Well, you’ve been very quiet!
It’s been an interesting few weeks since I last posted. With no scheduled CCSD meeting in July, I thought I’d take the time to get out into the community and try to get to know the people and groups that make up the Cambrian quilt. It can be a little too easy to sit back at the meetings and then write up my observations, based on what I see and hear. I realize that there is a difference between small groups of vocal attendees, representing specific attitudes and viewpoints that use the public forum to advocate for their positions. I also realize that there are thousands of Cambrians who don’t go anywhere near those meetings – for a host of reasons. Some feel the vocal few do a good job of representing their views. Others feel that they may be subject to less than friendly treatment if they express a different view. Others feel the whole thing is pointless, and they will speak when they are ready, and speak with their vote. And a very large group are hard-working, family-occupied folks who are more focused on the day to day realities of raising their kids, enjoying their retirement, or devoting their energy and passion to dreams delayed by a lifetime of doing other things.
So off I went, lamp in hand, searching for everyone’s version of the truth. I had a few cordial email exchanges with different folks with decidedly different views on the how’s and why’s of Cambria life. I’ve been fortunate to build a very rewarding “e-lationship” with a long-time Cambrian who is as knowledgeable and pragmatic as anyone I have ever met. Our exchanges continue to help me get a greater appreciation for the history of the CCSD, the people who have become familiar to me, and – most importantly – the deep, complex and often highly emotionally charged issues that drive the conversation. I hope this relationship will continue.
I had been forwarded an email from the founder of a pro-board, pro-water plant group of Cambrians known as Cambrians For Water (or C4H20) who have banded together to present a unified voice that represents viewpoints and attitudes that have often been overshadowed by the more visible and vocal “Concerned…” groups. The email, directed to the membership of this group (a group which, contrary to what has been whispered, I do not belong to) encouraged members to remain active and participate in the public CSD meetings as a show of support. The group was asked to wear their easily recognizable Blue C4H20 shirts to the meeting. It struck me that with all the smoldering animosity there might be different way to communicate with each other, rather than using the public board meeting as a proxy for the conversation that might be more helpful. So I sent an email to the founder, with my observations, and wondered if there might be another way to go about things; rather than trying to prove who had the bigger T -shirt, see who has the bigger ideas. Maybe a re-visit of positions in a collaborative way might lead us all to better long-term relationships, and more inclusive solutions. I kind of expected a terse reply, but I was pleasantly surprised with the email exchanges that followed. My thoughts and observations were not attacked, but rather welcomed. The exchange led to a very pleasant breakfast meeting at Linn’s (great whole wheat toast!) where we explored the issues in greater depth. Rather than argue or reject my thoughts that at times ran counter to his, he encouraged me to continue my journey and to share what I thought was important or valuable, whatever it might be. I left that meeting feeling pretty good about things. It was a real, grown-up discussion and I believe we both learned from each other.
Another great exchange occurred when I had the opportunity to sit down with Amanda Rice. Amanda is a sitting Director on the CCSD Board, and is up for re-election in November. Amanda is very different from her fellow Directors; this can be strikingly obvious at times especially when the entire Board is assembled. Prior to being elected to the Board, she had been very active in issues that affected Cambria, from environmental policy to fiscal accountability. She continues to advocate aggressively as a member of the Board and enjoys strong support from many in the community who believe those issues need rise above all else. It sometimes seems like she is the 1 in a 4 against 1 equation, though she gets things done with intelligence, persistence and commitment. Our first conversation was very positive. We shared our journey to Cambria, touching on our careers and experiences that formed our current worldviews. She asked me to expand on the thoughts and observations I had blogged about, and gave me her views on the same. We then moved into a mini-brainstorming session, exploring how we might find better ways to improve some of the issues that are driving a wedge between the CCSD and segments of the community, and between different demographics in Cambria. We didn’t agree on everything. We challenged each other’s views. We spoke with great frankness. And it was all done with respect and an appreciation for the goal of making things a little bit better for everyone. Amanda encouraged me to consider taking a run at one of the Board seats that are up for vote in November. We continue to talk on occasion, and I feel completely comfortable calling her or dropping her an email with a thought, observation or question.
On a Roll
So – 3 for 3 in positive conversations! I was feeling pretty good about my education, and pressed on with my quest. I had been engaging on and off with a group on Facebook, having mostly pleasant, but sometimes edgy (in my view) exchanges around the larger CCSD Board and staff performance. The majority of the active posters seem to me to be more in the anti-CSD camp. They fall into a few categories – financial responsibility, environmental responsibility, governmental transparency, and a handful of “corrupt, greedy, anti-environment pro-builder/realtor/explosive growth ” conspiracy theorists. Some check all the boxes, but the majority of posters seem to be reasonable, smart and concerned people who find the page a good place to share thoughts, concerns and ideas. I try to be polite and factual in my posts, and if I don’t know something I’ll dig for answers before posting. As in any remote interaction, there can be misunderstandings or interpretations that could cause stress among posters. It is an imperfect medium, but it is one way to share our thoughts.
Will The Circle Be Unbroken
The following meeting notice appeared on this page:
**ATTENTION CAMBRIANS** You’re invited to a “Cambria Community Gathering” July 19th (today) from 3:30-4:30pm. This is a weekly meeting. Subjects to consider for discussion include Group organization, Candidates for CSD board, Local Issues, Growth, Taxes and other costs, Balance on the board, Fairness & Accountability. Please message me directly for more details! ❤
“Perfect”, I thought. “I’m a Cambrian. I’m interested in all those things. I would like to be part of that discussion.” So off I went, looking forward to hearing other thoughts and opinions.
Well, the invitation turned out to be a little misleading. When I arrived I was met with a lot of suspicious stares. A voice from across the circle (I think these meetings have to be conducted in a circle) called out “do we have somebody new here?” Well, I knew I had never been to one of these meeting before, so I raised my hand and said, “I’m new!” I then went around the entire circle and introduced myself to every attendee, offering my hand in friendship. After introductions, I stood near the beginning of the group and engaged in some pleasant conversation with a woman who reminded me that we had met before. She began giving me a brief on what the main issues and concerns were that the group was interested in addressing. Then, from across the circle there came an increasingly louder stream of angry words directed at me. It was one of the activists who I had commented on in a blog post. She claimed I had called her a liar – which I did not do but in her mind I guess I did. (This is why I like to write things down – if there are differing ideas on what I have said we can go to the replay and check. I went. I checked. I’m good with what I posted, and her behavior at this meeting just demonstrated the exact things I called out in my blog.) Then, a note was passed around the circle – from my left, then it skipped me and landed with the gentleman sitting to my right who looked at it and read “blue shirt, blue shirt? He’s (pointing at me) wearing a blue shirt. Pointing at another guy and said – he’s wearing a blue shirt.” It was really weird. As this was happening a different woman came storming across the circle, got up in my face – reeeeaaaalllllyyyyclose – and told me I had to leave. Really??? I asked why I had to leave and she said “You have been very disruptive on Social Media.” Huh? I said I was attending as a Cambrian interested in discussing issues, and wasn’t the meeting about fairness and transparency?
“You have to leave.”
At that moment another woman fluttered into the garden; the woman who posted the meeting invite online (and who confirmed the time and place and said she hoped to see me there.) She was not really aware of what was happening, though another member of the circle ran over and was whispering urgently to her. I said hello and questioned why I was being tossed out – what about fairness and transparency – she could only answer that there was a negative energy in the space that she didn’t understand yet. So, I turned to the group, smiled and thanked them for, well, I’m not sure what I was thanking them for, but I was raised to be polite!
A few hours after the meeting I had a pretty detailed exchange with the woman who hosts the Facebook page and posted the meeting invitation. She is a Political Activist with a foundation that purports to foster greater transparency and fairness in Government. I expressed my disappointment that I was not allowed to participate and asked for more clarity on why. She didn’t have a good answer, but mentioned that there was something about a meeting I was a part of that they weren’t allowed to attend… a meeting that was a mystery to me! I gave her a full brief of who I am, who I know and who I had spoken with, what I wrote, and a link to my blog. Transparency! We left off with an open ended “maybe we can have coffee.”
I kept thinking about the whole event and it finally came together in my mind. Blue Shirt… exclusionary meeting… I remembered hearing about a private C4H2O meeting where certain people were specifically not invited and not given entry. They must have assumed that I was a member of that group – a Blue Shirt! Oy vey – it is just so much easier to ask than to assume!
So time goes quietly on. I caught another post on Facebook alerting everyone that The Political Activist would be appearing on a local radio talk show that day. I managed to tune in towards the end of the broadcast, and was dismayed by what she said about the CSD General Manager. She claimed that he had been “Let Go” from his previous positions, and “there’s a history out there.” I asked her if she new this to be true, to which she replied, “Yes. Factual.” I then asked her for proof. A while later she posted two articles that spoke about a discrimination complaint that had been filed against the GM in a previous position, and that he had been placed on Administrative Leave during an investigation – pretty standard procedure. He then resigned to take another position before the investigation was completed. The article ended by saying that the city, after an extensive investigation, found absolutely no wrongdoing. Ergo – PROOF! Aristotle wept.
Please tell me I didn’t hear that…
The second comment I found to be almost irresponsible came during an exchange with a caller who said that to him fire danger was more of a critical issue – a statement that, in light of the current wildfire situation at our front door was absolutely on target. She agreed that it was in fact a big concern, and then added “and we don’t even know if our hydrants work!” WHAT???
So, in the spirit of not speaking until I had more information, I approached a firefighter who was giving a presentation to the CSD Board and shared the statement that was made, and asked him it was true. He literally bit his lip, collected his thoughts and then gave me a detailed description of how the hydrant system was monitored and maintained. He described the physical testing that is done, how it had been modified given the current drought conditions, and how there are activities around clearing weeds, brush and debris from the hydrants to keep them visible and accessible. He assured me that the hydrants work, although it is always possible that some hydrant somewhere might have an undetected problem – just like any component in any distributed system. In addition to this verbal update, I posed the same question in writing to the Fire Chief, and received a similar response. He wrote “Thank you for expressing your concern. To answer your question… I cannot speak to the readiness of the hydrant and water system that is being referenced by the moderator conducting (sp) the radio show you have mentioned, but that is not the case here in Cambria.”
I spend a lot of time on this because – words matter. We all have enough to be worried about without careless statements adding unnecessary worry to our lives.
Words matter. Truth matters. Words matter.
To be continued!