Kindred Spirits In Problem-Solving
In a way, our Citizen of the Year designation – it will continue, of course – has come full circle.
Interviewing Meg Kennedy, this year’s designee, brought to mind Tom Garretson, the first designee, in 2006.
Throughout that stormy year, when the Cherry Valley area was torn between those who feared 24 industrial-sized windmills would degrade the town’s environment and ambience, and those who saw a boon in new tax revenues, Tom always kept his cool.
And there was a lot at stake, municipally and personally: His father-in-law, who he had succeeded that Jan. 1 as town supervisor, strongly favored the wind project.
At meeting after stormy meeting, Garretson kept order, listened intently and – as
Kennedy would have observed – not only listened, but heard.
In the end, he came down against the turbines, and led the enactment of a law to hinder them. Reunion Power of Vermont finally gave up.
What changed Tom’s mind in the end wasn’t the arguments, but it was a trip he took to Fenner, a flat, indistinct town south of Utica, where a windmill farm was already functioning.
Garretson – a farmer, as is Meg Kennedy – came back with renewed enthusiasm for his adopted hometown – the Garretsons had come from New Jersey in the 1950s; the Kennedys from Long Island a decade or so later.
Compared to Fenner, he concluded, Cherry Valley simply had too much to offer – too much to preserve. Stunning scenery, among the richest and most textured local histories in the nation, a comfortable lifestyle, a farming community enrichened by the Glimmerglass Opera’s world-class culture.
He listened, he heard, he explored, he made the right decision.
This year’s designee, the county representative from Hartwick, Milford and New Lisbon, arguably made the best decision in coming up with a first step in professionalizing Otsego County’s $120 million government – a county administrator whose mandate is to implement the will of 14 representatives who, in effect, are our neighbors.
That what’s always been a controversial discussion obtained the support of 11 of her 14 colleagues is astonishing. And this was done with no table pounding or arm-twisting, but by calm consensus building.
She described what we’re labelling “the Kennedy Method.”
You listen. You HEAR. You ask, what’s fair? Then you decide. (One other step: You collect information.) “I have to get it proved to me,” she said.
Thinking as far back to the days when mom Margaret expected her to herd her nine younger siblings, she concluded, “I could always coalesce a group.”
Up to this point, it seemed impossible that the Energy Task Force effort she’s chairing would go anywhere. Now, there’s reason to be much more optimistic about a consensus result, targeted by the end of 2020.
While Kennedy made it happen, as important, the chairman of the Otsego County Board of Representatives for only one term, David Bliss, allowed it to happen. That’s another unappreciated aspect of his polite, level-headed and increasingly steady leadership.
He saw her potential. He saw her willingness to work. He saw a kindred spirit and let it fly. (Nor was he absent, attending most of Kennedy’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee and joining IGA members in casting key votes.)
As with Tom Garretson, Meg Kennedy isn’t seeking to change Otsego County – nor is Dave Bliss, for that matter. The idea is, incrementally, to make things better, to create enough jobs to fill our needs; to solve problems one by one, not all right this minute; to make our communities more consistently vibrant in a quickly changing world.
Happy New Year.