The way democracy works
The recent decision by the Select Board, and overwhelming approval by Town Meeting Representatives, to move ahead with the police/fire project has been long overdue.
To address the concerns that the Select Board "rammed" the decision down the throats of taxpayers already struggling with one of the highest tax burdens in the state. This discussion to renovate or build new facilities for the police and fire departments has been going on for more than two decades. Every year the decision was delayed, the price tag went up. So the Select Board and Town Meeting Representatives were left with very few options: Wait another year and watch the cost rise again; make a decision on a new facility; renovate the current facilities; or do nothing.
As we all know, the decision was made to renovate Central Fire Station on Elliot Street and move the police department to Black Mountain Road. We believe the Select Board and Town Meeting Reps, faced with an almost intractable problem of finding a balance between the interests of the taxpayers and the well-being of the town's police officers and firefighters, made the correct decision. And they made it after years and years of studies and public input and debate. To say the board and Town Meeting Reps pulled a fast one on taxpayers is disingenuous to say the least. Evidence of this was a recent petition drive to bring the matter to another public vote. That drive failed to receive the necessary signatures in the allotted time. We take that as an indication that most townspeople are ready for this issue to be done with and support the decision to give their police officers and firefighters the facilities they deserve.
The members of the Select Board are elected officials, and each year there are contested seats; those opposed to the project could have ran for office and fought the decision tooth and nail. And the Town Meeting Reps are also elected officials. In fact, there are always seats left vacant at Town Meeting because many people can't be bothered with spending 10 or 20 hours each year learning about issues affecting town residents, listening to residents and town employees, and attending annual Town Meeting.
People concerned about how their money is being spent could still run for office or as a Town Meeting Rep as these projects are ongoing. There are a number of other capital projects that the town will need to address, so if you want your voice heard, attend Select Board meetings or get more involved as a committee member or as a town rep.
The Select Board opens up its meeting with an opportunity for citizens to express their opinions, so you don't have to sit through a three-hour meeting to get you voice heard. At Tuesday night's meeting, Select Board Chairman David Gartenstein said after voting on three contracts related to the police/fire project "We continue to encourage anyone and everyone who's interested in the matter to come to Select Board meetings and participate and to ask questions. This a fully-transparent project and process. And we want everybody to participate and know what's going on."
But it's only transparent if you actually attend. You can also watch from the comfort of your own home, as BCTV broadcasts the meetings live. If you excuse is you are busy on Tuesday nights, BCTV rebroadcasts the meetings during the week and streams them online for those of us who have "cut the cord."
No disrespect intended, but Brattleboro has a reputation of thinking things, setting up committees to study whether to set up a committee, and not getting anything done. Even when something does get done, people complain it happened too fast or town leaders didn't take enough public input. While citizen participation in Brattleboro is admirable, it can also prove to be an impediment that is impossible to surmount.
For those who never seem to be happy with any decisions that are made despite how long they are talked about, stop complaining, get involved, do some of the hard work that requires compromise and tough decisions.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.