|Silence was Poor Intro for New State Rep|
Thursday, March 31, 2011
It was March 14, two days into Sunshine Week — the annual “Right to Know” observance, March 13 to 20 — and the Webster Board of Selectmen welcomed the town’s new state representative, Kevin Kuros of Uxbridge, at the top of their meeting.
Residents tuned to public access Channel 11 saw Mr. Kuros as he sat before the board, but they had no idea what he was talking about: It was video without audio, and silence persisted well into the meeting. “An hour and a half,” says friend Roland Lavallee, who “flipped between selectmen and another channel.”
Talk about an ill-timed failure.
Mr. Kuros, the town’s first Republican representative in more than 50 years, was effectively silenced in Democratic-leaning Webster. Selectmen, with several staff members in the meeting room, carried on, unaware of their social dilemma. To make matters worse, votes were taken. This might require remedial action.
Certainly, our town board would never be that callous. Still, the incident demands a couple of things: A system to alert selectmen to public access failures; and a warm and welcome return for Mr. Kuros so he might be observed in full voice.
Getting back to Sunshine Week, its objective is certainly laudable: Transparency in government.
To offer a Webster comparison, town fathers governed in relative secrecy during my early days in the news business. The selectmen’s office was on the second floor of Town Hall, in quarters now assigned to the town clerk. Selectmen convened in the small cube-like room in which incumbent Town Clerk Robert T. Craver generally works. This was before a lot of things, including five-member boards of selectmen.
The town elected three selectmen annually before 1987, and they sat at a long table to the back side of the little anteroom. There was a corner desk for the clerk and a couple of chairs for people having business before the board. This read “tight.”
People sat in the board’s outer office, where Norma Bembenek, assistant to the town clerk, serves the public these days; waiting their turn before the panel, segregated from deliberations by a closed door. The selectmen’s clerk would step out, call “next,” usher two people (more would have to crowd around) to the open seats, and close the door.
I’ll always remember the night in 1958 when selectmen finally left the door to the inner office open. “Because of the new (open meeting) law,” the clerk advised. Still, nothing was done to accommodate reporters. The press was left to stand behind the visitor chairs in a space maybe 4 feet long by about 15 inches wide.
This went on for months, until the election of a new majority, and deliberations were moved into the outer office, with seating and table space for press people. Selectmen’s meetings were finally covered by the town press corps. Sunshine Week dates only to 2002, but in my memory it came to Webster in 1959.
So long as I’m going back to update things long overlooked, let me remember the man who dug his own grave in Mount Zion Cemetery.
He died 37 years ago this month. The man was generally known as “Old Butch,” and I’m going to leave it at that.
Besides, there’s little to say when or why he dug his own grave, though conjecture at the time said it was a challenge or a wager of some sort.
While the “where” to the puzzle is known, the time was probably a decade before his death and burial in a different town cemetery. The “own grave” project wasn’t a secret. It was banter about town, heard by many in the Main Lunch, a long-gone town sandwich shop, among other places. I wasn’t the only visitor when “Old Butch” actually cut a grave.
Veteran cemetery commissioners Alexander A. Starzec and Ralph M. Holley stood as observers. George H. Stebbins, then owner of Webster Cement Block Co., had a pickup parked close by, waiting to deliver a concrete burial vault. The whole thing went off without a hitch, but without closure.
Webster Cemetery Department records have been updated over the years, particularly in recent times. While it was recorded on a plot plan, the bogus grave wasn’t dated, or even priced. It simply says that a single grave in Section E was sold and “no perpetual care paid.”
This suggests that the intent was indeed to satisfy a challenge or a wager, accomplished at the then price of a grave and a burial vault. The single grave is still available, as far as I know, and might be sold as improved, complete with a Stebbins manufactured vault.
Perryville’s John R. Maisto, with a view to the French River from his next-door Webster home, reports that the bridges project to link Webster and Dudley through that village appears on schedule.
The three-span undertaking is on its third leg, says Mr. Maisto. Two Dudley spans, open to nowhere, will tie to the bridge over the main part of the river, “maybe next year,” says John. “They’re driving piles to bedrock right now.” It’s quite an undertaking, he adds. High, fast-moving waters hampered efforts earlier in the month.
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