Gloria Ferris

one woman’s view from a place by the zoo in the city

Archive for July 18th, 2007

Reflections on a Cool Community Forum

with 8 comments

This week’s CoolCleveland has a great wrap-up to the Cool Community Forum held last Thursday in the Louis Stokes Auditorium at the Cleveland Public Library.  There are photos, there are comments, there are lists of issues and comments and questions.  And, of course, there’s a link to the Meet.The.Bloggers podcast to give those of you unable to attend the chance to listen and comment even now.

Sometimes, I react quickly to a participatory event like this, and although I had an immediate reaction of accomplishment and satisfaction, I decided that since we wanted to know if this collaboration between Cool Cleveland, Brewed Fresh Daily, and Meet.The.Bloggers could add a dimension to the civic dialogue, I felt the need for reflection rather than reaction. In retrospect, I believe that we achieved what we wanted to accomplish.  We added a dimension missing in the public discourse in our county..  I believe that this will become even more apparent with the advent of the first of two public hearings put on by the County Commissioners. We need what we did last week badly.  Everyday people need to feel engaged with the public process. By everyday, I in no way mean ordinary.

The people who took time to attend the forum and offer their questions, comments, and suggestions for a more reasoned look at the Medical Mart/Convention Center were in no way ordinary.  Rather, they were extraordinary in the reasoning they employed to come up with the questions they had on how the rush to slap a 1/4% sales tax without documentation and plans seemed like a equation for a train wreck. Dennis Roche, exective director of the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau commented that he was encouraged that a convention center had not been dismissed out of hand, but rather people thought it could be a good idea, but the method of funding and how to get there needed more planning.

Before the forum, there was a discussion on Brewed Fresh Daily concerning community forums vs. mob rule. I am proud to say that what transpired in that auditorium in the Public Library was anything but mob rule.  Thomas Mulready questioned whether people would feel that they had had their say when it appeared that the flow of the conversation was pretty mellow, and not fevered at all.  I think the ebb and flow of the get together shows the seriousness of the issue for those who attended, the tone of the voices were measured and deliberate so that the “powers that be” can see that the public is determined to know the path. No longer will the voters of Cuyahoga County be led down the yellow brick road with the promise of “OZ” at the end.  We want to know where we are going, why we are going and when we will get there.

Of course, it is a bit Pollyannaish to believe that we can predict the future.  I know we can’t, but I believe in Winston Churchhill’s words Plans are useless, but planning is essential.  That appears to be the problem with this latest Jimmy and Timmy scheme, where is the planning?  Where is thoughtful consideration to many possibilities?    Certainly it is not being done in an open and transparent way.  It has all the appearance of backroom shenanigans again.

And when we walked away from the forum last week, this is what we knew.  Two of the  County Commissioners want to raise our sales tax 1/4% without a vote because they surmise that it would not pass if it was taken to the people for a vote.  How do they know this?  Do they have a crystal ball?  Or is it easier and faster to get a $42 million “slush” fund per year for 10 years this way rather than selling it to the people as Councilman Zack Reed said so eloquently.  So, now we have half of the $42 million slotted for the medical mart/convention center and the other $21 million for “other” projects.  What projects? There has been no discussion of what these other projects would be?  So here is what we have–the taxpayers will be in for $420 million. How do we know this is the amount?  Where are the projections?  Where is the research?  And then, where is the business plan for the medical mart/convention center?  Where is the guarantee that this will even happen?  Oh wait, if it doesn’t happen the tax will be rescinded.  When has that ever happened?  Remember the other projects will still be waiting in the wings.

Not an investor or a banker in their right mind wouuld sign on as a proponent of this idea  There would be a demand for figures, plans, projections, alternatives, but we the county taxpayers are simply to “trust” in our elected officials to do what is in our best interest. We are not as clueless as our elected officials would have us believe.  We have much more knowledge than we are given credit for knowing.  Or maybe they do know we know, they just don’t want to hear it because then they would have to deal with it.  i am looking forward to tomorrow’s public hearing to see and hear what we will be told.

I believe that a shift is happening.  That the public does want to know what is happening with their tax dollars.  That the public is interested in the future of our county and our region.  In fact, I think the public believes in our region more than our elected officials and businesspeople do.  The appearance of what is happening at the hands of these people right now would support the supposition that our region is on a downward spiral that cannot be reversed and that those in power are working feverishly  to amass as much as possible as quickly as possible at the expense of the many.

I for one  believe “we ain’t down yet” to quote the Unsinkable Molly Brown.  There is a lot of life left here in Northeast Ohio, and in fact, a lot of new life is being injected into our region.  The Cool Community Forum is a product of that life.  Our task is to take it beyond the internet and to the many rather than the few.  If we truly are to change the paradigm, we need to grow these forums and continue to add to the community that attend them reaching more and more people as we circle throughout Northeast Ohio. The beauty of these forums is the ability to live long after the hour and a half face to face meeting when people can meet and discuss, download and listen, write and discuss. If each and every one of us believes that we can be the change that we want to see in the world we can do this.  The collective wisdom theory can work to our advantage and make us a global leader in the new knowledge economy.  We can no longer look to others for leadership.  We need to lead in our own individual way to change the thought processes in our region.   I so often paraphrase Margaret Mead’s words “make no mistake about it, a few committed individuals can change the world, indeed it is all that ever has”  that I feel that they are my own.  I hope that she would be pleased and not offended because after all, imitation is the best form of flattery.      

 

Written by Gloria Ferris

July 18th, 2007 at 4:03 pm