Who Knew?

If there is one thing to which the old cliché “It was in all the papers” aptly applies, it is Fairfield County’s recreation debate and its long-awaited plan, revealed last September, to spend $500,000 in each of its seven voting districts. That Ridgeway Town Council was surprised last month to learn that the plan for District 1 entailed erecting a community center, while indicating a number of troubling things, indicates this as well: We need to use bigger, bolder headlines.

That the shiny new community center would be located on Highway 21 South right next door to a recycling center was met with equal surprise, as well as a little dismay.

At least one member of Town Council, the Honorable Madame Mayor, was at least marginally less surprised than her fellow Council members, and at last month’s meeting we learned why. She had, it was revealed in December, rejected outright a proposal from the County to build said community center (with all of its trimmings) on approximately 5 acres of land inside the town limits, land on which the Town already has a ball field and a walking trail. And a glorious old brick archway, the last remaining artifact from the old Ridgeway School.

Regardless of her reasons for nixing the proposal, doing so without the consent of Council as a whole was beyond the scope of her powers, which are not absolute in Ridgeway’s Council-Mayor form of government. After enduring a bit of a verbal spanking for her abuse of office, which (if one will pardon the expression) she took like a man, the Mayor acknowledged the error of her ways and Council has since proceeded to revisit the matter and is in the process of petitioning the County for a do-over.

Whether or not a community center dropped lovingly into the heart of downtown Ridgeway will better serve the entirety of District 1 better than a community center nestled up against a recycling center on a two-lane stretch of busy highway is a matter for higher powers, civil engineers, statisticians and census takers. That such a facility would indeed, as one Councilman so eloquently put it just this week, be a ‘beacon that would draw people to downtown Ridgeway,’ is without doubt.

There will be, naturally, those who shrink from the idea, those who resist change; and not necessarily just because they are merely resistant to change. In this case, there remain some legitimate questions regarding traffic and parking that should be, and very likely can be, adequately addressed in order to get a total buy-in from the community at large. Particularly the community that will be living adjacent to the facility. Should the downtown location at Church and Means streets come to be the new home of the community center, both the County and the Town of Ridgeway should expend every effort to bring on board and instill a sense of ownership into those most closely affected. If the County lives up to its end of the bargain and provides a top-shelf facility with appropriate staffing and upkeep, even the most steadfast of naysayers will eventually run out of complaints and the wind with which to propel them.

But the nagging question that lingers over the entire issue like the delicious aroma of a distant autumnal tire fire is why was anyone at all, especially any member of any town council, the least bit surprised or otherwise unaware of the County’s Great Big Recreation Plan?

According to County Council, there had been community meetings. Loads and loads of them. So many, in fact, that Council felt confident enough to approve the plan on the very night it was revealed to the public for the very first time last September. And yet, when Ridgeway’s Council perused copies of the plan in November, printed out from the County’s website by Councilman Russ Brown, they made it quite clear that it was a document that they had never seen before.

What Ridgeway’s surprise indicates is what many may have long ago guessed: that County Council, under its previous leadership, had a predilection for directing events toward a predetermined outcome, without adequate regard for those most impacted by the outcome or for those who were picking up the tab.

This is no judgment, we should note, on the Great Big Recreation Plan itself; neither on its necessity nor on its validity. But that four-fifths of another governing body was left somehow out of the loop leads one to believe that our previous County Council shirked a little on the old communication duties.

As we sit virtually on the eve of the inauguration of our new County Council, who will take their oaths of office at 5 p.m. on Monday, we offer at least this much free advice: Tell us what you’re up to from time to time, won’t you? And don’t spare us the details.