During an opening convocation at my son’s middle school years ago, a social worker offered a memorable observation about the age group. Getting into an argument with a middle schooler, she said, is like wrestling a pig. You both get dirty, and the pig loves it.
You may have heard a version of that. A penchant for argument extends beyond the province of middle school, of course. All you need do is consider what’s been going on in the U.S. House of Representatives during the last week to see evidence of that.
It’s also tempting to associate that anecdote with the goings on in Wallingford government, where arguing is pretty much the way things get done. Or, not. At least we’re off to a better start this year than last.
A year ago, Democrat Gina Morgenstein resigned from the Town Council just after being re-elected. Democrats thought the council position should go to the next top Democratic vote-getter, but Republicans instead installed Jason Zandri, a Democrat who had not been able to campaign for office because of illness. One disturbing aspect of all this, aside from the GOP’s blunt show of power, was the argument that had he run Zandri would have won election. If those in power can make such assumptions about outcomes, and act upon them, there’s no point in holding elections, right?
In any case, there was plenty left to argue about after the start of 2022. Community Pool is a perennial focus of disagreement, for one. While other municipalities were busy appropriating federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act, Wallingford spent the year arguing about it. There has even been contention over naming the senior center for Iris Papale, the longtime councilor.
One of the biggest issues people have been going on about is the condition of town parks, where there has been vandalism and arson. If there was a compelling reason to set aside differences and get something done this was it, but not only are they still talking about it they’ve set similar sights on town buildings.
A lot of this boils down to contention between town councilors and Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. “If the mayor chooses to ignore his own experts, as well as countless complaints received from our town’s citizens, then the responsibility falls on the town council to address these issues,” said Councilor Sam Carmody, who is on the subcommittee inspecting buildings.
At a meeting in mid-December, there was concern expressed about bringing people in front of the Town Council and then basically interrogating them. “We are on the same team here,” reminded Tim Ryan, the former economic development specialist, during a meeting in June when members of the council were bristling over a flyer put out by the Economic Development Commission about pandemic relief funds.
That December meeting included the observation that things might go along better if held behind closed doors. This, of course, is an extremely bad idea. Open government is messy and can be frustrating, but it’s better than secrecy, certainly. A commitment to transparency is not something to be discarded when it becomes inconvenient.
There’s a better idea anyway when it comes to bringing people before the council. Just try to be nicer to them.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at email@example.com.