August 10, 2009

A radical idea

I've been thinking lately that what Bristol needs is a clearer vision of what it wants to become and a whole lot more discussion of how it can get there.
That's not the radical idea, though.
Thanks in large part to ESPN's presence in town, which bolsters the tax base and gives the city a certain mystique, Bristol hasn't yet gone the way of New Britain, Waterbury, Meriden and other towns that are struggling to keep a semblance of a middle class around.
But with rising numbers of children growing up in poverty -- as the free and reduced school lunch figures clearly demonstrate -- the city's on the edge. It could plummet into the depths.
More hopefully, however, it could also soar.
What's missing in the city, as an interesting talk I had this morning made clear, is the sort of community involvement and debate about what sort of future people would like to see.
In decades past, civic-minded individuals who held a powerful place in community life, men like Bart Barnes, could nudge, prod and sometimes push to get the city to move forward. Those guys are gone.
Nowadays, it's going to take a broader civic activism that simply doesn't exist.
How to achieve that is the tough issue. It's not like you can wave a magic wand and suddenly every talented resident will leap into focus, ready to chip in to make Bristol a better place.
I hear candidates say every two years that we need to do more to attract all these wonderful people to get involved. And it's true. But I rarely see anything that shows much commitment to doing much more than talk about how nice it would be to have some new faces and new ideas.
I have an idea, though, that's not really all that radical.
The City Council here meets formally only one night a month, with the exception of a few special meetings that usually get called to pass some kind of emergency measure.
It's not enough.
The meetings are the one time when the community's chosen leaders gather to do the city's business. But because the sessions are so rare, they are consumed by officials giving the stamp of approval to a bunch of boring, mostly bureaucratic stuff. There's hardly any time to talk about much of anything.
Pushed to the back burner are the kinds of discussions that should be the essence of the council's role, those that focus on what Bristol should be doing, what it could do, what it longs to become.
Those kinds of sessions could in theory happen in some of the many committee meetings. Once in awhile, they do.
But what's really needed is a regular meeting that is devoted mostly to talking about plans, ideas, wishes and hopes, the sort of community conversation that ultimately leads to change, that fosters the type of civic endeavors that can make us proud.
City Council meetings should take place at least twice a month, not just on second Tuesdays.
It's a small step but it would put one of Bristol's biggest needs front and center at least once a month: to think of what's to come instead of just sniping about what's already past. There needs to be a time when leaders and interested citizens get together to dream.

*******
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

45 comments:

Anonymous said...

And if you go to the city council meeting you are limited to a time to talk, not much communication there. Our elected officals seem to go deaf once they enter office. I would like to see a community action group that is formed by bristol citizens who want to get involved in thier city. The group should be volunteers not appointed by city leaders, who often times appoint people for the wrong reasons.

Steve Collins said...

That, too, would help.
I think, though, that a longer public speaking period at a second monthly council meeting would make sense as well.

Anonymous said...

I dream I have a house in West Hartford (like Steve), have a covering Bristol and pretend I give a rats a__ by posting stupid community interest stories in my lousy blog.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you are a glutton for punishment.

Steve Collins said...

A glutton for punishment? It would seem so, on many levels.

Anonymous said...

Two weeks in a row Steve you pull off good quality articles on this blog...the what to do in Bristol piece, and now this.

Are you going soft?

I would encourage anyone interested in getting involved to join the Town Committee of their particular party. The unaffliated voters should organize in the same fashion are really give the Ds & Rs a scare.

I'm concerned Steve that the levels of apathy have reached pandemic status. I'm willing to bet less than 30% of our voters come out this fall, and, the people you speak of in the "middle class," will start to vote with their feet and move out of town.

Also, in part because of this very fourm, many good people are hesitant to get involved in the political process because of how nasty and mean-spirited some bloggers get.

Steve Collins said...

The public arena has gotten too mean-spirited. I really don't mind people poking fun at officials -- I figure we elect them at least in part for entertainment value -- but the venom that's so often expressed in comments on here and in many other venues is a problem.
But I believe part of that is that people feel powerless. They're not, really. But that is how many feel.

Anonymous said...

AND BECAUSE THE POLITICIANS TELL YOU ONE THING AND DO ANOTHER WHEN ELECTED.

Anonymous said...

The Queen Zoppo suggested this format a couple years ago for extra policy meetings and she was booed. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

Try going to some of the "other" meetings. They are somewhat less formal and there is more interaction when people speak.
Besides, the Deparment head is more of an integral part of the process then, and the overall attitude is that those in attendance are more interested in the topic, i.e. Parks.

The media used to cover all the meetings and provide that ongoing feedback to the community.
Would be nice if that was the case again.

Steve Collins said...

I've been going to the committee meetings at City Hall for 15 years (and attending most of them). I agree they are more informal and more useful, oftentimes anyway.
But they are not visionary except on rare occasions. They're focused on the little slice of city government they were created to look out for.
As for Zoppo's suggestion, I'd actually forgotten that. But you're right, she did propose it. I don't know if she was booed, but she was pretty much ignored. She was also right.

Anonymous said...

This should be promoted by the Chamber of Commerce, and they should be more involved in the ideas and dream building of the City.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with 1:35 for a number of reasons, not the least because I don't consider this to be a "stupid community interest" story. It is a community SURVIVAL story, and an invitation to be part of the solution to what is ailing this city.
This isn't a radical idea. Its a basic idea, and a good one.
Thanks, Steve.

Anonymous said...

I am quite certain that Mr. Gill will take care of it!

If he is still running.

Anonymous said...

One possible venue for this type of meeting would be the Downtown Committee's meeting. While its narrow focus is downtown, what is done there will have a great impact on Bristol as a whole. While we wait for the economy to turn around and developers to appear, perhaps a discussion of the future of Bristol such as you describe should be part of its agenda.

Anonymous said...

It all boils down to the schools. Without good schools a town or city dies.

Anonymous said...

Steve,

Maybe the people should be made more aware of the "little slices" so that they can speak knowledgeably when they are moved along.

Part of the problem is that they are not on TV and they seldom get into any media.

Also, they migt have a better idea of what "vision" is doable.

Steve Collins said...

The city's committee meetings include ones focused on parks, public works, fire, police, ordinances, real estate, buildings, handicapped accessibility, downtown, economic development, transportation, salaries, the retirement fund, the finance board & more.
I'm at most of them most of the time so they are covered fairly thoroughly. They get in the Press pretty often, though some are in frequently while others never get in (I've never yet made it to the cable TV advisory board, for example).

Anonymous said...

One key point..........When someone tries to speak up they get personally attacked and almost forced to leave town......That has to change.....It only will happen when the good ol' boy's die off. Then the next generation can make changes with out fear!!!!!

Anonymous said...

4:09

What paper do you cover them in?

Steve Collins said...

4:51 -- Touche.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately there are far too many "arm chair quarterbacks" here in Bristol. They don't take the time to find out on their own when meetings are, they don't volunteer to serve on the committees, they don't attend with fresh ideas. Instead they find it far more easier to sign onto a blog and complain, whine, call names and be very, very mean! Extra meetings don't necessarily mean more will be discussed.
How many people addressed the City Council last month, the month before? The average number is 3-4. For citizens that want to be heard - CONSTRUCTIVELY - they need to be willing to speak out and become part of the team! No more bench warmers! Sorry- whining is not longer allowed!

Anonymous said...

The west end / downtown is the problem.

Lots of poverty.

Drugs, prostitution, slum lords.

so unless we can annex it to Waterbury, we need to clean it up, and FAST.

People need to have some PRIDE again in their neighborhoods and not use the city as their
own personal dumping ground

Odin said...

Steve, you could end the viciousness of this blog instantly by requiring people to give their names. There is no reason for a person to be afraid to make a suggestion or legitimate criticism. We're afraid to do it now, because you allow the yahoos and bozos to criticize us mercilessly, anonymously.

Odin said...

The "vision" thing. I'm sorry to go negative, but people with vision don't get involved in Bristol politics. Probably because they don't want to waste their time and energy overcoming the inertia of the "naysayers" (like me, I guess) and the "old guard" who oppose change. It would have to spring from outside City Hall. I seem to recall reading that the Chamber of Commerce does some kind of visioning session every two years, but I don't know what comes of it, if anything.

Steve Collins said...

Odin,
There is no way on the web to verify identities. I wish it were otherwise. But I can't change the online culture, or lack thereof.
The reality is that the number of umpires is shrinking and I haven' got time to spend all day monitoring what people say.

Anonymous said...

As someone who didn't grow up in Bristol and finds her family living here due to reasonably-priced housing and a short commute, I have to be honest - I have little vested interest in "getting involved". I doubt my views would be welcome anyways.

The only reason I have for going downtown in Bristol is to go to the Farmer's Market in the summer. Oh, and to our pitiful town hall once a year to renew the dog license. The library isn't that great compared to others in CT, and the rest of downtown appears moribund.

Bristol has some wonderful things going for it. The Children's Museum is GREAT, but it's in the ghetto. The whole downtown/west end is an eyesore. The library is nice, but you run the risk of encountering drug dealers and hookers. Taking my dog hiking over at the Hoppers is always fun - until we make it over towards Birge Pond to see drug paraphernalia (needles and pipes) and used prophylactics littering the area.

I don't know what the solution is, but since I'm not Bristol born and raised, I'm positive that my opinions and efforts would not be appreciated. This town government - like most in CT - reeks of cronyism and political favoritism.

Anonymous said...

Odin:

They don't like communists at the Chamber. I'm surprised it interests you.

Odin said...

I admit I don't know anything about running a blog. But couldn't you make it accessible to everyone, but to post comments, they would have to register with you?

Anonymous said...

Agreed. The chance for the public to interact with City Officials is somewhat "spindly". Good Idea Steve. If I were you I'd run.

Steve Collins said...

Odin,
Yeah, I could do that in theory, but I only have 40 hours a week and I can't spend it checking up on the identities of people who want to post comments. It's just not realistic.
I suppose if I had a blog that was somehow making money hand over fist it migt be possible, but I don't think a Bristol-focused blog is going to do that.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be wonderful to have at least two metings a month.
Ken J. Joe G. Tom D. would love it, and we would get to see and hear them twice as often.

Its a wonderful world we lve in.

Gary L. Lawton said...

i would also like to see more smaller town hall meetings around town in an informal setting, giving the citizens a chance to talk on a more personal level with their elected officials. If elected i would try to hold more of those types of meeting to give more people a chance to speak cause some just can't get to the once or maybe even twice a month nightly meetings, and not only during the night but day time town hall meetings for those who can not get to the night meetings I feel meetings like these will give our citizens a chance to beocme more invovled in the city govenment and even maybe start talking more with each other. In these hard times we all need to give ideas on how to help Bristol thrive not only now but in the future should this kind of problem arise again, we can not rely on state or even federal money cause they continue to shrink every year to at some point there will be none .So by holding these types of informal and helpful town hall type meetings we can tap a great unused source our citizens for ideas and help

Anonymous said...

The Town of Manchester does 2 meetings a month and it works well for them. The first is mainly to get the drab business out of the way... appointments, appropriations, minutes, etc etc... the second is more loaded with old and new business. It works well.

Longer public comment? No way. If you can't say it in 5 minutes (or whatever the limit is in Bristol), then you need to think of a better way to say it. Some people just love to talk and tell stories and rant and rave and lob insults, and it's the lamest part of the meeting, with a few exceptions where people really use that pulpit as it's intended.

And they do fine within the time limit.

Anonymous said...

The paradox of recruiting public officials is that the best peopl ewant to do it because they care what people think. But if you care what people think, you will not last in politics because everyone thinks you're an ***hole no matter who you are or what you do. Name a politician everybody loves? People only like you after you're dead in this business. You eventually have to try to walk that line between being too thin-skinned (in which case you'll resign) or too thick-skinned (in which case you join the ranks of politicians who could care less). You have to know the difference between the voice of the people and the voice of some person. It's easier said than done.

NOT mine said...

Good idea .... Waste your time going to city meetings and let E.S.P.N. avoid paying their fair share of taxes .

Stephen has outdone himself yet again .

****** actually ..... it might do some good for taxpayers to go to some of these meetings and see first hand just how fudged up this city really is .******

Anonymous said...

Chris Wright? Is that you?

Jack Ben Phil said...

"But what's really needed is a regular meeting that is devoted mostly to talking"

u sure? seems like we have more than enough of these types of meetings now.

now meetings with action, or even a man of action, that would be different.

Anonymous said...

Stortz has to be an armchair quarterback because he stunk at being the quarterback.

Anonymous said...

Check the Charter and see what the role of the council is!

It is not to solve and act on day to day operations.

They are supposed to deal with legislation and other official approvals such as appointments etc.


Maybe that is part of the problem.

Anonymous said...

I would like to have naked town hall meetings around Bristol so the citizenry can intercourse with each other more easily.

Anonymous said...

Steve,
Thank you for taking the time to make suggestions to help our City. You are probably the only one who is looking at the glass half full and not half empty.

I have read a lot of good suggestions in this thread. I hope someone will act on them.

It really is a shame that you have to post the idiotic responses, but . . . that's part of your business.

Your comment about the City founding fathers being able to move the town in a certain direction is very true. We do not have that strong, enduring influence/leadership anymore.

What we do have is a lot of quasi-committed men and women who tout themselves as being involved, but sit on boards for nothing more than the ink they can put on their resume. They pontificate, but will never roll up their sleeves or reach for their checkbook.

It's time for Mr., Mrs. and Ms. citizen of Bristol to bring on the change. Use your government, speak out and don't stop until you have your voice heard.

Anonymous said...

Bring back Stortz!

Anonymous said...

7:41

As long as Mocabee is running the show,they won't consider Stortz.

And Mocabee is a loser.

Anonymous said...

The less they meet, the less damage they can do.