Growing Meridian: Don't slosh coffee on the questionnaire
Dec. 13, 2000
In my quest to become a bit more competent as a wannabe journalist, I took my Grow Meridian questionnaire out to one of my favorite morning coffee spots. Rest easy, the location will not be revealed and the names have been changed to protect the guilty.
A unanimous response, a disinterested whisper "no."
Charlie fired first. "Progress?" he snorted. "The only things growing here are potholes and taxes and monuments. Your buddies at City Hall must see an election coming in June."
George jumped. "It's not about elections. The Mayor is stronger than twenty heads of roasted garlic with the voters. And who else is running? I think he's looking ahead to the population declines the 2000 census report will show."
Charlie nodded, adding, "Blame the census counters, look grave and point toward the Grow Meridian Team." The cynicism made me wince.
Bob flashed an uneasy smile. "You both might be partly right. There is an election in June. And it is the Mayor's job to look ahead. We do need to grow."
I tried to wait them out. Sipped coffee. Shuffled paper. Tried to look awake and thoughtful. I finally prodded, "Look at the questions. What problems must be overcome for the city to grow?"
Charlie couldn't wait. "How about a list of funerals?"
I tried to get them back on track. "Hey, if you don't like it, don't listen, view or read. And if you want cheerleaders, most of our schools have darn good ones."
George was conciliatory. "We do need more complete information on most issues. All these squabbles between Meridian-Lauderdale County and Meridian-Marion and city-water associations are rarely given enough factual treatment. All we get is spin from elected officials." And he glared at me and said, "You school folks, too, Scaggs."
So kicking school people with one foot and media types with the other foot the participants rumbled and grumbled along. It was time for me to try getting the train back on the track.
Hal spoke quietly. "This is a deeply divided community. Black and white. Rich and poor. East end, red line, Oakland Heights, Windmill Drive. City and county. Southeast. West Lauderdale. And Clarkdale. I think we invent ways to be different from each other."
And that got Jim into the conversation. "Whoa. I've lived all over this country and those kinds of differences are the rule rather than the exception. The point is some places handle difference better than we do."
Bob returned to the discussion. "Some places fuss and forget it. We fuss and never forget."
Charlie reengaged. "The old guard operates on the mushroom theory. Keep'em in the dark and feed'em manure. You know, rich makes right. When the public needs to know, we'll tell'em."
And I tried again. "Come on guys, enough finger-pointing, what are Meridian's weaknesses?"
And as Bob spoke, all eyes turned to me. "OK, wiseguy. You talk and then we can get on to important stuff. Scaggs, get it over so we can get on with our day. How do we grow plantation Meridian?"
It is hard to hem up an old school teacher. My reply came quickly. "What draws people to any place? Most folk are looking for a better life. A better place to be. That means better jobs, better places to live, better schools.
Bill Scaggs is president emeritus at Meridian Community College and a senior consulting editor for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.