The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 24, 2012

Jane Cage, guest columnist: Residents must decide how to honor victims

By Jane Cage
Special to The Globe

JOPLIN, Mo. — The Citizens Advisory Recovery Team held its first public input meeting 15 months ago. Our goal that day was to change Joplin’s focus from looking around at our devastated community to looking forward to what Joplin could become.

So, we asked you to reimagine our hometown. And you told us, with hundreds of sticky notes and suggestions. Thankfully for the CART, the Federal Emergency Management Agency Long Term Community Recovery group took the time to catalog and categorize every note. That booklet became the basis for the report “Listening to Joplin” that the CART presented to the City Council in November.

While there were many clear directives, one had universal support — a memorial to victims of the tornado. Early on, this was a difficult subject to address because of the raw emotion associated with the event. Sixteen months after the storm, it seems to me that it is time to ask the question to all of you about what you believe is an appropriate memorial. How should we remember our fellow residents? How should we remember the heroism and the help we received?

Many ideas are possible but none will be as important as what we hear from you. This is not the kind of decision that consultants or outsiders can make. It’s Joplin that should decide, because to us, it’s personal. We’re remembering our friends and co-workers, our parents and our children, our spouses and brothers and sisters. We’re recognizing and honoring in the words of City Manager Mark Rohr: “The miracle of the human spirit.”

Knowing where to draw the balance may be tough. We’ll have to decide what not enough is and also what is too much. We’ll need to figure out the line between living in the past and facing the future. And as a practical matter, we’ll have to find a way to pay for what we decide is the right thing.

The CART’s job is to listen and to be your advocates. We will need to find the right folks to step to the plate and take on one of the most emotional and sensitive parts of our recovery. To do that, we’re going back to where it all began — a public meeting.

On Monday, Oct. 29, we will hold two sessions in the basement of City Hall. One begins at 2 p.m. and the other at 6 p.m. The sessions will be the same so that we can accommodate as many residents as possible. We’re going to ask for your input once again — through sticky notes and through facilitated discussions for those of you that are willing. We’ll have tables available where you can sit for a few minutes and discuss your ideas with other residents. And just like the first time, we’ll gather everything you tell us and report it back to you. We’ll try to distill what you tell us into common ideas and themes and bring them back to you to make sure we heard you correctly.

These sessions will have two topics — one that remembers the past and then also one that looks to the future. Wallace Bajjali, the master development group chosen by the city, will be there as well. You will have a chance to hear about proposed projects and to give input to them on your own ideas and priorities. It’s a process they’ve followed in other communities as well.

I don’t know what the outcome will be from these meetings. And in some ways, that’s the beauty of the process. We need every one of you at these sessions — whether you lost someone you loved or whether you love Joplin. Every idea counts.

I do know that when we listen to you and serve as your advocates, Joplin moves ahead in exactly the direction it should go.

Jane Cage is the CART chairwoman. She lives in Joplin.