Tale of One Town

My husband and I have owned our home in the Town of Washington for more than two decades.  Yet in the eyes of some folks in the community, we are newcomers  — even outsiders — and will likely always be.

The scenario I recently experienced in my town gets replayed  in varied, but remarkably similar ways in many of our towns here in the Hudson Valley. The specifics are different, but the underlying impulses are often the same: Fear of change; distrust of people from different backgrounds; economic inequity and insecurity; and plain old power struggles. But the bottom line is we need each other.  For the future of our cherished communities the old guard and the newcomers need to find common ground and figure out how to work together.

Here is my story of smoke, mirrors and lack of transparency. This is a letter I sent to the local news sources in our town:

To the Editor

Last week a letter from Town of Washington Supervisor Fussy Prisco was sent to me.  It  was not sent to my home in Millbrook, where I live full time, but to the apartment in NYC where my husband lives during the week.  It said, “I appreciate your willingness to serve on the Town Council, and complete the term left vacant with the resignation of William Murphy.  The Town Board had a very lively and spirited discussion, as we had very qualified people expressing their interest. The Town Board has appointed Karen Mosca to fill the unexpired term.”

I really don’t know if the Town Board had very qualified people expressing their interest, because I was not one of them.  Despite the polite letter from Fussy, I never expressed interest in or spoke to a soul at the Town of Washington board about my willingness to serve.  I never submitted a letter nor was I ever interviewed for the vacancy left by Willie Murphy’s resignation.  In fact, I never read or saw any announcement that the Town of Washington Board was looking for members of the community to submit letters of interest.

I can’t help but feel used by the town leadership. That letter felt to me like an effort to create a paper trail suggesting this was an open process, which it doesn’t appear to have been. I don’t know if anyone else got a letter like the one I got, but I hope they were at least interviewed!

My hunch is that the Town Board  — and whomever advises them on such appointments — had already decided who they would appoint.  This has a been a pattern for the 25 years that I have lived here. Sitting members step down mid-term; an insider gets appointed by other insiders; and the appointed person runs as an incumbent in the next election. Too often it is the same people, or members of the same families, that keep being appointed to the decision making boards in the town.

My strong reaction to the letter may have something to do with the fact that early on I volunteered to serve on the Comprehensive Plan Committee for the town.  While not selected for the committee, I was asked and agreed to serve on the subcommittee on cultural and municipal resources.  That subcommittee never met. Despite my efforts to be more active, my whole involvement was a series of emails exchanging information.  Yet, every time the Comprehensive Plan Committee appears in large community meetings my name is read as a member of the team, suggesting my active participation.

Like many others, I love this community and willingly volunteer to keep it vital. I helped organize two of the most successful Millbrook Community Day in many years. I serve on the Millbrook Education Foundation and other regional organizations.  I strongly believe a healthy community benefits from an engaged population and diverse points of view. The failure of our town leaders to be open, transparent and inclusive in their appointments does us all a disservice.

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About Diner Dialogues

Didi Barrett was elected to the New York State Assembly in a special election in March 2012 and re-elected to a full term in November 2012. Her district, the 106th AD, covers some of the most beautiful parts of Columbia and Dutchess Counties. She has deep roots in the Hudson Valley and came to elected office after a career as a community activist, writer and longtime leader of not-for-profit organizations. Didi is passionate about the agricultural, natural, cultural and historic resources of the Hudson Valley and their critical importance as economic engines and job generators. She is also a great fan of the iconic diners that dot the region. As a member of the Assembly she serves on the Committees on Aging; Agriculture; Economic Development, Job Creation, Commerce and Industry; Mental Health; Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development and Veterans Affairs.
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4 Responses to Tale of One Town

  1. Bob Sacks says:

    Didi:
    An interesting and sadly not an uncommon story. There are many unusual barometers for inclusion into a community, but as far as I can see none of them are based on longevity of residence. Here in Copake the dividing line seems to be attendance in the local high school. If you went to high school here, you are a local; if not, there is no way you can legitimately say, “Yes, I’m a local.” It doesn’t matter how long you have lived here or what volunteer work you perform.
    As to the faux committee memberships, that is a new one on me. But after many years of being involved in governance in the Hudson Valley, I cannot be surprised by duplicity, patronage and subterfuge.
    Up here in Columbia County a similar situation to yours has developed for several generations. The concept is that one party, the Republican Party, should be the ruler of all things. That means if you want a municipal job in this county or to be appointed to a new political vacancy, you must be a registered Republican. I believe that it is time for a change in this one party rule. I am not talking about just any kind of change, but rather a change that actually matters.
    We should respect and help any hard working person or family to place roots where they wish and help them to grow in Copake or any other town regardless of any party affiliation. In truth, we should all embrace the brotherly love that is taught in churches and synagogues , but quickly forgotten soon after.
    Tides change and political machines eventually rust. I am hopeful that we will both see meaningful change in our respective towns sooner rather than later.

  2. Bob Balcom says:

    Didi,

    Fantastic posting! I am absolutely in agreement with Bob Sacks probably because we are both looked at with suspicion within our communities. But Bob is absolutely on point about Republican control. We must break this ridiculous stranglehold on our communities. It means that all of us newcomers (I’ve been in Chatham 20 years and am considered that.) must work to move the rock up the hill.
    It means Didi Barrett is needed and must not give up!

    Bob Balcom

  3. ilana nilsen says:

    Every time I read this letter, my heart aches for the loss of someone who has so much to give a community, but as noted, just didn’t go to HS here. Isn’t an attendee of St Josephs. Didi, this is such an astounding letter, not alone for it’s content, but for your clarity of assessment. You have half the town talking about it and the other half intentionally ignoring it, because that’s the way it’s always been done.
    Something you omitted was the proximity of Fussy’s house to yours. Three houses away is it? She could have walked the letter over to you, had a cup of tea and discussed it.
    Thank you for writing this from all of us who have been there. It is a wonderful letter.

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