We have had several letters to the editor in recent weeks expressing their concerns about town matters. I would like to address the issues in the paper as a way of creating an open dialog where all citizens and the Selectboard can come to understand and respond to issues at hand.
The Selectboard meets on the first and third Tuesdays of every month. Part of the agenda for every meeting is Citizens Input (CI). This time is set aside for townsfolk to voice their thoughts on issues of the town. We as a Selectboard do welcome this, however it presents certain challenges for both the Board and citizens. Firstly, many from the town feel that the length of time allotted is insufficient and they are not able to discuss a subject to the length they feel that subject deserves. This is certainly understandable. The problem for the Selectboard however is that CI is set aside in the meeting to make the Board aware of citizens concerns, but it is not designed to be an open discussion, which it often turns into.
Unfortunately, the Board is very limited in its ability to conduct town matters because of open meeting laws. This is both positive and negative, positive in that it provides transparency for decisions. Negative in that it can feel like our time is very limited for discussion with other board members and that all sides of an issue may not come to light. As a three-person board, the only time we have to discuss and debate issues among ourselves at those meetings, there are times when people wish to start a dialog instead of just expressing a concern, which can put a severe constraint on the board’s time to do the other business and have its discussions. In addition, the board prepares for issues that are on the agenda, but not necessarily subjects citizens bring up during the CI. Often people come in with concerns that are near and dear to their heart or otherwise emotionally charged and the input comes across (unintentionally) as hostile to the board and the town manager. It is challenging to give full and thoughtful answers under all these conditions.
This has lead to some less than civil and respectful interactions between citizens and the Board, which is not conducive to getting any issues solved in a manner that is best for the entire town.
In that light I am requesting a few changes: I am reminding the board (as Chris Bianchi first taught me when I became a member of the board) that the people need to be heard, to vent their frustrations, and that is an important part of the process. The Board needs to be respectful of that, and of the people themselves. At the same time, I would request from the people who bring up issues that they allow the board to consider their thoughts and to ask clarifying questions so that we may get to the root of the problem. This often will mean those seeking answers may not get immediate solutions as the information may not be right in front of us. Perhaps we should consider instituting a policy of assigning someone on the board follow up with an answer, so as to assure citizens that their concern is being heard and taken seriously.
Let us all try to set aside any us vs. them attitude so that we can all do what is best for the town.
Killington Selectboard Chair