Paying the Price of Integrity and Leadership
To the Editor,
When I read Select Board Member Pine’s Letter to the Editor: “For The Record: I Sincerely Regret My Error” (see March 22 Letters to the Editor), the first thing that struck me was the example that she set for the kind of honesty and humility that we should expect from our public officials.
Nonetheless, I was disappointed for a number of reasons to hear that she had misrepresented the data. Chief among those is that there have been many and significant inaccuracies put forth during our community debate around hiring additional firefighters, and the last thing that was needed was to cloud the issues further.
But it occurred to me that she made this mistake because, rather than just getting on board an otherwise unstoppable train, she was doing exactly the thing that we have asked her to do: she was looking at the information surrounding a proposed service increase, weighing the costs and the benefits, and trying to be sure that we all had visibility into the issue and her thinking as an elected official.
She knew that there would be those who would not want to hear what she had to say, but she knew that others would; and she offered her thoughts for their consideration. So as disappointed as I was that a mistake had clouded the value of her diligence, I thought that this incident offered an even more important example of how mistakes can be surfaced, considered, confirmed and corrected as a community through a constructive dialogue on a difficult topic.
But then I read a related Letter to the Editor from an individual that had astutely and rightly caught her error. Rather than speaking with Ms. Pine and asking her to clarify her mistake, the author directly accused her of intentionally distorting facts in order to mislead voters in advancement of her own agenda.
This letter was a message to Ms. Pine but also to our community. It not only shattered my illusion of a community at work, it brought to light the real ugliness of how we tend to reconcile difficult issues in our community. In short, we tend to advance our objectives by force rather than by understanding.
This approach is not unique to Groton, but our good fortune as a small, well-educated and well-resourced community gives us the opportunity to take the higher road on the way to our decisions. That has not happened with this issue and this letter offers an example of how we have approached it instead. Here we reached our decision long before we knew the facts, and have punished those who would bring a different perspective.
It is our right to reach our own all-too-often uninformed conclusions on matters of public spending and the behavior of our public officials. Some of us may acknowledge that we know only a fraction of the actual facts and drivers of the decisions we ask those public officials to make.
Yet few of us will ever know the challenge of having the public responsibility of bringing thoroughly informed and objective analysis to difficult and emotional issues such as public safety and education spending.
I think Board Member Pine is owed an apology, one at least as thoughtful and sincere as the example that she set.
Given what I have seen, this may be too much to expect. But it is not too much to expect that we take the time to understand, and acknowledge that she is doing her job. And that her apology is as much an indicator of the care, effort and integrity that she puts into that job, as it is an indication that she made a mistake along the way.