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A horse-holding drill

A whole lot of people showed up for Supervisor Desmond's community meeting last night about  the San Juan school district's planned construction projects. Well, actually, they showed up because they were concerned about or interested in the Creekside Middle School proposal.

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Around 50 people came - impressive for a mid-week meeting during graduation season and summer vacation prep time.

The meeting was something of a horse-holding drill. That's what urban planners call a meeting about community input where the project proponent isn't really interested in hearing community input. The name stems from the way the old British Army had soldiers hold onto the horses while artillerymen fired the cannons, the firing of which would scare the horses. In the modern era, of course, horses don't haul cannons to the battlefield. But the Brits continued to have soldiers stand by while cannons are fired - as though they were needed in case the imaginary horses that used to be there might need restraint. It's unproductive, but there is an air of officiality. Last night's meeting was promoted as being for the purpose of garnering public opinion. But, in truth, the time was mostly consumed by four speakers at the front table who, by fulfilling the ceremonial roles of the pointless horse-holders, were able to more or less keep at arms' length whatever the public cared about.

The person who did most of the talking was the Chief Operations Officer of the school district. He talked at length as though everyone in the room would be assured that he knew everything anyone needed to know and they would be ever so grateful that he was on top of things. There was precious little time left for questions from the audience. You know: trivial questions like, what about the traffic and pedestrian nightmares, how can you squeeze a big middle school onto a too-small site, why did you choose this site without looking at alternatives, or how come no one knew about the project until after the site was picked? Stay calm, the audience was told, the school district's facilities people have everything under control and, by the way, the school district will do whatever it wants to do anyway.

Now, as some of our readers know, our grumpy old newsroom elves have a hard time remembering to say something nice now and then. To make up for that, our editors have insisted that our readers should hear some good things about the meeting:

  • Kudos to Supervisor Desmond for putting the meeting together,
  • The turnout was huge for a mid-week meeting during the dinner hour,
  • The school district COO said the project was about 4 months into a 30-month process (translation - there is time to attend to the due diligence that's been missing),
  • There was an actual school district trustee at the meeting (Saul Hernandez),
  • The COO anounced a public meeting will be held on June 16th at the Creekside School site at 6pm and nearby residents will be notified by mail, and
  • Someone (Supervisor Desmond?) brought water and cookies.
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The speakers. Two staffers on the left (county transportation and school district facilities) and two elected officials on the right (School Board and County Office of Ed Board. The guys at the ends of the table are using their cell phones (texting each other?) and the guys in the middle are demonstrating textbook non-verbal behavior ("Can you not see the wisdom of what I say?" and "I really don't care").

We're not sure if the policy-makers at the school district (the Board of Trustees) will ever pay attention to public concerns, particularly now that the Board has been shifted from a 5-member at-large board to a 7-member by-district board that sort of leaves the Arden Arcade middle school boundary areas leaderless during most of the Creekside project's time line. It's possible that the meeting on the 16th will be just another horse-holding drill to extol the wisdom of the people who decided things before the public could engage. But it is also possible that the school district can come to its senses and listen for a change. It all depends on whether the public shows up and keeps showing up, doesn't it?

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