Troy's Take: Protecting The People It Serves
By: Troy Clarkson, January 21, 2014
The public administration scholars speak of the public’s “insatiable appetite for services.” In today’s information-overloaded society, where citizens can make their approval (and more often their displeasure) known to decision-makers at breakneck speeds, the ability of government to multi-task and respond is ever more important—and ever more challenging. The scope of the government’s responsibility to provide a wide range of activities, from technology to recreation, from education to public health, is constantly expanding and changing.
Despite these varying responsibilities and challenges, the paramount responsibility of government, at any level and in its simplest terms, is to protect the people it serves. Government exists to serve by protecting the people. Plain and simple. Government leaders, both elected and appointed, in carrying out their weighty responsibilities, face the sometimes daunting challenge of determining what constitutes the fulfillment of their mandate to serve and protect. When ideology, politics, personal relationships, and pressure from outside sources are factored in, that ability to discern what constitutes an important governmental priority can get obscured.
I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt to our local leaders—both the elected and appointed one—and assert that it has to be a combination of those elements and factors that has led us to the horrifically divisive state of affairs related to the town’s wind turbines, because one thing is for sure: the citizens impacted by the turbines are not being protected by their government.
No matter if you are the most enthusiastic supporter of Wind I and Wind II or the most vehement critic of these town-owned and -operated machines, there is no denying that their presence in our community has caused great harm—from the neighbors who are impacted to the tenor of discussion and debate in our town, and to the town’s image as a tranquil and well-run locale.
The recent decision by the board of selectmen to sue the zoning board of appeals, for a second time, is just adding an expensive insult to this ongoing and perhaps irreparable injury. This issue has become about far more than real or perceived impact of sound and flicker. It has graduated from a policy disagreement to a crisis of public trust.
The filing of an appeal by the town against itself—a rebuke of the ZBA’s decision declaring the turbines a nuisance—would itself be a nuisance if it wasn’t far more. It is injurious to the public trust and confidence. It is injurious to the credibility of those who opted to pursue it. And, most importantly, it is injurious to the citizens who just want their government to protect them. This appeal is not about the varying opinions on the impact of sound and flicker on individual citizens. That is a very personalized and individual experience—like nails on a chalkboard. What can be a debilitating aggravation to one person can simply be a, well, nuisance to another. This issue is about the myrmidonic tendencies of our decision-makers who are simply acting in an unemotional and rote response to the legal action. They will tell us that they filed the appeal to protect the town and its interests. They will tell us that they are doing this with the town’s best interest in mind. They will tell us they know what’s best. I don’t dispute that they believe that, but I certainly dispute that it’s true and accurate.
Citizens in town—our friends and neighbors—have had their lives and their futures altered by an action of the government. That’s the core issue. This stopped being about renewable energy and money a long time ago. It’s time the dialogue got back to that. I support wind energy and, frankly, I supported the turbines at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. I have come to believe I was wrong. In a recent ballot vote, the voters opposed an initiative that would have appropriated money to remove the turbines. Some have used this vote as an endorsement of the turbines. Not so.
The voters of this town voted not to spend money to tear down the turbines. They didn’t vote to ignore the pain and misery of citizens.
The voters of this town voted not to spend millions for a bailout plan. They didn’t vote to plunge our friends and neighbors deeper into a government-imposed morass of suffering.
The voters of this town voted not to dismantle the turbines. They didn’t vote to dismantle peoples’ lives.
No more mediators. No more facilitators. No more lawyers. The selectmen need to sit down with the neighbors—with their neighbors—and find a solution. Face to face, person to person, parent to parent, human being to human being. This dialogue needs to return to what it’s really about—protecting the people. And filing a lawsuit against the volunteer ZBA is not protecting anyone.
(Mr. Clarkson may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @TroyClarkson59.)