(6/16/07) Editorial – All-America City – It Really IS a Big Deal!!

News Net All-America City Coverage

I admit it.  I didn’t get it.  Just like some of you that I’ve talked with over the last few days, I didn’t see what the big deal was.  What’s the big deal about being an All-America City?  I wanted somebody to tell me that it meant that we’d see an increase in revenue for the City, maybe get the boys in blue the pay raise they’ve deserved for too long.  Or maybe that there would be an attendant rise in property values, because after all, “WE’RE AN ALL-AMERICA CITY.” 

When we were named an All-America finalist last year, I thought, okay great.  We didn’t even get named something that I don’t really get the big deal about anyway, we came in second.  I was not the least bit excited. 

But I tend to keep my mind open till I close it, and I knew that many of the people associated with last year’s campaign were people I respect, and people who had/have what I consider to be the best interests of this City at heart, so when this year’s campaign was getting underway, I decided to be a part of it.  For the first several months, I didn’t do much, just published reports about upcoming rallies, etc.  Didn’t get into the nuts and bolts, didn’t work with any of the committees, just showed up at the rallies, wrote my delegate check, now and then put a few words in the paper.

As the competition approached, I got a little more involved.  Decided I’d be a part of the crew that went on stage, help with the presentation to the judges.  Showed up for rehearsals, tried not to get in the way.  Memorized my lines, then had them given to others, so I stopped memorizing them, figuring I’d wait till we were closer to the final rehearsal, and memorize them then.  Helped with a re-write of one section of the script, only to be warned “if you do good at this, next time you’ll be one of the first ones we come to for help with the script.”  Oh great.

I guess because I’ve taken a picture or two of town activities over the years, I was asked if I could help with a video/slideshow that was to be shown at a booth at the competition.  I said sure, and threw together something that I hoped wouldn’t be an embarrassment to the City.  But I still didn’t get it.  As much fun as it was to spend that time re-experiencing these town events through the photos and videos, and being reminded of all the things that make this town so special, I still didn’t get it.  In fact, the last night before the conference began, when I saw the final script, and saw that I now had just one sentence to say, I couldn’t believe I had disrupted my life so drastically, three days worth, for just one line.  And one of those days was a deadline day, which meant trying to get things done from Anaheim on a laptop, instead of at home where everything I need can be accessed with a click of the mouse. 

As I say, I didn’t get it.  Now I do, and couldn’t be happier that I did disrupt my life for those three, very important days.  And I would do it again, without a single line.  Because it’s not about lines, or being the one to express the right words to the judges that makes them decide to vote for your town.  It’s about community, and working together for the benefit of the town we all live in.

I’ve heard it’s been said recently that some of the people who volunteer in this town do it because they like to see their name in the paper.  I can’t help but wonder if maybe the people who say things like that are judging others by their own standards and sentiments.  The people who were a part of this delegation worked so hard, did so much, and not once was there any intimation that any of the people involved were working for their own glory, or to get recognition, in the paper or otherwise.  Not even just to be recognized by their peers.  No one I spoke with who was thanked by anyone in my presence for their efforts wanted to hear a word of it.  They basically deflected everything to the other members of the team.  “Oh, I didn’t do anything, did you see (fill in the name), and how well he/she did what he/she did?”

This event wasn’t about personal glory or recognition.  This event was about everybody pulling together to do something positive for our hometown.  I can’t emphasize enough that word, positive.  Positive.  Everything about this event was positive.   Yes, we were competing.  But we wanted everyone to win, as long as we did, too.  The National Civic League created a forum to build community, and it worked. As Mayor Joffe said in her acceptance speech, “I feel like we all have sixty new friends in this delegation, and hundreds of you out there who are now our friends, too.”   There were people in this delegation that I knew, but now I know them better.  There were people I didn’t know, but now I know them.  We have a shared experience, working together, as a team, to bring recognition to our City, and will always have that memory and that collective affection and appreciation for the work that we did together.  A sense of community.

But we also became a larger community, getting to know the delegates and delegations from other cities.  Learning that all of our small town communities (and larger ones, too) face problems, and that in each of these towns, there are people who, just like in Sierra Madre, pull together for the good of the town.  As delegate Cathy Ryne said “Isn’t it nice that the people of the cities we “hung out” with also won? Yea- Clinton, Dubuque…Polk County with the great black hats, Hickory and Hollywood Florida with the medical van. They were so nice and fun to be with. It’s fun to be winners with them!!” 

Participating in this competition placed Sierra Madre on a national stage, and by winning, we showed that Sierra Madre, small as it is, deserves to be recognized as a community of worth, the equal of any other community in this country.  Some towns flew fifty delegates coast to coast to participate.  I’m told some towns spent $100,000 dollars on their participation.  As I understand it, Sierra Madre spent about $13,000, reportedly all but about $1,000 of which was from donations.

Former City Manager John Gillison sent a congratulatory message to members of the delegation, saying “You all deserve to be very proud of what you worked so hard for.  In true Sierra Madre fashion you pulled together and proved again that what you have in common is stronger than what divides you, and the whole truly is so much more than the sum of the parts.  You should rightfully be very proud and do not let anyone who was not there or does not appreciate the magnitude of what you accomplished take this away from you.  It truly is the first of many great stories that will mark the next 100 years.  Happy Birthday to all my friends in the wonderful City of Sierra of Madre.

Now, Sierra Madre has been through some divisive times lately.  Some of us haven’t been getting along.  Gillison’s heartfelt congratulation message alludes to the possibility that there may be some who don’t want to acknowledge what the group that brought this national recognition to Sierra Madre has actually done for our small town.   The fact of the matter is, Gillison actually addresses one of the reasons why people might feel that way, to my mind.  Never having been there, I didn’t get it.  And I don’t think that anyone who hasn’t been there really can properly appreciate its magnitude. They probably CAN’T get it.  But this is a big deal.  It’s a very big deal.  I know.  I was there.  I saw.  And if you weren’t there, and you didn’t see, I don’t expect you to get it.  But please recognize that there is a possibility that even if you don’t get it, now, you might, if you get involved next time, and you go, and you see.  That’s what happened to me.  It could happen to you.  So get it or not, try to help to mend the fences, try to help re-build the community.  Congratulate your neighbors, congratulate the delegates, feel good about yourself and your town.  This award was given to the entire community, because it was the entire community that created the YAC, the Senior Housing, and addressed the open space issue.  Even if you voted against these ideas, you were still a vital part of the process of determining what the community wanted.  And the community, working together, even with some disagreement, completed these projects that won us this award.  Let’s use winning this award as a rallying point for healing our community.  Because community is what this award is all about.

We are coming up on one of Sierra Madre’s favorite traditions, 4th of July.  Let’s enjoy the festivities without the animosity.  We are celebrating our Centennial.  That’s one hundred years of community.  Let’s enjoy the Centennial festivities without the animosity.  Let’s work together to find a solution to the fiscal problems we face, and address the issues that confront us, such as finding more money for the police.  Let’s work together, as a community to address these issues, and enjoy the process, without animosity.  We used to be able to disagree with one another, and still respect each other enough to work together to find common ground.  That’s how we’ve survived 100 years.  And that’s how we became an All-America City.  Let’s work to find that ability again.  Let’s prove again that, as Gillison stated, what we have in common is stronger than what divides us, and that the whole truly is so much more than the sum of the parts.  Let’s celebrate who we are and what we do, even if one of the things we do is to sometimes disagree.  Because, as Dereck Okuba of the National Civic League said about communities, “it’s like families, there’s no such thing as perfect families, every family has its issues….a lot of it is that level of belief that is there, that mindset of what is possible, that mindset of spending the energy, not on who’s to blame, and who can I point that finger on, but what can we do together to address that issue.”