Sunday, March 11, 2012

Positive Raymond

On Saturday morning, the Iber Holmes Grove Middle School was buzzing with activity as about 70 residents met to discuss ways to make Raymond a better place to live, work, and learn. The event was sponsored by Positive Raymond and facilitated by New Hampshire Listens, a civic engagement group affiliated with UNH.

Since most of us here in Sherwood Glen are transplants to Raymond, I think a report of the day's activities will help us in many ways. As you will read later, strengthening neighborhoods is a suggested action. I think we here in Sherwood Glen have had that goal for quite a while and have a good start on it.

After coffee, Duncan Donuts, and opening remarks, the groundwork was set for small group discussions that were facilitated by NH Listens moderators. Each group was charged with identifying issues and topics that should be discussed. They were asked to focus on one of the topics and make recommendations for making Raymond a great place to live, work, and learn.

Our group, led by Amy and Jean, was a good mix of ages, backgrounds, and years in residence here in Raymond. I was the newbie, having moved here from NJ 2 years ago, and Paul was born here more than 70 years ago. Joe, Andy, Jen, and Susan, filled out a nice spread between those years.

There were two rounds of introductory comments. What was particularly interesting is that those of us who came from crowded urban or even suburban environments like the easy pace and friendly nature of the people. My example was that here in NH, people actually drive in the right hand lane and yield to someone coming behind them. That's RARE in NJ. Most people who get in the left lane think they own it and it doesn't matter whether they are traveling at the speed limit, 10 mph over, or 10 mph under.

It was a diverse group, but one commonality shared by all was feeling of being connected to the community and the people in it.

We were then asked to select a single work that describes Raymond. Our seven members offered Home, Friendly, Angry, Beautiful, Polarized, Evolving, and Opportunities

The discussion then naturally moved toward finding out more about the anger and polarization. Having come from an environment where anger and polarization were rampant, I was anxious to find out more about this aspect. During my two years here, watching local cable and reading the newspaper gave me a somewhat out of focus view on the problem. I was anxious to put things in clearer focus.

As the discussion progressed, a few things became clear. There were differences of opinion about economic development and conservation. There was considerable concern about strong personalities and personal attacks out weighing rational discourse and the democratic process.

I guess some of that is the result of some people wanting a bedroom community with low taxes and services, which is a bit like having your cake and eating it too. It's not something that is easy to achieve.

I said that I felt development in Raymond that would have minimal environmental impact is somewhat limited due to the lack of city sewers. It was pointed out to me that we missed that opportunity in the 70's when the Water Conservation Act made grants possible.

I think the group agreed that to help Raymond thrive economically we have to attract companies who hire a significant number of people, but would have limited environmental impact. Finding the balance between homes and businesses is the trick. Distribution centers such as Walmart foot that bill as far as a tax base goes. Finding the right location that doesn't impact neighborhoods is critical.

Interesting as that discussion was, it didn't address the problem being generated by the strong personalities and possible hidden or personal agendas. There was a strong feeling that there was a need for civility and respect in public meetings. While I agree with that, my experience is that the leopard doesn't change its spots. While you may tame it in the public area, it will revert to its nature when it is out of the spotlight. You have to cage it or remove it from the environment.

When it came time to report back to the full group, our two items were economic development vs conservation and a lack of respect and dialog. The action plan was to educate the public as to the rules, regulations, and issues surrounding the development problem and to set out standards for conducting meetings that would be spelled out at the beginning of each meeting and enforced.

On the surface, it may not look like this will deal with the leopards, but if the public is educated and the full story gets our, they are the ones who have the power to either cage them or remove them from the environment.

As other groups reported back, it became evident that we were not the only ones who wrestled with these problems, but they were expressed in different ways as well as expanded upon. Some other points mentioned were:
1)Deciding on how we want the world to view Raymond.
2)Developing better community communication.
3)Coming up with and ethical business plan
4)Building a positive community image.
5)Getting away from an Us vs Them attitude
6)Strengthening neighborhoods
7)Building more transparency into local government
8)Training for facilitators of government meetings to better handle rhetoric

After the groups reported we were informed that we would get a summary of the day’s events. Needless to say, I’ll be curious to see how that meshes with what I have written here.

All in all I think it was an enjoyable and productive morning. I met some really nice folks, had some great side conversations, and got to know the community better. I’m not sure how I would have felt after a full day of meetings, but the three hours flew by and I left as fresh as I was when I arrived. Actually after two cups of coffee, I probably left fresher than when I had arrived.

I certainly hope that what we offered will be acted upon and that that these discussions will continue. I would be happy to be a part of them.