Letter to the Editor: Think outside the box for Mount Abe renovation

The Mt. Abe bond was voted down again — this time by a narrow margin. There may be a rush back to the consulting firm to re-configure the ask in time for a Town Meeting vote or even sooner. Cutting the ask and the bond length in half now might get the vote to YES. But real community involvement in the process is essential for creating a compelling legacy project that will stand the test of time.
Most people agree that we all need to get more involved. Right on! Yes! But this is easier said than done. Folks are busy. Others remember past experiences — in many different settings — where their opinions were not heard or taken seriously. The list of reasons for opting out of democracy is a long one.
“Public involvement” must be very different from “public relations.” The former requires a dedicated effort to get energized community participation in a project. But more than that, there must be a design for the participation that allows all perspectives to be made, sorted out, listed, and carefully considered. Community input must be cultivated and not simply tolerated. No small task.
There are numerous models for this. Appreciative inquiry is one type. A community charette is another. However, all models of successful public involvement require some level of facilitation by a party that is not one of the key players making the request.
My guess is that if half of the time, energy, and money spent on public relations to advance the recent Mt. Abe funding proposals had instead been devoted up front to effective, successful, public involvement, the final outcome of the design process and the associated votes would have been very different.
The Five-Town Community is proud of Mt Abe. Involving the Community in “thinking outside the box” is the best way to get to “Yes” on a more realistic bond that will serve us exceptionally well for many years to come.
David Brynn

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