Monday, July 28, 2008

The only thing we have to fear...


Mr. Weiss, Ms. Stein, and Ms. Awad are afraid.

They're afraid that a conversation held in private 35 years ago between a former select board member and a judge might inspire somebody to sue the Town for holding an election on the same day that the State holds elections.

So we'll elect somebody to replace Ms. Awad in November instead of September. Not a big deal, in the grand scheme of things, but it still bothers me.

It bothers me that they're second-guessing the opinion of the legal experts, who didn't see anything wrong with holding the election as planned.

It bothers me that this whole episode smells fishy. Changing the election date the day before nomination papers are due??? My spidey-sense is telling me that something beyond fear of a lawsuit is motivating at least some of the actors-- somebody wants the select board seat to remain empty a little longer, or wants a little more time to convince somebody to run for the open seat...

And it bothers me that it sets a bad precedent. What's to stop other former select board members from "remembering" agreements that they made in private with judges in the distant past, if the current select board makes a decision with which they don't agree? There are very good reasons meeting minutes and court records are public documents; our memories are fallible, even when we are honestly trying to remember accurately what happened.



Anonymous said...

Here's where the politeness that rules our town kills us. Nobody was going to sit down in front of the mike and ask Mr. Weiss and Ms. Stein, "So, do you need more time to find YOUR candidate for this vacancy?"

Underlying this latest episode is the whole problem of political ideology, and the appetite of Mr. Weiss and Ms. Awad and Mr. Kelley (and apparently with some sadness for me, Ms. Stein)to push their ideology like putty into every nook and cranny of our town government. Unhappily for these folks, if ideology is the square peg, the mundane, boring nuts-and-bolts of problem solving and paying the bills in Amherst government is the round hole. It's just not the right place for "storm-the-barricades" political warfare. And this is where the complete loss of perspective results.

So periodically, we have these ultimately inconsequential dramas, stirred up by the usual drama queens in town including Mr. Ben-Ezra and Mr. O'Connor, trying to recapture their lost youths (pronounced "yutes")of genuine political commitment, by trying to create something profoundly ideological out of nothing. The collateral damage, however, is to the working relationships between elected officials in town who have to respond the best that they can to all this methane heat.

But with all the sound and fury and phony victimization and chest-beating flag-waving, it's hard to remember that it's usually, as with the old Seinfeld show, just about nothing.

And we, in the vast middle, sit there like at a tennis match watching the shotmaking.

Rich Morse

Gavin Andresen said...

I'm going to mildly disagree with you, Rich. I think we've gotta give the benefit of the doubt to Ms. Stein and Mr. Weiss, and believe them when they say that fear of a lawsuit is motivating their decision.

Fear is a powerful motivator, and is used all the time in politics (witness the war on terror or the soon-to-be war on global warming). Maybe I'm younger and foolhardy and they're older and wiser.

It's ironic that Mr. O'Connor is using fear tactics to get what he wants (although I'm still not sure why he wants the select board set to remain vacant), when I'm sure he'd excoriate the Bush administration for using fear tactics to justify the war in Iraq...

Anonymous said...

If we were dealing with professional politicians, questions about ulterior motives would be in order. Ms. Awad, for example, has acted like the head of a political party in her past, so it's natural to interpret _her_ vote to postpone the election in the light of trying to get a new candidate. (While I was watching she did not give any explanation of her vote.)

Mr. O'Connor does not strike me as someone who needs an ulterior motive to put forward a vigorous argument that appears frivolous and disrupts things, unless you count wanting to disrupt things and maintain attention as an ulterior motive in itself. Is there a good reason to believe that he _wants_ the seat to remain vacant longer, as Gavin suggests?

I don't know Ms. Stein or Mr. Weiss, but they gave me the impression at the meeting that they sincerely believed the stupid arguments they were making. Again, if Mr. Weiss were a professional politician, we would interpret his vote as an attempt to keep open the possibility that he would retain his majority on the board. But he isn't one, and he seemed to be genuinely troubled that what he felt was the principled thing to do was a violation of common sense.

Anonymous said...

It's been suggested to me that Mr. Weiss uses a particular reasoning process that many of us might not like, but that has nothing sinister about it.

He decides what outcome he FEELS is best for the town, and then he chooses the logic to put forward publicly that gets him to that desired outcome. First, get the feeling, then, find the logic. (I know of at least one judge that operates this way.)

If few people in town are following closely from decision to decision, the inevitable inconsistencies in logic are just something to get through. AND he's forced to appear as if he's listening with an open mind, as the public parades up in meetings to attempt to make an impression on him.

The decision is locked in his mind long before, however.

Rich Morse