This past Saturday morning's workshop with the Norwich Board of Education and the City Council filled the conference room at the Central Fire House. That's good news until you realize it's a relatively small room (it can only accommodate 55 people and of all the places in Norwich we might be tempted to 'jam people in' I don't think it'd be the Central Fire House) and, aside from a Bulletin reporter, that there was hardly anyone in the room who was not working for the school system or for the city administration.
It's disheartening in a city that saw its population increase by over 12%, according to the 2010 US Census, with over 3,750 students in Pre-kindergarten through high school (that doesn't include Norwich Free Academy), so few parents and/or residents were able to attend a session that may well define the tenor, tone and direction of not only this year's city budget but the manner in which future municipal budgets are developed.
I'm not suggesting the published report wasn't accurate in portraying a renewed sense of cooperation between those members of both elected bodies on Saturday. On the contrary, I can remember years when City Council hearings on the school's budget requests were shifted to a middle school gymnasium because so many people wanted to attend you'd have thought Governor Malloy was speaking.
Those days seem to be over and, not surprisingly, no one mourns their passing. The expression 'think globally, act locally' works only if we are, indeed, willing to act and accept the responsibilities of our actions locally. Let's face it, when we look to Hartford and Washington D.C., there's a lot more confrontation and a lot less collaboration on almost every issue we can imagine.
At the state and federal level, the attitude seems more 'for me to look good, you (the other side) need to look bad' always forgetting the dangerous part of the phrase 'zero-sum' is the former. And then we wonder why our national debt is at over fourteen trillion dollars and climbing.
To acknowledge we can't afford to do business in Norwich the way we always have is a blinding glimpse of the obvious, but based on the low turnout for so many public hearings on issues ranging from the City's Plan of Conservation and Development, through suggestions on improving the downtown revitalization programs to budget workshops like the one held Saturday, we have to do better at owning the future.
We have to get comfortable with the realization that we are the ones who make the final choices on our future and the paths we walk to get there. These are our children, our downtown, our neighborhoods, with our businesses, schools, police, streets and sidewalks (and the thousands of other moving parts that make Norwich, Norwich). No one else will care for them they way we should. We must stop waiting for someone to step up and, instead, become the someone who does. -bill kenny