By Jennifer Healy, Camden Resident
With two Camden Select Board positions opening up this June, I wanted to take a few minutes to share some thoughts about the Select Board meetings I have personally attended over the past 2 1/2 years. Every meeting I attend bears witness to citizens taking part in the democratic process. Every meeting I attend is to either support or to learn more about a particular town issue. On several occasions, I ventured to the podium. What is the reason why we do this?
An incredible, long-standing public servant named Madeleine Albright, a Secretary of State and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, stated the following: “Democracy frays when citizens fail to show interest in preserving the integrity of its institutions or they are complicit in the fraying.” I would like to address this statement in regard to our current Select Board.
As many of you know, at the beginning of each bi-weekly Select Board meeting, there is a required public comment session on non-agenda items. For the majority of citizens, this is one of the most fundamental aspects of town government. The average citizen receives approximately three minutes to express politely his or her opinion, share ideas, bring up long-standing concerns, or question where we may be heading.
Many of us prepare our words over several days or weeks. We practice to make sure we get our ideas across clearly and succinctly and we are frequently very nervous standing up in a crowd in front of the Select Board. Some citizens ask neighbors for a ride to the French Conference Room, others come out in inclement weather or on beautiful summer evenings, others ask for time to amble to the podium. Nearly everyone has to adjust and speak “more loudly” into the microphone. All feel a sense of pride in getting themselves to this point, as they should.
The citizens at this moment humbly and rightfully expect receptive listeners from the Select Board who will show a courteous demeanor, a recognition of their taking the time and making an effort to use this forum, and a mutual respect for their concerns. Trust me, we don’t come here for attention, a therapy session, or to receive an ATTA BOY!
Unfortunately, what I have observed repeatedly from the Chairman and those Select Board members seated immediately on either side of him, is not the welcoming, inviting experience one might expect. In fact, the welcome and open attitude is underwhelming at best. These Select Board members’ heads are turned downward, with minimal eye contact unless checking the wall clock for the allotted speaking time to be up. The sense of impatience and dismissal that emanates from these same three Select Board members is both palpable and deeply disturbing. The French Conference Room becomes a sad and unhealthy environment with all of the air and sense of prospect sucked out of it.
While sitting in the audience at Select Board meetings, I have searched for the sincere and receptive eye contact from these same three more seasoned Select Board members towards the citizens of Camden. I see stone faces, weary disregard and disinterest in their overall body language and tone. The disdain is obvious to both the audience and the speaker at the lectern. My heart goes out to these earnest citizens returning to their seats from the podium. The “thank you” that is sometimes uttered by the Chairman comes across more as a “Thank God that’s over,” a sigh of relief.
These three Select Board members chose, at one point several years ago, to generously allocate their time and skills to this endeavor of town stewardship. However, their interest in and enthusiasm for their fellow town citizens has waned. We do not feel hopeful and uplifted after attending, or in attempting to participate in our current Select Board meetings.
Whatever principles that once informed their actions and words are now depleted, to our detriment. They, as Select Board members, were not voted into their positions to ram through their chosen passions with no little or no regard for others. They, as Select Board members, were not voted into their positions to practice delay tactics and adherence to wobbly, legal ping-pong recommendations. They have lost our confidence and they have lost their bearings.
The two Select Board seats available must be vacated and fresh, open-minded people must be voted into those positions. The wise choices we make at the polls are vital to a victory of the democratic spirit.