Editorial: Croydon Conflict

Nursing a minor grievance into a full-blown grudge may not be the exclusive province of small towns but they certainly seem to be good at it. The latest case in point comes from Croydon, where the volunteer fire department and its ladies auxiliary are at war.

The raison d’etre of an auxiliary organization, of course, is to provide support to whatever organization it is auxiliary to. As the recipient of that support, the beneficiary organization’s relationship with its benefactor needn’t involve much more than the occasional expression of gratitude. That the Croydon Volunteer Fire Department and the Ladies Auxiliary of the Croydon Fire Department are now communicating with each other primarily through lawyers is truly a head-scratcher.

Neither organization is saying much publicly to shed light on the conflict. We do know this, though: The fire department has evicted the auxiliary from the community hall at its fire station, forcing the auxiliary to host its weekly bingo night in Newport. Those are bingo games that raise money to support the fire department’s operations, and that is a community hall that the auxiliary says it paid to have built in 1984 and for which it says it has continued to cover maintenance and utility expenses. We also know that prior to the eviction, the auxiliary went to court after it was locked out of a room which it said provides access to a thermostat that controls the hall’s climate.

The fire department’s explanation for kicking out the auxiliary hasn’t gone much beyond its eviction notice, which said that the auxiliary had failed in fulfilling its mission of cooperating with and supporting the department, and that the auxiliary had become a “burden and obstruction.” After the auxiliary wrote a public letter complaining that it had been evicted without cause and that the department was refusing to meet with its members, Fire Chief Steve Rizza wrote to the Selectboard that his department had taken actions “necessary to protect the safety of the citizens and property of Croydon.”

Protect them from bingo games?

The easy solution would be for the auxiliary to realize that there’s really not much reason for it to fight for the right to support an organization that doesn’t seem to appreciate or even want its aid, but that ignores the likelihood that hostilities will eventually cease. It also ignores the fact that auxiliary groups serve their own members in ways that all social service groups do — they provide members the personal satisfaction and social benefits of pursuing a worthy purpose. It is the fact that such auxiliary groups are ultimately independent from the organizations that they’re established to support that occasionally sets the two at cross purposes.

To the extent that this squabble resembles other small-town conflicts, it wouldn’t be surprising to discover personality clashes at play. It also wouldn’t be a shocker to learn that both sides have a legitimate grievance, although it needs to be pointed out that any fire department that evicts a ladies auxiliary from a building that the auxiliary helped build is unlikely to win a public relations war.

Both the department and the auxiliary are private entities that receive no town support, so the Selectboard has no authority to intervene. But surely there must a be a third party in town that can demonstrate to each side that a continuation of the dispute jeopardizes something that’s essential to the well-being of both groups — the public’s good will.