Much of what happened after the report was formally submitted in early July has been covered extensively in The Spotlight and elsewhere (e.g., an independent submission by some members of the ward subcommittee; a contentious initial board meeting, etc.), so I won’t rehash it here.
What I do want to discuss is the sense of disappointment on my part and on the part of most of the committee. We devoted our best efforts to produce a balanced report that we hoped would assist the town in thinking about its future. While not all of the ideas discussed in the report are, in my judgment, ones that merit further consideration (e.g., I think Bethlehem is too small for a ward system), we were glad to have had the chance to explore and learn about them. For some members of the Board and others in the community to have used this report as a “political football” to advance agendas having nothing to do with its substance is really “small town politics” at its worst. Our committee felt used and demeaned. The recent victory of Bill Reinhardt in the Democratic primary and the success of the Bethlehem Reform Democrats in getting many seats on the Democratic Town Committee are reflective of the disdain that many of us have for “politics as usual” and reflect a constructive desire to change things for the better.
I also want to take The Spotlight to task a bit for its coverage of our report. While the paper does need to report on the “horse race” nature of politics to sell papers, I think that it did a disservice to its readers by not looking beyond the politics and encouraging a dialogue about the policy implications of the various ideas in the report. While I concede that some of the issues raised in our report were also discussed in prior citizen panels such as Bethlehem 2020, we felt that the issues we raised were worthy of a serious discussion and not deserving of the dismissal in the Spotlight editorial.
I hope the next time that a group of citizens volunteers its time and talents to help Bethlehem become a better place, both elected officials and the local newspaper value the contributions more than they did those of my committee.