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It's getting harder and harder to be a kid in New London

New London — Sometimes, as the great Arthur Branch said during an episode of "Law & Order," the good you do doesn't do you any good.

Such is the case with New England Science and Sailing, whose ocean-based educational programs have a long and productive history with New London kids, from teaching sailing to students at Bennie Dover for many years to eclectic summer programs through Camp Rotary.

NESS had pitched more programs in conjunction with New London Recreation Department, requesting a total of $1.98 million over four years through the $13 million in federal funds the city has received American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) relief package.

The City Council denied NESS the money during a special meeting last week, transferring part of the $495,000 proposed for NESS to the Green Space Improvement city park program.

"I want every child in New London to have access to amazing programs like NESS offers," councilor James Burke told The Day, "but I think we need to look more equitably at how money is used and make sure that all of our nonprofits are funded in a way we are able provide the best services for the most number children in our community."

Full disclosure: I have no idea what that quote means.

I'm not sure why Mr. Burke would imply that an unproven city park program "looks more equitably" and "best provides services for the most number of children in our city," when NESS has already provided notable services over the years for a number of children in our city.

And should anyone try to deny such a claim, I'd be happy to discuss.

I e-mailed Mr. Burke Friday morning asking for details about the Green Space Improvement program and for clarification of his quote. I've yet to receive an answer.

I'm similarly confused by city Finance Director David McBride, who per Greg Smith's story in The Day "said that while there is a budget created for all of the funds, what was approved on Wednesday was more of a guide. The bulk of the proposed expenditures are subject to final agreements or contracts and will get a second look by the City Council in the future."

That strikes me as a euphemism for "we reserve the right to change our minds."

And some city councilors wonder why many of us in the city view their work as amateur hour?

Republican Town Committee Chair Kat Goulart makes a valid point, questioning why the council decided to call a special meeting for the final approval of the proposed budget instead of a regular meeting with more people in attendance. It doesn't say much for transparency, but says plenty for agenda-based secrecy.

What's most bothersome, though, is the dismissive wave our elected officials — and those who are seeking election — have shown NESS, stereotyped as "$2 million for sailing lessons for a Stonington-based non-profit."

We're supposed to feel better, apparently, that proposed funds for NESS can be revisited. As if the rest of us don't realize that unless NESS fits into the agenda — "best providing services for the most number of children in our city" — the proposal will go quietly into oblivion.

I've seen NESS programs personally. I've seen them introduce kids from the city to the water, many for the first time. I've seen the looks of wonder on the kids' faces after a few sailing forays — specifically the confidence they exude having conquered the lessons of self-sufficiency that sailing teaches.

Perhaps best of all: NESS takes an endeavor often pigeonholed into a pastime of the elite and offers it to the whole city. In a country where denial of opportunity has created the marginalization that leads to racism, NESS is trying to build bridges. That our city leaders have avoided the proposal — it's called kicking the can down the road — calls into question whether they really know what's best for our kids aside from understanding what is rhetorically useful to their agendas.

Are you ready for the rhetoric? I sure am.

Raise your hand if you've felt disappointed by the people you've elected in New London. The wheels continue to spin furiously, but with no traction. Round and round we go, no end in sight. And yet we continue to allow the charade.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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