Mother Goes to Town Meeting

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By Thursday, May 8 Life In the Berkshires, Viewpoints  7 Comments
David Scribner
The Town Manager explaining the town budget via a Power Point presentation.

Great Barrington — It began in the most comforting and predicable way. The Town Manager administered anesthesia by Power-Point to we the masses who never attend committee meetings and use the one yearly Town Meeting as an opportunity to gather information and review decisions already made by the sturdy volunteers who run the town. One day a year we come, and we take our time shuffling to the microphone in Elmer Fudd coats or T-shirts no matter what the weather, to speak our minds in front of the entire town and, should we deem it necessary, to stick a little wrench into the spokes of town government machinery.

I was calm after the Town Manager’s Power-Point cocktail. I would sit here and information-gather about the town’s doings — quietly. I need to know this stuff, I say to myself. No more not knowing nitty-gritty details and minutiae. I live here, pay taxes. Grow up already and study the town warrant. Know thy sewer budget.

It was almost comforting to be out of the house this evening, out of the laundry and dishes cycle and into the lap of town affairs. In the dull moments, I tell myself, I shall reach for my phone and try to figure out the timing between the 13-year-old’s upcoming after-school baseball game and his evening soccer game.

I could even find out what the planets were doing now that the much-feared astrological Cardinal Cross has passed, leaving some of us ravaged in its wake. Maybe that’s why wastewater treatment suddenly seemed interesting.

It was at that moment the Superintendent of Schools rose to make his presentation. Here’s what we need to educate the children. We’ve spent a year on this budget. Looks good to me. Nervous system status: serene. The subject of education enters my frontal lobe, which begins to work overtime.

Did the kids get their homework done?

I reach for my phone. My texting finger has gone idle and must also know whether the dishwasher has been unloaded by child per my instructions. But wait —what’s this? Did that man just suggest cutting the budget by half a million dollars? Oh, please: no one will take him seriously.

What? Superindendent now explaining –– pleading –– how a cut like this could wipe out the entire second grade, or all sports, music and art. Take your pick. That guy just put his amendment in writing? We are actually entertaining this cut? Oh, my God! Help! This can’t be serious!

Did someone remember to feed the dog?!

Wait –– someone is saying “witch hunt?” Are we still on the school budget? They didn’t take that guy seriously, did they? I check warrant. Indeed, other mother on Finance Committee protests attack on Superintendent and school committee and the entire second grade and art, music, sports….

Heart rate drop: amendment to slash school budget voted down. Boring articles now up for vote, one after the other. Everything passing.

A multitasking compulsion surges through me. I reach for my phone again.

200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls are still missing? Oh my God! I click on avatar. Will do a social media share immed––

What’s this? I know that homeless man at the microphone from around town and town meetings, in dripping rags contrasting with ornate curved box seats of restored theatre. This, my husband always says, is theatre. Yes, it is Moses up there, the only one of us who actually does attend all those endless committee meetings, and he leadeth us I know not where.

I look through my warrant again: the article is something about hotel and motel room limits.

But those poor Nigerian school girls! So few can even go to school, and the terror they must feel, and my own girl at home safe and sound, hopefully unloading dishwasher…

Did she finish her paper about India?

David Magadini, candidate for Town Moderator

Moses has been speaking for a while, but only now do I understand him. He leadeth us into single occupancy. And I understand why: the Son of Man sometimes needs a place, especially in winter, to lay his head.

Was the electric bill due today? I think so…

Single occupancy shot down, original article passeth. I reflexively reach for my phone. Moses descends from the mountain with lighter-than-stone warrant in hand, which he shaketh at annoyed moderator who must tolerate democracy.

Did someone just say “marijuana?” Oh, right. This is about medical marijuana dispensary locations. I see wrenches flashing in the aisles, people lining up at microphones. Moses doesn’t seem concerned. Good citizens who never attended the planning board meetings which painstakingly addressed the numbing zoning minutiae, are worried that minors will get hold of medicinal marijuana from locked-down facilities which must be 200 feet away from schools. “What about cigarettes?” someone shouts. Pained and exasperated planning board member is at a mike, explaining for the fifth time that there is no danger. “You can get oxycodone from CVS,” he says. Right around the corner, by the way. I make a quick estimate of the distance between my minors, home alone, and the oxycodone dispensary.

Oooh — police chief now at mike. He is mad. Chief makes it clear that he doesn’t like marijuana, even the locked-down medicinal kind, and that no off-duty cop of his is ever going to help secure one of those facilities as someone had suggested.

“Why not?” shouts my next door neighbor, one row behind me, but the Chief has already walked away. He is now a silent Chief.

Planning board member recoils from other mike. “I didn’t mean to start an argument with you, Chief.” Don’t hurt me.

Will there be a duel outside on Castle Street? No. Planning board member appears to be safely tucked back into seat.

What’s this? Toilets on Power-Point screen? What? Huh? We pay for not only our own excretions, but for those of our neighbors to the tune of 330 gallons? Must check water usage ASAP.

Did 13-year-old remember to take out the garbage? Is tomorrow plastic or paper day?

I reach for phone, just as last article is up for a vote, but it’s almost over. I tuck phone back into purse slot, tidy up papers, and it’s only nine. Not so bad. I smile at my next-door neighbor, the volunteer fireman.

But hold it––this last article turns out to be the most important: Let’s move Town Meeting out of beautiful and historic 100-year-old theater restored by public funds (small charge for sound) back to much-discussed high school with failing roof and boiler and no sprinkler systems. I pick up my purse, everyone is ready to go…but…is someone actually at a microphone holding a shining implement of destruction?

There was one beer in the fridge last I checked.

This one has been uncharacteristically quiet, he tells us. He’s one of the regular Town Meeting porcupines. Oh, but hey, wait — he’s a happy porcupine this year; he’s smiling. He just wants to say something heartwarming. The high school, as it turns out, is the “people’s house,” he says. But this is the “people’s house, too,” protests someone leaning over gorgeously carved public-funded box seat. Article to move Town Meeting passes.

My mind has already opened that last beer. But wait — someone is mad. Now everyone’s mad that he’s mad. I don’t know what’s going on; I’ve not been following town politics closely. The first mad one says we haven’t been very nice guests here at this beautiful in-town theatre, what with the fuss over moving the meeting back to the high school, and all. Hissing and booing were the closing sounds of this Town Meeting.

I look up and see Moses standing at the ready nearby, ready to lead us through another annual round of democracy. Next year, in the high school.



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7 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Danny Klein says:

    Absolutely wonderful piece on the town meeting — witty and informative. I guess this is what The Edge is all about.

  2. Honey Sharp says:

    Might get me back to going to the meetings. May I sit next to you Heather next year? I promise I won’t go on my phone!

  3. Nancy Fremont says:

    I think you mean “to us.” Please vote for adequate school funding – not necessarily for buildings, but definitely to promote sound language skills.

  4. Robin goldberg says:

    I wish you would come to an egremont town meeting. I’d love to read your review

  5. Jonathan Hankin says:

    Admittedly more fun to read than the actual town meeting. BTW, the cell phone was supposed to be turned OFF, Heather!

  6. Ellen says:

    Right on Momma! Happy Mother’s Day Heather!

  7. Suzi Banks Baum says:

    Heather- it all makes sense to me now. Moses indeed. xo S

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