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Town meeting excellent civics lesson

East Longmeadow's Special Town Meeting held Oct. 15 was an excellent civics course for all who were privileged to attend. There were many lessons:

Residents learned that the selectmen, though they are at the helm of the town, do not make every decision, but that many responsibilities are delegated to various boards who develop expertise in administering those areas. At the same time, individual selectmen have the right to express their opinions, as we all do. The lesson is that good government is of laws, not by the whims of the leaders who happen to be in charge at a point in time.

Residents could observe how different the outcome can be when they work with, not against, the volunteers who serve on town boards. Spoleto worked with the town and voters easily approved a change to the bylaws that indirectly benefited them. Mec's Landscaping gave up working with the town board, and attempted to push through a zoning bylaw that apparently would have inadvertently given the planning board much more power than they have now and been a nightmare for individual small businesses. The lesson is that conflict rarely works as well as dialogue and compromise.

Residents could observe that all the loud yelling and screaming by certain parties, and their interruptions, was less persuasive to many voters than the facts that were respectfully and measurably delivered by the town planning board members. The lesson is that facts matter, and emotion clouds arguments, in some case deliberately.

Residents could observe that even with the frequent requests by the moderator to be civil, and allow each person to have their say, some parties care nothing for the rights of others. The lesson is that some people aren't temperamentally suited to run for town leadership.

Finally, residents learned that even seemingly intractable disagreements can be solved with win-win compromises if people are willing to think creatively. The compromise eventually reached regarding the small business bylaw was infinitely better for the whole town than either approval or disapproval of the bylaw change would have been.

In closing, I would like to compliment the town moderator and the planning board and all the boards for their efforts. We owe all these dedicated, hardworking folks, a debt of gratitude for their behind-the-scenes service to us.

Pay Henry

East Longmeadow