Public Meetings

Melissa Stagnaro

I go to a lot of meetings every week. This one was no exception. In the first half alone, I attended the NYRI public statement hearings in Hamilton, the Norwich City School Board and the heated Town of Guilford public meeting on Wednesday night.

Most of the time, I find these meetings interesting. Not just from a news-worthiness standpoint, but also as an opportunity to observe people in these different settings.
Sometimes, I am privileged enough to witness amazing examples of cooperation and community. Other times, It feels like its feeding time at the zoo.

The NYRI meeting was an example of the former, Guilford the latter.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the NYRI meeting. I had heard tales of the last public forum, held in Norwich a couple of years ago, that got a little out of hand. I was suitably impressed, however, by those present. Around 50 residents took their turn before the mic, presenting eloquent and informed arguments against the powerline that threatens to bisect their communities. Most had done their research on the potential impacts of the project. All spoke with undeniable passion and emotion.

Guilford was a free-for-all in comparison. One woman didn’t even wait for the meeting to be called to order before throwing insults and accusations at the town’s board. Her attacks were personal in nature. She repeatedly called one planning board member, who wasn’t even present, a “nazi-lover.”

I watched Chris Thompson, president of NYRI, and his legal council endure the barrage of comments against their project without barely batting an eye lash. Guilford’s elected officials had more difficulty keeping their composure through Wednesday’s proceedings. And it’s no wonder. For Thompson, it was strangers criticizing a business project. In Guilford, it was personal attacks made by their neighbors.

The hostility did nothing to sway the decision of Guilford’s board, who went on to pass the controversial law abolishing the three member board of assessors. It will be interesting to see if the more eloquent arguments of NYRI’s opposition will be more influential with the Public Service Commission.