Published DateTo the editor,
In a few weeks, residents of Meredith and the Inter-Lakes School District will go to the polls to elect local officials. It is my hope that partisan politics will not intrude in this process, that neither the Tea Party nor the Democrats will attempt to influence the voting outcomes, and that candidates for office will be motivated by community spirit and not a political agenda.
For years now, Washington and Concord have been paralyzed by partisan wrangling and partisan gridlock. Republicans and Democrats both have moved toward more extreme positions in response to each other's rhetoric. Their uncompromising my-way-or-the-highway stance has done immense disservice to the voting public. Voters have expressed their displeasure through low approval ratings and by kicking each party out of office in alternate election cycles. Neither party has gotten the message that they need to find their way back toward the middle and rediscover how to effect compromise.
We little people can't do much to fix Washington or Concord. But here in Meredith and the Inter-Lakes School District, we have an opportunity to get it right, to achieve productive outcomes, and to guide our community in healthy ways. The intrusion of party politics, however, threatens to make a mess of local governance just as it has in our state and national capitals. Let's not bring that dysfunction here.
Party politics has intruded in greater Meredith in recent years. I will cite a few examples.
(1) When Mark Billings ran for a seat on the School Board several years ago, the Meredith Democrats opposed his candidacy. The eve before the election, they phoned the party faithful and urged them to vote for Mark's opponent, Richard Hanson. I know this is true because my wife Dotty is a Democrat and she received such a call.
I respect the Meredith Democrats, and I have voted for candidates they have supported for state and national office. However, I was appalled by the tactic they employed against Mark Billings. Mark was not running as a Republican or a conservative or whatever. He was running as a concerned resident of the Inter-Lakes District. The position the Democrats took seemed inappropriate and out of place. To the best of my knowledge, the Republicans took no similar action against Richard Hanson.
(2) When Carla Horne ran for a seat on the Meredith Board of Selectmen, one local resident, in a letter to the editor opposing her candidacy, trumpeted all the liberal causes found on her Facebook page. Those causes seemed to have scant relevance to the sort of issues selectmen decide. Carla stated that community service, not a Democrat agenda, was why she was seeking office. Thus, to quote a famous line from a certain famous movie, I wanted to say to that letter writer, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" what's on Carla's Facebook page. Meredith voters gave a collective yawn, too, putting Carla in office by a sizable margin.
Just a few short years ago, party politics were much less intrusive here. When I had the privilege of serving as Meredith Selectman from 2004–2007, no one ever inquired about my political affiliation. I had done significant service to the town through my participation on its Conservation Commission. That seemed to suffice for most voters.
My fellow selectmen during those last years of the three person board were Bob Flanders and Frank Michel. The three of us are different animals politically. Yet, those differences did not influence our deliberations. Issues, facts, and details were the decisive matters. We sought to get the most "bang" from every tax dollar, and we almost always achieved compromises the three of us could endorse. We were inspired by a shared vision of community. We tried to operate as statesmen, not politicians. Some people don't understand the difference between the two.
During my term of office, I also had the privilege of being Meredith's representative to the Inter-Lakes Elementary Enrollment Advisory Committee. The hot button issue was the declining enrollment at the Sandwich School and the future of that school. This committee, after crunching a lot of numbers, recommended the one compromise that made the most sense for Sandwich, Center Harbor, and Meredith alike. It recommended that the Sandwich School implement multi-age classrooms. This would enable the size of the staff to shrink or expand in relation to enrollment, preserving the school in a cost-effective fashion. Partisan thinking never, ever impacted the deliberations of this committee, to my recollection. The current School Board would do well to follow our example.
Once again Mark Billings is seeking election to the Inter-Lakes Board. I hope the Meredith Democrats hear my plea and stay out of it this time. I hope some will even vote for Mark. Chris Mega is an exceptionally fine person who I respect deeply. Yet, I believe the Inter-Lakes School District will be better served by someone who has no ties to its staff and who brings a completely independent, objective mindset to the board's decision making.
I recognize that Mark holds some conservative perspectives. Without question, he is more conservative than I am. However, he is not a "typical" conservative, whatever that is. This is shown by his commitment to conservation and environmental causes, not exactly conservative priorities. A mind as complex as Mark's can't be pigeon-holed with a single label. What I admire about Mark is his original, outside-the-box thinking. He is articulate, he is quick, and he is his own person. He will bring fascinating, well thought-out points of view to School Board deliberations, to the benefit of students and faculty alike. I encourage voters to listen to what he has to say with an open mind.
There is a danger that partisan politics could intrude in the race for Meredith selectman, too, particularly the contest between Jane Greemore and Lou Kahn for the seat Miller Lovett has held. I respect the Tea Party for the fiscal restraints it has been advocating. Nonetheless, I have the same request of it that I do of the Democrats. Confine your attention to Concord and Washington. Stay out of local affairs.
Because of his lengthy service to the Town of Meredith, I will be voting for Lou Kahn, and I invite others to do likewise. Lou has served as Town Moderator, and he has been a long-standing member of the Planning Board. He has donated two substantial conservation easement land gifts to the town, and he has been generous in other ways. When it comes to local commitment, Lou hasn't just talked the talk, he's walked the walk. He's been a model citizen, and he deserves public support. His leadership will benefit the Board.
I will conclude with a few general observations.
When Dotty and I married in 1994 and relocated to Meredith, we were drawn here by three things: The town's natural beauty, the reputation of its public schools, and its wealth of social capital. Dotty had lived in Laconia for many years; I had lived in Plymouth. Both of those towns seemed split by problems that could not be resolved. Meredith, in contrast, seemed much more cohesive. It seemed to possess a positive future. We were impressed by its forward-thinking business community and its vibrant service organizations. Visionary entrepreneurs were active here, attracting others who had been influential in their former abodes and who wished to make a difference here, too.
During the nearly 20 years Dotty and I have lived in Meredith, we have witnessed how people of different political persuasions have worked together to achieve common goals. Youth sports, open space conservation, and the creation of the Community Center are just a few of the examples that could be cited. Look at any sector of Meredith — business, education, local government — and you will discover the common element that has made our town exceptional: community trumps partisan politics.
Let's keep it that way.