The Value of Inclusivity

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Our small town, in every season of the year, seems a peaceful, even a serene, place to live. Its natural beauty is enhanced by the old homes on Main Street and the spacious farms and open land within the town limits. People here are generally warm-hearted and outgoing, quick to help friends and neighbors, interested in community efforts. But beneath its placid surface, there are controversial issues in Suffield that keep bubbling up.

The challenge that surfaces first is the question of the earlier referendum to remake the Bridge Street School into a community center. Suddenly it looks as if–despite years of careful planning by many, and after the democratic process has supported those plans–there is an intention underway to have the building demolished. The new direction has caught many of us by surprise, and has made us wonder why such a historic building is deemed unusable; it sounds as if it hasn’t been taken care of, and now it may disappear.

The recent report by a consulting team hired to evaluate the police department has also been a surprise, and we have to wonder what provoked the need for consultants. Have there been ongoing problems? If so, what role has our Police Commission played in addressing them? And what’s up with the library, which is suddenly losing a well-respected director — without warning and after her heroic management of five years in a temporary and impossibly cramped space? It feels like turmoil on several fronts; have we heard it all, or is there more?

A psychologist, whose specialty is organizational theory, once told me that trust in an organization is built not because everyone agrees with decisions, but by the sense that the process is fair and predictable. It is possible that some of this turmoil, if we knew the whole story, would be understandable. We might even feel sympathy with some, though probably not all, of the action that is being taken, if it were not so unpredictable and the reasoning behind it so murky, even unfathomable. Of course some things must be kept under wraps for short periods of time, but trust is important if a town’s governance is to run efficiently and effectively. It’s hard for residents to feel trust when there appears to be an inside power track in Suffield, moving and shaking, as the saying goes, without regard for building consensus. 

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