Douglas Adams really captured something about government in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

Poor Arthur Dent, upon finding out his house is about to be bulldozed, lies in the mud to prevent the machines from advancing. The construction foremen argues:

“But the plans were on display…”

“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”

“That’s the display department.”

“With a flashlight.”

“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”

“So had the stairs.”

“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.’”

One is reminded of this exchange watching town officials in Thomaston share their plans for a new highway called “the North Road.”

For the most part we were happy on Thursday night, Oct. 21, when about 100 citizens filled the Lura Libby meeting room to hear more about this proposal and share their comments. Despite what some may think, we have not taken a position on the project itself. Our only goal when we started looking into this highway project was to get town government to talk to the people. That is now happening.

However, it is important to clarify some points here because the town is trying to frame this discussion in a certain way, and is talking out of both sides of their mouths.

On the one hand, we are told this is just getting started, very initial, not set in stone, and there are many studies, permits and votes ahead.

On the other hand, we are told this is old news. This has been talked about since the 1940s. Who are the news reporters and neighbors to come so lately to the discussion? It has been mentioned in the comprehensive plans going back to 1991.

One comprehensive plan committee member actually stared down a group of people, some afraid of losing their homes to this, and asked “Where were you three years ago when we were in meetings about this?”

The message is “this has all been public.” But that fails to take into account that working people do not always have time to attend town committee meetings, or to read the entire 300-plus-page comp plan.

This road has been in the comprehensive plan all the way back to 1991, so why would anyone expect the town to act on it now?

Also, if this is all such old info that is not important, why did the town officials get so confrontational when we started asking questions about the project?

Town Manager Kara George said in an email, “I am telling the god’s honest truth that I don’t have a feasibility study. I don’t have invoices. I don’t have reports. I do have maps which are not public.” Why would the maps not be public? Who paid for them?

Those maps were posted on the walls during the meeting the other night, so they seem to be public now.

“It is not a bypass,” John Fancy said.

This despite the email April 27, 2020, from George to the select board and cc’d to Fancy in which she said, “The North Road is a project that the town has been discussing for decades to offer a by-pass for Route 1 traffic.”

In the past we have enjoyed a good relationship with the town of Thomaston. We are used to walking into the town office and coming out with documents; no fuss, no muss. We are used to talking to the select board members on the phone and in the parking lot at the town office in a friendly manner and finding out what is going on.

George is not some stranger to us. We have talked to her many times and we have reported on her successes in municipal government both in Rockland and now in Thomaston. So why did she refuse to pick up the phone to talk to us for ten minutes about this?

Why did the select board discuss this in a closed-door session citing the law allowing them to go in under “negotiations?” Are we preliminary here or are we to the point that they are negotiating land purchases for this project?

Transparency with the press and the public creates a sense of trust.

Holding this meeting was a positive first step. We cannot help but wonder if this meeting would have been held so soon or at all if we had not brought public attention to this.

We do not bring this up to have the press become part of the story, but that question speaks to the issue of transparency in town government. Forced transparency is OK, but a strong desire to keep the public informed would be much better.

The townspeople are to be commended for their community spirit in turning out for the meeting. We would urge them to keep an eye on this town government until this road question is settled and trust is restored.

The Courier-Gazette editorial board collaborates on an editorial regarding a topic of interest or community concern.