On this Memorial Day weekend I am grateful to those who made unspeakable sacrifices so that we may continue to have the abundant freedoms we enjoy, and sadly often take for granted, in this country. For me, few things are as important as the freedom of speech and of the press, as these are the tools we were given by our founders that enable us to question hypocrisy, expose fraud, fight tyranny, and yes, even express our own opinions without fear.
This weekend, I am writing a blog BECAUSE I CAN. How lucky am I? How lucky are you?
I am not a politically active person. I never have been (although I do follow politics because, well, everyone should.) You will NEVER see my name on a ballot, although for a dozen years you may have seen my byline on hundreds of articles covering local politics in more than a dozen towns. I work hard to be unbiased and present the views of everyone involved, and I seldom write an opinion piece about politics, aside from one snarky column about Milford Public Works pretty much napalming the courtyard at the Parson’s Complex.
Last week I wrote a blog about showing up at Bethany Town Hall to vote on the budget only to learn I wasn’t going to get to vote, and that the Board of Selectmen had voted two-to-one to send the vote to a referendum. I wasn’t the only one who was angry. On my way in I passed a mess of people who were storming out, not so much because of the referendum, but because they were not told about the change. I was also pretty pissy. Think about being told someone was throwing a birthday party for you complete with a chocolate mousse cake from Julia’s Bakery, only to be told as you walk through the door that they’d decided to serve the cake in two weeks, instead, so here, have a glass of lukewarm water. With a slice of old lemon in it. Drink it and like it, dammit, it’s for your own good.
I then wrote a blog that clearly stated I was pissy about the lack of communication, NOT about the referendum. The way selectmen Aileen Magda and Don Shea handled the situation may not have been illegal, but it was inconsiderate and unprofessional. Am I going to stamp my feet and call them names? Not at all. I think they made a really poor decision, but the truth is, I like Aileen and Don and I believe they truly care about our town. However, after a dozen years of covering local politics in the New Haven and Bridgeport area and seeing the good, the bad and the indifferent, I have developed an opinion. Because I am lucky enough to live in the United States, I get to write it and post it. So here’s what I believe, and it has less to do with politics than with being considerate and polite.
If Aileen and Don have a long-held belief that the townspeople of Bethany are best served by a referendum to pass the budget, that’s great. However, if this is the case, something as important as such should really have been part of their campaign, and our first shot at voicing our opinion of this would have been in the voting booth. I don’t remember seeing anything about it in their campaign literature, but if I am wrong, I would appreciate being corrected.
If, as they say, they were approached by many townspeople requesting a referendum due to their inability to make the annual town meeting, that’s totally valid. BUT . . . say 50 people spoke to them about it. That’s hardly a representative number. Neither is100. In fact, it wouldn’t matter how many people approached them because there was nothing official or documented about it (and those who don’t want a referendum didn’t have a voice – why would they approach anyone about anything when they were still under the assumption they would get to vote at the town meeting?) In any case, if they believed the right thing to do was to call for the referendum I would hope they knew this more than a week before the meeting. In fact, instead of sending out a mailing about the airport hangar, which the town had already voted on and approved (I not only covered that meeting, I voted “aye”) they could have broached this subject instead.
I stated in my previous blog that even though the selectmen couldn’t act until the call to meeting was signed, they could have given a heads-up as to what they were going to do at the April 28 selectmen’s meeting since being the majority on the board made it a done-deal. I could still have gotten that information into the Bulletin, which didn’t go to press until a few days afterwards. Aileen’s suggestion to send the Bulletin to press a few days early (actually, more than two weeks) was impossible. Period. A town mailing ($700) could have been done, but after a Monday night vote the soonest it would have hit mailboxes was Friday or Saturday, possibly as late as Monday, and that’s if the printer wasn’t backed up with other work. A reverse 911 call, as mentioned at the town meeting, is hardly appropriate. When I get one of those I just about pee my pants as I’m sure there’s a tornado approaching, a gunman running loose on school property, or at the very least, an Amber Alert. No thanks . . . I have far too many panicked moments in my life without that.
So I will repeat what I’ve already stated – if there was no way the town could be adequately informed about this dramatic change in the town meeting agenda, then it shouldn’t have been done. The more professional options, if a referendum means that much to the selectmen, were to discuss it as part of their campaign, send out a mailing well in advance, give a heads-up at an earlier board of selectmen’s meeting, and if none of that could be done, don’t do it at all. They will be in office for another entire year during which this could be addressed, and even better, they could have worked to give Bethany voters a say as to whether or not they want a budget referendum by making it a ballot item; then we would really know if the majority are in favor of it.
I will vote on the budget whether it is at a town meeting or a referendum. Period. If the voters of Bethany unanimously decide they want a referendum, that’s just peachy. I have no problem with that. But the way it was handled was sloppy, unprofessional and impolite and made a lot of people angry on both sides of the political aisle.
In a blog, Aileen wrote about her feelings that the board of selectmen was being run in an unprofessional manner. I don’t know if that’s the case as I have not attended any meetings this past year, but if it is true, the antidote to that isn’t more of the same.
But this Memorial Day, I have a voice and I have a vote, and I am not afraid to use either. I am one of the most fortunate people in the world; I am an American and I am not afraid to use the power that our Constitution gives me. And above that, I am not afraid to say I would appreciate a little consideration and forethought by those who represent me in Bethany Town Hall because I take my voting very, very seriously.
And lucky you, you get to voice your opinion, too. In fact, in honor of those brave individuals who died to preserve our freedom, maybe you should. But please, a little consideration . . . let’s be polite.