Friday, June 18, 2010

The fan droned placidly

Members of the conservation commission attended the selectmen's meeting on Tuesday expecting to be criticized and possibly insulted for a decision they'd been forced to make based on inadequate information. We had not been summoned, but presented ourselves to report, as civil and rational colleagues, if the board had any questions or comments.

We are technically appointed by the select board. They could fire us and form a new commission if they chose. I do my best to help here, but if the town leaders decide that a less active and committed commission reflects the will of the citizens better, they have the power to take that controversial step. I can certainly find other ways to keep busy during the declining years of life on Earth.

We were not on the agenda. The board would only have received our decision that afternoon. We were there as a courtesy in case they wanted to address any of their concerns immediately.

Apparently they did not.

I had to leave before the end because of a previously scheduled personal commitment. Before I left I watched them govern for a while.

It's a strange little anti-government government. These people are paid with our tax dollars, which makes them kin to all in that position, but their caustic comments and eye rolls about the feds and state officials clearly showed that they do not sense it.

The chair of the board walks a convoluted tightrope above his constituency here in town. As referred to in an earlier post, the small population here holds the width of viewpoints held in the national population. We have tree-hugging socialists and gun-toting authority-haters. Interestingly, both these polar opposites get together to agree on the basics like road maintenance and other routine functions of the community before returning their customary scathing assessments of each other's mental competence.

The select board does not hold this place together so much as balance on top of the constant minor earthquake. The political speech is a caricature, the duplicity almost instantaneous, as people come forward who have very different positions. Politicians aren't lying, they're just trying to reflect the desires of whoever is in front of them at that moment. Sensitive to the entire audience, this board leans in an anti-government direction and praises property rights and jobs over environmental protection. The environmentalists are used to taking crap and being dismissed. Apparently we can take it and always will. The sad fact is, they're right. Short-sighted, selfish people who are willing to act out and destroy things always get attention over the small, the peaceful, and the hard to understand. If something is hard to understand, get angry at it and order it to become simple! And spout a catch phrase when you do it.

I don't say it's easy to govern, especially when you can face a room packed with angry neighbors. They also stop you in the grocery store, the post office and on the road. Not me, mind you. The board and commission on which I serve tend to function mostly ignored. But the selectmen are the headliners. They become the lightning rod. I've seen the chairman go from being a quiet but open person to someone not vastly, but noticeably, more guarded and angry.

Service to the people forces you to deal with everything about them. It either hardens you somewhat or it cuts you to pieces. That hardness does not have to be cold and cruel. It can simply be a measure of clinical detachment or prudent defensiveness. Or it can form a shell around a bitter center.

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