I went to the state of the city-parish address today and sat in the seats beyond the rope. (AKA the non-eating, free seats.)
This is the event's second year and it strikes me as a good tradition to sustain. The mayor stands and delivers a review of the past year and preview of the year to come. It is, as the state of the union is for the president, a unique chance to present an overview and let the people know what ideas are driving administration policy. This is one of those good ideas that really works.
For us fans of fiber and networking, there were three interesting bits: a further affirmation of an eminent wireless component, a passionate defense of the idea of a fiber-optic network, and a moment of emotion when Durel issued a call to arms.
The wireless bit was the third time--twice in the last two weeks in the Independent and now at the luncheon--where Durel or his administration has treated a parish-wide wireless network as being in the last stages of preparation before a request for proposals. How this fits in with the fiber, and even if integration has been thought through at all, is still in question. What is true without question is that the administration intends to bring it to the whole parish. I'll only repeat what I have said before: this is a big story. Everyone should be very excited. In any other city than the apparently tech-blase Lafayette, this would be banner news. The media needs to get after it.
Durel also, amongst the talk of budget and roads, took time to present an impassioned defense of the fiber plan, saying that before he could endorse it he had to overcome three objections of his own: the public/private issue, the question of whether any other technology could displace fiber, and the concern about risk. He resolved all three. Since the private companies refused to provide what was needed, there was no reason to worry about this one. Since nothing is even close to the bandwidth capacity of fiber and since we are outstripping the current bandwidth needs, he wasn't tempted by the sirens of wireless. Since LUS was so strong and so big that it could withstand a vanishingly unlikely failure with no increase in utility fees, it really didn't seem like there was much, if any risk. He's right on all this, of course. Unless you are the utterly fretful and fearful type, this is a no-brainer.
But the bracing part of the speech and the part for which he got a standing, sustained ovation was his declaration that the only part of the fight he regretted was the unwillingness of some people and institutions to stand up and fight. He spent real political capital in front of a crowd of "movers and shakers" that contained many of those he referred to by expressing his disappointment in people and institutions that continued to do business in the "good ole boy" tradition. Durel characterized that tradition in terms of people's being unwilling to do anything that might upset those with whom they have a relationship. His claim was simple and correct: that behavior ceases being an understandable and justifiable way of doing business at the point where the narrow financial interest of an individual or group is placed above the interests of the community. It was said in a voice that at moments shook with emotion. It was something Mayor-President Durel meant. Acadiana Open Channel (AOC) is going to rebroadcast it. It's worth watching. And that was not the end of it. Durel launched into an impassioned plea for folks to get on board, to speak up, and to do the right thing for the future of the community.
I think Durel absolutely right in this, and I've said so numerous times before. A lot of people are letting others fight their battles and carry their water. Daddy taught 'em better. For those that are still hesitan,t the ensuing standing ovation should be instructive. Durel took a real risk in saying this before that particular crowd. I am certain I was not the only one scanning the crowd for a list of faces of men whose ears I knew should be burning. The ovation was an endorsement...but it was also an acknowledgement of his courage. And a salute to a real leader. There are a lot of folks who think of themselves as leaders as they ply the backwaters of influence. That might be credible when there are no real leaders around to show the sort of courage that defines the species. But that era in Lafayette is over and a new standard has emerged. If you want to be regarded as a leader now you'll have to show a little courage.
And the moment, Durel made clear, is now.
Just a tiny, irresistible footnote: The last time Durel issued a call for the people to show their anger, during the press conference following BellSouth's announcement that it had initiated "negotiations" with a lawsuit, that passionate plea was simply ignored by the local media. Apparently it doesn't feel comfortable with that sort of appropriate anger. I'll be very interested to see if they can ignore this one. After all, it got a standing ovation from the movers and shakers. Even if it was aimed directly at them.