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

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