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OPINION / LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Editor note: This editorial is to be followed shortly by a longer report on the May 12, 2020 Bethel Public Hearing regarding the Bethel 2020-21 budget vote.
What we have lost in Bethel, Connecticut, seems never to be retrieved again. We once were representative of a “united we stand” mentality but now it is all about the “winning” at any cost, instead of reaching a higher level of being with love as the main ingredient. “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for all, is down the drain, citizens’ rights be damned, it seems.
Working together for the good of all no longer seems to matter. Our town has died a slow death, as surely as some of the more unfortunate COVID-19 patients have faced their demise. We are now in that cycle, wondering how we could be at this desperate point now because when we look back it is crystal clear what road we were on that lead to this death cliff we are now being smothered with.
We are all aware of the “small town politics” but our town is now a war zone more than most. For one, we are dealing with a time like no other, a pandemic quarantine, which has made us prisoners in our own homes, and challenged the very fiber of everything we came to know as “normal.” Doing “nothing” is mentally and physically exhausting. Our main focus has dwindled down to making sure we have the necessities in life: food, water, shelter, income, and toilet paper.
We argue over whether we should wear a mask or not, and treat those who choose to not wear one, as selfish, or worse yet, endangering lives. Anyone questioning where the virus came from is called a conspiracy theorist, conspiring to overthrow the government, a government considered to know better than us, by some. Are you seeing a pattern here?
However, there are those who choose to take advantage of people when they are down. Many of those individuals we elected to protect us, have sunken to the depths of a bottomless pit in their greed, and wealth, of sudden ultimate power to control others like never before. The golden goose is too tempting to resist and they are savoring it. We are sitting ducks (no pun intended), but made even more so by the sheep that follow this atrocity, unaware we are headed to the slaughterhouse.
We are the only town in New England to have our inalienable right to vote, that Americans fought and died for, denied. But now we see people on both sides of the issue with blinders on except for their personal desires to fix THEIR situation, as the most pressing. The question is, who will cry “uncle” first? Or will it be a matter of the stronger bully winning out because he has more supporters that he can rally to the call in an instant? It always is. But the problem is, there are also many losers in that game, and that does not make for a very unified and peaceful town to live in. So the name of the game has become who can use technology to best gather people to push their cause as the most urgent, while ignoring people “dying” (physically, mentally or financially) around them by not even addressing those issues as an absolute part of the dilemma and outcome of their actions. Some of us are not blind to that fact, others are.
Homeowners in our town, and across the country for that matter, to different degrees, have taken quite a punch in the gut through the recent years, regarding losing value on their largest investment, their home. Any realtor can attest to that. For most, their life savings are wrapped up in this major purchase, only to have the bottom drop out, due to the actions of a few in power, now causing more stress on top of the worry about contracting a scary virus, adding insult to injury. They now obviously used fear as a weapon of control. So far it’s working, but starting to show cracks as illegalities are possibly exposed in this grab for power that stems all the way into our own town.
This situation is now bitterly compounded by the town’s plan to raise taxes yet once more, pounding an already stressed community into the ground further. But town officials don’t care because they disguise it as “good for the children,” or a necessary process dictated by “governor’s orders,” that we are not yet sure are legal, and that don’t seem to be challenged by anyone except Cynthia McCorkindale in this town. We expected more from our leadership than this. We urged them to at least make an attempt to protect our inalienable rights. But no. And then to attack the character of people who do take action? What bad movie are we in here?
Teachers and school administrators are supposedly fighting for the right to save the “vulnerable” children, as Board of Education Chairman Melanie O’Brien stated, at the May 12th Bethel Public Hearing, “Many of the speakers tonight are concerned about the most vulnerable in Bethel and so is the Board of Education. Consider the children who will certainly need our schools to be at full force when schools reopen,” she said.
Educators are also claiming that when students return to realtime classrooms, perhaps this fall, many, even regular students, will likely need remedial services. What? Is this yet another tear-jerking story to garner sympathy to approve their budget, or gain more funds, or is it a pre-determined prediction of failure of teacher skills since the pandemic quarantine began here in Bethel, in order to attain those same funds ahead of time?
Perhaps in Ms. O’Brien’s tunnel-vision, and similar views of many Bethel teachers and administrators, seeing the immediate need and wants of ONE distinct group, educators, and aiming to portray THEIR plight more needy that any others, is a modus operandi of this entire situation we find ourselves in, where each “side” is guilty of that. We all know that they are just trying to do their job as best they can, in trying times, but in the process they are failing to grasp what is really at stake here, equality and welfare for ALL.
While educators seemed to have allegedly lobbied to have the school budget approved, as some have accused, we are also expected to buy into the fact that all comments from them in their emails/letters just happened to be similar one-liners urging approval of the budget. Teachers like Mrs. Liquori, suggested that it was “an accident” that so many school employees illegally used their school email accounts to send in public comment to decision-makers, the Bethel Board of Finance and Bethel Board of Selectmen.
Let’s get real here. At this rate, “Do what I say not what I do” might be the school educators’ epitaph. Don’t teachers and administrators teach students never to lie or connive to get what they want? In this case, their own personal salaries and benefits are in the very budget they are urging others to approve. Do they really think others cannot see this? And where were all the school principals, or for that matter, our three highest town officials, in the public hearing comments? If even to console us in hard times and give us a pep talk? Crickets. Does this seem orchestrated to you? Do it for the students, YES!
By the way, a graduation ceremony is a milestone, and if you can hand out sandwiches to thousands, you can figure a way to have a realtime ceremony once the 5-person limit is lifted perhaps by this summer? We have a gigantic sports field (hint). And allow our vote too.
I found it amusing, when on two occasions during the hearing, the Bethel Director of Fiscal Services, Terri Yonsky, was put on the hot seat having to answer questions from citizens who had found errors in the budget. In one instance it was found that the school budget showed they had apparently inflated the salaries of tutors to be double that of nurses, found with the keen eye of citizen Douglas Quine. Accident?
Yonsky’s explanation began with quite a bit of stumbling and squirming on that one. She finally admitted that the questioner was right, and she was wrong. Miracles do happen, but she was busted. However, throughout the hearing, we noticed that our Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Christine Carver, seemed to have the task of coming to the rescue many times, and would add her input of explanations to try and smooth it all out, in times of trouble, as she did in this case and many others, in her “Florence Nightingale mode.”
If we were to label others in this meeting, just for the sake of your understanding of how things were “discussed” (hardly the word because it seemed more like a boxing match) perhaps residents Billy Michael and Bill Hillman are the knights in shining armor, fighting for the right to vote as per the Constitution, for ALL citizens.
Hillman said to the BOF, “My right to vote is really not negotiable nor is my First Amendment right to speak about the ‘vote’ or ‘no vote’. The Board of Finance will make a determination on Thursday. You have the power, you don’t have the authority.”
Michael said, “Never seen such a radical transformation of everything I’ve known Bethel to be or America to be. Four members on the Board of Finance to have the POWER to implement a TAX increase, over a million dollars in spending, four people are going to move this. A voting majority from one party is going to beat a legislative body of the town. If that doesn’t give somebody shivers then you don’t understand the history of this country.”
Nick Hoffman, present Chairman of the Bethel Charter Revision Committee, a group that is charged with creating and amending a town document of rules and regulations. Hoffman conveniently failed to cite the Charter rules at all when it was pointed out that there might be illegalities with removing citizens’ vote.
Instead, Hoffman chose to wear the cap of “history teacher” (his self-proclaimed title) lecturing meeting attendees like little children, seemingly in an angry rant, as he ran down a list of all-too-many famous quotes, late in the meeting when people were zombie-like already, in the third hour of the hearing. Hoffman read it in a very dictatorial and demeaning manner, to illustrate his points pushing the value of a council/manager form of government instead of our town meeting form of government that we have now in Bethel, while completely ignoring defending our Charter. What gives with that?
In the process, Hoffman came down heavily on Billy Michael, and also Cynthia McCorkindale, saying, “If your Waterloo is the children’s free and reduced lunch children within our schools let me run some of these numbers behind you because Ms. McCorkindale likes to point out, you know, food and prescriptions are a concern to people.” Is this how we want to be treated as respected citizens in this town? Is this how we want our officials to behave, no matter WHAT party they belong to?
On the other hand, longtime Bethel resident Phil Gallagher, gave a very sensible “history lesson” that showed the dire situation we are presently in, in a clear light. He said, “I think a good case can be made that you can take the ultimate step as was done in the year 2009 to reduce the budget to a zero increase, because it’s a far, far worse economic situation than it was on 2009 when I happen to be the Chairman of the Board of Finance at that point. We were faced with that situation when the bottom dropped out of the economy.”
It’s not about winning, folks, it’s about what impact everyone’s actions have on the general population of Bethel, that matters for all people, not just taking sides. We cannot have two separate societies, as Billy Michael said, “You have a guaranteed job with the government. it doesn’t matter. This is the Apartheid aspect. Two sets of economies. We have the private sector where you lose your job, and the government sector where you don’t even go to work. You keep getting paid and you get your benefits. This is so unfair. It’s so inequitable.”
It is time to come together as one, in our town, and not see our own personal quests as the more important ones, over and above all others, or that we have to “win” at all costs, for our “side.” We are all on the same “side.”
We have to learn to live together and respect one another, just as it is taught in school (or used to be!). We must strive for unity of Bethel citizens in order to survive, or we are headed for a ghost town when people move away to other states in order to have a happier life. Isn’t that a sad statement to have to make?
You have the power to change this, or at least you HAD. So which is it? Your call. if you choose to not get involved then an obvious fate of demise is knocking at your door loudly. Can people die of unhappiness? It is left to be seen.