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Other Side of The Aisle 4.15.22

Minority representation should still be able to represent

Since Selectmen David Lober (U) and David Vogel (R) took office in July 2021, there has been an extremely undemocratic methodology to how our Woodbridge government operates. I hesitate to use the phrase “cancel culture” because that would imply ideas have been considered, then dismissed. Many of the ideas “the Davids” have looked to bring before the Board of Selectmen never saw the light of day due to the political tactics of the majority. Multiple times they tried to amend a meeting’s agenda so as to allow discussion of an important issue, and the majority selectmen refused even to allow discussion to proceed.

It’s important for all Woodbridge voters to know how the majority party has shut down the attempt to simply bring ideas for better governance to the table. Whether you were among the 48% who voted Republican last May or the 52% who voted Democratic it’s important to realize that past collegiality toward the minority has been discarded in favor of a strict “it’s our way or the highway” approach to town affairs. Yes, we have a representative form of government and majority rules, but I think it fair to assume most residents prefer respectful and robust discussion to a Washington-D.C-style partisan political environment. Meaningful, collegial discussion at the Selectman level, with reliance upon the expertise of key Boards and Commissions and opportunity for public comment, is the most effective way to identify issues in their early stages when they can be more effectively managed. It would be great if Woodbridge was run that way.

In October of last year David Vogel tried to raise the issue of moving our elections from May to November. The change was to occur automatically as a result of a few paragraphs in a multi-hundred-page state bill unless our BOS voted to keep our elections in May. There were reasonable points to be publicly considered. The issue was summarily shut down – not even put on the agenda - and the option for Woodbridge to opt-out of the change was never vetted publicly, as it should have been. The change was enacted without any justification.

In November the minority representatives tried to promote the creation of a Build-Out Analysis showing the potential impacts of recent zoning changes on the town. The simple concept was to get an accurate assessment of the types of homes and highest density possible in town under the new rules. This would be a sensible foundation for approaching the affordable housing challenges we face. Was there any discussion of this idea? No.

And who could forget the joint offer from the Woodbridge Land Trust and Woodbridge Park Association to purchase the development rights of the country club, aka Roger Sherman Farm? Almost everyone could forget, that’s who, because despite (or maybe in spite) of Lober and Vogel supporting the idea of a healthy, open discussion with fellow BOS members, a motion to “pause” consideration of any proposal concerning the property was made and without comment passed along party lines. Public discussion of the two volunteer groups’ joint proposal never got off the ground. In another example, Selectman Lober’s recommendation to move the town fleet to hybrid and electric vehicles, ignored for years, is finally gaining traction only because it’s part of the state environmental plan, not because the BOS majority allowed it on the table.

Representation strangulation has not been limited to the Republican and Unaffiliated Board of Selectmen members. Citizens with a variety of other issues have been stymied by Woodbridge’s clinging to quarantine policies long abandoned by our neighboring towns. Trying to “Zoom in” to make a public comment is laborious, even for the tech-savvy. Look at the anemic number of people who actually have made public comments at remote BOS meetings. It appears the door to in-person meetings will finally open in April – but the damage done over months of silence due to over-the-top quarantine policies is permanent. Yes, someone has to say it, the extension of virtual meetings even after Town Hall and the Library re-opened was a mistake.

Woodbridge is a small town. Our government should not be run by slick parliamentary procedures and automatic, party line votes to stifle ideas that can benefit the town. This applies to everything the BOS considers, from selling the Roger Sherman Farm to board and commission appointments. Every time a citizen has something to say to our government in a public forum, and is stymied by technology or process, there is another person who realizes there must be a better way. For now Woodbridge Republicans, when the facts support it, will point out the emperor has no clothes and offer appropriate attire.

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