Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Future Is Always Tense

This was written before last night’s Norwich City Council candidate forum sponsored by The Bulletin at the Rose City Senior Center but offered today hours after the forum concluded. We should both feel like time travelers (I still have the baggage circling on the arrival flight carousel to prove my point) with optional watches. 

As we get closer to E-Day I’ll share what passes for suggestions on issues and concerns you, too, may already have considered (that’s intended more as a promise than a threat) not because my need to tell you exceeds your need to care (okay, maybe that but only a little bit) but also because the days are dwindling down as November 3rd approaches. 

We should and could be at least as thoughtful and engaged in how we select and elect those who will be our next Council as we are in deciding what toppings to put on our take-out pizza order.

If as you read that previous paragraph, you wondered ‘so, what’s the deal with November 3rd?’ you may be part of the challenge facing all of us but particularly Norwich. November 3rd is Election Day, but my larger point is, according to Secretary of the State Connecticut, Denise Merrill, the registered voter turnout in 2013 for municipal elections statewide was 31.43%. 

In other words, statewide two out of every three of us who could vote, didn’t. I’m sure those who didn’t vote all had really good reasons, but I’d feel better if at the end of this screed you’d pass your Mom’s ‘please excuse my son or daughter from voting’ note to the front of the room and I’ll collect them later.

Here in Norwich, where we were also electing a Mayor (as opposed to this time around), 23.10% of 19,796 registered voters or 4,573 of us found our way to the polling places. Admittedly I plead guilty to being a liberal arts major, but that’s less than one in four us who could vote, casting a vote. 

If you wonder “who voted for these people?” the next time our City Council chooses a course of action with which you disagree, be of good cheer. There’s a 75% chance you weren’t responsible at all. I will not be surprised if you still don’t feel better. Actually, I'm counting on it.
Of course, that leaves us to wonder what we can and should do.

I’ll get off my soapbox now about how not voting guarantees results you will not like, because while I’m really good at finger-pointing (after all, I live in a target rich environment), I’m always chagrined to concede that three of the fingers on the hand I’m pointing with point back at myself (I don’t have that problem when I wear mittens, but it wreaks havoc on my typing). I’m told it takes a lot more energy to be a light than to be a horn and let’s face it there’s often a lot more noise than visibility in some of what happens, not just here, but anywhere that voters and residents stay home.

We rarely if ever pack City Council chambers (except at budget adoption time when we demand the Council ‘hold the line on taxes’ while also ‘helping the schools’ and ‘not cutting services;' seemingly inherently contradictory desires) so what’s the right number to show up for candidates’ forums? 

It’s a trick question of sorts, as the ‘right number’ is, however, many people actually attend. Democracy most especially at the local level is a contact sport and, unlike the clearinghouse sweepstakes, you do indeed, need to be present in order for all of us to win.   

Instead of looking at our municipal elections as choosing sides let’s understand ‘they’ and ‘we’ are the same people: Norwich neighbors who are trying to make and to be a difference here, where we have all chosen to live. 

Sometimes we forget every person seeking a seat on the City Council (and the Board of Education for that matter) volunteered their time and talents. Making sure you vote is all the thanks they expect and the least the rest of us deserve.
-bill kenny     

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