Flip-charting the future

John Taylor: March 25, 20080 Comments

Chocolate chip cookies, Port of Subs sandwiches, donated time and flip charts -- the modern recipe for grass-roots democracy.

More than 120 people -- average age, 55-ish -- packed Clovis Veteran's Memorial Building Monday night for the kind of brain-storming, venting, hobnobbing and see-and-be-seen politicking that happens in modest-sized communities around the country.

Some were invited by Clovis officials -- all five council members were on hand; others were wooed in by media. The goal was kind of a Vulcan mind-meld, drawing out ideas for the Clovis City Council to consider as it sets strategic goals for the future.

What do you like best about Clovis, what needs to be preserved or strengthened, what improvements are needed? What should the council plan for in the next year -- and in 2010? Six citizens per table, nudged along by two city staff.

At my table: two retirees, a business association member, a community college administrator and a construction worker who'd just been laid off. Pet peeves were repeated relentlessly -- too much dust in the Valley. "New ideas" deployed years ago by other communities -- regional collaboration, service consolidation, light rail, fast-tracking of green industries, making the city the hub "of something" --- were alternately encouraged or belittled. Flip charts filled and were posted -- too many to be reviewed publicly by City Manager Kathy Millison, battling a balky microphone.

Call it democracy, identifying priorities, due process, giving taxpayers their voice. Is it representative of the needs/wishes of a cross-section of Clovis residents -- drawn from an ethnically/culturally/economically diverse sample? Not hardly.

But for more than three hours on a warm Monday evening, there was debate, aspiration, frustration, awareness-raising and attempts to calibrate a community's political compass. Not too shabby no matter how you measure it.