Of Bluejays and Titmice

9 01 2017


It’s cold outside. The temperature plunged into the negative overnight and this morning is not much improved despite a bright sun rising. I was out first thing to haul water to the ducks and hens. I filled the wild birds’ feeders last night, so they’d have breakfast waiting for them. I ought to be getting ready for Arisia, the SciFi/Fantasy convention in Boston next weekend. I’ve got a new book to plug. I’m presenting a workshop on “Reading Your Work Aloud.” I’ve got several panels to prepare for. I have half a dozen emails in my inbox waiting to be answered.

Instead I am sitting here lingering over my coffee, watching the jays quarrel over bread. They make me think of the Municipal Budget Committee meeting I have to attend tomorrow night.

I suppose most small towns are like this. Combative factions with different agendas plot and accuse and gossip and grandstand righteously. Saner heads try to calm everybody down and talk sense. It doesn’t work. Trouble-makers and self-appointed white knights strut and lecture, stoking the fires of controversy. They love a spotlight.

And I’ve gotten sucked into it.

I really did try to keep my head down. But I work for the town and with the public. I’ve been involved with the Historical Society, and when a difference of philosophies and a clash of personalities forced me to quit in disgust, I wound up working for the Heritage Commission (the latter being a town organization and the former being a private organization; they don’t play together well).

My boss, the Library Director, is retiring. When she announced her intentions a while back, the Library Board of Trustees unofficially approached me, hoping I’d apply for the job. At first I said no. It’s a bit more responsibility than I really want, and my boss leaves very big shoes to fill. She’s a town institution, been in the position for as long as most folks can remember, and a damn hard act to follow. But then I was suddenly left on my own, with a mortgage and a house to take care of, and an income of $10K per year. Now the director’s position looked a tad more appealing.

Well, this has sucked me even further into the machinations of town politics. Naturally the job of director has to be posted, and there is no guarantee I’ll get it. But the Library Board of Directors is favorably disposed towards me. If a better candidate comes along, they must consider them, but given what the town is willing to pay, a competing highly qualified candidate is unlikely.

Oh yes, what the town is willing to pay. That brings us back to the Municipal Budget Committee and the annual sturm und drang of the budget process. Remember the political adage about making sausage?

What makes this whole thing even more “interesting” is that I have stirred the animosity of the one person in Deerfield that no one want to upset. It’s a long story, but this individual has been notorious for years, both in our and surrounding towns. This local icon is a self-styled authority on The Correct Way of Doing Things. Woe betide anyone who has a different opinion on the matter. Icon has a good working knowledge of the RSAs regulating town government, and quotes chapter and verse. The Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.

Anyway, I’ve been following the antics in various public meetings over the budget, and both witnessed and heard reports of what, in my humble opinion, is sheer arrogant ignorance. I was mentioned on a couple of occasions, but mostly I was furious at the way good people trying to do their job were being maligned and attacked by Icon and the members of Icon’s gang. I wrote a scathing indictment of them for the local online newspaper. The next thing I know, Icon is emailing me threats.

The subject line was “Do you know what LIBEL is?” Icon listed all my offenses, real and imagined, accused me of having no honor or scruples, and said I’d better be ready to “legally prove your writings.”

I am not surprised. Folks go in terror of saying a word against Icon that might be overheard. Icon has sued the Town on multiple occasions. The most recent one was thrown out, but still, every lawsuit costs the Town money which it can ill afford. Icon knows how to make trouble for anyone who dares to speak against Icon or that which Icon judges to be The Correct Way of Doing Things. In short, Icon is a bully, and all the kids have been handing over their lunch money out of fear of getting beaten up.

Bless them, there is a group in town which is fed up with this bullyshit. A growing number of folks are ready to go public in united opposition to Icon and the gang. The result will no doubt be loud, nasty, and litigious. I do not wish to be a part of it, but here I am.

The blue jays have gone off, taking their shrieking and squabbling elsewhere. The feeders are now being visited by chickadees and titmice. They politely take turns, flying up, grabbing a seed, and going to a nearby branch to enjoy it. It is a pleasure to watch. It brings joy to my heart. I’d rather be a titmouse than a jay.




4 responses

9 01 2017

I can’t imagine anyone better devoted to protecting & preserving literacy and books than someone who writes as well as you 🙂

I appreciate & share your desire to avoid the infighting that so often accompanies public service … but if not us, who? If not now, when?
You are correct – every political unit in our state is subject to the same combativeness from time to time. It waxes and wanes, but the potential is always there. Just part of being Americans and graniteers. And caring.

Thanks for your efforts!
And flock up!
Never doubt that a small flock of titmouses can change the world 😉

9 01 2017

Thank you for your vote of confidence. I appreciate and admire the folks who are sticking their necks out and subjecting themselves to the miseries of fighting this battle. I do what I can.

9 01 2017

Thank you for stepping way out of your comfort zone to fight Icon.

9 01 2017
Mary Jolles

Hooray! I’m glad you stepped into the ring on this one. A few angry (and obviously ignorant) people can’t be allowed to railroad a community with fear and misinterpretations into ruining what makes a town a town–agreement to pool resources to pay for much-needed services.

I read your letter on the online newsletter. You said nothing libelous about Icon–only questioned and criticized what he/she was doing. I, too, have been threatened with lawsuits. They were only threats.

Is Icon the person who responded to your letter with a solemn list of the school district surpluses over the years? Does this person understand that school districts must budget for as-yet nonexistent but possible circumstances, such as a student moving into the district who will need services they didn’t anticipate? Does this person also understand that, if the town dodges the bullet and the worst-case scenario doesn’t materialize, the surplus (unspent money) is turned back to the town each year to reduce taxes? It doesn’t pile up and accumulate in the school district’s coffers. But these possible costs must be listed in the budget, because if they aren’t, and the worst-case scenario does materialize, the town has to seek permission from the state to hold a special school district meeting to ask for extra money from the tax payers. (This costs money!). This surplus is often mistaken by townsfolk who don’t understand the process as “padding the budget.” They don’t realize that the “padding” is turned back to the town every year, but is there as a cushion to protect the town from unforeseen circumstances.

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