Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Goshen must heal division

I’ve lived in Goshen for over 40 years, interrupted only by a brief stay nearby. I knew there were complaints about the roads and the appearance of the town garage and town hall downstairs. I knew the budget was always tight and the selectboard and road commissioner, then foreman, historically attempted to keep it in hand. I avoided car trouble with careful driving and sharp lookouts for potholes. 

In the past, I served on the recycling and public safety committees (both now extant) but became busy in retirement and then was always away during the run-up to, during, and the aftermath of town meeting. When I started hearing about resignations of officials, I knew I needed to educate myself about the dynamics behind those resignations and the potential impacts. I had in-depth discussions with involved persons and I began to attend selectboard meetings, ask questions, and listen to audio recordings of those meetings. I also attended a meeting held with the Independent. When I received a call that an article stemming from that meeting was published, I read it (several times) to make sure I understood it. I’ve read the various letters to the editor in the July 13 edition.

All the letters extol the improved roads. We have an excellent road foreman who is also a member of the selectboard. Much work has been done on the roads and the trucks are being brought into safety and utility compliance. Work is needed on the town garage and the member/foreman can be relied upon to keep that in focus. The foreman/member was successful in getting needed tools (chainsaws, etc.) for the town at a really good price. The foreman/member is also very good about explaining what cannot be done at this time due to revenue issues.

A number of the letters mentioned the work that’s been done to improve the appearance of the town garage and town hall downstairs. Esthetics matter — it feels good to see town property look nice. As always, volunteers helped with that; Goshen has always been blessed by citizens willing to help. The improvements to the town hall downstairs are not just esthetics; more work is planned because that is a designated emergency shelter for the town. I’m disappointed, however, about what’s missing from those letters.

The article detailed resignations — a number so large that ignoring it appears deliberate, uncaring or clueless — and negative behaviors that drove those resignations. Real people — people who live in and gave service to Goshen (many of them for many years) people who are our friends and neighbors — were so hurt and damaged by those behaviors they resigned. The excuses given about those resignations and the negative behaviors that drove them are denials of the hurt and damage done. For instance, the claim that the saying about beatings written on the Town Clerk’s blackboard (the Clerk used it for happy, motivational sayings that changed each time the office was open) was “just a joke” or “taken out of context” holds no water. The saying has become a common way to imply that “bad bosses” will continue their bad behavior until they get rid of unwanted employees.

That the state police were concerned enough to look into the matter ought to have been a warning to those involved in the behavior. That we continue to hear excuses that the behavior was “misunderstood,” and that we hear a board member claim that laws regarding town officials and processes, including elections, are “vague,” “unclear,” “confusing” etc. also concerns me. Those are words I’ve heard for many years from offenders explaining their criminal convictions. Town officials, whether elected or appointed, must respect and understand the applicable laws, their duties and responsibilities, and their official boundaries as regards other town officials. They must not interfere with, harass, or cause damage to other town officials.

The topic of how board members felt about the Independent article was raised by a citizen at the July 10 selectboard meeting. A board member expressed receiving many supportive wishes and said they’d decided to just laugh the article off. Another member made some comments about the saying written on the Clerk’s board. The board’s clerk pointed out that in the context of what is going on in our world now (I assumed that included what’s been going on in Goshen) the comment was not appropriate. I thanked the clerk for that acknowledgment and added my thought that the comment was ill-advised; it was a clear message that was not well-intended. I noted that it was up to the individual(s) behind the behavior to discuss (or to choose to continue to not acknowledge) the behavior with those who were hurt.

If any of the letter-writers published so far (as of July 13) have already made the effort to listen carefully to the meeting audio recordings from January on (including identifying speakers) and to discuss the hurt and damage leading up to these resignations with those who resigned (and with others who have been impacted) who have then dismissed the negative behaviors, resignations and related hurt and damage as non-impactful on our town and are not concerned about revenues vs. expressed plans, keeping to the budget vs. needs and priorities, and using revenues properly, I suggest doing a heart-felt review of that dismissal. If any of the writers aren’t aware of, or acknowledging, the hurt and damage, I respectfully suggest some heart-felt thinking about that dynamic.

I hope we all will think about what happened to real people who have been hurt. Please also think about how that damages a town as small as Goshen — a town that’s always depended on its citizens and its history to move forward. Change that is needed, effective, and healthy is good; hurting and damaging the human part of our town’s infrastructure can’t be healthy. There is, I believe, a damaging division now — a division caused by hurt. It feels like the elephant in our living room that is being ignored and denied. 

I hope that by acknowledging the hurt, then listening to and interacting with those impacted, with understanding, respect and care, we can help heal the divide and move forward in good health.

Mary “Luci” Stephens

Goshen

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