Berlin in the News

And no, it has nothing to do with fires. Or the election, Laidlaw, CPD or anything else particularly controversial.

Here’s the ATV story I did for NHPR. I put it to some photos I had, though only one of them is actually from reporting the story. Blogger doesn’t just let me upload MP3s to the site, so I had to make it a movie. Enjoy!

Update: Here’s a link to the story on NHPR. The transcript mixes up east and west, but I caught it while recording it and got it right for the story.

Update: Here’s the video organizers shot of taking the trail through town. It’s about four and a half miles, and it takes about 15 minutes. It will open Saturday.

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A New Set of Positives

This week, though the election is hot news, is not about the election for me. Since my paper comes out Wednesday I’ve got to search around for stories other than the biggest one in the city. I fell like I’m breathing fresh air for the first time in a while, not mired in the combative discussions that have engulfed the city for the last few weeks. And when I look around I remember why I have hope for Berlin.
The election has been rough on Berlin. People are choosing sides and lashing out along ideological and issue-based lines. I talked to several people today who said this election has been relatively mild by Berlin standards, which continues to amaze me, but apparently Berlin had some rough races in its past.
So while I talked to people today about the election, most of the time was spent looking for unrelated stories. What I found were more of the positive stories I’d been telling before. I strayed from those stories to report on the election, PUC hearings and Laidlaw investors, but when I returned to Main Street they were easy to find.
Like what? Like the burned out buildings are being torn down. It is like a breath of fresh air sweeping through the whole downtown. They are coming down one at a time, but they are certainly coming down. The retail establishments are letting out a sigh, finally free of a yoke. The Berlin Wall will soon be down.
The ATV trail opens next weekend. That is another reason to be happy. Years of efforts by multiple councils have gone into this project, and it’s finally coming to fruition.
SaVoir Flare will open next week, giving me one more place to shop for my wife. I already love Hall of Greetings, Rumorz and Maureen’s, and this gives me one more place to go. I’ll likely buy all of her holiday gifts in Berlin this year.
I noticed another store opening soon: Kate’s Place. Anyone know anything about it?
I ran into Dana Willis, one of the men developing the Notre Dame school, emptying out one of the buildings on Main Street. He’s got a project he wants to put in there, though he said he isn’t ready to release the details. But any development on Main Street by someone like Mr. Willis is welcome. It’s one more building without posters in the windows.
Speaking of Mr. Willis, how about Notre Dame? The site is cleaned up, and the air quality tests were just the other day. The city invested $300,000, and Mr. Willis and his partner are going to invest another $4 million. He expects somewhere near 100 jobs at the assisted living facility that goes there. Those are jobs Berlin could use, and that WMCC can prepare people for.
I also heard there is an art gallery/coffee shop opening on Main Street. Hallelujah. I hope they put in wireless. The proprietor was talking about it briefly today, and I didn’t get the specifics, but again, it’s one more business on Main Street.
And the city got another $500,000 for the Neighborhood Revitalization Program. It will allow them to assist at least 35 homeowners with renovation, though Housing Coordinator Andre Caron said last time they did 34 homes with $350,000. The majority of that money goes to local tradespeople; more jobs for Berlin.
That money, combined with other funds, means Mr. Caron has something like $5 million to spend in the next 24 months to revive the city’s housing stock.
Honestly, the sun was shining today and the future looks bright for Berlin. There has been a lot of negative talk due to the municipal election, but I got out today to see what the people were saying, and the one’s I’m talking to are optimistic. I got caught up in the pace of the moment too, viewing the election as a life or death battle. But it’s not. The city has life, and no one can stamp it out. It has people working to make it better. It has passionate people right where it needs it. It has the tools to move forward. I’m glad I got to see that again today, and I hope everyone else notices it too.

Debate Video

Last night’s debate, in six clips. I left out the audience questions; if anyone misses them let me know and I’ll post them too. It was a great discussion, and I hope people will use this as a resource to further educate themselves about the candidates. If you want a full quality version give me a shout and I’d be happy to provide you with it. (Not that I expect anyone to take me up on that, but if you want it…)

Opening Statements

Questions One and Two

Questions Three and Four

Questions Five, Six and Seven

Questions Eight, Nine and Ten

Closing Statements

Debate Night

Tonight’s debate was great. Awesome. Perfect.

I’d like to thank all the councilors and candidates who made the debate happen, and everyone who came out to watch and to learn. I hope it helped make up some voters’ minds. (I also admit, I’m not event organizer, so that it didn’t have more hiccups than it did was surprising.)

I recorded the entire mayoral portion and will post it on here as soon as I can. I didn’t record the council comments because I ran out of space on my card, and unfortunately I missed one of the most interesting speakers of the evening, Councilor David Poulin.
Councilor Poulin made rapid-fire comments on almost every issue the city faces, supporting the current council and dismissing the challengers. It was funny, pointed and well-delivered. Because I won’t be writing about it for next week’s paper (which won’t come out until after the election) I wasn’t taking notes and therefore don’t feel I can adequately report it. But suffice to say, it was quite a speech. Someone commented city meetings might be too boring for people to attend. Moments like that, however, are why they’re worth attending. His speech, as much as the mayoral debate, made the event worth attending. I just feel bad for those people who left before they could watch it. And I feel bad I didn’t bring a second memory card.

Update: I didn’t comment on this much last night, because I was tired and had a long day planned for today. But I just wanted to say both Mr. Grenier and Mr. Bertrand did an excellent job answering the questions. I think they both came off very well and made persuasive arguments for their positions.
I know many people I’ve talked to are frustrated with Mr. Grenier, usually for two reasons: the ad in the paper featuring the burned Main Street building, and his aligning himself with Mr. Rozak and Mr. Danderson. I spoke to several people today who decided not to vote for him specifically because of one or the other of these issues. Last night, however, he made strong arguments why voters should consider him, even if they aren’t willing to vote straight ticket.
I asked Mr. Bertrand a week ago if he had the fight in him to run in a hotly contested election. Last night he proved he does. Councilor Mark Evans said he didn’t think his performance played well. He said he thought Mr. Bertrand came off as frustrated. Someone else told me today they were pleased to see him show some passion and emotion. I lean to the latter, but I can understand the former.
After the debate, I’m impressed with the caliber of both candidates. Honestly, I don’t agree with Mr. Grenier’s strong support of the Laidlaw project, but I also don’t agree with Mr. Bertrand’s outright rejection of it. I agree with the forward image this council has pursued, but I understand Mr. Grenier’s steadfast defense of the city’s roots. I don’t think people can be argued into trying to change the city’s image—they have to be persuaded to come along. This council has been moving forward with great strides, and they may have lost touch with some of the people not so ready to run towards the future. The council has noble goals, and they have to make sure to include those people without such progressive views in order to maintain their support.
Mr. Grenier’s experience of being laid off from the mill at 41 is not one to be taken lightly. He is right, the Fraser mill is employing people who do not fit in the 21st century economy. It is important the city preserve those jobs. The council has been doing that, but without the emphasis Mr. Grenier deems appropriate. That is a very important point.
There are the jobs for people in Berlin now, and the jobs for people in Berlin in the future. I don’t know how to supply either or both, but that’s the task for whichever man should become mayor.

I didn’t know Mr. Grenier before this election, and our first interactions included some friction. I have spent a lot of time with this council, covering every Monday night meeting, and I am friendly with all of them. That has affected my opinion, but it has not affected my reporting. It is a good lesson, though, that people shouldn’t criticize people at meetings they weren’t at. I sit in all the council meetings, so I know how hard this council worked. I don’t consider people who say the council hasn’t been doing anything to be very well informed because I watch them work diligently every week.
The flip-side is also true, however. The reporter from the daily covered council when Mr. Grenier and Mr. Danderson were their, and she likely dismisses the current council’s claims that nothing happened under that administration.
These are all good people, doing a job to the best of their abilities. Either Mr. Grenier or Mr. Bertrand would represent the city of Berlin well.
I’m interested to see how democracy plays out for the city, and how that in turn plays out in the future. I’ll be prepared in the future to dismiss criticism of the current council’s term in office, because I sat in every meeting. Hopefully this will teach me to look at all such criticism with skepticism, and I’ll continue to keep of my opinions to myself. The people of Berlin should decide this election; my job is to let them know where the candidates stand. It will be interesting to see what they decide on Tuesday, and which of these men is left standing.

Where is everybody?

I went to the public information meeting about ATVs last night. Where there were no more than 20 people, and most of them were AVATV club members who already are familiar with the rules. It reminded me about the fire information meeting earlier this year, where again almost no one showed up. At city council often it’s just the daily paper’s reporter and me, and everyone else is at home.
Was it always this way, or did more people come out to these things at one time? I looked at the turnout statistics for municipal elections, and in 2005 it was about 15 percent. That isn’t a lot of involvement in community government.
Some people are obviously frustrated by that level of investment, though I wonder if that is significantly lower than other cities around the state.
City government allows people to vote in representatives, essentially so they don’t have to show up to meetings. Granted that might work if everyone read the newspaper or if the meetings were televised, but currently there are lots of people that are uninformed. I’m not sure what anyone can do about that.

I’ve covered the burned out buildings on Main Street pretty extensively, with several in depth stories. I saw the Vote Jobs ad in the daily that caused such a stir, and I’m not sure exactly what to get out of it. The process is one dictated by state law, and there isn’t anything any councilor could have done different about it. But if people aren’t informed and didn’t read my other articles about RSA 155B than its unlikely they’ll read the next one.
There will be lots of unanswered questions in this election. Councilor Landry pointed out a great question about Mr. Grenier’s stance on Clean Power. Mr. Grenier pointed out a great question on municipal finance, whether the budget should be balanced with a bond. Both of these issues came up to me Monday night, when the paper is essentially done and headed to the printer for Wednesday, and the next paper comes out the day after the election. Would I like to see these questions answered? Yes. Will I be able to do it before the election? No.

I’d like to say the Reporter has the tools to filter through all the election rhetoric to provide a clear view to residents, but it doesn’t. Four editions of my paper come out after the closing period before the election, and with the closing period being a Monday night that essentially rules out any good reporting for that Wednesday’s paper.
So I’ve got three papers to paint a clear picture, while not ignoring other news, like ATV trails and new businesses opening and PUC hearings. I do what I can, but it won’t ever be complete.

Couple that with low newspaper readership and it seems likely the paper has little influence in the discussion. I spend my days going around Berlin and talking to people, and what I find is many don’t understand the issues. People are mad about the buildings on Main Street, and they blame the council for taking them using immanent domain laws. Not possible, but they’re mad anyway. They blame the council for Laidlaw not moving into town. According to Councilor Mark Evans, who is not opposed to the project, the council hasn’t slowed Laidlaw down at all. But the council receives the criticism.
The same will be true of any future council, whether the incumbents stay in office or the challengers win. The council will get blamed for the city’s flaws, regardless of their ability to fix them. In many ways its remarkable people are ever reelected, considering how easy a target the council is.

If more people showed up I think they would have a different view. The council, the police department, the fire department, the city departments all work diligently to preserve, protect and improve the city. It’s not hard to realize that when you’re there every day. There are people who work primarily for their own interests in the community, but mostly its selfless sacrifice. If people showed up they’d see it. What I put in a paper only a small minority of the city reads doesn’t matter; how involved in the community people are does.

I get frustrated by this. I started this blog, and I’ve worked hard for the Reporter, because I want to see Berlin flourish. But these things don’t decline overnight, and it won’t return quickly either. There is hope for Berlin. The frustrating has been fading into the past, and it will continue to do so. The signs of new blood that I’ve been trying to point out in the Reporter haven’t disappeared just because it’s election season—they have increased. The ATV trail will be open in another week, and there are several new stores opening on Main Street. The pizza place that was closed for so long is opening again, and the southern burned out building is scheduled to be cleaned up in the next few weeks. In all, it’s a progressive, creative, revitalizing time for Berlin.

The fact is, no candidate is going to turn around Berlin’s job market in two years. That’s a hard truth campaign signs can’t fix. Because of that the next election is likely to be as fraught as this one.

I have had hold back flashes of despair for Berlin when the world seems aligned against it. I’m no more immune than anyone else to those feelings. It isn’t my city, but in covering it I’ve come to care about its future and its people. It deserves more than to be the butt of statewide jokes.
And I see dedicated people working to improve it, quite skillfully, without the support of residents. Many have lost the drive to pay attention to what goes on at city hall, but that can’t affect the people working there. The city needs those people, with passion and ideas and new ways at looking at things, to move projects forward and helping the city evolve. A few empty seats, I pray, won’t be enough to dissuade people who care.

Update: There was a good turnout tonight to the debate between candidates Mr. Grenier and Mr. Bertrand. It was a worthwhile exercise, and it did more to inform the public than a dozen newspaper articles. It speaks to the value of showing up. A fair portion of the city did tonight, and I hope many more do so again on Tuesday.

NHPR News

I got my script approved for my Berlin ATV story. Going to record it tomorrow and send it to them. It should play sometime near the end of the week. Working to fill the rest of the state in on what’s going down up in Berlin.

So donate to NHPR—maybe a small part of that donation will come back to me.

Update: Just finished mixing the final audio and uploading to NHPR’s server. I’ll try to keep people posted as to when it airs, but often I get a call half an hour before hand telling me to listen in. Usually they play around 5:45 p.m. and then 7:15 a.m the next day. I would expect it either today, tomorrow or Friday, so make sure to listen.

After it plays I’ll be sure to include a link here for anyone who misses it.

Update: The story aired tonight at 5:45-ish. Let me know if you heard it. I caught it, and a friend who owns a house in Berlin gave me a call about it. It will also be on tomorrow morning. I’ll do a fresh post with the story shortly and a link, but I don’t want to try to overshadow the debate video with good press about Berlin. I pitched it with a Berlin versus it’s past perspective, so there isn’t a lot of controversy about the trail in the story. The fact is at all the public hearings and discussions about the trail I only heard one person opposed to it. So I think it’s a pretty accurate reflection of the situation. I hope you get to hear it.

Is it over yet?

I know, election season is supposed to be fun, but I’m looking forward to it ending. In many ways it did for me tonight, though I know it hasn’t.
I live in a parallel world where anything that happens after Monday doesn’t matter. I won’t be reporting on the election next week because by the time my paper comes out the election will be over. Sure, I’m partial sponsor of a debate Wednesday night, but I won’t cover it in the paper. In reality I’m off the election ride, while Berlin has a week left to go.
The council meeting tonight was basically one stump speech after another, but the only people who heard it were Mel Liston, Bill Gabler, Barry Kelley and Jon Edwards. Sometimes I wonder if all the rhetoric is just for me and daily paper reporter, or does everyone like hearing their opinions supported by the group? The council is annoyed with the county commissioners. OK. They don’t like what PSNH is doing. Fine. They are more favorable to Clean Power than Laidlaw. Great. They go around and around saying the same thing over and over again, each backing the other one up. Honestly, it might be nice to have a strong pro-Laidlaw voice on the council—at least then there’d be someone to disagree.

I have been trying to visit entrepreneurs while reporting for the Reporter. I like pointing them out because they often get missed in this downtrodden city. As a result I am often surrounded by people who see Berlin’s future 30 years down the road, with creative ideas and amorphous plans. The city will be completely post-industrial, they say, without any of the squabbles now flying around city hall.

That leaves out what the heck people will do for work for the next 25 years, a time-frame city leaders will likely have a hard time making so blissful.
Mr. Grenier might win the election. His signs are crap, but his experience and dedication to the city is real. He disagrees with the current council, and his tactics have raised some eyebrows, but as I understand it this has been a clean fight by Berlin standards. He is advocating for the unemployed and the underemployed, by talking to them instead of by talking about them. In an election, being able to communicate with constituents is key, and Mr. Grenier does an excellent job of it.
I would think this council would get that. They hate the way Laidlaw does everything in the dark, and they love the way Clean Power holds their hand every step of the way. But the council is running city hall more like Laidlaw, and Mr. Grenier has taken the CPD approach.
I don’t have any idea what’s best for Berlin. What if CPD never comes to fruition? Or Laidlaw? Or neither makes Fraser viable, or no light industry follows suit? The Vote Jobs crew is right, the city needs jobs, but it needs more than that for a future. It needs an infrastructure that draws talent back to the city, and I have yet to hear anyone mention a good method for doing that.

I read Norm Charest’s economic report for BIDPA the other day. I’m tired of the doom and gloom. I’m not sure how many of these reports I’ve read that mention we’ve entered a post-industrial economy. So what? Berlin has to change? No kidding. I wonder just what these are reports are supposed to accomplish. They make a good downer; other than that I’d say they’re useless.

I like Norm. He has some great ideas. His challenge is the same as the rest of Berlin—he knows the city too well. It’s hard to come up with possibility in the place that for too long has suffocated your best ideas.

The seed is in Berlin to move forward. It has anything to do with who is elected to city hall. It has has nothing to do with Laidlaw or CPD either. These are symptoms, traits of a city that is still learning to walk without a smokestack for a cane. The creativity is draining from Berlin like blood on the pavement, and no one knows how to scoop it up. But it will pool regardless.

You know who’s cool in Berlin? Pam Laflamme. Andre Caron. Corinne Cascadden. They look to the future. They have unique perspectives and creative ideas and a capacity for problem solving. These are the bureaucrats, and they blow most Berlin’s “creative entrepreneurs” out of the water! What’s wrong with this picture?

Berlin has the people it needs to be great. Interesting things happen where different words meet, and worlds collide in Berlin. Creativity breeds there. It becomes infectious. The city has to harness that energy, but that won’t come from city hall. If the current council isn’t the next council I won’t complain, because tonight’s meeting was nothing but politics. The game the council accused Mr. Grenier of playing last week was in full swing tonight in the chambers. Luckily the real Berlin isn’t contained within city hall. It’s in the streets. It’s on the pavement. It pools where you’d least expect it.