Spurred by a letter from Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra, the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission (SHPMC) at its 5/12/16 meeting made and approved a motion to consider alternate sites for the 12/14 memorial. They added a caveat: Should the commission not find anything appropriate, they “reserve the right” to reconsider the High Meadow Open Space property.
Then, meeting attendees heard what the commissioners thought of public objection to High Meadow development. Among the comments were the phrases: “Lack of cooperation and understanding” “How many people are we talking about here?” “Small number of people” “Politically motivated” “Callous, insensitive…hostility” “Refuse to compromise” “Disrespectful” “Resentment” “Bad feelings” “Never going to please everyone”.
Adding to the anger and irritation, Chairman Kyle Lyddy said “my blood has boiled”; and shared that he was angry that people wanted to protect a parcel of land “ahead of 26 souls”. The whole scene was painful and unfortunate. Worse, it was an example of what happens when a group so insulates itself in their own plans that they forget to consider the people who will be affected by those plans.
Citizens have been speaking out at meetings, writing letters to the local newspaper The Newtown Bee, signing petitions and calling and emailing the Board of Selectmen about the commissions proposed use of the High Meadow Open Space for several months. A review of letters to the editor and published testimony indicates civil opposition without name calling. It is unfortunate that a public commission has expressed such resentment about the role of the public in the process.
During the meeting, the SHPMC discussed other points including their “Guidelines for Submitting a Design” and other documents. They listed who should review and comment such as Land Use’s George Benson, Park & Recreation, Geralyn Herhouf, Conservation Commission’s Jim Ryan, Police Commission, Town Attorney, the 26 families, and the Board of Selectmen. What the commission never mentioned was giving the public opportunity to review and comment. This is most discouraging given the obvious role of the public in helping to shape land use policy and practice in Newtown.
This is not the first time that public opinion has helped to guide the hand of government. A mural at Newtown High School was covered because it distressed students; the “Rock of Ages” memorial was placed on St John’s Episcopal Church property because the Town could not find an appropriate place; the Newtown community center plans were revised because of people’s objections. These are instances in which people in disagreement found common ground to accommodate people with different views. It is part of the democratic process and part of what makes this town and this country work. We disagree with the characterizations of the public made by the SHPMC and believe in every citizen’s right to civilly object to proposals that will affect the quality of their lives…and their open space properties.
We sincerely hope that the SHPMC finds a suitable alternate location for the physical memorial which is so important to them. In the interim, the citizens group continues to attend municipal meetings and have a voice in future plans.