Norman Rockwell’s famous painting of a town hall meeting actually had several versions — with a slight change in point of view and a few minor changes to the “supporting characters” and to the main man standing to make his voice heard.
But the main takeaway concerns our ability to rise and speak while others listen, in agreement or dissent or even impatience, civilly waiting for their turn.
Democracy and the ability to rise were in full force at the recent Pinehurst Village Council meeting, when the focus was on the proposed community center. And, as in the painting, there were points of view, and some of us heard one thing while others heard another. Every shade of agreement and disagreement was present.
What I came away with made me reframe my thinking. I still think a community center will be filling a need that is growing among both adults and children as our community grows. But I wonder if we view it within the context of our whole lives here.
I live my life not on a vertical plane by listing things going from the top to the bottom of a page, as in “community center” at the top and “library” below. But rather, I live my life with horizontal/parallel vision. I have to pay my bills and plant the flowers and clean the house and go to the doctor.
We seem, as a town, to be thinking vertically and having a yes/no conversation. When discussing community center or library or potholes, it is not necessarily in the context of what the total fiscal goals are on a parallel track.
I am a big champion of our police, fire and EMTs. And frankly, I am concerned that we need more of them to meet the needs of our growing population and that we should be paying them more — well enough that they could choose to live near their “post,” if you will.
I would love to have a session in which the total pie is explained and not just a piece of that pie. I have no doubt that the council has these considerations on the table, but I am not sure we average folks fully know the context of our budgeting.
Certainly, capital expansion is different from infrastructure and the ongoing cost of personnel, but it might be good for us to hear the goals of raising up our police, fire and EMTs’ numbers and pay over time so that we train our best personnel and keep them.
It would seem that some of us, me included, feel conflicted about one advancement of spending over another. And for that reason, context is important. I do share some of the frustration of how long we talk about a viable project before it gets done, but doing it for the right reasons at the right time matters.
The surveys that go out may be statistically correct, but they might bring more credibility if that sampling number were increased and perhaps more nuanced questions were asked, with more financial data attached to any project. Certainly a larger sampling would then produce more support one way or another.
There would seem to be two very different buckets that our money is pulled from — ongoing annual budget and capital budget — and we need the context of both.
I came away with a sense of cost proposed but no sense of the ongoing cost of the running of the structure. I realize that some of this comes after settling some of the design. But until you know about HVAC, lighting, electricity and security, among other details, you cannot possibly predict the annual cost of any project within some degree of certainty.
Cost overruns do occur, but we should be able to come up with a number that is “right and reasonable” within the industry and have a recourse should a project breach that number.
It is only reasonable to treat any building with a degree of common sense that costs change, weather can interfere or simple problems arise. But having some weight on the builders’ side to carry some of that burden might mitigate that fiscal damage.
I would like to see the council develop small meetings to present such projects that they believe are needed and give every neighborhood in town a chance to both listen and explain.
Rockwell captured all the agony of speaking and listening and trying to make a right decision. Both the citizens and council need to employ those two actions more vigorously.
Joyce Reehling lives in Pinehurst. She retired here from New York after a 33-year career in theater, TV and commercials.