Hint: It is not a breakfast croissantBy GEOFF DAVIDIAN
Councilman Henry: Do you know what we're hungry for?
Maybe the Corridor J fiasco will illustrate the point
Editor of The Putnam Pit
Shorewood, Wis. (May 23, 2000) – I covered a meeting for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last night and I wish Cookeville Councilman Dwight Henry could have joined me.
After weeks of discussions, meetings with citizens, visits to the intersection and questionnaires mailed to residents in the area, the Shorewood Village Board voted to extend the Menlo Boulevard median a few feet to make the residential street's intersection with N. Prospect Avenue safer and more aesthetic.
The project cost: $6,000, plus some change for plants or trees down the line.
Before the Village Board met, a committee heard comments and suggestions from more than 20 residents commenting on which of two plans they preferred, and whether they were willing to be assessed for the project, which they initiated. What was to have been a 15-minute meeting stretched to 45 as they worked for a consensus.
How different this process was from my experience with the Cookeville City Council. What came to mind was the Corridor J hearing after which the Cookeville council voted against everyone’s wishes. I know how those residents felt because so many times I have tried to inform the Cookeville government of some problem and had them reject my input, too.
Not only do they limit comments by visitors to three minutes, but once former mayor Jean Davis told me I was not to say anything bad. How she learns of problems is beyond me – that may be why she recognized she would be rejected for re-election.
Compare the Cookeville method to the commitment to process in Shorewood, population 15,000.
Shorewood citizens last night spoke about where the sidewalk should be placed, they worried about the vegetation, the traffic flow and pedestrian safety.
They opposed some options to save several mature trees from being destroyed, including a maple that some of those speaking had no doubt climbed as children.
Gretchen Miller, a middle-aged woman who spearheaded the neighborhood initiative, was a proponent of a roundabout in the intersection, which would have slowed N. Prospect Avenue traffic while adding a green space in its hub. Others were unsure whether the $23,000 that option would cost was worth the difference.
After the board’s unanimous vote, the neighbors stayed and chatted, talking about their children and the next item on the board’s agenda – how to let residents decide the services and design of a new library they would be paying for.
Although Miller’s preference did not prevail, she was nonetheless pleased with the result. “It’s a big improvement over what’s there now,” she told me. “It’ll be safer and it brought the community together.”
No one in Shorewood was told to shut up, and no elected official told a guest to "step outside and settle this," the way Harold Jackson challenged me. No buffoon threatened to walk out. No Bible thumper grandstanded to his Christian constituency. No Chamber of Commerce flak was worried about how the configuration would make the village look to outsiders. There was no hunger to annex a neighboring unincorporated area to increase the tax base, no scheme to circumvent the law to teach those in attendance a lesson for questioning their power.
The Shorewood meeting Monday was government responding to its people. The police chief was there – not with two officers in body armor to threaten or scare anyone -- but as a resident offering his voice as a citizen interested in the street project.
The committee had no secret agenda; it only wanted to bring about the result the residents wanted, and it facilitated a consensus because the trustees saw their job as serving the community and creating it in their interests. The government listened, then acted. It did not dictate or try to sell the plan trustees had already agreed upon. I get the feeling in Cookeville that the public meetings are show; that deals are struck backstage.
In Cookeville, you are supposed to think that the leaders know best. If you speak, as Councilman Steve Copeland urges, it should be to say something nice about Cookeville.
In Shorewood, the citizens and trustees worked together and recognized and utilized the creativity off all the participants.It was not the rulers shoving anything down the throats of the ruled. It was not a rubber stamp of the administration’s wisdom -- or folly. It was process, participation and, ultimately consensus. People left fulfilled, not beaten down.
I had breakfast with Councilman Henry the other morning. The Republican was very conversational and friendly. He discussed why he wanted to challenge Democrat Jere Hargrove for the state assembly, commented on how he called Hargrove to let him know the challenge was nothing personal. He offered to buy my breakfast, which I declined. He spoke of his children, his new wife, and his job.If I could vote in Cookeville, which I can’t, I would have to think twice about how to vote in that election.
Hargrove has influence and power, but has been in office longer than anyone should be. Yet voters in Hargrove’s district could not have a person in Nashville better able to represent their interests. Of course, whether he does represent their interests is a question voters will have to decide.
Henry, on the other hand, wants to be an insider, having served in the capital before and for some reason seeks higher office again. I say “for some reason” because I did not sense he had a vision, or at least not one that he could or would articulate. He did not have a passion for the process. He said he did not know many of the issues The Putnam Pit has been writing about for years – theft at the court clerk’s office, for example, or the need to have a state investigative agency that could not be called off by a district attorney general.
If he wants to run as a nice man, fine, but that is no reason to elect someone. Nor is it a reason to vote against anyone.Show me who is dedicated to the process, like the Shorewood vVillage Board. Show me who is willing to open a dialogue allowing residents to participate in the creation of community, not a process that mows down the government’s opponents.Show me who opposes corruption. Show me who has minimum standards of performance. Show me a reformer.
Councilman Henry, show me leadership on the City Council and I will know your vision. I’ll judge you by what you stand for, what you display, what you allow the community to express.Good government is not simply the provision of leisure activities by nice people.
I concede that you are a nice and likeable fellow. But can you show me your commitment to fair and equal treatment for all people, openness to new ideas, a tendency toward justice and dedication to legitimate process. It is not enough to passively go along with the junta.In short, Councilman Henry, can you show me what your community is hungry for?
If you can, you deserve to win.