2019 President's Message

Remarks from incoming 2019 president Troy Harris at the 12/14/18 Annual Meeting.

MERRAG is weathering some challenging times. (And yes, that's a pun.)

Not only climate change: sundowners and resulting wildfires; winter storms and the debris flows. But also some human-dynamics sea changes: evolution in the practice of emergency management; and the gray tsunami that will wash away us old folks.

In the face of so much tumult, President Sue Ziliotto (2017 and 2018) has kept the MERRAG organization afloat. When the Thomas Fire incinerated the agenda for last year's annual meeting, Sue stepped back up to the plate and said Yes to navigating us thru what was surely the most difficult of MERRAG's 30-plus years.

She also got the ball rolling for what comes next. She insisted that the Board have a heart-to-heart conversation with the fire department leadership about MERRAG’s role in disaster response. She invited Bucket Brigade to the table, to begin exploring alignment with a community movement that has shown vigor, and attracted youthful energy.

She has continued to apply her organizational and tactical strengths even up to last night—mobilizing the red shirts to help out at Montecito Union—and this morning, ensuring all the ducks were in the Biltmore row—and yet again this coming Saturday as scores of volunteers will canvass the neighborhoods to ensure that every single parcel has the vital information to keep them safe in this winter's rains.

I am so grateful, as are you, that Sue has committed to continue serving Montecitizens with her unique hands-on capabilities to make ... things ... happen.

Let's celebrate Sue! (Enthusiastic applause)

Sue and I bring different skill sets to the [boardroom] table. Where Sue is a consummate Implementer, I'm more of a Developer style person.

That style difference will be reflected in the Board meetings, as we grasp the opportunity before us to re-define and clarify. We will shift much of our attention to what might be called strategic concerns: where are we headed as an organization?; how will we get there?

But we will need both approaches—strategic and tactical—operating in complementary fashion in the coming year.

I had the privilege of walking the Board thru a strategic review as president in 2007, and as best I’m aware the consensus was that that was a helpful process. What we didn’t do as well that year—applying 20/20 hindsight—was attach the strategic to the tactical, to institutionalize the ongoing connection between those two. So I hope to lay a better groundwork this coming year, and I’ll rely on Sue—and all of the Board and active members—to keep our boots on the ground.
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As the only citizen action corps officially chartered by the three local service districts (Fire, Water and Sanitary), MERRAG is uniquely positioned to offer certain specialties to the Montecito community. Five things:

  1. Foremost among them is our Radio Network, with a couple dozen nodes scattered across the miles, enabling probably one of the most extensive and effective Neighborhood Comms in the nation—perhaps the world.
  2. In the recent travails we have shined in Community Education. The MERRAG Communications Van, staffed by the faithful and often in place at the Upper Village, has become a go-to place for people to learn what's up, and what's next.
  3. Beyond education is training, and we've now sustained this for decades. Nobody had been more engaged in community awareness than MERRAG.
  4. 3-5 years from now, when there's finally something to burn again, we'll be able to resume Staffing the Trailheads to enhance fire safety.
  5. And notwithstanding the forward march of the emergency management discipline, when the quake comes we will remain uniquely positioned to offer the Districts capable, even though Contingent-only, volunteer Response Support

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We hammered out a Vision Statement and a Mission Statement in 2007. It’s time for us to refine those in the face of our changing times. I look forward to working with you on that, and am honored to be given a second run at moving us forward.

As the fable goes, the phoenix arises from the ashes.
As reality goes: together, MERRAG will arise from the ashes and the mud.

Thank you.

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