Speer: Recent news provides new challenges

Wednesday’s newspaper will not go down in history as one of the better news days in Northeast Michigan.

The combination of stories dealing with a school millage defeat and problems at Northern Lights Arena was like a sucker punch from a school yard bully. Residents were left hurt, confused, frustrated and eventually, mad.

A co-worker said he woke up Wednesday, read the newspaper and thought he had stepped back into time. “The schools were closing, there were no sports, there was no ice rink and even if the schools were open, kids would have to walk 10 miles to get there.”

While an exaggeration, it pretty much summed up the tone of Wednesday’s main stories.

If the newspaper is the “mirror of the community” as I believe it is, then brothers and sisters, we need to have a “gut check” here this morning. This is a classic “chamber of commerce” moment we face, only this moment isn’t the kind you usually think of in these instances. This moment could be good, or could be bad – the answer is yet to be determined.

The difference between famous and infamous is only two small letters, but those letters make all the difference between something very good and something very bad.

How we deal with the issues in Wednesday’s newspaper over the next few weeks will determine which of those words will describe Alpena moving forward. Do we have the where-for-all to rally together and face these issues head on, with creative ideas and a sense of unity and purpose? Or, do we wrestle in the mud over past differences, point fingers, be unwilling to compromise and continue living in those “glory days” gone by.

This is a huge question that has to have everyone at the Community Development Building on Chisholm not sleeping at night. All the good, all the momentum, all the “branding” surrounding the benefits and assets of Alpena that has been worked on for so many years now could be compromised by these issues.

Think about it.

Would you want to move your family to a community where the local school district is filing a report with the state that it has begun deficit spending, and local residents just rejected a millage request? The answer is obvious.

Or, would you want to move your family to a community where winter recreational opportunities for your children involving skates and ice possibly no longer existed? Again, the answer is obvious.

Should Alpena be fortunate enough to play a role in future drone development and research, the area is going to grow. But, the people moving here are going to expect certain amenities in exchange for their talent – things like a good school system, recreational opportunities and safe environment. Without those kinds of opportunities, no development, no expansion, no growth ever will take place locally.

It’s that simple.

That is why these next few weeks are so critical.

Beginning immediately, the community needs to rally around the school district and put pressure on Lansing legislators to revamp school funding. Proposal A is broke and needs adjusting.

Just as important, the community needs to broker a meeting between all the parties involved at Northern Lights – commissioners, Park Family Foundation, Synchronization Management and M-PAC – to hammer out a reasonable solution that keeps the arena open.

Now is not the time for a black eye or to step backward.

We need to address these challenges head on, deal with them, and move forward.

Anything less and we might as well dig our grave.

I vote for famous, not infamous.

What about you?