Bully pulpit or pulpit bully?

Greenwich-Voices-von-KeyserlingGreenwich government has descended into an epidemic of bullies. The good volunteer citizens are constantly being driven out or quelled into silence. Data (facts), as our superintendent explained at a recent Board of Education meeting, are used as they best support the need. Truth is a debatable topic. The representatives become represented, not their constituents.

There are two of Chris’s Rules of Greenwich government which I give to new RTM members: “Nothing in Greenwich is what it appears to be.” “No decisions are made in public meetings, only certified there.” I tell them that this beautiful town is like a good restaurant. Once you find one, do not ruin your discovery by seeing the cockroaches in the kitchen. Am I cynical? No, just experienced.

Because most people are very, very busy, they tend to put more credit in who says something, rather than what it is that they say. This allows our “bully” leaders to utilize the old legal mantra: If you cannot discredit the testimony, discredit the witness. Couple this with the bureaucrat’s rule: The best way to solve a complaint is to get rid of the complainant. Together these have created an efficient and risk-free antidote to open debate.

Because most people are very, very busy, habit and status quo protect them from unsettling change, which demands energy, and possibly action. Therefore, the incumbent bully must commit a very shocking and unforgivable act to be removed. Another of Chris’s Rules: No one can be fired in Greenwich. They must “fire” themselves.

Now stir into this mix a bully who rewards loyalty and punishes the unrepentant with public ridicule, humiliation and character assassination. It is not worth a volunteer’s effort to speak their mind. There is no protection within that society for them. The result is a body politic who will not dare to challenge, or even question, the bully leader’s half-truth pronouncements and self-serving edicts. Since these statements and action go unchallenged, people begin to believe that their leader is all wise and powerful. This only reinforces the ability to bully effectively.

Any remaining zealots of truth and democracy can only become raucous and disruptive in order to be heard. By doing so, they diminish their reputation and credibility. They seem not to be “nice” people. This, of course, gives “proof” to the character assassination by the bully.

In direct relation, as the bully becomes more entrenched, good volunteer citizens leave or avoid his organization in favor of healthy ones. The result is that the corrupted body becomes increasingly ineffective and loses the credibility and respect of the general public. It becomes marginalized. This would be a self-correcting process if, and only if, there are healthy government bodies to substitute the essential service, which the failed body should supply.

We have seen in this last year how casual alliances between bully leaders of “check and balance” organizations, such as the RTM, RTC, DTC, and BOE, authorities which should provide a check and balance against abuse, now protect the interests of the leadership, not the citizenry.

Is there hope for the New Year? Just like Christmas celebrates the potential for rebirth if one chooses, the next year offers the opportunity for healthy change. We have just elected a sterling Board of Selectmen. Last November you rose up and did the right thing for the Board of Ed. In January, we will elect a new moderator and moderator pro tem of the RTM. The incumbents have stultified the organization for 20 years. Also in January are the Republican and Democrat party caucuses, when the registered members of each party elect the new Town Committee members. Brave and free action on just two evenings of the whole next year can take our town government back. Can you do the right thing? Can you stand up for yourself just twice this year? Your integrity of action (or laziness of inaction) will earn you the town government you deserve. Merry Christmas.


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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