Independence Day is upon us. On the Fourth of July our country celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence. America was founded on strong ideas from people who wanted to make a free and lasting government for all citizens. Our form of democracy has prevailed over the years, as other systems have failed, and I believe we are the freest country in the world. I am proud to be an American.
In a free society like ours, we get to choose our leaders. They are not appointed; they do not inherit the position; they are elected by the people.
Some would argue that not all of our elected officials have been superb.
Yes, we have had a few wing-nuts over the years. But in a democracy, as you can vote them in, you can vote them out. You can repair your mistakes at the next election.
That’s what makes this free democratic society work. Elected leadership is better than appointive leadership because we make conscious choices on who leads us. With appointive leadership like kings or tyrants we may not get the leaders we deserve, and we are stuck with them, sometimes for their whole lives. Elective leadership comes in two forms executive and legislative. What we have in Bennington is legislative leadership, our honorable Selectboard.
This is a body not ruled by a leader, although it has a chair, but by the winds of a majority. What we see each week, unfortunately, is that with legislative leadership no one is responsible.
Don’t misunderstand me: I am very grateful for those who have given their time and energy to serving on the board, and I think highly of each of our present members. I also have great respect for the present manager. What I find disappointing is the system that’s evolved to run our town’s government. It is the system, not the people, we need to change.
The problem is that Bennington needs more than a legislative body. We need a captain of our ship. You can’t run a company with a board of directors.
Executive leadership is alert, prompt, and responsible. Bennington presently has a town manager as an executive but he does not have free will to make any decision he feels is necessary without the Selectboard’s oversight. He does not have to answer to the people. He answers only to the board. While the Selectboard has to answer to the people, it can deflect the responsibility for the decisions made by the manager by claiming it’s his business, and that is why this system is no longer inspiring to the people it serves.
Wouldn’t the people of our town feel more ownership of our town if we either voted in our manager or a first chair? Wouldn’t that be better for Bennington? Like a sculptor, the people could create an image of this town by making a conscious choice to place someone in charge who reflects the majority’s values and vision.
It would not be easy to change our form of government here in Bennington, but it is doable. It will take a charter change, adopted by a majority of the people of the town. We have to find the fire in our souls to let Bennington grow and flourish. Our future could be glorious. We should not let anything stand in our way. Our country was not made great by living in fear of something. It took courage to make our country. It will take courage to make a serious change in the way we govern ourselves.
As Independence Day arrives, should we not think about making ourselves independent by this bold form of governmental improvement? Only the limitations that we put on Bennington hold the town back from living up to its full potential.
On July 6, we will have a musical performance by Lynn Sweet, MAU’s music director and students, beginning at 6:00 p. m. on the town hall porch. All are welcome. It is free, and it kicks off our summer music series, weather permitting.
Mike Bethel lives in Bennington.