Thursday, August 21, 2008

An infinite regress

I regret not being able to attend the meeting with Colonel Keith Landry and the Army Corps of Engineers held Tuesday night, but from reading news accounts here, and here, and on this site, it seems like more of the same to me.

To begin with, the public was not allowed to speak. Most of us don't need to be reminded that it was the PUBLIC, and not any of the elected officials who were allowed to speak at the meeting, who first sounded the alarm about the Army's plans in Maromas. A plan that elected and business leaders endorsed. These leaders also initially supported the site on Boardman Lane, until the PUBLIC opposed both sites. And yet, the PUBLIC was not allowed to speak. Although the PUBLIC has the right to speak at any meeting of the Common Council (which, with quorum present, this officially was), according to the city charter. Someone should have asked Attorney General Dick Blumenthal for an opinion, although he jumped the line to speak during the PUBLIC's last opportunity for public comment. In the end the public needs the support of elected the Army plans.

Then the Army marches into town with a decorated colonel who declares that he wears the uniform "for the nation," and who, dressed strategically in combat fatigues, apologizes for Army closed press conference debacle. While the appearance of a decorated colonel indicates that the Army realizes how important the site selection is, it was yet another public relations event, long on promises, and short on detailed answers. How could the public doubt the word of a senior, bemedaled, war veteran. In the end, the Army made more promises about keeping residents informed and involved. Trust us, they assured the public, and the gathered elected officials. Unfortunately, trust must be earned, and so far, the Army has done little to earn it.

You'll notice that Col. Landry's consistent response was that the process would be open to residents, and yet when questioned his reply was as consistent - that he is following orders, and he would do what he was ordered to do, no matter what the residents, or elected officials decide.

To understand my own cynicism, you must know that my own trust of government and the Pentagon ended sometime around the secret invasion of Cambodia. And, for me, nothing in recent history improves that trust. No doubt, the men and women who serve in our National Guard and Army Reserve deserve our gratitude and support. Unfortunately the government and the Pentagon themselves, have been egregiously negligent in that support during the disastrous war in Iraq (lack of equipment, extended deployments, lack of medical, financial and psychological support, stop-loss orders). And now they have the nerve to turn to us and invoke the needs of the "citizen soldier" when they want us to build a training center on an site which is wrong for our city.

However, our own Middletown elected officials continue to baffle. After the Freeman Road controversy they passed an non-binding resolution with a list of alternative sites. (According to Councilman Daley this list reflects the preferences of the city - though the list was created by town hall staff after no public hearing or consultation with city residents). This resolution was passed at a public meeting (I was there) crammed with Freeman Road neighbors who were happy to hear about other sites. This resolution was not re-framed after the Boardman Lane discussions. And despite the pleas of our mayor and council members, they themselves did not seek public input when creating the list that is included in their hastily-passed resolution. It's time for them to reconsider that resolution, after consultation with residents from throughout the city.

And finally, Governor Rell, where are you? You change the marching orders without ever having a representative at any of the essential meetings. Your obvious lack of concern is bound to chip away at some of your teflon coating in this community.

Happily, Congresswoman Rosa Delauro, Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal are not so easily placated by the Army's answers.

One final question. At next week's public meeting, will the Army send a senior officer to take the heat and provide answers?

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