Our opinion: Time for both Pownal 'machines' to stand down

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Pownal Select Board Chairman Bryan Harris had a point when, during a contentious meeting about the town's raging email controversy, he urged residents to "move on," and let the board do the same.

The latest wrangling followed the release of thousands of unredacted town emails by someone who filed a freedom of information request using an apparently fake name and then had someone else pick the email files up from the town offices.

Shortly afterward, selected emails involving former Town Administrator Michael Walker and current and former town officials emerged in posts on a Facebook discussion page. Some of the emails include sharp criticism of other officials or residents, including a few who have been very active in posting on the current and previous Facebook pages about Pownal, its government and town officials with whom they disagree.

Some of the comments recently posted are highly derogatory, and not the type a public official should ever put into an email that might one day turn up in a public records search.

Such comments and some obvious behind-the-scenes strategizing are not uncommon at all levels of government; the difference here is that emails that were never intended to be publicized wound up on Facebook. That does not mean that residents and voters should, or will, simply forget what was said.

Walker was fired by the Select Board in December, and although it was never specified, it seems reasonable to conclude that those emailed comments were a factor in that decision.

But those same emails in total also show that Walker, who was Pownal's first town administrator, and other officials and supporters who exchanged emails with him felt they were under attack from a group of residents and some fellow town officials in the cramped Pownal town office building.

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In fact, Walker and his allies felt attacked by some of the same residents who have posted frequently, sometimes in team formation, on the aforementioned Facebook discussion pages, which often included snide comments about local officials or their supporters. These comments were not meant to be private but were openly posted, and these continually add to the animosity that has been festering over the past few years.

People will always be political; that's a given, but Mr. Harris is correct: It is time to move on from this overheated and endless battle.

A now-common taunt has been that the Walker emails showed Pownal government to be in the grip of a political "machine," even though those who did use that word to describe themselves seemed to be joking, in part because they felt themselves besieged and far from being in power.

More recently, after some current Select Board members seemed to be working on issues behind the scenes and coming to meetings with a script to follow, other Pownal residents started calling them a "machine" as well.

We urge Pownal residents to stop building their townspeople into imaginary, all-powerful enemies and start talking more face-to-face while showing more respect for opposing points of view. It would help a lot to tone down the online rhetoric, which in many cases is all that other townspeople are reading and hearing — in other words, too often self-righteous talking points rather than meaningful discussion of the many issues Pownal is facing.

High on that list, we suggest, is economic development, which appears at a standstill in town.

It would be good as well if everyone kept in mind that government — whether local or state — is only what voters and residents make it, and that you can't always get exactly what you want.

But if you try sometimes, to paraphrase the song, you can move toward a better community — even when your own specific idea isn't the one that prevails.


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