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City Council column

By: Paul Joiner
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City Council’s view The view from the dais can be deceiving. Looking out on the citizens gathered to listen and speak at City Council meetings these last several months, scanning the blogs, reading The Lincoln News Messenger … it has been impossible not to take note of a dramatic rise in intensity. Many of the faces are angry, the words sharp and accusatory. Questions are asked and answered over and over again in workshops and in Council meetings, on the city’s website and in e-mail exchanges. They are answered in conversations on the streets of Lincoln, on the chat boards, blogs and The News Messenger. Carol Feineman, in a recent editorial said, “…we’re angering some sources who don’t want us to keep repeating the same question over the course of a week in the hopes they’ll change their responses.” On the face of things, it would appear that there is pervasive presumption of deception on the part of the City Council and city staff. The simple truth is … the answers don’t change just because we don’t like them. Many times, I don’t like them … but they are what they are and we must work within that truth to find solutions to the difficult financial dilemma in which we as a community now find ourselves. The view from the dais can indeed be deceiving. Upon closer inspection, the picture becomes a little clearer. The angry faces and sharp words come for the most part from the same 15 to 20 people (most of whom belong to an organized group) attempting to dominate the public side of the conversation at City Council meetings while offering no viable solutions of their own. The blogs and chat boards too are populated by a small group of very vocal individuals. Some of these folks, to be sure, are seeking accurate information on which to base their views and decisions. Others unfortunately are spreading (intentionally or unintentionally) half-truths and misinformation among their friends, neighbors and fellow bloggers. It doesn’t help that this is “political season” and some (not all) candidates and their supporters have begun to infuse the conversation with political rhetoric. A few weeks ago, I stepped away from the dais. I had the privilege of joining Community Services Officer Paul Tyler and Sergeant Bryan Fritsch of the Lincoln Police Department on a series of National Night Out visits. Citizens on Patrol Officer Moe Bloom guided us to several of the more than 100 gatherings/block parties held throughout Lincoln in support of Neighborhood Watch programs. The night was not about politics. Nor was it the time or place to discuss the proposed user utility tax. The point of this night was after all to get out, meet your neighbors and build relationships that would assist the neighborhood in watching out for one another and in so doing assist the police by becoming their eyes and ears in the neighborhood. I won’t lie … as we headed to our first destination, I fully expected more of the same angry faces and accusatory questions I have so frequently encountered from the dais. What I discovered instead was a community largely supportive and knowledgeable of the city’s efforts to rein in expenditures and appreciative of the difficult choices that lay ahead. They were (are) actively engaged in a vibrant conversation about the merits and shortcomings of the U.U.T. Some individuals wondered aloud what it would mean to public safety services if the measure didn’t pass … and what it would mean to those same services if it did. They questioned why, if resources are so short, the police department is driving new S.U.V.s and patrol cars. They’re not, by the way, those “new” vehicles you may have seen are actually recycled city vehicles repurposed and repainted for Police Department use. The following days revealed groups throughout the city are gathering to discuss and debate Lincoln’s current economic puzzle and its possible solutions. They are exploring options, reviewing documents and asking questions. And yes … sometimes pointing fingers of blame. The very topic that (from the dais) appeared to be tearing our city apart may in fact be the wondrously unlikely instrument that begins to bind together the separate “Villages” of Lincoln Crossing, Lincoln Hills, Twelve Bridges, Foskett Ranch and “Old Lincoln” and in so doing create one single community reaching for a shared future. The strength of Lincoln from its very inception has been its’ people and their ability to come together in times of crisis and work side by side for the greater good. It should come as no surprise to me that Shirley Russell had it right all along. We are indeed, “better together.” I am confident that together we can see Lincoln through these dark times and lead it to the very bright future we all know it has before it. The view from the dais is a bit clearer these days. Paul Joiner is a Lincoln city councilman.