The TASC List: More on seeing

In December we welcomed a new chief financial officer to Wilton. That column implored her to “see the whole field” and added “…clearly against a background of exceedingly high expectations, and an environment of critically high stakes.”
Now we expand the notion and need for visual acuity to this community itself, for itself, and upon itself. First, a reference to the Scottish poet Robert Burns, whose birthday on Jan. 25 is widely celebrated on Burns Nights from Edinburgh to Los Angeles.
Among his many well remembered lines is this one: “O would some power the gift to give us to see ourselves as others see us.”
Let’s begin to examine how we in Wilton might be seen from varying factions and different points of view. Perhaps we can determine from that some new strategies and approaches that will help make us a more resilient and responsive community.
1) Some Fairfield County towns think of us as another affluent location, home to fine dwellings, open spaces, and excellent schools.
2) Others nearby believe we are simply “wannabes” for the Greenwich, Darien and New Canaan exclusivities and top-ranked facilities.
3) Several larger and more urban towns would say that we are not diversified, exclusive, and generally unwelcoming.
4) Some of their high school sports teams might even question our sportsmanship, especially at home games. (Elite colleges are recognizing this more widely every day among their own followers and fans).
5) Smaller local merchants find it difficult to visualize any indications of support for their local business from town government, landlords, and Wilton shoppers. 6) Taxpayers cry out for recognition of the unfavorable impact annual increases have on their financial stability and their home values. 7) Citizen activists have thought of their hometown as an arrogant bureaucracy, and bastion of the kind of thinking from the top that has said: “If we wanted your [deleted] opinion, we would have asked for it.”
8) Seniors make the argument that Wilton should recognize them for the intrinsic value they represent, e.g., low requirements for services, schools, and amenities (think ice palaces, turf fields, and brick walkways), and thus encourage them to remain in town, to volunteer, and provide a stable base.
9) Parents with school-age children want and deserve the very best education products money can buy; but some simply equate education excellence with the absolute cost to attain it.
10) Status quo advocates remind us of the old fellow at a Massachusetts town meeting, who stood up, tugged at his ball cap and opined: “I wasn’t against the new transfer station. I wasn’t against the new downtown street lights. I wasn’t against the new addition to the high school. There’s only one thing that I am against. And that’s change!”
11) Analytics followers believe we’re not sufficiently fact and data driven in reaching decisions; others say we rely too much on the quantitative methods, and not enough on group agreement, common sense, and willingness to act under uncertainty.
The viewing angles proliferate. On the one hand, they demonstrate the differences in opinions, the underlying complexity of the issues, and the multitude of positions that seek first recognition, and then resolution. On the other, when recognized, they can suggest the better, if not the best, solution to apply to any given problem. That’s why working and study groups, task forces, boards and councils, and other initiatives are formed.
Lesson One: Let’s get diverse populations aboard initiatives, qualified, and with the courage to speak up. Two: Let’s not “tell” the townsfolk what they need; let’s “ask” them what they want. Three: Don’t rely on consultants, design stage “experts” or vested interests to dictate the approaches or dominate the outcomes. Four: Don’t count on press releases or town websites alone to communicate meetings, discussions, plans or programs. For important decisions mail an information document to every household with issue, status, meetings, and timeframes. They all need to know.
So, happy birthday Robert Burns. Thank you for the advice. By understanding who we are, and how we’re seen by others, we can move ahead. Together, with clarity, and a whole lot less friction.