A Winters Tale: English as a Second Language?

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It’s been a busy week in Winters politics. I’m a bit tired, and I think I know why. I appear to be suffering from Charettes Syndrome. I finally put a name to my illness last week at the City Council meeting, when the City Manager, in a massive PowerPoint presentation about “community engagement,” announced he would like to form Charettes. I whispered to the person sitting next to me, “What’s a charette?”   “Dunno,” he shrugged. Looking it up later, I learned that a charette is a small group of people trying to design something. Guess I missed that one in my high school civics class. What I now describe as Charettes Syndrome is my instant negative reaction to that kind of government speak or bureaucratic lingo. Symptoms include headache and nausea, and a longing for plain English. I’ve written before about the City Hall acronyms, and last week I heard another one.  A Winters city official texted me from an important meeting. “Where are you?” I texted back. “LCC,” was the answer. I racked my brain: Lakewood Cultural Campus? Lithuanian Christian College? Launch Control Center? Thinking hard, scrolling through my memory banks, trying to make a connection, it finally arrived: LCC: League of California Cities. How could I have missed that?  Back at the Council meeting there was talk about the acronymous EDAC, and this time things got pretty serious. EDAC is Winters’ Economic Development Advisory Committee, formed in 2018 to give the City Manager and by extension the City Council ideas from community volunteers as to how our town might attract new industry.  Inaugurated with great fanfare, as all our advisory committees are, duty minded citizens plunged in and produced a document detailing recommendations about how to bolster the local economy, including hiring someone to take charge of searching for new opportunities. But at the Council Meeting, Winters resident and committee member Marcia Gibbs, who helped author the final report, took to the podium to remind everyone that since the recommendations were presented more than a year and half ago, not one single idea has been acted upon. It took guts to stand there and scold the Council and staff for their inaction. Marcia, you were brave. Finally, there was last week’s Candidate Forum at the Library.   Fifty or so of us came to hear Mayor Bill Biasi and Council Member Jesse Loren, the incumbents, and Richard Casavecchia, a newcomer to Winters politics debate the hot issues of the day: annexation, housing, leadership. In the audience were plenty of us eager to ask a few questions, hoping to gain more of an insight into the thinking of Biasi and Loren, whom we know well, and the newcomer Casavecchia. Didn’t quite work out that way. The moderator, the well intentioned but bumbling and forgetful Matt Williams, a political activist from Davis (Oh, my) spent the first seven minutes explaining the format in excruciatingly confusing detail. It was oddly complicated. Candidates who wanted to speak longer, could draw from a bank of time, chopped into 40 second sections, tacked onto the end of the others’ responses. The candidates seemed as confused as we were. Each picked a number to see who would go first. Williams apparently misunderstood his own math and started the ersatz debate with the wrong participant. Several times, he lost track of who had spoken and who had not. It didn’t really matter since the biggest surprise of the night was learning that the candidates had been provided the questions days in advance in order to prepare their responses. All three referred to their pre-prepared notes when answering.  Whoever concocted the rules for this event, it seemed, didn’t trust the candidates to be the least bit spontaneous.  I’ve heard Bill, Jesse and Richard all speak intelligently and on the fly many times before. But at this forum, they were reduced to making mini-speeches, one after another. They were occupying a kind of political “safe space.” I was buoyed when I spotted a hand microphone at the ready, expecting audience members to stand and address the candidates. It went unused. Instead we were asked to write our questions on cards. Then, incredulously, as the event drew to a close, the moderator simply read the questions aloud, without seeking answers, and thanked us for submitting them. Wow. We did learn a little bit about Mr. Casavecchia, a new voice in town. From Biasi and Loren, there was nothing to be gleaned, except that both remain solid, devoted and likeable civic leaders, who will win.  The odds against the newcomer are astronomical, but bravo, Richard for joining the fight! It’s an important time. The election is in less than a week. The Keep Winters Winters Initiative will be submitted the following day. Still no word on when any of the EDAC recommendations will be fulfilled, if ever. Perhaps we should form up some Charettes and consider the matter.]]>

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