Passion and politics

Jun 07, 2012

It's only a week to go until the June elections, so it's not surprising to find our email full of letters to the editor and passions running high at local meetings.

We find ourselves in the midst of a busy season, not only in terms of the election, but at local city council and planning board meetings as well.

Our front page story about the altercation between Rockland Mayor Brian Harden and City Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson has generated a lot of discussion in the community and on our site. Toward the end of a long meeting in which Dickerson and Harden disagreed about what should be done about the issue of the Brass Compass tables in Winslow-Holbrook Park, Harden threw his hat across the table at Dickerson.

Councilor Dickerson it seems is more than willing to stand up for herself. She told him not to throw his hat at her, threw it back at him and then overturned a soda can that, she told us, was mostly empty. She said in a phone interview Tuesday, she's tired of being bullied by Harden.

She also said she is trying to represent the people of her city.

It would be simple and safe to make the argument that people on town and city boards should not resort to throwing things to get their point across; councilors should speak their mind in a professional manner and accept it when the vote goes against them.

On the other hand, democracy is an inherently messy process. It's at its best when community leaders stand up for what they believe and are willing to take a certain amount of criticism doing so.

Right before the altercation between the two city councilors, Dickerson was making the argument that secret, closed-door sessions should be advertised ahead of time. Harden was arguing they could go into executive session in this situation and he didn't want her to make it sound like they were doing something wrong.

Whenever there are closed-door meetings in local government, it is good to question them and make sure they pass all of the tests to be legal executive sessions.

It is also good that the councilors care about what is happening in their community. Dickerson cares passionately about the Brass Compass issue, she cares passionately about the people's right to know, and she's not going to back down.

Dickerson asks a lot of questions in city council meetings, as has Harden during the budget process this year. We like the fact that nothing is rubber-stamped, but the issues are thoroughly debated.

Dickerson and Harden likely took it too far Monday night because they endangered their ability to work together in the future and disrupted the meeting to the point of creating chaos. However, we do applaud their passion.

We look forward to next week's meeting when the Winslow-Holbrook Park tables will again be on the agenda.

In Warren, we saw another passionate, sometimes chaotic meeting taking place this week as the planning board continued its long, slow, painful review of CRC Health Group's application to put a methadone clinic on Route 1 in Robert Emery's business building.

Planning Board Chairman Peter Krakoff showed some signs of the stress of attending meeting after meeting on this issue for months. He explained clearly at the meeting that he believes the town will lose if it goes to court with CRC over this clinic.

He also expressed his concern that his friends and neighbors will hate him for voting in the affirmative.

Others at the meeting argued the planning board's mission is to vote on the matter based only on how the project meets the town's ordinance, rather than on the basis of the invisible gun pointed at the members' heads in the form of the federal lawsuit filed by CRC.

At this point, arguments can be made on both sides.

Those who oppose methadone clinics have proven that no matter how much money or power you have, it's not easy to push the people of Warren into something they don't want for their community. They have dug in for a long battle and proven to be very frustrating adversaries. Their only hope of winning is to bring enough attention to the issue that some leader at the federal level will sympathize with their point of view.

It can also easily be argued that the planning board cannot merely ignore the lawsuit issue. The town only put the large facility ordinance in place after the methadone clinic was proposed and did so specifically to block the project.

Krakoff, the planning board members, the members of the Warren Sanitary District Board and other townspeople now engaged in this issue may disagree with each other and be approaching the problem from different angles, but we would argue they only want what's best for the town.

In watching the meetings, we also sympathize with something said by a planning board member, that this process has been very difficult. These are people volunteering their time to their community, and if it was not thankless before this project was proposed, it certainly is now.

While passions are appreciated, in Warren we hope residents will not harbor lasting grudges against friends and neighbors over this issue.

As for the upcoming elections, we ask that every citizen do their duty and get out and vote.



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