To the Editor: For the last two years, the Bennington Select Board has preached nonstop about wanting all citizens being treated fairly and equally and having a voice in our town.
It turns out the Select Board was joking.
The Bennington Select Board now wants to make it official that censorship be a regular part of their meetings.
The Select Board has decided to deny citizens the right to ask questions and get answers during the part of the meeting called “citizen comments.” The word comment was added several years ago.
Citizens are now required to have a private conversation with the town manager.
For over 50 years, citizens have been encouraged and welcomed to attend Select Board meetings to ask questions about issues that are not on the agenda. The Select Board used to go out of their way to answer questions. At times, the town manager, who is always present at meetings, has been needed to assist in answering questions.
Dick Sears can verify this. He served on the Select Board for years before going to Montpelier. Tim Corcoran’s father served on the Select Board. Mary Morrissey knows how the Select Board is supposed to operate.
It is unfortunate that in recent years, the Select Board has used the public relations tactic of not only refusing to answer a question, but refusing to speak at all. Before or after the Select Board approves a project or program or spending, they are to hold themselves accountable to answer questions from the public. The town manager is the employee of the Select Board.
Stu Hurd, Dan Monks and Shannon Barsotti are present at Select Board meetings. They earn around $400,000 a year in salaries and benefits from the pockets of the citizens of Bennington. There is something wrong when the Select Board does not require this trio to give specific detailed answers to the public.
The new $80,000 position the Select Board now wants is another example of what has gone wrong in Bennington. There are people on the Select Board, in the town office and in other groups who knew about this position in January, if not earlier. That was the time it should have been discussed. It wasn’t discussed and not added into the town budget because officials were afraid it would have drawn citizens to get out and vote to defeat the town budget in March.
The most important stakeholders and community partners in Bennington are the citizens who live here. Without citizens, there is no $14 million town budget that starts on July 1. The Select Board needs to understand they work for the citizens.
Citizens are waking up and starting to question many of the projects and programs and spending the Select Board has us on the hook for. If all of these things are so wonderful, why doesn’t our transparent and accountable Select Board want to talk about them?
Will Bennington residents speak out against censorship at Select Board meetings?