010 is rushing towards us, but the winter of our discontent may have already arrived. This time last year we wondered how those we'd just elected to the City Council and the Board of Education were going to manage what we feared would be horrific revenue shortfalls needed to run our city. A year on, the only thing that has changed is the degree of certainty that a horrible end has replaced horrors without end as state deficit projections signal a greater cause for pessimism than even last year's budget.

We, the people, need to be as informed and engaged in the running of our city as those whom we've elected to do so on our behalf. If all you did Election Day was vote one way or the other on the three municipal bond issues and didn't attend Monday's City Council meeting, last night's Small Business Administration presentation in Council chambers, this morning's workshop on economic development in the NCDC offices or at least think about this Saturday's session with our state representatives (starting at 11 in the Central Fire House), then you're part of the problem we all face in turning this city around. We can't do it without you.

Life is like a lottery where you must be present to win. And sometimes just being is present enough.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

One of These Things First

I got ahead of myself this week (doesn't happen that often; I'm tempted to savor the flavor). Sunday marked the arrival, very late at night nineteen years ago of my family from the only home they'd ever known, Germany. My wife and our children landed at/close to about eight at night in Philadelphia International Airport (I 'm tempted to say in the W. C. Fields Arrival Terminal but I usually resist. Until now) and were the last people to be able to leave the lounge.

I had learned the day before they would be flying into Philly. Their first arrival had become ensnared in red tape as various people offered their (unsolicited opinions) on visas and other non charge card matters and our reunion had been delayed by close to two weeks. It seemed to be a turbulent end to a chapter in our lives that I never really enjoyed as much as I should have.

The first year of the decade and a half plus I was to live in Germany seems mostly black and white to me. It was only after I met the woman I was to marry and started to make friends among those with whom I worked that color became part of the pattern. Thanks along the way to Lee, Chris and Moni, the other Bill, Roger and Rik, Darlene, Sara and Marge, Bob and Gisela (absent but always remembered) and to too many others I've forgotten who join my wife's mom and dad, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and more neighbors than I could count even then, for opening their hearts and hearths.

I hadn't fully realized how much there had been home until I came here a month before my family arrived. My best achievements were as a husband and father-I just didn't know it, until I didn't have them on my resume anymore. My wife had successfully concluded the Deutsche Kapitel in our life story, perhaps to be continued at a later date, while her stumblebunny husband struggled to gain a toehold in New England.

I drove 95 South forever into the Philly where, true to form, I got lost twice coming off the interstate trying to find the airport (and yes, I know you can see the former from the latter and vice versa). Both times I asked for directions and the folks whom I hailed were as kind as could be leading me to believe, if just for that night, it was true "you've got a friend in Pennsylvania.'

There was a glass wall in the arrival area so you could see everyone for an eternity (or so it felt) before you could touch them. I watched our son, who had turned nine that summer, two steps ahead of his mother, who carried our daughter whose fourth birthday had been in May and whose eyes were as wide as saucers, clutching a mechanical pink pig as if it were her prized possession. Slowly they made their way towards me as I rushed to find a door to them and when we finally found one another I nearly crushed my entire family as I embraced all of them.

Our daughter, peering out the lounge window, offered 'Amerika is sehr dunkel' which was more prophetic than I'm comfortable admitting most days since her arrival. We piled into a stunningly non-descript POS I'd bought a week before (the German specs BMW sold for a song to a relative of a neighbor) and we began the long drive back to Southern New England, stopping on the Jersey Turnpike for food, and lots of it, especially for a nine-year old boy with hollow bones and secret pockets (I always assumed) as slowly our American Adventure began.

Nineteen years and (now) two days on. I could be here here and now; I would be, I should be. But how? Only with you. Always.
-bill kenny

Monday, November 15, 2010

By the Waters

This is a week where we are going to do a lot of talking in Norwich, Connecticut; I hope we are willing to devote as much time to listening (though history on that aspect hasn't been as good as I'd like). Maybe just me but across our culture, we fill up silences now more quickly than I remember when I was a kid. The amount of quiet deliberation and consideration of another's point of view has continued to shrink until it's almost all gone. If I may offer a piece of Mom's wisdom: we have two ears but only one mouth for a reason (Mom explained the reason but I wasn't listening).

Now we have television 'public affairs' programming on Sunday mornings (even though the FCC lifted that requirement years ago as part of the 'greed is good' movement that had ketchup named a vegetable in school lunches) that seems to be a bunch of people sitting around in a semi-circle cutting each other off and offering withering observations about events upon which they report but about which they have little actual knowledge. When you look to the top of the food chain, our nation's capital, we have a car crash for national government-and we didn't actually fix anything earlier this month, we just swapped out actors and actresses. Same shirt, different day.

Maybe in your state capital, it's peaches and cream but here in The Land of Steady Habits, we're taking our cues from the Dodge City crew and digging the hole faster and deeper than at any time since the Great Depression. All of which leaves us at the local level with huge bills to pay and shrunken revenue streams with which to do it. And then we wonder why so many of our neighbors give up and move on. As they used to say in Europe when the Evil Empire was still doing business, 'a refugee is someone who votes with his feet.' I still believe we have the means to rebuild and revive where we live, but we need to be serious about wanting to do so this and it starts locally and becomes global. Stepping off my soap box.

Here are our opportunities to listen and to speak (ideally, in that order) this week in municipal meetings in Norwich.

At nine this morning in the Rose City Senior Center is a regular meeting of the Senior Affairs Commission. The outpouring of support for the center and its programs during last spring's budget hearings were a strong reminder of how important such programs are to everyone across the community not just our seniors. I''m unhappy the draft minutes from their October 18th meeting aren't linked on the city's website. I think to accommodate both the letter and the spirit of Public Act 08-3, a wee bit more effort is needed. Close counts in horseshoes (and hand grenades, but I digress).

There are two other meetings this morning that tie into an informational session before tonight's City Council meeting at 7:30. Both involve the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative (CMEEC), in a special meeting at 9:30 in their offices in the Norwich Business Park (just down the street from Dodd Stadium) with another special meeting at 11:30 of the Connecticut Transmission Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative ("TRANSCO" (I guess the 'C" is silent and invisible)) that's equal parts executive session, where the negotiations get hashed out, and public meeting, where everyone votes on the record.

I mention both of these meetings because before the City Council meeting tonight there are two informational sessions. The first, at 6:30, is a report on the "Bully Free Week" sponsored by the Greater Norwich Anti-Bullying Coalition (I really like the balloons on the website, but much of the information on the site is years out of date) . The second informational session, slated for 7 PM, relates to public power, public policy and the purchase of the former as an extension of the latter.

The City Council meeting at 7:30 could attract a lot of interest because of an item on their agenda related to a deferral of an obligation on the part of the Spirit of Broadway Theater. I'd point out the proposal on the agenda doesn't forgive a debt-but postpones the schedule of repayment, which in light of the times as they are might well be considered 'half a loaf is better than none.' Speaking of expressions, there's one in German that says, 'it's never eaten as hot as it's served' which could be very good news for someone who opposed passing the economic development bond for downtown Norwich. Suspect now they're happy that didn't happen. We all
operate from self-interest; the trick is to be honest about it.

At 5:30 Tuesday afternoon in the Latham Center on the Norwich Free Academy (NFA) campus, it's a regular meeting of the Board of Trustees. NFA, which is still searching for a new Head of School, is just starting the process of developing its next operating budget, which, for all the cities and towns that send students to NFA, including Norwich, is always a matter of anxious economic (as well as educational, I hope) concern.

The regular meeting of the Public Parking Commission, slated for 5:30, has been cancelled, or perhaps better phrased postponed until next Tuesday, the 23rd, in their offices in the Buckingham Memorial at 307 Main Street.

The Personnel and Pension Board, whose October meeting was cancelled, picks up again tonight at six in Room 319 of City Hall. The October meeting agenda is in use for this meeting and maybe the municipal website can update the currency of the members' appointment information, which is actually on the meeting agenda.

At 6:30 in City Council Chambers is a Small Business Administration forum that should be a 'must attend' if you're a local merchant, you'd like to start a business or you hope to be a part of the rebuilding that's about to start in Norwich. The key to success, said Dr. Edward ("Fast Eddie") Bloustein to Rutgers freshmen in the spring of 1971 is to know the rules of the game better than anyone else so that you can change the rules. Trust me, he said it. I was there and he was right.
The Commission on the City Plan meets at seven PM in the basement conference room of the Planning Department at 23 Union Street. Judging from the agenda, there's a reasonable amount of loose ends from prior meetings on condominium projects (that's what it looks like to me) so I'll bite my tongue and move on to note there's also a presentation by the President of the Norwich Historical Society similar, I suspect, to the one he offered to the City Council.

Wednesday morning at 7:30 in the offices of the Norwich Community Development Corporation at 77 Main Street is a meeting of "Team Norwich" (they don't have their blazers yet) with the Mayor and members of the City Council to continue working on Economic Development plans, goals, means of measurement and feedback tools. The last time I checked the charter, the Mayor was responsible for economic development, and works in concert with the members of the City Council and others. For months, on Saturday mornings, I sat in on meetings with less than four residents in attendance, so I was more than a little surprised to read about the unhappiness some feel at meetings being held on Wednesday mornings. Note that I didn't write 'will be held' because the Wednesday morning meetings have been going on for months and no one was upset probably because no one not already in the room knew about them (oops!).

The lesson here should be communications involves sharing information, not just in a one-way stream down from the anointed to the preterit but as a joint transaction flowing in both directions. If you're really angry at the time the meetings are held, I'll respect that (because I have no choice) but be honest with yourself-would you have really gone had you known or if the time were changed to 'something more convenient' (and define that for me, too, while you're at it). And the rationalization 'the (previous) Mayor held these meetings' as a justification is absolute horse$hit. We're regressing to the 'Johnny Finnegan jumped off the Gold Star Bridge' argument that makes me want to throw up in my own mouth. Be honest with yourself and with one another. We do NOT have the time for games like this.

Speaking of communications and how failing to effectively build and maintain bridges can hurt, Wednesday morning at nine there's meeting of the Norwich School Readiness Council (Children First) in the community room of the Dime Bank on Route 82. As I've mentioned before, the organization is, without a doubt, extremely important as a tool to help our children, but their website is so outdated as to be pointless. Anytime one of the newspapers would like to wax apoplectic on this, let me know and I'll loan them a crayon to write the editorial.

Thursday afternoon at five, in Room 210 of City Hall, it's a regular meeting of the Historic District Commission, whose October meeting minutes are right here. We've talked a lot about historic tourism as yet another silver bullet solution to our economic development concerns, instead of as one more tool in the solution box, and the Historic District Commission are quietly doing what they can to make a difference.

At 5:15 in Room 210 of City Hall it's a regular meeting of the Mohegan Park Improvement and Development Advisory Committee, whose September meeting was such a success they were completely spent as they didn't have an October meeting. I'm trying to understand why the website has May minutes as the September meeting minutes (but in fairness, I'd point out that May has March's minutes) and fear this may involve math, which is not my favorite vegetable.

At six, at The Rink on the New London Turnpike, it's a regular meeting of the Ice Rink Authority. Don't bother looking for Waldo, Carmen San Diego or either a meeting agenda or October meeting minutes, none are posted to the city's website.

Saturday morning at eleven, in the Central Fire House is an informational workshop by the Norwich City Council with our 2011 legislative delegation (Senator Edith Prague and Representatives Melissa Olson and Christopher Coutu). This was originally slated to be in Council Chambers shortly before the November election but a hue and cry shifted it to here.

In light of the number of alderpersons missing in action during the economic development planning sessions, I'm more than a little curious as to how many will attend this meeting. I fear whatever the number, it will be greater than the total of residents not that this will preclude us from complaining (loudly) about a process we don't understand because we chose to absent ourselves from it. Something about new ropes and complaining, but I can't quite remember what it is exactly.

We're getting to that time of the year when other events will start to distract us from the important tasks at hand here in The Rose of New England. I'm hearing a lot of chatter about winter fest and that's great, but not when we don't pay attention to the potential funding shortfalls for our schools. We have to keep our eye on the whole picture, not just on the movement in the lower one third of the frame. See you at something?
-bill kenny