TASC List: Our growing division

Many years ago I spoke with the then editor of this newspaper about financial management, especially associated with school budgets, and how town-wide concerns were tearing at the very fabric of this community. My concerns arose from attendance at town meetings and participation on education-related committees and planning groups.

Some readers will recall that era; it was in fact 20 years ago. The comments from citizens at open forums and their letters to the paper were as seemingly hard-edged then as they appear today. They included my own, which focused on the subject of affordability, its implications, and some possible remedies. Sustainability and fiscal responsibility was then, as it is now, a common descriptor. The subject was also then similarly hot and widespread throughout the entirety of Fairfield County.

I offered to provide a cartoon-like illustration, believing the old adage that “One picture is worth …” with the title “Fault Line ’96 – ’97” for possible publication. It portrayed the general outline of Wilton in map-like form, from Ridgefield to Norwalk and from New Canaan to Weston, at the borders. It appeared as a granite shield in three dimensions, rather like a headstone, perhaps, without any intention of suggesting such a likeness. Separating the “map” into two segments, running north to south, was a gap more like the Grand Canyon than the San Andreas Fault. It was a sheer cleavage — and thus the title of the rendering.

This was not a geographical schism, however. It was intended to portray the separation between certain factions within our borders — demographic, ideological, emotional, qualitative versus quantitative, school parents versus empty nesters — and so many other orientations that are attracted to budgets, to debates, and to certain issues they may identify with. The wording on the “map” was reduced to a few summarized bullet phrases, to keep the graphics simple.

On the one side it noted more efficiency, more effectiveness, more affordability, and more reality. On the other, it displayed expanded schools, higher school budgets, growing school technology (which in those days was unconnected to the curriculum itself), and uncompromising school administration (which you may notice is still a hot topic at present).

We decided it was an interesting concept, but did not necessarily display the complexity and more detailed implications of the situation, so the battles of words continued in the press and on the public platforms. As they do today. What’s important to note is that many have observed that the gap has widened and deepened.

Some would call it the Gulf of Ignorance, sometimes defying facts, sometimes defying analysis, often ignoring offered solutions, and almost always failing to try to understand the differing positions of others. A former selectman has stated that in over 30 years of attending such town meetings, you could count on one hand the number of public comments at the microphone that had not already been anticipated by the board members; they knew what that person would say. Very little new emerges in such a setting. Positions have solidified over the years. The wheels spin. The mills grind on.

Perhaps it’s time for the board members, and in particular their leadership, to bridge the impasse, to actually find common ground, to stop expecting the citizens to carry the arguments at such forums, and by themselves alone try to influence the voting outcome. These board members are all seeking to discover the facts and find the truth. They all have the same ends in mind. They all seem to be uncomfortable with the yawning gap. Yet it grows. Where it ends up is anybody’s guess, but it won’t likely be a pleasant place. What we observe is not the democratic process at work. It is a question of inertia and leadership, and each year that passes we hope that the next one will be better. Let’s close the fault line. Once and for all.

TASC stands for Toward A Stronger Community. Contact: brennerjoe@aol.com