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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Time for Sudbury to Work Together

Resident Michael Troiano says everybody working as one will make the change in the Board of Selectmen, and other facets of town government, succeed.

There have been a few unkind accusations hurled at me in the last couple of weeks. I guess that’s part of our town’s political culture for now, and know it’s something folks on both sides of the political divide have had to deal with for a few years now. The one that really stung, though, was the accusation that the move from 3-5 Selectmen in Sudbury – which was petitioned, presented, debated, and adopted according to the rules of our town – reflects something other than the collective will of Sudbury’s citizens. It’s been painted in some corners as some kind of back-room deal… backed by a sinister fringe group, then pushed through a last-minute town meeting pre-packed with social media fanatics and “tea-party obstructionists,” as the good citizens of Sudbury slept peacefully into the night.

It’s a good story, but it’s patently untrue. Numbers coming in now provide some perspective on the question of how well the will of the people was expressed by that night's vote, and I think they’re pretty convincing. 

There were 747 people at Monday’s Special Town Meeting, an overflow crowd that overwhelmingly supported the change from 3 to 5 Selectmen. In the 1994 Annual Town Meeting – cited by a few that night as the very model of prudent Democracy – a decision to change the town's entire form of government was made by 381 citizens. That means 6.3 percent of total registered voters took the decision to go from 3-5 on Monday night, while 3.7 percent adopted an entirely new charter for the town 8 years earlier.

But that’s not what has me riled up.

What bugs me about this speculation is that it flies in the face of exactly what our “movement,” if you want to call it that, is all about.

For years the important decisions in this town have been made by a comparatively small group of people. They’ve been – on balance – good and decent people, making good and decent decisions. But they’ve been small in number, relative to the 12,000 voters and 18,000 some-odd residents of our town.

In time this way of being came to be considered an upside feature of representative democracy, a way of moving quickly to get things done. People were busy, the town moved forward, and everyone was happy.

But as the years passed, two things changed. The first was that people on the outside of that group – who had honest disagreements with the honest decisions being made – became frustrated by their lack of a say in the choices of the town they also loved. One tough issue after another, these outside people became more frustrated, and more disenfranchised. They began to express that frustration in ways that were at first unhelpful, and eventually disrespectful. Most of them will own up to this over a cocktail or two, by the way. They know right from wrong. They just “cared too much.”

The second thing that happened over time was that the group of people on the inside began to feel just a bit entitled. They played some clever games with the timing of certain decisions, kept their cards close to the vest, and took care of their own at the margins. They never broke faith with the town, though, and the friends and neighbors they built up over the years rose to their defense when they were attacked. Eventually their rhetoric got hostile, and their accusations got personal. Most of the folks on that side will own up to this over cocktails as well. It’s too bad the folks on both sides never have cocktails together.

The stage was set for a fight. The incident at Lavender gave both sides a chance to dig in, and the “Lavendergate” Facebook group was born.

Now … the question of whether it was born of unchecked frustration or entitled behavior is beside the point. The point is that a group of people outside the power center got organized, and found a way in. And now we’re all standing together – insiders and outsiders – looking at each other across a room at Town Hall, wondering what to do next.

Here’s a thought: Let’s work together.

Why don’t we put the name-calling and accusations of the past behind us, and get down to the business of creating One Sudbury™? Why don’t we all get behind the idea of a deliberative body at the top of our town that better reflects the diversity of its citizens opinions; that has the manpower to pursue the facts, the horsepower to engage multiple external constituencies, and the willpower to make decisions out in the open, based on pertinent fact instead of partisan belief.

That’s what this is about for me, and that’s what it’s about for the people I’ve come to represent. That’s the idea that packed that hall – not some social media gimmick – and the power of that idea is the reason we now have the juice to force our way inside if that’s what it takes to make a change in the way things happen around here going forward.

What we’d like to do next with this newfound power is this: Give those still not quite sure about all this what they’ve asked for.

As proof of our stated values, and a gesture of goodwill to our friends and neighbors on the “other side,” we will support the holding of a ballot vote on Dec. 4 to further express the will of the people to change from 3-5 Selectmen. In the meantime we’ll answer any sincere question, from any quarter. If enough people want it, we’ll even agree to participate in some kind of informal info session to take questions on details and discuss the issue further.

What we won’t do, though, is jump through more hoops than those we’re required to according to the rules we’ve played by since day one. We will not let an article already adopted in a town meeting, and already stalled for years by the people in power, sit on the shelf waiting to die.

We want to make this work, folks. We want this to be a turning point for Sudbury, not just another skirmish in a fight that’s already gone on for too long.

So let the people be heard. Let the people’s will be done.

Let’s work together, and let’s start right now.

Erich Waible September 27, 2012 at 05:42 AM
So I google One Sudbury(tm) and come up with nothing, what is this?
joanne September 27, 2012 at 10:02 AM
Great letter Michael. Well said.
siobhan hullinger September 27, 2012 at 11:56 AM
It's a store! http://www.cafepress.com/onesudbury
Nanette LaRochelle September 27, 2012 at 12:39 PM
Very well said, thank you for writing it.
Kirsten Vandijk September 27, 2012 at 12:45 PM
Michael, With all due respect you are again using a number, 747 this time, to suggest the strength and validity of the Reformation Movement (my moniker...). You still after many months have not answered my question regarding the Facebook Lavendergate group--how many of the members are actually Sudbury citizens? Clearly you do not need to refer to attendance of Monday's meeting-- when you compare it to 1994's attendance it suggests indeed that social media is a driving force as that element was not being utilized in 1994 as it has been over the last few months. I am one of the citizens in town who continue to question the direction of the RM (Reformist Movement). When you call it ONESUDBURY you homogenize the people and many people will not want to be blended into the sweet smoothie you talk about. So I ask that the Lavendergate group (a name I voiced should be changed) respect the differences of opinion that we will all now meet on the road to progress. Put your armor on and put a smile on your face--be a Braveheart. This is the very thing you wanted from the powers that be and now that we are about to embark on a long journey I do hope you keep this mind when you meet a wall that won't want to budge. To put it in quasi- mathematical language.... SudburyToday=A (your described) ONESUDBURY=B FUTURESUDBURY should equal AB. Just my opinion;) We live daily among great moments in history!
Kirsten Vandijk September 27, 2012 at 01:00 PM
Who owns this store?
M September 27, 2012 at 01:14 PM
Well said Michael. I would hope the current BOS could start the process for us by working together and changing the rule that residents are not allowed to speak and ask questions at BOS meetings.
Robert Fucci (Editor) September 27, 2012 at 01:23 PM
@M ... I don't believe it's a "rule." I believe whoever is chairman creates the agenda and decides whether to have open comment during the meeting. It's a guess, but I think that is just one reason why Haarde isn't chairman.
M September 27, 2012 at 01:30 PM
Hi Rob, Yes, I was trying to to make a quick point. I believe we currently have to submit and item for the agenda a week in advance. I just want to be able to attend a BOS meeting and ask questions on issues that I feel are important. We should always have open comment on topics.
Pat Brown September 27, 2012 at 02:16 PM
Hi, Bob, M. Actually, it's a policy of the Board of Selectmen, posted here: http://www.town.sudbury.ma.us/committees/news_story.asp?id=2991 ============ Citizen's Petitions Selectmen's Office (posted: Thursday, June 17, 2010) If you wish to have a topic discussed under "Citizen's Petitions" on the Board of Selectmen's Agenda, you must submit a letter or email containing the subject matter and any supporting information to the Selectmen's office no later than the Wednesday preceding the particular meeting at which the matter will be addressed. ============ I am not aware that this policy is posted anywhere else, so many citizens are not aware of it. The policy as stated does not guarantee an agenda slot nor does it require any notification of the petitioner on the disposition of his request. If this policy is further explained somewhere or posted more prominently, that would be a great thing to share.
JJoseph September 27, 2012 at 02:21 PM
If we want One Sudbury, this policy needs to change immediately. Unfortunately, the Selectmen do not want to hear from people or they wouldn't even have this policy. Let's see if the board of selectmen will want One Sudbury or not.
JON999 September 27, 2012 at 03:00 PM
Pat, is it possible to have a ballot vote or a Town meeting warrant article *requiring* the BoS Chairmanship to rotate every year (with the option for the person whose turn it was to defer if so desired)? that is a root cause of some of the consternation and frustration. The Chair being able to set the agenda and effectively silence the other Selectmen is too awesome a power for it to not change hands every year. I'm firmly in support of moving from 3 to 5 but worried that won't be enough to create an environment for Selectmen and citizens to discuss issues openly if the Chair doesn't rotate regularly, predictably and reliably.
Ken Rice September 27, 2012 at 06:04 PM
While having Sudbury work together for the best of all is a very noble thought (and who wouldn't want that?), I don't believe having 747 people at a town meeting (out of perhaps 12,000 people of voting age) necessarily reflects the will of the residents. I don't know what the whole town's opinion would be. But I still hear the reasoning as a way to get "entitled" leaders out of power or at least to dilute it. Maybe that's a good moral position, I don't know, but I still have to say it makes me uncomfortable. There was an election and these current folks won. I didn't necessarily vote for them, but I've lost elections before at all levels. Still, this somehow doesn't feel right to me. The arguments I hear are 1) Two of the selectman are part of an entitiled group so their power should be reduced; 2) The town population has grown, so 5 selectmen will obviously be better than 3. I can see that there is general agreement among the posters here but it still sounds like the goal is to have a do-over of the previous selectman elections. I've been in town for almost 10 years now and don't have any affiliations or connections with any "camps" so I say this as a very independent voice on local politics.
JJoseph September 27, 2012 at 06:33 PM
Ken, 747 people at Town meeting is double what average town meetings have. This is our form of government. I personally think it is outdated and is not effective. However, it is what we have. This is the same process that approves budgets, changes charters etc... This is typically done by a very small group of citizens. As far as a do-over, I am not sure what you mean. The elected Selectmen will continue to serve and hopefully be re-elected when their terms are up.
JON999 September 27, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Interesting how Town Meeting is legitimate governance - except on this issue. Many feel that citizens haven't been fairly heard or represented, so the *system* needs to change. the personalities are irrelevant, actually. I happen to simultaneously agree & disagree with all 3 Selectmen for different reasons. But I do believe the current set-up is not productive or fair. Other towns have gone to 5 probably for similar reasons. Why not Sudbury? I have still yet to hear the good argument *against* going to 5, besides the questioning of the motivations of those desiring to do so.
SkimThreePercent September 27, 2012 at 07:37 PM
Well, if it makes you feel any better, Susan Iuliano and Lisa Gutch have joined the One Sudbury (Lavendergate) Facebook site hosted by Article 4 Proponent Mike Troiano. To the best of my knowledge, neither one of these individuals has ever been referred to by Mr. Offner as a crazed right-wing teaparty zelophobic misfit, not one single time. I want to welcome Susan in advance to the dark side and wish her well as Sudbury's next Selectman.
Thrice Rusty September 27, 2012 at 08:10 PM
Susan Iuliano as our next Selectman? Are you a realtor Skim? I think half of Sudbury just put their houses on the market to that thought!
JON999 September 27, 2012 at 08:29 PM
Thrice, that's pretty mean and not super constructive. maybe you can try again. I happen to like Susan a lot.
Kirsten Vandijk September 28, 2012 at 11:31 AM
Erich, It seems there now exists on the internet marketplace a virtual retail establishment under CAFEPRESS that is actually selling merchandise with the trademark One Sudbury. Someone is trying to profit by the One Sudbury movement is my assumption. But I question everything. Let's hope that the income from the sale of this merchandise eventually funds the new Community Center many are hoping for...
Shanti Nigam Skiffington September 29, 2012 at 12:46 AM
Excellent letter, Michael. Despite different opinions about how change occurred and whether it should have occurred another way, we are neighbors with many common goals. As for the goals that are different, when in history has diversity of opinion and perspective yielded bad results? To me, that's what this change is all about...permitting greater diversity among our town's elected officials. Let's focus on what brings us together rather than what drives us apart.
Kirsten Vandijk September 29, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Shanti Nigam Skiffinton, I could have sworn these very words were posted under the name Siobhan Hullingher this morning..... are you new to Patch?
siobhan hullinger September 29, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Not sure what you are implying here Kirsten. I did not post anything this morning. I do not post under a different moniker in case you were implying that. Take a deep breath and relax. I don't even know Ms Skiffington.
Kirsten Vandijk September 29, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Sincerely, Siobhan, I really thought I read your name as the author and it would have been consistent with your voice--a positive voice, analytical and succinct. I am implying nothing. I was simply asking and honestly thought what I said. I say what I mean and I could have sworn I read your name as author. I had the intention of commenting that it was well said. Now I will tell Shanti Nigam Skiffington that. Relax we all seem to need to do. It was a long few weeks and the last few days have been stressful. I posed a question to the Editor of Patch Sudbury, twice, yesterday and was met with no response. We all need to relax. No, Siobhan, I was not suggesting anything of the kind. :)
Kirsten Vandijk September 29, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Well said!

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