Those of us who believe that New England’s peculiar town meeting form of government has unique value sometimes refer to it as the purest version of democracy.
It’s not without flaws, of course, but it often has this remarkable quality: ordinary people with opposing views gather in the same room, offer their arguments, cast their votes publicly, and accept the decisions of the majority. When it’s done well, opponents can leave the hall as friends, satisfied that they have done their civic duty, respectful and proud of the process.
Last Saturday, Town Moderator Paul Wisotzky stood outside the Truro Central School and announced his decision, based on clear advice from town counsel and the state Elections Division, to postpone the special town meeting that had been scheduled for that morning. The reason was compelling: the distinct possibility that a large number of registered voters were not in fact Truro residents and should not be able to vote there.
Wisotzky is no stranger to controversy. Seven years ago, he patiently guided the select board, which he chaired, to a resolution of the agonizing fight over the illegally built Kline house on Stephen’s Way in the famous “Hopper landscape.” He is one of the most intelligent, principled, and gentlemanly public officials I have ever observed.
On Saturday he was booed, insulted, and repeatedly shouted down by an angry crowd. “This is a cover-up!” one man yelled. “Resign!” shouted another. When Wisotzky asked for the courtesy to be allowed to finish his statement, he was told, “You don’t deserve courtesy.”
Of all people in town government, Paul Wisotzky deserves respect, not insults. How did Truro arrive at this sorry moment?
Democracy, as has now become frighteningly clear on a national level, works only when citizens are reasonably well informed. The anger in Truro is a direct result of misinformation, conspiracy theories, and outright lies that have poisoned public discourse in the town for years.
Town Manager Darrin Tangeman has been told he’s no Jack Kennedy when it comes to communication. But at least town government operates mostly in public according to established rules like the Open Meeting Law and the Freedom of Information Act, while many of its harshest critics operate in the shadows. The board of the Truro Part-Time Resident Taxpayers Association (TPRTA), which organized the ill-conceived voter registration campaign that led to Saturday’s postponement, meets in secret, as do the “DPW Study Group” and the “Docs for Truro Safe Water.” These closed groups have spiraled into self-delusion and manifest errors — they sorely need the feedback one finds in public forums.
Truro deserves better — and with a commitment to openness and real exchange, things can improve. Part-time residents have an essential role to play as partners in civic life. The TPRTA could make a good start by electing a new board — one that can commit to truth and transparency rather than delusion.