This ain’t Norman Rockwell country

To the Editor:

I have always loved Norman Rockwell’s illustrations. Growing up, our household always received a weekly copy of The Saturday Evening Post, which frequently had covers by Rockwell.

My favorite Rockwell illustrations are “The Four Freedoms.” The most striking of that series is the “Freedom of Speech” painting, which shows an earnest working guy expressing his opinion or asking a question at a community meeting. Pretty basic stuff — which I internalized and came to believe was a fundamental right of every citizen — the right of all citizens to petition their government for the redress of grievances.

I’m not unique; we all believe this. It’s fundamental.

The current Republican majority of the Berne Town Board has turned this fundamental principle on its head and have used the coronavirus pandemic to further prevent any meaningful citizen participation in the fragile functioning of our democracy.

With the advent of the coronavirus, the town began holding town board meetings outside at the town park — entirely appropriate. For a couple of months, there was a period set aside for “community comment” — entirely appropriate.

Turns out “community comment” was an empty concept. Citizens were told that they could offer comments but they were not allowed to ask questions — huh? Citizens were told that, if they had questions, they could submit them in writing to the board — really?

Of course, this quickly turned out to be a charade. Written questions regarding the recent munificent labor contract were, in fact, hand-delivered to the board when that contract first appeared on the agenda. Guess what? They were ignored.

At the most recent town board meeting, on Sept. 9, no provision was made for even this board’s stunted version of “community comment” — no comments, no questions, no citizen participation.

However, a potential solar developer was given 10 minutes (not the usual three minutes) to bitch about his inability to develop a solar installation on his property presumably in reaction to the town’s recently enacted industrial solar law (which Supervisor [Sean] Lyons voted for!) even though he hadn’t bothered to submit any development proposal to the planning board — can anybody guess where this is headed?

No comments. No questions. No participation.

This form of government would never have graced the cover of The Saturday Evening Post and Norman Rockwell would never have immortalized it.

Fundamentally unacceptable.

Lawrence Zimmerman

East Berne

Editor’s note: Lawrence Zimmerman is a member of the Berne Planning Board.

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