In the winter of 1776, the American Revolution was in its infancy, hanging on by a thread and in danger of failing. Morale was evaporating as the weather turned colder. Between September and December, 11,000 volunteers had given up the fight and returned home.
Into the breech came Thomas Paine, who directly addressed the American Crisis in a series of pamphlets. The opening words of the first pamphlet are immortal: “These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” General George Washington insisted that Paine’s inspirational words be read to his dispirited troops. Newly motivated, Washington and his army soon afterward crossed the icy Delaware River and the tide of battle began to turn.
I cannot think of one person in our Town, wherever they reside, who could not relate to Paine’s call: These indeed are times that try all our souls. We are all at risk, in varying degrees, to the Covid-19 virus. We are learning of neighbors suddenly being laid off. We may know people needing medical services that they cannot now get. In neighborhood after neighborhood, people are helping people, friends and neighbors reaching out and asking, “Is there anything you need?”
Similarly, it is time for our local officers – Selectboard and Trustees – to put normal business aside to confront with these unprecedented circumstances. It is time to deal with the Essex Crisis, time to truly build a program of what Paine called “Common Sense.”
Here are my common sense suggestions:
1. The Selectboard should concentrate almost exclusively on providing necessary advice and feedback to our Town Manager as he works with staff to identify, analyze and triage essential public services and make decisions, including reallocating resources and, where possible, cutting costs;
2. The Selectboard should immediately postpone further discussions, planning and spending devoted to a merger until the CoV-19 virus is well behind us. For instance, why spend $50,000 or more on a lawyer to write merger language when those funds could be used to help feed elderly or home-bound residents who cannot get out to shop; and
3. The Selectboard should immediately – and in writing -- inform the appropriate committees of the Legislature that it supports the recently-adopted 3+3 Charter change and defer any further merger discussions until after two new Selectboard members would be elected under those provisions in 2021.
Because Washington’s army crossed the Delaware on Christmas night, 1776, Americans are governed by a constitution, not ruled by a monarchy. For the same reason, Vermont, too, would later write its own constitution. Tellingly, Article 6 of the Vermont Constitution stipulates that officers are “servants of the people” and, in words equally as inspirational as Thomas Paine’s, “That all power being originally inherent in and co[n]sequently derived from the people, therefore, all officers of government, whether legislative or executive, are their trustees and servants; and at all times, in a legal way, accountable to them.”
In that spirit, it is time to put our people first, not a merger. Then, we can move on united, not divided.
Bruce S. Post