Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Finding common ground will lead Vernon forward

By Gordon Paterson

Letters to the Editor
Journal Inquirer
August 9, 2011

There's an old "Saturday Night Live" sketch where two couples get together for dinner for the first time. It's awkward until they realize that they have something in common: they're Joey Bishop fans. The evening picks up as they share Joey Bishop stories, but as they discuss the finer points of his career, differences of opinions start to emerge. By the end of the evening, they are mortal enemies.

This sounds a lot like the climate in Vernon politics today, where the common goal of improving our town has taken a back seat to partisan bickering.

We all share the same vision of Vernon's potential — a healthy local economy, strong schools, safe streets, plenty of recreational opportunities, and a pragmatic, fiscally responsible local government. But when we refuse to move beyond personal animosities and political grandstanding, we lose the ability to make any meaningful progress, and the town and its residents are the big losers.

Here's an example of the cost of our failure to work together: I haven't spoken to a single person who doesn't see the benefit and need for development of the Exit 67 Interchange. How then does it come to pass that the area has remained dormant in the decade since the Vernon SportsPlex closed? Consider how much time has passed, and how many hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent, in the pursuit of one and only one solution: Home Depot.

It wasn't so much a discussion about how to maximize the potential of that area; it was all about whether you supported Home Depot (in which case you were an enemy of the environment) or you opposed it (in which case you were an enemy of capitalism). And then once you had chosen your side, you could spend all your energy lobbing grenades at the other guys. Both sides will tell you that they were willing to compromise, but no one ever really did. Wasn't anyone able to find a way to bridge the gap?

The problem isn't that people disagree. In fact, it's essential that opposing views are presented. The problem is what happens next, which in Vernon is nothing at all — the issues never seem to get past the argument. If any progress is going to be made there has to be a move toward consensus, and that is where our elected officials have failed us.

The cost is not only in time and dollars. Probably the greatest cost . is waste — enormous waste. When it was operating, the SportsPlex was a regional destination for Softball and baseball leagues. In full use virtually every night, it served as a gateway to Rockville north of the highway, and to Vernon's beautiful natural resources to the south. Look at it today — overgrown with scrub, and a big "For Sale" sign out front.

That's the hidden cost of our failure to work together. What other Vernon resources are suffering. — the Route 83 Corridor, Exit 66, Downtown Rockville?

This is nothing new — it has developed over many years as the way our elected officials have chosen to do business. And until that changes, there is no reason to expect anything different.

Like old Joey Bishop fans, we Vernon residents share something fundamental; we care deeply about our community. Why then should we choose to focus only on our disagreements?

The writer is an attorney and a candidate for mayor of Vernon.