It’s a rainy summer day in Huntington. Business travel has really beaten me up over the last few weeks so the constant showers provide a perfect excuse to stretch out on the couch and catch up on some much-needed loafing.
Nothing much on TV. The Mets game doesn’t start until 4:10; the Yanks are rained out. So, I start to channel surf. I stumble upon Verizon’s channel 38, the public service station that’s been reserved for the Town of Huntington’s (TOH) community programs.
And suddenly . . . . . . . a circus in Town. For there, before my very eyes, is a political spectacle worthy of the performances usually reserved for actors in works by William Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams. From the irrationality of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” to Absurdist-style theatrical conventions including mime, gibberish, heightened rhetoric, codified language and feigned civility, the re-broadcast events of the Town Board’s August 2nd meeting held my undivided attention for nearly 90 minutes. Admittedly, to someone who’s in Town every day, this is old news. But to those of us who must be out of Town frequently, the spectacle was appalling!
As resolution after resolution was introduced by various Board (bored?) members, routine traffic regulations, parade permits, and code changes found their way to approval. But when issues of local government finance, the running of Town government, and the awarding of a contract to a vendor with ties to a Town Board member arose, the business-as-mundane atmosphere turned into a scene reminiscent of a junior high school playground replete with taunters, bullies, by-standers, and a hallway monitor.
To wit, the recorded “exchange” between Councilman Mark Mayoka who challenged Supervisor Frank Petrone’s assessment of an independent auditor’s comments about Town Board finances, to the “discussions” between Mayoka, Petrone, and Councilman Mark Cuthbertson concerning several ancillary issues, were a study in crass bullying. On the one side, Petrone and Cuthbertson repeatedly ganged up on Mayoka like teenage thugs in a back alley rumble. Gesturing vividly, repeatedly interrupting and attempting to belittle Mayoka’s observations, Petrone and Cuthbertson acted like their (and ONLY their) opinions held validity. They repeatedly stepped on Mayoka’s comments and interrupted his thoughts. And, as all of this was going on, Councilwomen Susan Berland and Glenda Jackson sat submissively on the sidelines; obviously following their political marching orders while simultaneously failing to represent the interests of those whom they are sworn to serve.
To be fair, some of Mayoka’s complaints were petty and unsubstantiated. He asserted, for example, that there was no contingency plan should the Town lose its share of the State’s annual mortgage tax revenue. At the same time, he responded to Cuthbertson’s and Petrone’s taunts with his own series of interruptions, placing himself in the same political cauldron as his antagonists.
In viewing the August 2nd Town Board proceedings, I am reminded of Teddy Roosevelt’s description of what he called a bully pulpit. To him, “bully” meant “protagonist” and he saw the U.S. presidency as a place that allowed him to politely speak out on matters of great national importance. Roosevelt famously used the word bully as an adjective meaning “superb” or “wonderful.” “Bully for you” became an expression with the same meaning as “Good for you” and took on very positive tones.
Some members of the current Huntington Town Board use their “bully” pulpit in an entirely inappropriate way. As evidenced by the video from the August 2nd meeting, they try to demean those with contrasting opinions and “bully” (as in schoolyard hooligan) them into submission.
Regardless of whose opinion is right or whose political position will prevail, the Town Board desperately needs to reintroduce civility to its proceedings. Acting like a bunch of spoiled brats does nothing to further the image of our community nor does it achieve our mutual objective to provide a safe, comfortable, secure and stable environment in which to raise our families.
What do you think?
Editor’s note: Justin Thompson is VT’s investigative reporter and rarely writes op-ed pieces.