Wednesday, February 20, 2013

In Living Color

Sometimes people are unable, or we unwilling to allow them, to stay where we put them. When they will not live up to our stereotypes, we wonder what's wrong-usually we wonder what's wrong with them.

The very finest barbecue ribs I have ever eaten, and may ever eat (and no, I haven't tried Uncle D's Blazin' BBQ.Yet.) in my entire life I did so over thirty years ago in a restaurant nestled in that well-known hotbed of southern home cookin' known as Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. My hosts spoke of nothing else for the weeks before I traveled there and at dinner that night I met other guests from all across Europe and one couple from Japan. All were fans for a simple reason: the ribs were beyond delicious.

Make no mistake when we're talking southern Germany, y'all, we're talking Bavaria, or Bayern as the Germans call it. My memory gets fuzzy sometimes but I'm pretty sure the owner's name wasn't Tex or Slim but more likely Dieter or Gunther. He didn't wear cowboy boots, as I recall, but he didn't wear lederhosen either.

My notions of Bavaria included thatch-roofed houses and women in dirndls bringing guests mountains of sauerkraut and sausages with foam-filled bier steins. It was a remarkable movie that I'd made in my head and I spent all the time my wife and I were in Garmisch looking for a reality that came anywhere near matching my imagination. Never found it.

I thought of those barbecue ribs and my surprise at who had made them reading over the weekend about the front page brouhaha (I love that word and regret in an age of texting shorthand it's fallen into disuse) over the hiring practices and policies of the City of Norwich, at least in seeking candidates for an assistant human resources director.

All I could think of as I read the on-line interviews and comments was Daniel Patrick Moynihan's admonition "you are entitled to your opinion-but not your own facts" as people with even less understanding of the mechanics of our city government (I, too, was surprised with how many there are) offered well-intentioned (I'm sure) observations that might be true, though they had no facts to support them, just a strongly-held belief in their own statement.

Being a white, no-longer-middle-aged, man I have lived as the majority for all of my life. Almost everyone I know looks to some degree like me. Don't get annoyed-when you look at your life, you'll discover that's true for you as well. That doesn't make us good guys or bad guys, it's what we do after we know that, that counts.

I attended a meeting Saturday morning of about thirty residents and was quite aware we had very few people of color. I doubt attendance was deliberately designed that way and I'm not sure if it impacted the outcome of the meeting. I don't know how to 'solve for X' as my mathy friends used to say, Malcolm or  otherwise.

I will suggest (not state) that while diversity is both very important and absolutely essential (every aspect of our nation, from our armed forces to our municipal government needs to reflect the brilliance and strength of all of us), competence and ability are the minimum each of us should expect from anyone else and from everyone else in public service.

Based on the articles I read and the comments they precipitated I 've concluded the city's hiring process may not be as transparent to all of us, the customers on whose behalf this is accomplished, as it could be. I don't see sinister forces lurking in the shadows because I never attribute to malice that which can be explained by ignorance. In this case, perhaps a lot of that ignorance is more mine than yours.

I don't work for the city government (and there was great rejoicing) and have little familiarity with the procedures from determine a need for a new hire to the development of the qualifications through the recruiting, screening interviewing and hiring steps. I need to learn and our city leaders need to teach. And if after that we agree there are fixes needed, let's do it and get back to the job of making Norwich a place we can all come home to.

I don't know how many city employees we have or how long on average they've worked for us. I do know in the last two weeks I am grateful for the talent and efforts of those who cleared the snow, taught the school kids despite the weather, fought the fires, fixed the downed power lines, helped me process my permits, answered the emergency calls, and read the electric meter, among a hundred jobs I never even noticed.

I have no idea what color skin the people who do those jobs have. I was looking elsewhere, I guess, at the content of their character. They and we, together, for good and for better. It takes every kind of people.
-bill kenny             

No comments: