There has been a running joke labelling towns like Madison, Wisc. and Berkeley, Calif., "The People's Republic of..." It arises from a view that those places politically resemble socialist entities and deserve a name reminiscent of the People's Republic of China. Of course, the real joke is that China is anything but a people's republic. The people have few protections, have no ability to choose their leadership and are left in squalor relative to even poor communities in the U.S., never mind lovely towns like Madison. In China, people are powerless to fix their problem because the country's leadership makes all decisions without regard for the people and without fear of reprisal.
I attended the town meeting in April regarding a petition lawfully submitted by well over 200 voting citizens of the town. The petition was, according to town law, supposed to result in a simple up-or-down vote on the issue raised. The midnight oil must have been burning on North Sreet. Those attending were presented with a complex description of what was going to happen with the stated goal of legally avoiding just such a vote. They were then treated to three extended speeches, each over 10-minutes long, by the first selectman, the head of Affordable Housing and the head of the Conservation Commission announcing that they each supported the plan being proposed to the people to not vote on the petition. So the selectmen demonstrated
The meeting moderator then announced that comments could be offered from the floor as long as they did not exceed 2-3 minutes. The first speaker from the floor rose to commend the town leadership for their decision to not allow a vote to be taken on the petition's issue because if the petition's view won the votes of the people, it would be the wrong outcome from that person's point of view. That person was never interrupted and his presentation went on for over eight minutes.
Succeeding speakers rose to disagree. Every single one of them was, of course, held to the time limit and cut off. The only speaker who wasn't was a Spruces resident who begged for help of some sort. She probably exceeded the time restriction by a minute or so but was a compelling figure.
The attendees ultimately voted, just as the selectmen proposed, to allow the selectmen to continue to "study" and avoid having to vote on the petition.
As I left, I ran into a property lawyer from another town who shook his head and said he was stunned by the railroading he had just witnessed. Another person, involved with the petition, said she was now going to work to replace the selectmen.
That would be a logical outcome for elected officials that even forced the person responsible for conservation to advocate not getting to vote on conserving property in their care. Imagine, as well, the billable hours spent by lawyers to come up with a strategy that would legally allow the selectmen to ignore the petition. Will the town citizens remember this at the next election? Or will the title of "People's Republic" truly belong to our town, a town where Selectmen can ignore a petition by citizens and fear no reprisal? Regardless of your opinion on the Lowry property, that April meeting should be alarming.
David R. Bradley