Is it the bully pulpit or just bully officials?

Greenwich-Voices-von-KeyserlingWhere do school bullies learn to bully? Don’t they pick these habits up from their elders?

Unfortunately, our town government provides all too frequent examples of bullying, intimidation and disrespect through the capricious abuse of power vested in some of our leaders.

Recently, there have been two glaring examples of bullying of individuals and groups.

On Sept. 17, the Board of Education (BOE) held a meeting at which the public could speak about solutions to the problem of Facility Utilization and Racial Balance (FURB?). Public testimony, suggestions, and questions were pushed aside, as a Mr. Silver noted in a letter to the editor, demonstrating that “You may speak, but I don’t have to listen to you.” Next, the board pounced on its own member, Peter Sherr, when he presented his sound proposal of a community school solution to the FURB problem.

They railed on both him and his proposal. Thank goodness Mr. Sherr is principled enough not to be cowed by social abuse, but this was bad behavior exhibited by the BOE.

Earlier that week, the august RTM muzzled public address once again with their inimitable “three minute motion” of Mr. Tuthill’s fame. Speakers from the public who were deeply impacted by the RTM’s proposed town lease policy and had waited almost a year to have their say were muzzled in preference for the RTM’s earlier adjournment.

There was no other controversial item on the month’s short agenda and plenty of time to debate. So, not only was this bad manners from the RTM leadership and disrespectful of the very people who elected them, it was an arrogant abuse of power.

When a member of the RTM (yours truly) raised a point of order, the moderator shouted him down with peremptory zeal. And when that member continued to insist that his point be properly addressed under the rules of the body, the moderator admonished him by stating that the “rules of civility” trumped all RTM rules.

What was he saying?  (I know what he meant.)  Here “civility” was a code word for comfort, convenience and social congeniality. Comfort trumps duty. In other words, don’t upset me with a challenge to my authority.

Since the “rules of civility” are nowhere written down, they cannot be appealed or challenged. Only the moderator can create and administer this “emperor’s clothing” of procedure. Patronization is the ultimate bullying in the false indulgence of the impotent by the powerful.

The rule of law (and the RTM has a volume of rules in the town code and Robert’s Rules of Order) affords civility  through its assurance of rights and respect of each and every person equally. It affords the very safety and “protection of the chair” in its application allowing the candid expression of a person’s ideas, opinions, and proposals.

The Bill of Rights is the supreme rules which protect the individual from the tyranny of the majority. Jefferson was as wary of the tyranny of the majority as he was of the tyranny of an autocrat.

Bullying is the imposition of the will of the powerful over that of the weaker. It is the most despicable display of bad character, especially when that power is meant to be used for the benefit of the weaker.

The only true remedy for official bullying is through the election booth. As we go to the polls in a few weeks, we all would be wise to consider which candidates are serving their constituents and which are merely building their own pedestals.

So, please vote for Peter Sherr.


Christopher von Keyserling is a Republican and a longtime member of the town’s Representative Town Meeting, though the opinions expressed in this column are his own.

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