"The lady doth protest too much methinks" warned Hamlet’s mother in Shakespeare’s famous play. Somewhat similarly yet hundreds of years later: "The Pownal VT select board and their usual cast of cohorts are just wigging out way too much" remark residents who watch the frenetic frenzy of the town’s select board members whenever the town’s elected auditors attend Thursday evening public meetings. Always armed with the composure and competency of consumate professionals, both auditors have been relentless in their pursuit to discern what could have happened with $60,000 some odd taxpayer dollars that seem either possibly misappropriated or otherwise unaccounted for.
For a town where public property has admittedly been taken for personal gain by an elected officer, executive sessions continue being entered into by the select board despite rebuke by the Vermont State Attorney General’s Office, zoning bylaws and health laws are rarely enforced, and obviously orchestrated rabid attacks on residents at public meetings take place regularly, living in Pownal is no picnic -- despite the fact that it hosts one annually.
As is typically the case, those who become elected dismiss the premise that they have been chosen by the electorate to function merely as public servants; that is, perhaps in clearer terms: to serve the public. Instead, those elected locally seem to hold the monumental misconception that they are there to serve themselves and their personal agenda as opposed to serving the greater good.
Yet how does such a colossal absense of democracy persist in such a relatively small town? First and foremost it takes viewing but one random public meeting to witness the maligning and haranguing that is routinely perpetrated upon any individual who steps forward to question the mistakenly perceived all-mighty authority of those in charge. It takes only brave souls to challenge the powers that be and persevere all whilst being verbally harassed and threatened, having personal property destroyed, or having property tax assessments soar to heights that might only be rivaled by the high altitude of a domestic surveillance drone. Needless to state however, if some of these tactics were dare used by the equivalent of twobit thugs posing as governmental representatives in certain other locales instead of the generally pacifist culture typically found here -- say maybe in some nameless place arbitrarily three to four hours driving distance South-west of here with the initials of "N" and "Y" -- we can only imagine that there might just be a whole host of grown-up bullies "swimming with the fishes" as it is sometimes termed. But that’s an entirely different issue and an entirely different geographic location; besides Vermont is fortuitous herein in being the only state in New England without any oceanfront anyway.
The second consideration is the notorious yet time-tested and highly efficient political patronage system. On every level of government with local government certainly not to be excluded - one witnesses the typical overly generous salaried public employees on the payroll paid in full by that often naive or apathetic group known as "taxpayers." Vehemently needing to protect those who proffered this remuneration and not wishing to even remotely consider the apparently highly offensive thought of attempting to gain employment in the private sector wherein specific qualifications or level of education might be prerequisites -- those in the public employ take every opportunity to lambast those within the community who challenge this corrupted system whilst simultaneously corralling every family member, friend, and mild acquaintance not entangled amidst life-support equipment in the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital on election day into the voting booths to ensure safe keeping of their prized public-sector cashe.
Last but not least, the elected must also do their darndest to encourage the natural tendency for divisiveness and prejudice that sociologists have long acknowledged tend to exist to some degree amongst our particular species. Continuously promoting the deeply ingrained "us against them" ruse very effectively diverts the attention away from any misappropriations involved in by those elected to a fellow resident who might have had the colossal gall to attempt to have, for example, laws enforced within town.
Our entire nation is indeed fumbling the proverbial ball and the late controversial college coach Joe Paterno once stated that: "Losing a game is heartbreaking. Losing your sense of excellence or worth is a tragedy." The manner in which our nation is perceived by other countries around the world has diminished exponentially within only the relatively recent past due directly to these very types of incidents and environments everywhere that prove beyond a reasonable doubt that governmental debauchery, decay, and perversion of the democratic system are pervasive.
In the end, some may still consider the physical act of voting itself to be the ultimate civic duty and salvation for American citizens. Yet voting performed perfunctorily or votes being cast for candidates simply because a name sounds familiar, or performing the task ritualistically without having taken the time to examine your choice and the surrounding issues carefully is nothing more than a vacuous act. Being informed in the voting booth is akin to being armed in a war zone. Ultimately the future of the entire nation rests in the hands of the electorate and not in the hands of those who are elected.
Kathy Gaffney lives in Pownal.