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Editorial: A consequence of incivility

Being vindictive has consequences. When a small cadre of Middlebury residents set out to discredit selectman Victor Nuovo for allegedly violating the town’s conflict of interest policies they did so in a relentless fashion — organizing a mean-spirited letter-writing campaign that attacked personal character as well as process. It has been beyond the pale. 
One consequence was Mr. Nuovo’s decision last week to step down from the selectboard after eight years of exemplary service. That decision, he said in a story in today’s paper, was because he had become “an object of distraction” for the board.
“The comedy of errors surrounding my alleged conflict of interest has prevented me from preforming my duties as a selectman, and it has become a cause of distraction for the selectboard and the town,” he wrote in a three-paragraph letter to the selectboard. “…Contending against futility is not a virtue,” he continued. “I have the power to remove an impediment and I am doing it.”
Middlebury residents should note this occasion as the first in the past 30 years this editor has covered Middlebury politics that the personal attacks on a member have prompted them to step down before their term of office was up. The purveyors of those attacks, which has been a nucleus of fewer than a couple dozen people, have also launched one of the most relentless and uncivil campaigns against supporters of a proposal facing town residents we have witnessed. That proposal, as we have written about extensively, will build a new municipal building and a new recreational facility, with Middlebury College contributing $5.5 million toward the $7.5 million project. One million of the cost is toward razing the existing building and using that land as a community green. The cost to town taxpayers will be held to two-cents on the tax rate—a fraction of the project’s full cost.
Agree with that project, or not, it is one matter to oppose policies that selectboard members may bring to a public vote (that’s what elections help determine), but it is quite another to chastise, allege wrongdoing, attempt to prevent a public vote, and recast the question all in attempts to subvert an issue town residents have a right to decide. Moreover, a few of the residents in opposition have done so with an organized campaign of caustic letters that shriek with outrage, but shed little light on the cost of viable options.
The facts are plain: The current proposal facing Middlebury voters at Town Meeting will be a bargain for town residents that will create new town facilities in apt locations, while capping the tax burden at a 2-cent increase.  The opponents’ cheapest option—to renovate the existing building—will cost about $4.5 million or more, at two to three times the impact on the tax rate, and will saddle the town with an outdated and unsightly facility that will continue to be costly to heat and maintain, and will need additional maintenance sooner than later.
What is shocking is the venom with which these few opponents have pursued their favored option—at a higher cost to taxpayers—while hiding behind ruses like Mr. Nuovo’s alleged conflict of interest.
Even worse, when consequences like Mr. Nuovo’s resignation play out, these same opponents feign remorse and try to suggest their motives and tactics were anything but personal and their intentions have been civil all along.
Give us a break.
The voters of Middlebury elected Mr. Nuovo to serve on the selectboard fully aware that he was a former employee of the college and could use his insight to the town’s benefit. Not to participate in discussions involving town-gown issues, as these opponents are now piously suggesting, is ludicrous as he was one of the selectboard members who help construct the proposal. And these opponents have been anything but civil. Just suggesting that they were and their attacks not personal shows just how out of touch they are.
As Planning Commission Chairman Nancy Malcolm noted, “I would certainly hope that anybody would be welcome to participate (in discussions) and to exclude them from speaking and providing some valuable information is going way beyond what any conflict of interest (policy) is meant to be.”
Yet, there is hope.
As selectboard Chairman Dean George said: “Recent personal attacks on the character of selectboard members is unwarranted and no board member deserves to be treated in that manner. I hope as we start a new year, those choosing to express their thoughts and opinions can do so in a civil and respectful manner.”
As do we. But before the community forges on, let us honor Mr. Nuovo for his leadership, public service, wisdom and his devout commitment to policies and practices that were to the benefit of all Middlebury residents. We’ll miss his leadership, but respect his decision and wish him well.
Angelo S. Lynn

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