Originally Posted September 11, 2020
Wednesday, September 9th marked another contentious meeting night for our Enfield Town Board. I will not throw stones, as maybe some of them might bounce back on me. Others threw plenty of them for sure. I know. I felt them.
So at the close of Wednesday’s session, a full three-and-three-quarter hours after we’d commenced it with a Public Hearing, I reminded those in our online meeting of something that a prior Board had adopted, a Board on which some of my current colleagues had served:
Now, transcribed from our Audio Minutes, here is what I said:
“I’m just going to repeat something that the Town Board adopted in 2017. It’s called a Civility Resolution. Our Supervisor, Beth McGee, takes great pride in that Resolution and advises each of us on this Board—and indeed, in this community—to abide by it.
I’m just going to read a portion of it.
This Resolution states, in part:
“ …be it RESOLVED to exhibit and encourage the kinds of personal qualities that are typical in a civil society—gratitude, humility, openness, passion for service to others, propriety, kindness, caring, sense of duty, and a commitment to doing what is right in the Enfield community, All Enfield board members, committee members and staff shall strive to:
- 1. Treat everyone courteously
- 2. Listen to others respectfully
- 3. Give open minded consideration to all viewpoints
- 4. Focus on the issues and avoid personalizing debate
- 5. Embrace respectful disagreement and dissent as democratic rights that are inherent components of an inclusive public process and tools for forging sound decisions.
Civility? Board, do what we said tonight and how we conducted ourselves tonight really constitute compliance with the Civility Resolution? I question it. End of statement. Thank you.”
I’d planned for it to end there. But it did not. My primary critic on the Board—you know her name—chose to respond, as is her right. In the past, she’s accused me of taking her words out of context. I will not. So in full context, here is the entirety of what she said, and how, in turn, I responded:
My Board critic: “I would like to say that ever since Bob Lynch started attending Town Board meetings in what, 2018, maybe, February, the Board has been attacked, our character has been assailed, been treated in the public terribly, by you. And so for you to suggest and turn the Civility Resolution toward the people here that are constantly at your mercy as far as to how you talk to us, you make no apology for that.
“Every time you stand by what you say, so do I. And you have violated that Civility Resolution since the first day—You actually violated it when you begged the Board not to ban fracking, twice!—But you violate that every time you come here, every time you come here. You are no different; you are no different than anyone else.”
I then responded: “How is taking a different political position on something in violation of civility?”
My Board critic: “Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. That’s right. We don’t have to be your colleagues [a frequent, friendly salutation by which I address my fellow Board members]. You continue to say we are one Board, when so many of us think totally differently about things than you do. And your way is not the right way. It’s your way.
“So just because we disagree with you, and as women we state those opinions—sorry if that offends you, but that is what happens here—it doesn’t mean that we are being uncollegial or uncivilized. You’re labeling us that because we disagree with you and you just posed that question to me… [Her statement is briefly interrupted, then resumes.]
“And you regularly devalue the work that the person that is in this position does, and you’ve done that since February two years ago. So, you’ve been doing that to me ever since then. And if you think I’m just going to sit back and let you, like, disparage the work that myself and the former Board did in order to build continuity, and build strength in the community, and protection in the community, and value. If you think that we’re just going to let you do that, you should have been here a good long time ago.”
I responded: “I try not to disparage anybody, any of my colleagues. I may disagree with them. I may fault them when they disparage me or other Town Board members. But I do not go out of my way to disparage them, unless…” [I’m cut off].
My Board critic: “That’s interesting. Because that’s my experience at every single Board meeting with you, every single Board meeting for two years, even when you weren’t even in office. So you go ahead and keep saying that; keep thinking that about yourself.”
[Our discussion ended, and with it, our meeting]
Sadly, my critic fails to understand my point. I do not object to her own or her fellow Board members’ opinions, or do I object to her criticizing mine. Elections, past and future, resolve those matters. What I oppose is when someone holding a position of power exploits that power position to marginalize or belittle others; when she uses it to treat fellow members of our Governing Team as subordinates, not as co-equals; when she abuses her elite status to elevate herself above another who might be less educated or articulate than she is, and who responds by avoiding meetings so as not to be made out as a fool; someone who mistreats a fellow female office-holder like a Mean Girl might bully the pimpled bookworm in Middle School, even to the point of muting her zoom microphone during meetings; and someone who has, as a result of all of this, driven out of our leadership team some of the best and brightest and most dedicated people Enfield has ever known.
The critic of whom I speak will be leaving soon. I wish her no ill. I will continue to seek to serve her, as well as her family and friends and neighbors; serve them with civility, always, in whatever way I might best choose to define it.
And once the guard has changed, we, collectively—as both a Town Board and a community—must then pick up the pieces and glue back together the broken pot that forms the wondrous mosaic of opinion diversity that we call Enfield.
The difference between my critic and me? If a citizen approaches me, one lowly Board member, to support (yes) fracking—or even to fly the Trump 2020 flag beneath Old Glory at our Town Hall—I’d most likely decline the request. But at least I’d first take time to hear the appeal; to listen to my neighbor politely, sincerely. It’s called respect. And that, Enfield, is what our Civility Resolution means to me.
Previously Posted, from our News Pages:
Catch it if you can!
Fast-Tracked Enfield Budget raises Supervisor’s pay; cuts Highway staff 20%
Posted by Robert Lynch, September 9, 2020
At three minutes before Three Wednesday afternoon (September 9th), Enfield Supervisor Beth McGee rolled out her $1.97 Million tentative budget. Some six hours later, McGee’s Town Board had elevated her cut-here, spend more there spending plan to Preliminary Budget status, carrying it nearly half the distance toward final adoption.
This is a “vindictive budget” complained Councilperson Robert Lynch (this writer), the lone Board member to vote against sending McGee’s proposal to a September 30th Public Hearing without first a line-by-line review. Lynch faulted McGee for slashing Highway Department spending—including eliminating one of Highway Superintendent Barry “Buddy” Rollins five employees—because of the Supervisor’s ongoing disagreements with Rollins about how he administers road maintenance.
The Supervisor’s plan would cut Highway Department spending by more than $101,000, or 9.6 per cent. In addition to eliminating 20 per cent of Rollins’ department’s workforce, McGee would strip the Highway Superintendent of his Town-paid health insurance unless, as she proposes, the Town Board grants health insurance to the Town Supervisor and the Town Clerk, both technically part-time.
“It is blatant discrimination not to do so,” the Supervisor wrote in her accompanying budget narrative, noting the incumbent Supervisor and Clerk are women, while Superintendent Rollins in male.
Elsewhere in the meeting, the Supervisor hurled unsubstantiated allegations of sexism against Councilperson Lynch, the only man on the five-person Board.
“It’s so easy to beat up on the boy,” Lynch muttered in frustration after one of several rounds of criticism leveled by McGee and her female colleagues landed on him.
While the Highway Department stands as the big loser in Enfield’s proposed budget, top administrators would fare better. McGee would raise her own Supervisor’s salary by 20 per cent to $24,000, and the Town Clerk’s salary by an equal amount through two separate budget lines.
McGee would retain a $10,000 salary for her Deputy Supervisor, Stephanie Redmond, the Deputy’s raise controversially awarded earlier this year. McGee has stated her own intention to resign before Election Day and is clearly grooming Redmond to succeed her.
Town Clerk Ellen Woods, meanwhile, voiced criticism several times during Wednesday’s meeting that the raise McGee proposed for her was too meager.
“Do not think my intention is money,” Woods told the Board at one point. The Clerk’s current $20,000 salary, she said, has “an effect on my psyche.” Woods insists she works at least an effective full-time job and that her pay computes to less than minimum wage.
“It would be a dream of mine to (work just) 40 hours,” the Clerk told the Board.
In last year’s funding cycle, McGee released her tentative budget later, in early October, and then convened as many as three subsequent meetings to discuss and revise the plan before the Board raised it to a more formalized Preliminary Budget, a point beyond which changes are harder to make. Though Lynch persuaded his colleagues to convene a budget review meeting September 23rd, no revisions made then could alter the package put before the Hearing one week later. The Town Board dismissed the legal option to delay its Hearing until after Election Day. It has until November 20th to adopt its budget in final form.
Some speculate that McGee has intentionally sped up the process so as to complete the document sooner and then resign. She’s made her departure intentions known since March but has repeatedly declined to set a resignation date.
As was the case last year, McGee Wednesday put heightened importance in drafting a budget whose levy increase falls beneath the state-established “tax cap,” a percentage which changes from year to year.
McGee calculates her levy increase for the year ahead at 1.57 per cent, well below the State’s 2.3 per cent tax cap number. For the budget crafted last year, the cap was much higher, just over four percent, and the Town tax levy rose nearly to meet it.
“While the threats of some were dire, I have recommended a budget that remains well below the tax cap in observance of the possibility that the County tax rate may increase significantly,” McGee wrote in her budget summary.
Councilperson Lynch responded at Wednesday’s meeting that Enfield should not “strangle” its own budget and deny residents needed services just to compensate for expected higher County taxes.
“The tax cap is essentially a political unicorn; an imaginary, yet toothless beast,” Lynch stated before the Board. It’s an Albany ploy “enacted by politicians to reward politicians; to make them look good in the taxpayers’ eyes,” he said. What’s more important, the Councilperson argued, “is to craft a town budget responsibly.” Lynch made clear he thought McGee’s spending plan was not responsible.
The State would impose no penalty on Enfield for exceeding the tax cap, but the Board cleared away the lone obstacle to its exceeding that figure, if it finds necessary. It approved with the required 60 per cent majority—the vote was unanimous by the four members present—to override the state cap.
Only two people addressed the issue at a Public Hearing prior to the tax cap vote. Marcus Gingerich urged the Board to exercise fiscal restraint, even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic fallout.
“Do not have the mentality that it’s going to be painful for everyone, so just ‘suck it up,’” Gingerich admonished the Board.
Note: You can view Supervisor McGee’s Tentative (now Preliminary) 2021 Budget at: http://townofenfield.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Town-of-Enfield-2021-Tentative-Budget-and-Summary.pdf