Opportunity for Public Service Diversity?

by Dr. Immacula Cann

A community may be measured according to many standards, including improving home values; a healthy and growing Grand List; the reputation of the school system for student achievement as measured by college admissions; property taxes staying stable or decreasing; and control of bond burden through careful planning and monitoring of annual capital borrowing.

One measure worthy of consideration but rarely expressed is “Community Engagement”, or citizen participation in public service on community boards and commissions. These are too often limited to a small number of residents, often political party insiders and friends of those in power. These same people show up on your ballot every November, defeating the idea behind term limits by moving from Town Council to

Planning Commission to Board of Education to Zoning Commission. When not elected, they turn to their friends in Town Hall to get appointed to one (or often several) non-elected boards and commissions.

These are all unpaid, volunteer positions and I appreciate those who give their time in service to Stratford. But we can’t solve our problems by doing the same old things. We need change in our town. And we need new blood, new ideas, fresh visions and perspectives to really serve Stratford. To do this, we need diversity on our local boards and commissions.

Recently, three positions on our Library Board came up for appointment. Two spots were set for Republicans, so the board would be balanced politically. They were both filled by former Councilmen who had also served on numerous boards and commissions, both appointed and elected. There were two Democrats with expiring terms and only one could be reappointed.

One of these volunteers is completely outside the political world. She is a teacher in the Stratford school system and had served on the Library Board with pride and distinction. She brought the perspective of a woman of color. The other candidate has also served the Board well. But the difference is he’s a former elected and appointed official, part of a very politically active family in town and he’s been very friendly with the mayor.

Guess who got the position.

The Mayor says that she supports community diversity. But minorities in her photos seem often used as “blackground” rather than necessarily participating at the table in decision making. The educator let it be known that she wished to continue on the Library Board and the Democratic Council members publicly supported her. It was an easy and golden opportunity for the mayor to practice the diversity she talks about.

Stratford has young, middle, and senior citizens of great diversity of backgrounds and culture, ones who have fresh views on how to move our Town forward. How does this decision provide encouragement to those who would serve today? How does this decision help the future for their fellow citizens of the community? We cannot let the same people keep doing the same things and expect a different outcome. It’s time for change.

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