The town of Hinsdale seems locked in mortal combat: Political factions argue long and loudly at town meetings, and negativity trumps any attempt to move the town forward. It is not surprising that matters are so contentious, so angry. What we see on television and on the Internet model the worst of human behavior.
Reality shows are not real people acting normally; they are caricatures, buffoons, acting in outlandish and brutish manners. Republicans and Dem-
ocrats in Washington have forgotten they are supposed to forge compromises and get legislation passed. Often they seem to be auditioning for chest-thumping careers in professional wrestling. People write any nasty thing that pops into their heads on Facebook; hurtful, wounding things they would never say if they were face to face with a real person.
But this very bad behavior has no place in local government. For the system to work, people should be able to speak and be heard, and its elected leaders need to be able to explain its actions and also to be heard.
This is not happening in Hinsdale.
Normally Hinsdale is a quiet community of cheerful folks. But recently, a deep and angry division in town has threatened its ability to govern, resulting in lawsuits, myriad claims of open meeting violations, police presence at public meetings, and other sad evidence of people struggling to get along.
Over the past year, select board meetings have gotten so raucous that public comment was curtailed. This is perfectly legal: There is no requirement for the public to have input at a public meeting, but it is a sad result of not understanding limits. "Why, I pay taxes; don't I have a right to say what I think?" one might ask. Yes, but not necessarily at a select board meeting. One can call and make an appointment to speak to a select board member about any topic. But a select board meeting is just that: A meeting of the people elected to govern the town; their meetings are open to the public so that people can see what is happening. But the public does not have an inherent right to speak at these meetings. In Hinsdale, public comment often turns into shouting and angry accusations, self-righteous speeches and pontificating and a relentless unwillingness to listen.
As we learned in high school government, we have certain rights. Along with those rights come responsibilities. We need to learn what select boards can and cannot do, and what we as citizens can and cannot do. A select board is the only branch of town government that can hire or fire or negotiate a contract. If there is a legal matter pending against the town, a select board cannot discuss details until it is resolved. This often ties members' hands and leaves them in the unenviable position of being unable to defend themselves against accusations or to answer questions about the pending suit.
Like in an unhappy marriage, no one in Hinsdale is doing much listening and each side feels misunderstood and aggr-
ieved. The level of anger and antagonism is such that many moderate people won't get involved in the drama and histrionics and have fled participation in local government at the very time calm, reasonable voices are needed the most.
If all one looks for are mistakes and flaws, that is all one will ever see. Changing "No, but" to "Yes, and" can bring a sea change in both our perceptions and the outcome. We have to stop working against each other and start working together again. We need to lower our voices and let go of the anger. We need to take a deep breath and calm down. People must remember we are all members of the same community. We all have the same desire to live in harmony. We all want the best for Hinsdale and need to work together to achieve it.
Please make plans now to attend the annual town meeting at 7 p.m. on Wed-
nesday at Kittredge School and to vote at the annual election from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on May 24, at Town Hall.
Vivian Mason is a candidate for Select Board in Hinsdale and a former three-term member of the Dalton Select Board.