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.