Washington, CT

Manning Letter to Editor

To the Editor:

Those of us in the town of Washington have a number of reasons to feel fortunate. We live in a beautiful corner of the world. Though many of us aspire to an even more pastoral setting, our open spaces and recreational fields are the envy of many towns.

Others of us hope for a larger commercial presence, with its expanded tax and employment base, but our small commercial centers are relatively healthy. Our social and political discourse is largely civil. Our citizens who volunteer service to local institutions are as dedicated and generous with their time and energy as those to be found anywhere.

And yet. . . . As a nation we are facing dramatic economic and social upheaval. Our infrastructure and our institutions are no longer capable of addressing our basic economic and political needs. We would be naïve not to reflect on whether what is true nationally is not also true locally. This is a particularly timely exercise now, during our local election season.

Here in Washington we have issues that can be ignored only if we are prepared to let events overwhelm us. One is education. This is not just a financial issue for today’s taxpayers. It is also a question of quality that can relegate those we need to educate to second-class economic status for the rest of their lives—and in doing so deprive our town of the skills, talent and wisdom we will need in the future.

These are not concerns we can leave the school board to deal with. Not when two-thirds of the town budget goes to the schools, when it costs more and more to educate fewer and fewer students, and when the size and physical condition of our schools require major decisions about expensive capital programs for repair or replacement. These are questions the town needs leadership to consider in a rational, comprehensive way, outside the clamorous partisanship that sometimes surrounds budget battles or board of ed elections. That leadership has not recently been apparent.

Another concern of central importance to Washington’s future is the scarcity of housing for our young and our old. We have little accommodation for our starter households or those who want to downsize. In recent history we overreacted to the threat of wholesale housing development with a regulatory scheme so restrictive that reasonable and imaginative approaches to housing on small lots or in small clusters, centralized or otherwise, have been impossible to contemplate. The diversity of our population, and therefore all of us, will be the losers if we cannot open our minds to new ways of doing things that need doing.

These are only a few of the questions that face us. There are numerous others, such as how to encourage carefully considered economic development to provide local employment and local services. The right approach to these concerns doesn’t just evolve over time. It requires new thinking and new policies. These will not happen without the initiative that only a concerned, committed Board of Selectmen, led by the First Selectman, can provide. Again, we have been missing that leadership.

It is time to encourage public participation in problem solving, not to work behind closed doors. An open discussion of these and other important issues is the least that the contending candidates in the upcoming election should offer to the voters. This should be an obvious conclusion, but it is one the Republican candidates have come to only in the last day or so. Their reluctance to go before the public with their answers to these questions suggests that they believe the status quo is good enough. If they do, they are wrong. We need and deserve better.

Ecton Manning