Can I just vent a little? I hear this a lot in one form or another. Sometimes they warn me and sometimes they don’t, but even when I don’t agree entirely with the person, it does make me happy that so many feel comfortable sharing.

We all need to vent from time to time and many people look to do it with someone who is expected to have received some kind of training in taking it graciously. I have received no formal training, but I do have plenty of practice. I also have plenty of empathy having often found myself perplexed or even angered by something town related.

Whether it be the woman on the customer service line for Verizon, the person working the checkout at Hannaford, or your local elected representative, I think we all have quite a few stories to tell about the things we’ve been accused of or the strange theories the public comes up with about what our role may be. I used to bartend at Peter Ott’s and being on the Select Board isn’t so different. I have heard a lot of perspectives on our Town over the years.

I’ve come to accept and even appreciate the fact that one purpose of government may just be to provide the population with a cathartic outlet; someone or something to blame. The “town” is an easy and logical scapegoat for pretty much all that is wrong out in the world in our daily lives, and in many cases, government really is the logical entity that should be fixing one thing or another.

Government, in fact, is the only thing that can sometimes, but only if we remember that the government is all of us.

Decision making for the Select Board is essentially about deciding what questions to ask voters and helping provide the information they need to answer them.

Even so, if you know enough people, you learn quickly that someone is going to be upset at you pretty much all the time — for the right reasons, the wrong reasons, and everything in between.

I had a particularly nasty experience walking downtown this past week. A man who I have known for a long time actually jumped out of his SUV when he saw me and immediately started yelling expletives. His grievance was over something I had literally nothing to do with and involved sidewalk improvements at French and Brawn to make the crosswalk ramps ADA- compliant, after a mistake in the design by the Maine Department of Transportation caused the slope to be hazardous to anyone with mobility constraints. There were other references to “*%#*ing street trees” and how “I’m not going to be around for long.” I was pretty sure he was only threatening that I’d be voted off the Select Board, and not something worse, but I was certainly glad my kids weren’t with me.

I’m not complaining. It’s what I signed up for as an elected official. Someone told me a few years ago that it’s good to remember that even the people who are inappropriate, inaccurate, and vulgar in their accusations still sometimes have a nugget of truth or insight to share. I always try to look for that golden nugget and I do find plenty of them.

What concerns me more than the influence that these few people have on elected officials is the impact that they have on the decisions of Town staff and their willingness and ability to take on broad community goals. I get all the encouragement I need from the many people who write me or stop me on the street with really thoughtful observations. People thank me all the time when I’m least expecting it, and it means the world to me.

But if you think of it, take the time to thank a town employee too. Notice something that you like and find something nice to say. It will help keep them going the next time they get screamed at. I wish I were exaggerating, but it happens more often than you think, and I’ve seen it frequently impact whether the town moves forward on initiatives, even when they have been approved by voters. People only have so much emotional bandwidth and certain residents take a lot more of it than others.

So yes, destroying the Town with street trees and sidewalks is an allegation I can live with, even if I don’t actually deserve credit for (and had literally nothing to do with) the changes to the sidewalk in front of French and Brawn. For the record, all the changes are consistent with the voter approved Downtown Master Plan, which I wasn’t involved in crafting, but encourage everyone to take some time to read.

I’m one of those people who used to think a lot of this ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) stuff was overblown, but six years of collecting medical supplies for humanitarian projects overseas (and lending those supplies and equipment out to local people too) has given me a window into the lives that are impacted by design choices at crosswalks and sidewalks. It’s the difference between a wheelchair tipping over or not. The 15-minute parking spot will have to be moved further up the street, but there will now be some more space to stand on the corner in front of everyone’s favorite place to stop and chat. Most importantly, it will be a lot safer for people with strollers, wheelchairs, walkers, and small children.

Over the weekend I volunteered at the transfer station to do traffic control at Household Hazardous Waste Day and had the most wonderful conversations with so many residents from Camden, Rockport, Hope, and Lincolnville. Many people waited in line for over an hour to properly disposal of items such as gasoline, fire extinguishers and spray paint that are too toxic for your regular trash.

It’s safe to say that demand for this event has outstripped supply and hopefully we can do more of them throughout the year. It is always the third Saturday in June, but I have forgotten about it three years in a row. I was happy to relieve myself of a lot of toxic buildup from the basement, and an afternoon chatting with residents left me feeling emotionally cleansed and invigorated too. Let’s keep working together to improve our community and preserve what we love.

Alison McKellar is a Camden resident and Select Board member. Her views are her own and do not reflect those of the Select Board or the editorial position of The Camden Herald. We welcome letters and guest columns reflecting other viewpoints via editor@villagesoup.com.

filed under: