Unreported by local press, the Plainfield Select Board, at its July 14 meeting, thrust a blunt object into the heart of local democracy, without intent to do so, by canceling a petitioned public meeting scheduled to be held July 24. The public meeting was rescheduled for Sept. 30. The original petition, signed by 89 individuals, included the following:
“We respectfully request that a forum be held within 30 days of the submission of this petition. The present condition of ‘the red store’ does not serve the Town of Plainfield and/or its citizens. It is a prime and conspicuous piece of real estate with great potential. The Town of Plainfield could make good use of that property. Therefore, we hereby request that the Plainfield Selectboard schedule a public forum to discuss the issue, with specific emphasis on the possibility of a Town purchase and/or seizure through the process of eminent domain if a crucial Town need for the property were to be determined. (June 9)”
The R.L. Vallee company (Maplefields) purchased the “Red Store” property at a public auction, outbidding two local citizens. The property was promptly placed back on the “sell” market, with a reduced asking price, reduced because of the limitations established by the restrictive covenants that protect Vallee’s Maplefields store just down the road — from competition.
The Red Store has been up for sale for more than two years. Unoccupied, it has become a community eyesore.
Because of its longtime use, the unusual nature of the purchase, and the subsequent placement of restrictive covenants, it has become a topic of conversation at Plainfield gatherings. Those conversations led to the development of the submitted petition.
The board’s decision to cancel the July 24 meeting was reached after considerable discussion. An individual member of the Select Board reported having had a communication with an official of the R.L. Vallee company. On the basis of his interpretation of that communication — which included talk of Vallee’s future plans for the property — he urged the other two members of the Select Board to cancel or postpone the meeting. His report included an expression of concern that the Vallee corporation would feel singled out by the public forum, further intimating that Vallee might react accordingly — to the possible detriment of the town.
The decision of the Select Board to put off the public meeting until Sept. 30 represents a rebuff of the signers, 59 of whom have been certified as Plainfield voters. The garnering of 89 signatures on such a petition, in a small town, is out of the ordinary and of some significance. How do these petitioners maintain their voice and the integrity of a small town if not with timely public discourse? The Select Board has temporarily muted their voice.
In my view, after watching the discussion, the public forum should have been held as scheduled on July 24.
The expression of deferential treatment — toward a corporation that has expressed little or no concern for the town of Plainfield through various actions — is inconsistent with stances this board has taken in the past.
Despite my disagreement with this action, I very much appreciate our present board. Each of its three members volunteers many hours to make things better for the town of Plainfield, with a number of significant accomplishments in hand.
My strong support for the town of Plainfield and for our excellent Select Board has not diminished.
Frederic C. Woogmaster lives in Plainfield.MORE IN Commentary
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