Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Lock Your Shoes Up, One by One

Meetings, unlike raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, are in no danger of ever being one of my favorite things. Not that they aren't, in many instances, both necessary and important; I'm just not a big fan of them. I know I'm not alone in my lack of enjoyment of meetings even while conceding their outcomes can often exceed expectations.

Speaking of which, there was a story in last Tuesday's newspaper about the Norwich Public Utilities Board of Commissioners' decision to reduce sewer connection fees for residential and commercial development projects. This is a decision which could (and should) help boost development in many areas of the city.

The fee reductions complement other development friendly initiatives in recent months to include passage last fall of the downtown redevelopment bond. It's not a magic wand since we're talking about waiving but not waving. It's a tool intended for projects located in one of the city's enterprise zones and which either the City Council, or a development agency, has contributed funding or abated taxes.

The news account began with the turn of phrase 'in a surprise move' which may be true, but was actually the product of a process that began months ago on a Saturday morning in one of the city's firehouses. There, the Mayor and City Manager, joined by members of the City Council, city department heads and staff members, the Donner Party (yeah; I wanted to see if you were still reading), as well as residents and neighbors met in an informal, but focused (sort of), environment to talk with, instead of at, one another believing that together we're smarter than each of us is alone.
There were Mayor's Meetings and Team Norwich meetings on alternating Saturdays (and on Wednesday mornings as well), for the better part of a year, perhaps because we needed to relearn how to better listen to one another and to both hear what was being said and what was being left unsaid. Sometimes silence is consent and sometimes it's surrender.

I've lived here for about two decades and hesitate to call us 'negative', so I'll just use 'discouraged experts.' A pessimist, I'm told, is somebody who feels bad when s/he feels good, out of fear that s/he'll feel worse when s/he feels better. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? There's always been more of that than needed and probably more than necessary.

But way back, almost at the start of those Saturday sessions, when people were bouncing 'what if's?' and 'y'know what's?' off one another, topics like the sewer connection fee and its impact on development were first raised. Other ideas included the outline of what became the downtown bond issue. A docent program, and a more citizen-friendly City Hall, were both helped along by people who turned up on Saturday mornings, no experience necessary.

The first One City Clean-Up crew got formed in the Central Fire House on one Saturday and got its marching orders at the Taftville Fire Station on another one. The downtown trash disappeared shortly afterwards, also on a Saturday. Am I mentioning meetings of the recent past because the first next-generation Saturday meeting, called "One City Forum", kicks off this Saturday morning at nine at the East Great Plains Fire Department? Ayup, I sure am.

If you've been wondering where your invitation is, you're reading it now. Yeah, Saturday is the start of the weekend, so let's see what we can get started together. "You'll find nice things and butterfly wings." (Or maybe not). See you there?
-bill kenny

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