Letter: Perpetuating a Myth About Norwich
To the Editor:
I write, again, to urge the Valley News to stop perpetuating the myth that Norwich is a place where contentiousness reigns. In this instance, I refer to Sarah Brubeck’s otherwise thoughtful dispatch of March 6 about Town Meeting (“Norwich Balks at Tower Deal”). After describing the controversy surrounding the proposed VTel communications tower for municipal use, she reported on the town budget and noted that it reflected a determination that certain employees deserved substantial salary increases. “But,” the story continued, “as is accustomed in Norwich, not all agreed.”
The lack of agreement on important issues is no more “accustomed” in Norwich than in any other community that holds an annual town meeting, a form of governance that journalists routinely extol as a rare example of real democracy. If anything, this year’s Town Meeting suggested the opposite of what your reporter’s gratuitous aside claims. While voters adopted a warrant article intended to encourage the Selectboard to spurn VTel, the public discussion was respectful and, if anything, more wonkish than is accustomed in Norwich since there was plenty of minutiae in circulation about contract language, FCC narrowbanding requirements, etc. Likewise, although there was concern about the town manager’s plan for paying employees what a consultant deemed to be the market rate, the budget discussion was devoid of invective and focused right where it should have: on the competing policy imperatives of a decent living for valued municipal employees vs. affordable taxes for property owners.
Norwich is fortunate to have not just a vibrant town meeting but also a tradition of town “eating day” and a listserv that Valley.Net provides as a free service and to which nearly everyone in town subscribes. These forums achieve their intended purpose of making Norwich the kind of place where all citizens can truly have their say. Some folks say it more elegantly and politely than others, but that’s true everywhere that democracy thrives. If you have evidence that Norwich is more contentious than other towns, please produce it. Otherwise, the stereotype has long outlived its usefulness.
Donald M. Kreis