J. Cristopher Irsfeld: Stockbridge civility is undermined by intimidation tactics

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STOCKBRIDGE >> I'm reluctantly writing this column not because I want to bloviate but rather because of what is happening in Stockbridge and the way residents choose to govern themselves. I have not gone to town meetings since leaving office, as I never wanted to become that person who gets up 10 times a meeting and walks slowly across the room just to hear myself talk into a microphone.

I don't give my opinion to people who approach me in town; my time on the stage has come and gone. But what is happening today reminds me of what happened to me. There is a group of people (I call them the rattlesnake gang) who spend their time bullying and intimidating elected officials with the goal of driving them out of office so they can be replaced by their friends.

Shameful intimidation

About halfway through my last term as Selectman I started to be approached in town by the leader of this group. He would seek me out and tell me that I should enjoy my remaining time as Selectman because he and his friends would make sure that I would never be re-elected again even if I wanted to be. When I told him that he didn't intimidate me he stepped up his game.

Stockbridge has a long tradition of hiring local youth to fill part-time summer jobs. They paint the crosswalks, mow lawns in the graveyard, they run the weed harvester etc. etc. Clint Schneyer hired a local teenage girl to work at the transfer station pushing the button and collecting dump fees.

She was doing a great job but approached Clint and asked if she could be made full-time so she could make more money and be eligible for health insurance through the town. Clint told her that the position was only part time. She understood, and soon put in her two weeks notice. Clint asked my 15-year-old daughter,who had been asking for work, if she would like to fill in for the remaining of the summer. She accepted and showed up for work.

At this point I should mention that the girl that gave her notice was black. Within a week some of the rattlesnake group people were standing at the transfer station with petitions accusing me of arbitrarily closing the Talbot Center and "oh by the way" being a racist. The story went that I fired the girl in order to hire my daughter full-time with benefits. I guess they forgot that after Labor Day kids go back to school.

When this didn't work, a member of the group physically attacked my daughter at the transfer station. She shoved my 80-pound, 15-year-old into the side of the shed and my daughter retreated into the shed and locked the door. This person started pounding on the window yelling at her to come out and fight. Keep in mind that their only issue with her was that she was my daughter.

The police charged this person and she later had to appear in court. That was the moment I decided not to run for re-election. Game over, you guys win!

Chief Eaton, don't let these people get to you. You and your team are doing a great job. Stockbridge is lucky to have you.

Missing Mary's era

Just a quick note on Stockbridge civility.

Mary Flynn was as liberal a Democrat as I am a conservative Republican. Mary loved a parade but she really loved marching down Main Street on Memorial Day. As she got older I noticed she was having a hard time walking the entire parade route.

The next year I offered her a ride in my 1913 Ford. She reluctantly accepted my offer but refused to ride in the back seat. She climbed up and sat next to me and as we started off from the Plain School she gently put her hand on my leg and said "Dear, you know that being driven down Main Street by a Republican is God's punishment for my sins". I answer I know Mary, I know. We rode together every year after that.

Boy, do I miss Mary.

J. Cristopher Irsfeld is a former Stockbridge Selectman.


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