Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Civil Conversation At The Community Forum

Dr. Dario Moreno, head of the Metropolitan Center at Florida International University, facilitated a city presentation and community discussion last night. The subject was the budget and the ongoing revenue shortfall. More to the point, the subject was looking at options for increased revenue and getting community input on what are considered essential services.

The turnout was disappointingly low - my count was around 40 citizens - and most were the usual attendees. That's a shame because the discussion bears directly on our future as a city and our present operations.

Nevertheless, the thing that struck me was the civility of the conversation. Our commission meetings have been sorely lacking in decent behavior. I don't need to revisit that.

This meeting had a different tone. Citizens put forward their ideas, defended their viewpoints, stated disagreements, asked questions and made suggestions. These are being compiled and will be distributed by the city. There was very little new or radical in the conversation and I won't review these in this post.

What continues to strike me was the civil tone among the same group that always seems to be in a near frenzy of rage. That rage was not on display last night.

I asked some of the residents about why they thought this meeting was calmer than usual and the answer back was all a variation on, "The police weren't there." The acting police chief, Lt. Brian Collins, was and I was impressed at how well prepared he was, considering the short time he has held the interim position.

But the police who have packed the commission meetings, pressured our commissioners, and intimidated the citizens, did not show up at the meeting last night. One resident told me that for the first time of attending these meetings, he was not intimidated by the phalanx of police in front of the building. I saw it myself.

I wish there were more people. I hope this forum is repeated in other venues with other groups, maybe at some condo meetings, maybe in the park, and that we continue this. We need more people involved, particularly the younger homeowners, the ones who bought the houses at $500,000 or more and saw their value drop right away.

Last night was a good start to creating a civil, civic discourse. As we go through the next choppy months, I hope this tone continues.

Kevin Vericker

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