GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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September 19, 2013

Group eyes 'conversations' on city issues

Group launches civic project on city issues

With looming city elections and hot discussion topics ranging from a proposed new school to the future of the former Fuller School facility, a group of residents is seeking to focus such talks and harness residents’ energy on such issues through a new forum project.

The group, called Gloucester Conversations, is being led by Leslie Sarofeen, John Sarouf, Kathy Eckles, Susan Oleksiew and Nancy Goodman.

The format is rooted partly in the federal Public Square Grant-funded Public Conversations Project, with which Sarouf works and which is headquartered in Watertown. And the Gloucester group is building its series of discussion sessions on a model used by the New Hampshire group Portsmouth Listens, with an initial set of sessions grounded in addressing Gloucester’s public facilities and the city’s needs.

“It’s all based on the idea of working past the polarization we’re all seeing on issues around the country, and locally as well,” said Sarouf, who formerly served as facilities chief at Gloucester Stage Company. “And it’s a project based on rebuilding the idea of a ‘public square,’ where everyone with an idea or a view on a subject can speak up and be heard.”

Sarofeen, who has worked with previous and current efforts aimed at raising awareness of local issues — including Gloucester’s Committee on Citizen Participation and Public Information, which spotlights local public meetings through, among other things, the weekly Gloucester agenda listings in the Times — added that the local discussion groups are “all about listening — listening to what people have to say, letting people know that they are being heard, and that we can discuss these issues civilly and without confrontation.”

Sarofeen added that the goals of the talks — which are expected to involve groups of a dozen or so participants, each committing to join in four weekly discussion sessions — is not necessarily to build a consensus, and she emphasized that any talks will be facilitated, but not steered toward any agenda or view.

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