A Credibility Gap

The failure of the Select Board to reappoint Bill Moonan to the Historic District Commission he has served on for decades is what prompted me to start this blog. I sent The Bedford Citizen a much shorter and tamer version of the opinion that follows, as a letter to the editor, but they declined to print it. I am glad they did. With so much at stake, it does no good to pull punches. So, after a year of close observation and diligent research, Save Our Block will now share objective information on one hand and connect dots on the other.

Bill’s efforts to save the town from “cannibalizing” the Historic District, as he once put it, have been cynically portrayed as self-serving. What a crock. Anyone who knows Bill Moonan and Carol Amick knows that they would be just as alarmed by the location chosen for the new fire station if they lived anywhere else in town — believing, as do so many others, that the integrity of the Historic District and Bedford’s character are being threatened. Not only is the streetscape in jeopardy, but so is the town’s long tradition of transparent self-governance. 

Bill and Carol have a very long record of devotion to Bedford — and to the Historic District in particular. They have lavished their time and talents on the town and community for not just years, but decades. It is grotesque that the location of their home behind the proposed site is being used to disqualify and discredit their conscientious objections and well-informed points-of-view.

Instead of giving them the benefit of the doubt regarding their motives, Town officials came out swinging from the start — regardless of their sworn duty to be impartial — and turned them into villains overnight. Town officials became powerful propagandists under Sarah Stanton’s reign. And enemies of the Town’s plan were treated as enemies of Bedford and of the very safety of its firefighters and citizens — long before a vote was cast. That says a lot more about the town than about the Moonans.

When the Select Board took up Bill’s reappointment to the HDC in June, Emily Mitchell made a series of reckless and defamatory claims that mirrored the way she misrepresented so many related facts in her official capacity as Select Board Chair. She charged him with having “broken trust” with residents and having “repeatedly acted in pursuit of personal goals.” Actually, his actions demonstrate that just the opposite is true.

It is easier to dismiss opponents’ civic-minded objections if one paints them as villains. But it is unethical for a Select Board Member to advocate for a policy by demonizing a fellow resident who is opposed to the policy. The Select Board Handbook calls on every member of the Board to “represent the entire community at all times.” And the oath officials take calls on them to impartially perform their duties. But that was not on the agenda once they bought into the Town Manager’s rogue strategy for “solving” the fire station dilemma. (More accurately put, the strategy was a stratagem, which will be thoroughly discussed in a forthcoming post.) 

From that point on, the Select Board only represented the part of the community that approved of their solution, while discrediting the motives and character of those who did not. Their office, which provides not only a megaphone and platform but also the presumption of evenhandedness and credibility, was leveraged to make the Bacon site seem inevitable and sensible and to portray reasonable opposition to the purchase as ignorant and selfish. The Town’s official video recommendation on the fire station articles prior to the 2022 Annual Town Meeting is a glaring example of that.

Those who think it is ludicrous to claim that 139 The Great Road is the only sensible location for the station might say it was actually the Town that broke trust with Bedford’s residents. When, after months of officials’ strident promotion, the purchase was only approved by a three- or four-vote margin at Town Meeting — and given how much funding was being authorized — an impartial Moderator might have called for a recount himself. But it was on to the next article before the math could be done and one could be called for.  

Putting “your money where your mouth is” has always been a sound way to judge a person’s credibility. It was courageous and selfless of Bill, Carol, and others to ignore the intense hostility the Town had ginned up against them and to try to stop the runaway train. Once the legal challenge they led was blocked, making Utah State University a higher offer was the only practical way to avoid a terrible wrong. Given Bill’s and Carol’s long dedication to protecting the Historic District, it was in keeping with their love of Bedford that they exposed themselves to the possibility of absorbing a big loss (on top of the legal bills they had already incurred) if the property was not worth their bid on the open market.

All of the noisy gnashing of teeth over how they cost the town $145,000 does not take into account that there was no way to foresee that officials would misappropriate earmarked Federal funds to match the offer. And it is certainly premature to assume that all the money that is being poured into the site isn’t going down the drain. It may well become apparent that their offer could have saved the town a great deal of wasted time and money — and delivered a new station much sooner by turning attention to a more practical, realistic option.

Meanwhile, Emily Mitchell’s concern that Bill Moonan should not be reappointed to the Historic District Commission because the Select Board doesn’t want the Commission’s work on the fire station project “to be clouded or distracted by someone who has publicly and repeatedly cited personal goals that might conflict with the goals of that project” was not only vindictive but also baseless. 

It was also insulting to the Historic District Commissioners. And it was glaringly inconsistent with the treatment of one of them who was not reprimanded and forced to recuse himself — at a minimum — after he flouted Town Committee rules by grandstanding his support for the fire station purchase at the 2022 Annual Town Meeting.   The Handbook for Appointed Board and Committee Members decrees that “A member of any Town Committee ‘will not make statements or promises about how they will vote on matters that come before the Committee until they have had an opportunity to hear and discuss the issue during the Committee public meeting.'”  That could not be more unambiguous. 

Given that Bill had recused himself from the Historic District Commission’s fire station deliberations from the start, it was short-sighted and counter-productive to dispense with his depth of experience and commitment when it comes to other HDC matters. What a waste. It was particularly distasteful to hear Mitchell pay lip-service to his accomplishments and then publicly denounce a man who has contributed so much of himself to the Bedford that most residents happily take for granted. 

The casual charge that Bill Moonan is “someone who has publicly and repeatedly cited personal goals that might conflict with the goals” of the fire station project was untrue. His opposition to the Town’s agenda has always  been a challenge to the concocted fiction that the Bacon property is a remotely suitable site and a sacrificial effort to protect the town from what he thinks is certain to be a terrible, expensive, and irreversible mistake.

I can only imagine what this battle has cost him — and Carol — in every sense, but he is an honorable man who has shown the courage of his convictions. Every public servant should prove to be so worthy of his (or her) office. And every public servant should react just as strongly to combat the abuse of entrusted power when they see it.

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Please Note: The purpose of this blog is to spotlight information the Town has diligently tried to discredit and squelch. Officials have plenty of outlets and social media surrogates to deliver its official line. While comments, objections, and constructive criticism are welcomed — but not expected, given the predictable repercussions — Facebook-style tirades will not be posted.

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