Half Open Isn’t Good Government
There has not been a single public comment in person at a Woodbridge Board of Selectman meeting since the pandemic shutdown started. How many years is that? Too many. As the nation, nay, the world has reopened, our First Selectman and Democrat majority have continued the bunker mentality to the detriment of residents who seek to speak with our political leaders face to face.
The technology and processes deployed to try to provide a forum for public comment have been a disaster from Day One. We won’t rehash the issues with people being required to show their ID on live video with hundreds watching, or the complications of trying to log in for a remote comment, but it is worth noting there has been no improvement in these limiting systems since the start of the pandemic. Our world has graduated from the temporary pandemic lockdown environment, even Town Hall is back open, so what’s the hold up with the Board of Selectmen getting back to normal business? This ineffective half opening is not good enough. Selectman David Vogel has been making this point for many months yet he has been summarily ignored.
Even a hybrid meeting, where residents still concerned with infection can participate remotely, while others come in person to the Selectmen’s chamber would be an improvement. I guess those In-person attendees could tolerate wearing a mask, even if they don’t personally see the need, to get back to the traditional way we address our elected officials. Local government is supposed to be the closest to the people. Instead, our First Selectman is perpetuating an arm’s-length (at best) relationship that has been left in the dust by nearly every other facet of day-to-day living. Even hospitals allow some form of physical presence – so what’s so special about our Board of Selectmen that they can’t get with the program?
There are two important issues facing our town, and it seems very little progress is being made on either the Country Club of Woodbridge property or the ever-increasing mill rate. Yet the grass keeps growing and our high tax bills keep coming in. If the strategy of “he who does nothing does nothing wrong” is in effect here, I can assure the Democrat leadership there is plenty wrong with it. Their counter argument for the CCW property is “these things take time” to which one must ask “12+ years?” What ever became of an open discussion of the petition-driven proposal for that property? I’m sure the 300+ residents who signed it would like their “day in court.” And we now have the seventh highest mill rate in the state. Maybe since there has been no effective way to have public comment at BOS meetings, the Democrat leadership thinks they are doing a fine job – heck – no one complaining! Believe me, people are complaining and if the BOS would open its doors to hear the comments, it would likely get an earful.
If the day does come when we can enjoy direct, live, in-person access to the Board of Selectmen, here’s another suggestion – don’t sit there like bumps on a log when people come with issues. Today the official format is for speakers to have a limited amount of time to make their point, the BOS sits unresponsive and then the next speaker gets his or her turn at bat. That’s not constructive. That’s not citizen participation. It’s kabuki theatre with no commitment to address topics citizens come to present/discuss. Back-and-forth conversation is the best path to mutual understanding and common ground. It’s not happening here at present. The structure of Robert’s Rules of Order has been co-opted in a way for the Democrat majority to cast their four votes on pre-determined issues and make it appear democratic.
So, as we move into the early fall, let’s see the Board of Selectmen get back to normal. Wear a mask if you must, use technology to accommodate those in the minority who want to participate remotely, but by all means move the ball forward on the critical issues we face.
A special note to the Woodbridge Republicans: This year will be another test of how our party comes together after a primary. The Democrats have traditionally done a much better job of getting behind their primary winners, putting aside whatever slings and arrows were shot during the primary. Republicans have sometimes “taken their marbles and gone home” if their candidate does not win. The result, at times, is victory for the Democrats due to lack of support by Republicans for Republicans. Can we please rethink that strategy? Yes, the better candidate (or maybe the lesser of two evils in some people's opinions)should win, no matter the party, but disengaging isn't the answer.