It’s not the crime, they say, but the cover-up. The 1970s Watergate scandal that brought down President Nixon began with a simple a piece of tape. The discovery of that tape, used to hold open a door the Watergate Hotel burglars used to enter the Democratic National Committee, eventually mushroomed into a cover-up and the full-blown constitutional crisis that ended Richard Nixon’s presidency. Working in Congress at the time, I learned a valuable lesson: little things can mask bigger problems.
Now, nearly fifty years later, it wasn’t a piece of tape that caught my eye but a t-shirt. Back in June, when the Town and Village boards and their staffs held an offsite retreat, promotional t-shirts were handed out advocating a merger on November 3, 2020. Their printed slogan “Better Together” was symbolized by two interlocking wedding rings. (Shotgun wedding, anyone?)
I later asked the joint boards who made the decision to print these t-shirts and whether public money was spent on what is essentially a political bumper sticker. My question went unanswered. Selectboard chair Elaine Haney responded with saccharine-laced sarcasm. “Oh, Bruce,” she whined, “They’re just t-shirts.” And, no one else among the boards or staff would tell me: Was taxpayer money spent for political purposes?
I was forced to file a written Request for Public Information, which is authorized by state law to prevent public officials from hiding the truth. I learned that Town cashed in over $2,000 in credit card rewards for the retreat, including $400 or so for the t-shirts. Town Manager Evan Teich evidently hatched the idea for the shirts and made the decision to create them.
$400 for t-shirts may seem like chump-change. Why bother? Yet, why did Haney, Teich or anyone refuse to answer a legitimate question when asked at a public meeting, and why, oh why, has Town staff become politicized on behalf of merger? And, if citizens have to resort to formal legal requests to discover the truth about “just t-shirts,” then what else is being hidden?
Yes, a little tape and a green t-shirt might seem insignificant, but you never know what they’re covering up.
P.S. This link leads to the t-shirts: https://tinyurl.com/yy48w9pm
Bruce S. Post