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May 22, 2018

5/15/2018 7:28:00 AM
The patronage system alive and well in Boulder Junction

To the Editor:

This letter was inspired by the actions of the Boulder Junction Town Board and others at the adjourned annual meeting May 1 where a motion to have the town board implement financial safeguards, checks, and balances was defeated 10-10.

The vote was by hand count. All four of our elected officials voted last so they were all aware of the impact of their votes.

The purpose of this letter is two-fold: Most important, it's a call to action. Become informed by first-hand information, attend meetings and especially electors' meetings where our votes count, and start asking questions. Do it for Boulder Junction.

As more and varied Boulder Junction people become involved in local government affairs, it will become more difficult for individuals asking questions to be discounted as "troublemakers."

Second, bringing dark issues into the light disempowers them. Taking inappropriate actions out of the shadows and putting them on the table is powerful.

Here's to hoping the bad behaviors described below come to an end. Soon.

There is no intention here to purposely step on anyone's toes, but the truth stands. Hopefully the truth will help reset our town. Everything needs a reboot from time to time.

All of the following incidents were committed by either Boulder Junction community center workers/volunteers/spouses or family members of our current elected officials:

1. Folks are being accosted while shopping in town for asking questions at town board meetings. The questions related to misappropriated money that had not been sought after or voluntarily returned by the town board or clerk. During the appropriate timeslot at the meeting, this person politely asked whether the tax money was going to be returned.

2. Same topic - someone received a phone call warning them to stop asking questions on this topic.

3. Hate mail was sent to a taxpayer in the form of Facebook personal messages from a town supervisor's spouse - crude, rude and worse content than any high school mean girl could ever deliver.

4. A library board of trustee member angrily told a committee member to "just stuff it" at a meeting when the member attempted to correct a misstatement made by an elected official. Evidently the truth is not allowed in the presence of a library trustee.

5. Finally, several community members have approached me personally on the street, in the post office and by telephone asking what's happening with the $8,700 that the clerk misappropriated to herself. I ultimately encouraged them to attend town board meetings, to ask questions, and to talk to their chairman. They said they can't or won't.

And why can't they? Those community members all responded the same way - that they could never publicly address the board or approach the chairman because they are afraid of being ostracized or treated poorly when returning their library books, buying their garbage bags or paying their taxes.

In other words, if they stepped out, they would fear their own well-being at their own community center and their own library. Their words; not mine. I can't blame them. I know firsthand how it feels. Points three and four above are personal stories.

But since I've worked 10 years in the town offices and have had great interest in our local government and town for all of my 17 years here, I choose to step up and step out. I am here to help. No one said it would be easy. I say it's worth it.

Believe me, I'd rather be Boulder Junction's #1 cheerleader again. Those were good days. But while I continue to look, there's not much to cheer about. We need change. And we need it yesterday.

One more thing. Closely related, I promise.

Concentrations of power are risky. People tend to lose their ethical minds. And once you cross the line of what's ethical, that line goes away.

I'm speaking to the patronage system that is alive and well in Boulder Junction. Counting hand votes exposed a truth that's been suspected for several years.

This patronage system - quid pro quo, a favor for a favor - involves a voting block that shows up consistently to electors meetings - the meetings where our votes count. Their boss closes down all public service in the community building so that all volunteers can attend electors' meetings - in order to vote.

A group of this size -as big as 40 or more with spouses - in our town can virtually defeat or pass any motion that the board wants - or doesn't want. And all our elected officials know that. And this community center voting block knows it too.

What's in it for the voting block, which is led by a town employee? Unusually high salary raises year after year being plugged into the budget by the clerk and board - no questions asked and no explanations given at budget time - for said employee.

In exchange for these continual bigger-than-usual raises that show a 36.8 percent increase over a five-year period (a 10 percent increase over that same time period would have been 3 percent above inflation), our elected officials can count on any motion that they want to be passed - or killed, such as instituting those financial safeguards that they had agreed to do five months prior.

No other town employees get these kinds of raises - nor can they deliver the votes for this board.

This same voting block all voted "no" to the motion for financial safeguards. Every one of them. A counted-off hand vote exposed this as fact. No reasons for voting this motion down were stated by anyone during much discussion, including the elected officials. All social/verbal indicators pointed to it passing unanimously. Yet the entire community center voting block voted the same - the same as the town board and town clerk. They all said no to financial safeguards. Interesting.

I believe patronage to be illegal. I'm certain it lacks integrity. And it's egocentric by its nature.

Let me just add that I am not at all certain that all of these misguided voting decisions are being made consciously by each person involved. People behave differently when in a group setting than they may individually. There is a need to be accepted and liked by the group.

Bottom line, though, is that this group dynamic taking place within our town building - whether by innocent misguidance or by money talking - is only benefitting a very small group of people.

The greater good is what our elected officials took an oath to serve and protect.

It's for this reason, among others, that we need more people attending meetings - so a special interest group that is voting to benefit only a few people can be kept in check - respectfully, civilly - with our votes.

You can't fight city hall is a famous saying - and for good reason. It's like pushing a rope up hill. That's why I am calling for all civic-minded warriors to step forward. Show up. The truth will be our shield.

You can sign up for meeting notifications (they come to you via email) at clerk@boulderjunction.org or 715-385-2220 or townofboulderjunction.org.

Barbara Boston

Boulder Junction

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