Sunday, September 13, 2009

Reflections on Friday

There is so much to sift through after Friday's meeting; I'm not entirely sure where to begin. At the very least, it was interesting to observe the dynamics, both on the board and in the audience. Expectedly, much of the discussion revolved around Mary Houle and Chief Miller, but other issues pertinent to a town in transition came to the surface. It struck me that while there is undoubtedly a systemic failure of communication and mindful discourse within the town hall, it is merely an outgrowth of a far more pervasive divide affecting the whole community, in which the divergence of the old guard and new guard is affecting Richmond's ability to self-regulate and mature.

I offer recent events, culminating with Friday's meeting, as the case and point in this divergence. As selectboard chair, Pete Parent's approach to managing the crisis met with opposition and resentment from within the community. Some residents cited his decision to "shake off" public comments through late announcements regarding schedule and location changes, as an attempt to limit free speech and public reaction. Ironically, these choices effectively isolated him from the additional perspectives required to make informed decisions. Similarly, the insertion of venerated moderator, Howard Buxton, into Friday's meeting served only to mitigate the impact of the most necessary and relevant discussions. It's not that Pete was deliberately trying to subvert, as some perceive; but his approach, informed by tradition, no longer resonates with the entire community. He was acting in the public interest and attempting to maintain cohesion and protocol. Unfortunately, the expected fa├žade of civility has become the crutch we all lean on. Our civility has equated to silence, and that silence has allowed a dysfunctional town administration to tear itself apart.

We now have a chance to pursue the dialogue we have started, and the clean break of accountability required if we are ever to conclude. We need an open process. We need officials who are community-minded and driven to improve the local infrastructure and quality of life for everyone in town. Richmond is as diverse as it has ever been, and we require an updated means of engaging that reality on a local level. Such a faceted community cannot remain viable or content under existing conditions. Over the years, we have embraced fear of accountability and deep reticence to adapt in our changed socio-political landscape. It is time to set aside our partiality and prejudices in exchange for progress, empathy and greater solidarity.

38 comments:

  1. Sharon Parent FantiniSeptember 13, 2009 at 7:20 PM

    Pete Parent did not shake off public comments nor was he trying to limit free speech. As he could attest to the many phone calls and emails he received from the public. Mr. Parent has nothing BUT the best interests of the community at heart. Mr. Parent is an incredibly intelligent, fair-minded individual, honest, informed and un-selfish individual. He has done the very best he can for the community. He has never taken a dime for his work on the selectboard, in fact he has always given his selectboard salary back to the community. I would suggest the author of this blog take the time to meet with Mr. Parent. You may learn something such as common decency, strength of character and integrity. I have learned a lot from Mr. Parent over the years and I am proud and honored to call him dad.

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  2. Sharon,

    Thank you for your comments. I state in the post that "some residents" expressed concern. Had that been my position, I would have openly shared it. As I'm sure you've noticed, I have no problem expressing my opinions. I do believe that Mr. Parent is an incredibly honest and thoughtful public servant who has the town's interest foremost in his mind. In the post, I simply propose that his actions have not necessarily resonated with the entire community; this based on public comments during Tuesday and Friday's selectboard meetings and recent discussions on Front Porch Forum. I believe that concepts such as "decency..., character and integrity," are relative. I believe that priming the community for this necessary discussion through the exercise of constitution freedoms reflect character and integrity-and to do so while others wait to see which way the political winds blow demonstrates my open process. The fact that I accept comments on this blog demonstrates my interest in open accountability. I would very much like to meet your father in person, and shall make an attempt to do so in a timely fashion.

    Best Regards,

    Daniel Giangreco

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  3. As a close observer of the 'politcal scene' in Richmond for more than three decades, and a participant for 23 years, I am thoroughly disheartened to have observed one indidual, an ex-convict, destroy an honorable man's reputation, and the social fabric of a community.

    Sad . . . Very Sad.

    Gilbert W. Chapman
    York, Pemmsylvania

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  4. I think we are all missing important key issues. When there are too many Chief', no pun intended', and not enough indians we run into this inter town squabbling. First and foremost, the real issues at hand or confidential personell matters. Secondly, no one is ruining Chief Miller. He has decided of his own free will to resign. My only fear is that the Selectboard is setting a dangerous precedence by 'giving in' to someones demands. How will the new evaluation be written? Im sure we all have been givin an eval. that we did not like or contested. But dont you think doing it over could be considered covering up someone's potential areas for "needs improvement".

    I really feel the general public needs to back off the key players such as Mary Houle, Chief Miller and Mary Houle and let the SB deal with things accordingly.

    Im not sure that Giangreco was happy about being called out regarding his blogging skills. Anyone can sit behind and computer and rattle off his version of things. I think a little maturity is in need for alot of us and to remember to treat others with respect. What are we teaching our children. If you wont say it to someones face, dont type it.

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  5. it's hard to make heads or tails of it all, but as a witness with not a great deal of background or history on the progression up to this point, I can only point out the 2 obvious issues that led to this train wreck,

    1) we need a town administrator, and I just hope we can find the right person, is 40-85K enough money to clean up this mess? someone with the right skills, at least 5-10 years experience and a MBA is probably worth more that 85K, also might be best if they reside outside our town

    2) how the heck did Mary end up the liaison to the police chief? from everything I witnessed on Friday this had disaster written all over it, right from the get-go, just extremely poor judgement from our elected leaders

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  6. I agree with the above and section # 1. As for # 2, well from what I understand everyone takes a rotation. I think what we all should ask is where did Mary and Chief's relationship fail to begin with? Would Chief accept an average evaluation from anyone else? It is unfair to judge Mary and her decisions in her evaluation of Chief, expecially since there are only the SB and Chief privy to its contents. The SB should rethink caving into his demands as he is not sending a good message to others. If he wants to resign, Im sure he has numerous others reasons. There are some people out there in this world that just cant accept they have things to improve upon. It takes quit a bit of character to be humble enough to see your own mistakes. Problems start when a person thinks they are above average, perfect and have no room for improvement.

    But seriously folks...Less accusations/rumours and more FACT finding..

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  7. I find the blog to be much like the early pamphleters that proliferated during revolutionary times, that is, the real revolution, as in 1776.

    Perhaps the focus of activity could be paid towards getting a viable business off the ground with tangible products and services that the citizens want and can use.

    As you may recall, Alexander Hamilton's historical reputation took some major hits when he overreached in his public attacks on his rivals in the press.

    He is better known for his organizing of systems, including much of America's commercial institutions.

    Although it is boring work and not as much fun as provocative writing, this is what the town needs, some work on its institutions and successful businesses.

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  8. Mary Houle and the Chief were asked if they could work with each other and they both said yes. The Chief was asked if he had a problem with Mary Houle completing his evaulation and he said no.

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  9. from Fridays meeting, some members of the board said the chief came to them earlier on to request a different liaison and when this was brought up between other members of the board, I believe they said in the end the decision was that "we need to let this ride out", in other words all a'board...train wrecks a'comin

    it was not clear if this was a collective meeting and decision, but in either case, seems there were some warning signs

    ...and to be fair, it should be noted Mary had plenty of support Friday too, for example the fire chief talked positively of their liaison relationship

    I don't know the lady, but seems there isn't much middle ground with her, it is either like or hate...so you have to wonder, how do such strong opinions form and who's really starting all the trouble?

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  10. Chief Miller waivered on the liason. He agreed to work with her, then he would not. Almost like he went home and thought about it. Mary does not want to run the law enforcement aspect, but she does have excellent suggestions when it comes to inter office conflict and resolution. It just appears that he wants his way, whatever his way may be. If Chief cant get along with Mary, what example is he setting. We live in a world where parties dont always agree. Perhaps you cant teach an old dog new tricks.

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  11. The underlying problem is the expectation that any one of the selectboard members can produce a job evaluation for any town employee, since they are not in contact with the employees on a consistent basis, seeing the daily routine, working side by side, as was the case with the town administrator. What becomes the basis for the evaluation then? Snipets of info? Heresay? He said, she said? It is unfair of the select board members to expect this of themselves, and unfair to the employees being evaluated.

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  12. Anonymous says, "Mary Houle and the Chief were asked if they could work with each other and they both said yes. The chief was asked if he had a problem with Mary Houle completing his evaluation and he said no", and "Chief Miller waivered on the liason. He agreed to work with her, then he would not"

    Are these facts from both sides? is this first hand info, where Anonymous was with each Mary and the Chief when this happened, or is this second hand info? ...just trying to put the pieces together.

    It seems the Chief no longer feels he can do his job, hence the resignation, and it sounds like there was a list of things that led to this. I like the idea of a regional police department, if there is enough time for this kind of bickering between the police and town officials (remember there is another officer in the mix, and a police advisory committee), then maybe there just isn't enough actual police work for this department.

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  13. First of all. The select board appoints a liaison to the police department. They must have all decided Mary was the perfect person. When people have a problem with the police department the next person they turn to is the police liaison and the select board. Mary would have based her performance review on feedback from the people she deals with on a daily basis. Just so you are aware people who serve as a police liaison are not allowed to share with you the issues with the police department, unfortunately you will never here her side of the story unless Mr. Miller signs a waiver allowing her to speak freely.(I don't think that will ever happen) As for the select board, I think they made a bad decision to remove Mary from her role. They appointed her because they trusted her and they should have stood behind her decision and behind her review. Chief Miller now reminds me of a child who did not get his way so he threw a tantrum until he got it. People should take the time to do some research. You would be amazed at how many complaints about the police department there really are and you would be surprised what Mr. Miller has said about those complaints. Sometimes things are not always what they seem.

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  14. In my opinion, its ridiculous to think that a person, in this case a selectboard member, can write a valid review for a town employee since they are not witnessing this peron in their job capacity on a regular or daily basis, as was the case with the town administrator. What is the review based on then? The opinion of others? Sparse glimpses? Well thats not fair. Why would the selectboard expect this of themselves? Why would the employee be expected to accept this kind of review? I can see how it could spark resentment.

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  15. Second of all. The select board is made up of 5 individuals, who may not always decide "perfectly" with one another, certainly some items will be decided by a 3 to 2 vote, so unless you know each member personally and know exactly were they stood on this decision, don't tell me "They MUST have ALL decided Mary was the PERFECT person." cause, I'm not buying it!

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  16. Third of all. I believe the select board said Mary removed herself from the role (although, it was done so under great pressure from the public, and probably under pressure from the select board as well).

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  17. The selectboard is richmonds governing body, with or without a town admin...however chief thinks he is above all of their heads...

    now, does anoyone think Ronald McDonald had any time to watch what chief was doing while he was too busy screwin the town financial director...its not that hard to have a generic appraisal and just change the dates for the past 13 yrs...

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  18. Replying to anonymous "...Ronald McDonald" comment.
    Wow, I see, you know exactly what's been going on in the town office building and must feel priviledged to have read all of the chief's prior reviews to know they've all been the same. Perhaps you should be the one to write the reviews since you are so informed.

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  19. We can't rely on a "ride this one out" mentality to fix these corrosive dynamics. They are perennial problems which will undoubtedly return if we don't implement some sort of reform. Situations like this can be easily remedied when we have a high level of accountability built into the system.

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  20. Dan is exactly right, there is a "corrosive dynamic" in play here and it has filtered into our community. I believe we need an outside source unconnected to the town to help straighten this out.

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  21. I was in the town center when Mary asked/applied to be the police liason. I believe the rest of the selectboard was uncomfortable with that prospect as Mary's prior dislike of the PD and the Chief was well known. Mary was very insistent and the board agreed to allow her the job. In a public meeting it is very difficult for co-board members to voice their full opinion without causing someone distress. You have to pick your fights carefully... nobody chose this one.

    Does Chief Miller own some of the current mess? No doubt, but after nearly 40 years of distinguished public service, it is just wrong to trash the guy out of his job. It's hard enough being a cop dealing with people pissed off at you all the time while you are enforcing the laws. To be back stabbed by the people you are trying to serve, it just too much.


    The administration of this town has grown too complex for a lay board to do it. Now is the time for us to change our administration and adopt a town manager form of goverment. Then we can have a professional manager who has responsibility and AUTHORITY to handle the daily functions of the town, and the selectboard can sit back, make policy, and not spend their time micro managing every last detail of town operations.

    To adopt a town manager form of government requires a vote of the people and a town charter change by the legislature. A process that should start soon, and before we hire a new administrator...

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  22. If I were a male dept. head in Richmond right now I would be keeping my eye out for another job....

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  23. It is truely ironic how some people (mostly with either past zoning violations or other long standing bitter grievances against the town, against law enforcement, flat-landers, tree-huggers, Pruius drivers, males, anyone under 30, etc. [whoa, thats 3/4 of the town!!] continue to dump on Ron and blame him for all our troubles real or imagined...but it is ok for these people to throw stones b/c they have never made a mistake in their personal lives...if Ron committed half the nefarious actions that some of these gossip-mongers claim he would be in jail, but the sad and ironic fact is that our "fiscally conservative" board members botched Ron's exit so bad, WE the taxpayers are now paying Ron THOUSANDS of dollars to be on vacation..surely if he was guilty of any of these claims (beyond personal indescretions) he would have been fired without cause. And speaking of fiscally conservative board actions we have also been paying substantial sums of money on attorneys to review bogus claims made by a town emplyee about the Chief,which have been dismissed outright upon review by independent authorities.

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  24. Its called the town covering its behind. If the town backs out of something gracefully, then there is no need for a lawsuit. It just shows they are more at ease catering to one's demands who are leaving office, then put their foot down and explain some of this crap is not tolerable.

    I do not think Langrock, Sperry and Wool is 'independent". They have an obligation to find for the town and protect it. You can flex a report anyway if you want..Just ask Chief Miller

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  25. After reading all of the previous posts, I would like to clear up a few misperceptions. Chief Miller fought vehemently against having Mary Houle as his liaison. He even wrote emails to the entire board stating he wouldn't recognize her as such because she was already causing alot of turmoil in his dept. As posted above, Ms. Houle was insistent that she be the liaison and continued as if she hadn't heard what he was saying. For whatever reason, in that springtime board meeting, she spoke right up and wanted that post. One other board member spoke up and asked why she would want that, as she clearly had issues with both the Chief and the police dept. Ms. Houle became angry and said those issues came up in an executive session so shouldn't have been mentioned!! This is all on video. Check for yourself. And since then, every action the Chief has made in his dept has been questioned by this so-called liaison, making it impossible for him to do his job. He fought an uphill battle for a long time, but with no town administrator and two board members obstructing his every action, he finally decided it just wasn't worth it. And though a great deal has been said about his evaluation, that is NOT what this was about. Never has been. He doesn't want another one done either. He just wants the problems in this town solved, with or without him. Here's hoping that things can change enough for him to consider staying. But if they don't, none of us would blame him for moving on and leaving this mess behind him. It has been going on for too long.

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  26. So are you Joe's spokes person? There are alot of things on these recorded town sessions. If this is NOT about his evaluation, then it was a rouse on his part.

    Jon and Eric can be seen on the films being rude and down right insulting to Mary. Heres my one sentiment for all SB members. If you DO NOT know what you are doing, or cant make decisions, please resign. More like a rudderless ship to me...

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  27. I have never heard Chief Miller say it was about his evaluation. So what ruse are you talking about it? The Chief has not spoken yet as he has tried to have respect for the process and all those involved. Clearly, your bias is toward Mary and you are going to attack anyone who has opposed her at any step along the way. Makes it easy to disregard your comments....so we will.

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  28. Ok, then why does June Heston and that Cummins lady stand up and the content is all about his evaluation. Not to mention he said something about it in the Burlington Free Press. take a good look at the tape of Sept 8th's meeting..EVALUATION was all over it. How much have you heard from Chief Miller. Enlighten us.

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  29. Many of us have taken the time to actually approach the Chief and ask him if his evaluation is what prompted his decision to resign. If you were to do that, you would find his answer to be "no". The issues are much more complicated than that and much of them relate to personnel matters that he isn't able to speak freely about. But if you dig deeper than the superficial "take sides, mud-slinging", you will find that his resignation is just a symptom of a much larger problem with governance in our town. Ron Rodjenski being pushed out was another symptom, Bob Marquis walking away yet another symptom. Something is broken in our beloved town and it does seem that Chief's resignation just finally brought it to the forefront. Did the town and media focus on his evaluation? Yes. It was something concrete to try to fix. And we citizens have worked very hard to right that wrong. But this is much bigger than that and clearly, as we are discussing now, it is far from over.

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  30. Gilbert W. Chapman, York, PASeptember 19, 2009 at 12:09 PM

    The previous comment ~ 09-19-09, 6:51 AM ~ has offered an excellent diagnosis. The incident with the Chief of Police only scratched the surface.

    In reality, divisions (from to 2 in the 1960's to at least 4 in 2009) began to appear when (1) IBM's presence became pronounced, with suburban sprawl hitting Richmond 'big time', and (2) when Vermont became the 'home base' for many liberal causes (environment, think small, etc.).

    The Old Guard became fearful of the changes that varied from the 200 year history of farming that permeated Richmond.

    In some respects, the signal event was the creation of the police department during the 70's, and it for this reason most conflicts during the past 3 decades have centered around crime prevention.

    To many, Mary Houle reflects the last gasp of breath for that Old Guard. While the Old Guard and Young Buck Liberals have made strange bed mates at times (both fought the opening of Johnny Brook Road to alleviate traffic at the Four Corners), yet, for the most part they have been at odds with each other.

    As a former member of both school boards (MMU and Richmond Elementary), I watched a battle being waged between the Old Guard and Young (new to town) families for 20 years. The Old Guard always complained about the school tax rate, while parents wanted a 'world class' education for children.

    Those are just three examples. The list, in reality is much longer, including what is going on with the old Jonesville Store at the present moment.

    As some wise sage said many years ago, "Everyone is a member of some special interest group," and the friction within Richmond has always (will always ? ? ?) reflect those divisions.

    In many ways, Richmond is still a young town, still expanding, still adjusting, not only to 'global changes', but to 'village changes' as well.

    I've no doubt that I could very well be one of those who today would be fighting the proposed changes lobbied for by my daughter's generation. And, I would lose, just as Mary Houle will lose in her battle to protect her parents' and the Old Guard's legacy.

    Progress and growth cannot be stopped in Richmond, anymore than it could be stopped in Williston or South Burlington.

    Democracy, through the election of various new Selectboards, will decide Richmond's future ~ ~ ~ not Mary Houle, nor Gil Chapman, acting upon personal agendas.

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  31. What is evident from the town meeting is Chief Miller manipulated the situation. He sent his friends, the Hestons & Margolis to speak for him. Why would he give them a copy of his unsigned evaluation? Why would the Heston's adamantly defend the Chief? Because he hired their nephew. Margolis spoke of ethics. He owns a piece of the turmoil for disclosing Ms. Houle's conviction from over 16 years ago. How is that relevant today? Is it not possible she was wrongly convicted? Has anyone bothered to ask her what happened? Filkorn has a valuable asset as a politician. He can stab fellow selectboard members Houle & Parent in the back and then kiss their ass 5 minutes later. It is also clear than Dan G. does not care about the community but continuing his personal vendetta against Ms. Houle. The Town of Richmond is not broken but a few people who want to promote personal agendas. Also why are people so invested in who is chief? Who cares how much crime is there in town?

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  32. Gilbert W. Chapman ~ York ~ PennsylvamiaSeptember 20, 2009 at 1:40 PM

    Let's get something straight here, for once, and for all.

    Ms. Houle was convicted of a serious felony, which she appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court.

    The Vermont Supeme rendored a decison that affirmed the lower court's decision (conviction). Readers of that decison can ponder for themselves whether or not the jury was right or wrong, and whether or not the Supreme Court erred in upholding the decision.

    If everyone in Richmond hasn't read the Vermont Supreme Court's Decision by now, it is because (1) they aren't on the Internet, or (2) they are too lazy to go to:

    State_V_houle.92-327, dated March 18, 1994, at the Vermont Supreme Court's Web Site.

    The Internet address of that decision has been
    floating around for weeks in Richmond, not to mention at the Burlington Free Press and WCAX.

    The crime Ms. Houle was convicted of was no 'Mickey Mouse' offense (i.e. like jaywalking, nor minor traffic violation, like over time parking), but . . . at least to my way of thinking . . . a very serious offense.

    Regardless of the length of time between Ms. Houle's conviction, and her election to the Selectboard, I personally don't believe she should have been placed in such a position of public trust, where she oversees a law enforcement agency, and is the sole rater of a Police Chief's performance. It's that simple!

    "When have you ever meet an ex-convict who held law enforcement personnel in high regard?"

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  33. If you will recall, Gary Margolis is on the police advisory board. He is certainly very capable of forming his own conclusions and doing his own homework. He was there when the board inquired why the Chief wasn't at their meeting and Ms. Houle told them she didn't invite him. If you want to "advise" the police dept, why would you not include the Chief? Hmmmmm....makes you wonder. I do think that Ms. Houle's prior run-in with the law would not have been highlighted if she didn't show such open disdain for the police dept now. Now, it DOES seem relevant. As to Officer Anderson, he happens to be the Hestons' nephew but of course, would never have been hired had he not been a very qualified candidate for the job. For the town of Richmond to have the opportunity to hire someone who had already been through the Police Academy, so we didn't have to pay to send him, was wonderful for the town. With the exception of a couple of people who have an axe to grind with him, because he was doing his JOB, he has been a valuable asset to this community. It is really too bad that that young man has been pulled into this town squabble. He doesn't deserve it and it is a sad commentary that some people have found it necessary to attack him because they have no other weapons at their disposal. Very sad indeed. So the question now becomes, if this Chief chooses to continue with his resignation, what is our Plan B???? Do we have one? Who would want to work here in the current climate? Many people DO care how much crime is in our town...this being evidenced by how much support the police dept has had through this very lively debate.

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  34. This seems to be a popularity contest. Whose band wagon are we going to jump on? Lets go with the majority, yea, lets dot that because we are a bunch of lambs being led to the slaughter. The issues in town have sprung from Chief's resignation to all this clatter about old guard new guard, yakkity yak.

    It was evident that June Heston and her hubby, along with their nephew were kired by Chief as his 'boo hoo campaign advisors'. How can I stick it to Mary before I leave anyways. Dont you think Chief Miller plans on retiring to enjoy his 3rd wife and ready made family.

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  35. To reply to the last "anonymous"

    First of all...show some personal pride, and sign your name. The never-ending anonymous-es in these comments are tiresome, confusing, and display a complete lack of character and pride for your beliefs. If you crave anonymity, you shouldn't be commenting.

    Secondly, Dan cares more about the community than most lifelong, "trueblood" Richmondites. He cares in a way that, although not always conventional, attempts to ride above most of the petty town hierarchy, and politics.

    He truly wants our towns to grow into a fair, functioning community that is not tied down by political slander and squabbling, and can exist peacefully with one another, and grow.
    Any true judge of character can see that.

    And, if you are still not sure...have a face-to face discussion with him sometime, and listen to his ideas for the LTCM, the towns, or just life in general. He has some wonderful ideas, and if they don't fly over your head intellectually (as I find they sometimes do), you might find you agree and appreciate them, or can even offer positive suggestions.

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  36. No one is supporting the police dept as a whole. Its all about Chief Miller. Plan B is you hire a new Chief. What more is there to it. Then what will the public attack next. Secondly, give the Mary Houle arrest ' a rest'. She paid her dues, guilty or not. You should think that there are a few cops out there who have actually been arrested for DUI, yrs later their working for a PD. Or what about a BPD officer who was arrested for DUI crash resulting, he was a Sgt, was demoted and paid the penalties, and now he is way up in ranks, hey do you think he has prosecuted a DUI since then, yes.....So people...Give it a rest...I would love to see what would happen if Filkorn or Fart, I mean Kart, gave Chief an average evaluation...As for Eliza...Why the heck would anyone want to give there name to anything in this town

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  37. Fart jokes! This just gets more and more comical. No need for me to stir the pot, this soup is ready.

    :-)

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  38. Well said Dan. I must say, as an observer, the flailing around is getting to be a sight to behold. A sure sign of desperation. Just today alone...first it was Chief's fault, then the Hestons and Gary Margolis. Then Officer Anderson. Then Erik Filkorn. Now both Erik and Jon Kart. Let's see who are we missing? Oh yeah, surely this all goes back to being Ron's fault! Yes, more and more comical all the time. I do apologize for remaining "anonymous" for the moment. But as you can see from above, if you speak openly, you become one of the enemy, which I most definitely would be. And probably already am! So for now anyway, I'll try to add to the debate without becoming a target of it!

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