BRATTLEBORO — Brattleboro Selectboard Member Tim Wessel's recent comments suggest that the breach of faith between town government and the populace is wider and of longer duration than previously understood.
“Anybody who understands the history of Rescue Inc. and Brattleboro,” said Wessel, “understands that for more the 20 years Brattleboro has been talking about and considering and dancing around the issue of, well, we have this professional fire service, we have a large town with a lot of need, and it might make sense to combine services.”
“Anybody who understands” seems to refer to a fairly small group of insiders rather than the larger ambulance-riding public, which was never invited to the dance.
Apparently, Wessel hoped to reassure citizens who are upset by the prevailing narrative: the severance of Brattleboro's ties to Rescue Inc. was hastily engineered by an itinerant town manager and rubber-stamped by a spineless Selectboard.
But Wessel's statement indicates that, for more than 20 years, various Selectboards and at least four town managers discussed this possibility, with zero transparency and without ever thinking to commission a feasibility study or solicit public comment.
Only then was a decision reached and ramrodded through.
This is not reassuring.
Whichever scenario is more accurate - the “Rogue Town Manager” or the “Slow Waltz of the Selectboard” - it is clear that the professionals and the people were left out of the process. This represents an egregious failure on the part of town government. Even more, it demonstrates a fundamental disrespect for the residents and visitors to our town.
Exclusion of the public is especially disturbing in that the issue involved a potential life-saving service that could impact any individual on any given day. And it is particularly baffling given Brattleboro's long history of public involvement in shaping community decisions, often through exhaustive public process: policing and community safety, sustainability, skatepark siting, youth voting, among many others.
Selectboard members and town officials deserve our gratitude and respect for their leadership and commitment to public service, and for enduring all the drudgery and heat that comes with their. At the same time, these leaders need always to keep in mind the interests of the people they serve.
They need to listen before acting. On the EMT/Rescue issue, Brattleboro's town government fell woefully short.