Last night’s city council meeting could have filled a paper. There were more public comments and back and forth than I’ve ever seen there. I had 600 words to capture the entire meeting. That sucks. 600 words is enough to cover one issue in depth, or two issues briefly. I chose one issue in depth, which of course meant I left a lot out.
The city needs to start videotaping the meetings. I, and no other print reporter, could capture the energy of last night effectively. But I could make residents aware something worth noting happened, and then they could watch for themselves to see what really went on.
To me, last night’s meeting was almost entirely political. Both sides made their stand, their appeal to the voters. Paul Grenier, Bob Danderson and Mike Rozak could be accused of provoking the politicization of the evening, but Mayor David Bertrand’s written mayor’s report was not a reaction to their comments. Both sides were taking advantage of the opportunity.
But there were some really interesting developments. Councilor Ron Goudreau’s challenge of Mr. Grenier’s numbers was great, if for nothing else than to clearly portray the differences in the two camps. Councilor Ryan Landry passionately urged Berlin to reject Mr. Grenier’s and Mr. Danderson’s ideas. His comments were emotional, clearly rejecting the return to the past these two men represent. They would resonate with some residents, but whether they represent the views of the majority of voters is unclear.
I couldn’t imaging a more interesting meeting. The entire city should have been there to watch. The next two meetings should have even more fireworks, particularly the one the night before the election, on November 2. That will be the public hearing for the capital improvement plan resolution, which, despite the candidates’ comments, the council moved forward. I can’t wait for that one.
But I didn’t even have room for the resolution the city did pass, to allow the police department to get a $10,000 grant. And I didn’t have room to talk about how the city decided to file for interveener status with the PUC in the Clean Power/PSNH affair. I didn’t get to talk about Jon Edwards’ comments, or Barry Kelly’s comments, because I was so pressed for space.
The newspaper is a tool, but it is no substitute for civic engagement. For the next few weeks, I hope people put down the paper, shut down the computer, and come to the meetings. See what these people are really saying. Try to understand it better. The Berlin Reporter or the daily paper are a horrible filter for what happened last night. So is the opinion of almost anyone who was there, because it’s nearly impossible not to have an opinion on these issues. But if you are there you can make up your mind, without having to rely on anyone else.
I am going to meet with Mr. Grenier to try to better understand his numbers to see if what he said last night was true. I am also going to meet with representatives from the council to see if their numbers for the capital improvement plan make sense. That is the job of a paper—to try to find the truth, not just print what people say. But the two different groups have such different visions for the city, it almost doesn’t matter what they say. Their views for Berlin are worlds apart, it seems, and Laidlaw is only part of it. The community needs to make an informed decision, and it needs to make sure its city council reflects their vision of the city’s future. What does that mean? Citizens need to show up. They need to learn what these people stand for. They have to hear the arguments for themselves. No amount of mediation from the media will do it justice. Their words are more powerful than mine, and I implore Berlin to come out and hear them.