Friday, January 12, 2007
Resolve to get involved
New Year's resolutions may not always last long, but one resolution worth considering is to become a more active participant in town affairs.
Unlike larger towns and cities, volunteers play a large role in Carlisle's town government. Can you spare one or two evenings a month? If you can, there are many boards and committees that need additional members now, and more vacancies will open up in the spring. Specialized experience in engineering or law can sometimes be helpful, but the skills most useful may just be the willingness to learn, to listen to all sides and to bring common sense to bear on the issues facing town government.
One way to learn more is to browse through a copy of the Annual Town Report on file in the reference section at the Gleason Library, or to pick up a free copy at Town Hall. Another way to learn more is through the newspaper. Over the next few months the Mosquito will interview members of several boards and committees. (The first article in this series, "A look at the Zoning Board of Appeals," by Deborah Kablotsky, appeared in the December 22 issue, and "A look at the Carlisle School Committee," by Cynthia Sorn and Ginny Lamere appears on page 7.)
Alternatively, for those who are ready to become more involved in the community and like to write, why not consider becoming a Mosquito reporter? It is a great way to meet new people, to learn about the town, and to help other residents stay informed. The pay is largely symbolic, but hours are very flexible and on-the-job training is cheerfully provided. If you are interested, contact the paper by calling 1-978-369-8313 or by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Katrina recovery didn't make it onto the calendar of the Democratic House leadership's much-ballyhooed First 100 Hours. Maybe that's understandable. Enacting the 9/11 Commission recommendations did rate first-day attention. After all, 9/11 was fully five and a half years ago. Katrina was only a year and a half ago. Shoot, there hasn't even been a Katrina Commission yet.
I appreciate that the new leadership is looking ahead — promoting stem-cell research, investing in renewable energy. But I fear they have succumbed to the national malaise surrounding the greatest disaster ever on our soil.
There has been progress, but there is a downside to each piece of good news. Houses are being rebuilt, but often in areas that Katrina or Rita covered with ten to 20 feet of water. Tens of thousands of people are living in FEMA trailers in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, which is better than living in tents or cars. FEMA loves to point out that it's getting 1,000 trailers a week back. But there is no count of how many of these people actually have rebuilt or just given up and moved away from the area or moved in with crowded relatives. Or how many got spooked because trailers were found to contain toxic levels of formaldehyde, or because the trailer parks were dangerous or remote from places to shop and work. And FEMA is still distributing about 1,000 trailers a month to new recipients, even though its trailer program is supposed to end after February.
In New Orleans, the city approved a record 6,248 home renovations in October. But the real estate market has been "stagnant," a sterile word that means that home sales and housing starts are low because so many people don't have money. Just 49% of New Orleans schools are open. Twice-weekly trash pickup was to start last week, but the city was to pay double what it had to its pre-storm vendor, for service to about one-third the previous number of properties.
A lot of federal money has been appropriated for recovery, but often, it just doesn't move. In New Orleans, much of the federal money allocated for infrastructure is tied up in what can best be described as the dreary daily disaster of bureaucracy. The city says the state is sitting on the money; the state says the city is terrible at paperwork and doesn't follow the rules. The city says some of the bad paperwork was filed by FEMA. Much muttering goes on about NO's culture of corruption. Further, FEMA reimburses only for work already done. But there is no money available to start work. By many accounts, FEMA has improved greatly since the early days, but it has never been able to make up for all the failures.
A few weeks ago Betsy Fell of the Mosquito asked me what I thought the Gulf area really needed; surely the donated items my organization, Citizen Action Team, and others send cannot be enough. Sad, and true, but I believe that one bright spot is the untold thousands of individuals who are working in relief organizations there and around the country. They have helped many in profound ways.
On reflection, I know what's really needed is big-picture leadership that discards rules that are inappropriate to the circumstance, leadership that gets beyond the parochial and the penurious, beyond the myopia of simple human insecurity, with an approach that transcends classism and racism and recognizes that our humanity is on the line. The shifting political winds notwithstanding, that leadership is nowhere in sight.
© 2007 The