Consider implications of petitions before signing

There has been quite a bit of discussion lately in the Shelburne News and on Front Porch Forum regarding the petition that the group, Shelburne Citizens For Responsible Growth (SCFRG), has been promoting. As I understand it, the petition would put the current proposed Town Plan and any future changes to a vote. I’d like the residents of Shelburne to consider the implications of this proposal before agreeing to sign the petition.

Referendums tend to favor well-organized groups with resources to spread their message such as SCFRG.

The ACE Electoral Knowledge Network – an organization that attempts to educate the public about election practices and support credible and transparent electoral processes with an emphasis on sustainability, professionalism, and trust – has the following to say about referendums:

“There are a number of arguments made against the use of referendums. One is that it weakens representative democracy by undermining the role and importance of elected representatives. Another is that voters do not always have the capacity or information to make informed decisions about the issue at stake, and instead may make ill-informed decisions based on partial knowledge or on the basis of unrelated factors such as the state of the economy. This trend may be exacerbated in the case of referendums on complex issues.”

Some people have suggested that due to the fact that I am a practicing landscape architect, I cannot be trusted to express unbiased opinions regarding this proposal and development in general. My work is primarily outside the state of Vermont and my built work in Shelburne has been limited to individual homes and public institutions as opposed to large developments. SCFRG has, in fact, refused to add me to their email list for this very reason, saying I have a “conflict of interest.” Let me be clear – I am neither for nor against any particular development plan in Shelburne. I am, however, in favor of letting the citizen representatives who volunteer many long hours to develop important, complicated documents such as our 200-page Town Plan do their jobs and trust them to represent the residents of this town.

The volunteers who serve on these boards and commissions change over time and, in my mind, represent the diverse interests of our dynamic community. If we constantly second-guess and attempt to undermine the results of their efforts and recommendations, who is going to want to volunteer to be on these boards and commissions in the future? I don’t believe that it is a good idea for special interest groups to have undue influence just because they may disagree with the decisions that these boards or commissions make.

Personally, I would like to see the town grow in a smart, fiscally responsible way that does not put undue strain on our infrastructure or budgets. There is a lot of emotion around the idea of expanding the sewer service boundary. Regarding this issue, the Selectboard made the suggestion at a recent meeting that the town hire an expert on this to do a cost benefit analysis. It is my opinion that this is the only way to determine what type of development warrants expansion of the sewer service boundary from a financial standpoint.

Active members of SCFRG have opposed this idea. Perhaps they are concerned that the results of such a study would not support their special interests. I would urge all interested residents of Shelburne to become educated about these important issues and, instead of signing petitions, volunteer to serve their community on these boards and commissions. Representative democracy has worked in this country for many generations. I personally think that we should allow this tradition to continue in Shelburne.

Jeffrey Hodgson, Shelburne

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