The great thing about having gone to all the meetings regarding a casino down in Middleboro, is that it gives me some perspective. For instance, I was there at that first meeting after the land sale when Middleboro Board of Selectmen Chairwoman Marsha Burnell announced that she’d welcome questions and comments from those in attendance. I marveled at the democracy in action as people stood and waited in a terribly long, slow moving line, respectfully waiting for their turn to speak. But I was thankful that they did because I learned a lot. Even from the opposition.
That first meeting went late, but I didn’t mind. Though I have other things I’d rather be doing on a hot summer night than sitting on a folding chair in an unairconditioned town hall, it seemed a miniscule price to pay for trying to preserve the quality of life for myself and my family.
But in subsequent meetings, Ms. Brunelle just seemed to get more and more crankier at all the time all these questions and comments were chewing up. She was a volunteer, after all, and we were on her time.
Now, I try to believe the best in people, I really do, until they give me ample reason not to. And so I figured Ms. Brunelle was probably a nice lady, I mean, there was one sweltering evening, shortly before a meeting upstairs in the Middleboro town hall, when she turned to me and another woman in attendance and let us know that there was a soda machine down in the lobby. And, I thought that was fairly gracious of her. But then, at the same meeting, I watched as Ms. Brunelle allowed an elderly Wampanoag woman to stand for twenty minutes at the microphone before acknowledging her. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me. I grew up in an era when men still gave up their seat on the subway to pregnant women. But apparently the board of selectmen are happy to accept the Wampanoag’s $7 million tribute for polluting it’s town, but unflinching when allowing one of them a simple courtesy.
At the most recent selectmen’s meeting, Ms. Brunelle, evidently weary of how the democratic process conflicted with her Monday evenings, told us that she’d actually gone to the trouble of checking the laws regarding selectmen’s meetings - which revealed that the law does not require that people be allowed to speak or make comments. And furthermore, she is hereby putting the kibosh on any further public commentary regarding the casino issue.
Which is a shame. Because speaking up in your town hall is one of the few places let in America where a plain old ordinary American can still be heard.
It’s certainly not true at the state and federal level. In the past few weeks I’ve written to every state and federal representative I have, and a few I don’t, and the only response I got back was a form letter from Ted Kennedy’s office thanking me for my interest in immigration reform. Huh?
And the silent treatment is spreading. In my town, Bridgewater, the night after the meeting in Middleboro, selectman Mark Oliari who, incidently, is Bridgewater's official liason to Middleboro regarding the casino issue, and who was filling in for chairman Herb Lemon that evening, suddenly eliminated the public forum segment scheduled for the end of the meeting. There was an outcry from the public, to which Mr. Oliari responded “I will not discuss the agenda with you or anyone else who is not an elected member on this board.” Obviously, Mr. Oliari is spending too much time in Middleboro. Let's hope Herb gets back real soon.
I’m going to miss those informative question and answer sessions. I wish Ms. Brunelle found them as interesting and enlightening as I do. But I suppose they have been keeping her out late on Monday nights. Perhaps she’d prefer you’d call her at home. She’s in the book.