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We need leaders like Amber Neumann

I read with interest the story about Amber Neumann’s “Amazing Women” dinners, and it brings to mind a story.

Several months ago, after the Pioneer published one of my screeds about the slow motion death spiral of the Sanford Center, a young woman contacted me and said I was quite wrong, and we needed to talk. It was Amber.

We met for lunch, and spent several hours together. She worked at the Sanford Center, she said, and there were changes she proposed that would make it viable. Besides, she continued, it is here now, and negative caviling will do nobody any good. Her thinking was creative, considered, and sophisticated.

I cautioned her that seeing “positivity” as a philosophy rather than a point of view allows you to be manipulated by people with bad ideas and bad actions, because any criticism will be thrown back in your face as the reason for their failure, if fail they do. In such a world, unjustified wars, unsustainable events centers, and all manner of wrong-headed enterprises are bullied into existence on the backs of a docile public.

Though our lunch meeting changed no minds, with each moment I grew in respect for her passion and commitment to this community.

As we parted, I told her that this town needed people like her. It needs your energy and it needs your vision, I said. It is time for my generation to step back and become mentors to a new generation of exciting, creative, committed young people like you and your friends.

I meant this sincerely. With young voices come new ideas. With young people on the city council and county board and a forward looking female mayor, this community is poised to take a great leap forward from the business-first, business-above-all philosophy that has guided it for the last several decades. That approach had its place, and allowed us to prosper while other small towns were atrophying.

But we now need a broader, more inclusive civic vision that puts livability and concern for the common weal above the right to the unfettered pursuit of individual economic benefit. We need to be encouraging Carnegie renovations, schools, and arts and science centers rather than landlords, franchise owners, and rich hoteliers.

I hope the younger generation, like Amber and her friends, stakes its claim on this community. We need you, we applaud you, we await your leadership.

Kent Nerburn