Friday, January 12, 2007

The Future of Public Service in Brookline

I'm disappointed. The trust we have put in our town government has been violated. With no real explanation, a talented and dedicated volunteer has been canned, and the cause of historic preservation has been dealt a blow. I am speaking about Dennis DeWitt, an architectural historian who selflessly gave his time to serve the town by volunteering on the Preservation Commission. In a recent vote the Board of Selectmen demoted him to the position of non-voting alternate.

Through the years the Town of Brookline has recognized the need to protect our vital historic legacy, and the voters have repeatedly endorsed the legal framework created to carry out this mission. Like the zoning board and numerous other boards and commissions, the Selectmen appoint suitable members to these boards. Candidates are chosen (we hope) based on their expertise, skill and willingness to serve and charged with enforcing rules and regulations and advancing the mission of the board. Sometimes difficult decisions are made, and sometimes petitioners are disappointed or down right incensed. This fact makes me all the more grateful and indebted to those individuals who take up the task and accept appointment to these boards.

No one has accused Dennis DeWitt of failing to execute the duties of the Preservation Commission. In fact, it seems that everyone who has ever been before the Commission or worked with Dennis speaks of his knowledge, expertise, and considered fairness. What more could you want? And yet, he gets demoted. Why? Because someone doesn't want the Commission to do its job. But the people of Brookline do. It was his talent that made Dennis a target for those who do not support historic preservation. But the people of Brookline do. And this is where the violation of our trust comes in.

Removing a board member in this fashion is an abuse of power, and we have all learned a hard lesson in the process. That our system is vulnerable to this type of action. That despite what we vote on and declare as the will of the people, we are dependent on those in office to carry out this mandate. Our only recourse may be to simply vote those Selectmen who were party to this action out of office.

A wet blanket has been thrown over all those dedicated citizens who selflessly take up the call to public service by serving on our boards and commissions. They are the troops who get the job done and we need them, and owe them thanks and gratitude, and yet because of Dennis's fate, others must now fear that, regardless of how scrupulously they administer their boards mission, someone may not like that and therefore they could be out tomorrow. How's that for an incentive.

With such a proud history of impassioned involvement in local affairs in Brookline we need to honor and encourage those who serve in order to continue reaping the benefits of their talents and passion. Attracting those individuals whose integrity and dedication to civic life lead them to public service requires our government to be both accountable and transparent. These two attributes seem to be missing in this case.

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