Iíve been a journalist for 35 years. Iíve been to more municipal meetings than I care to remember. In the late 1980s, I was at a Parkesburg council meeting when a riot erupted after a citizen -- angry at the vote on a tax increase -- rose from his chair and threw punches at a counselor. Others in the audience started yelling and charged at the officials. Four police departments, including state police, were called to restore peace. It was ugly.
But the meeting at Pocopson Township Monday night takes the cake.
Pocopson residents turned out en masse after they read my story in the Sunday Local News about pending closure of The Barn at Spring Brook Farm off Locust Grove Road. The facility helps handicapped children, including those with autism, with animal-assisted therapy. Itís a wonderful program staffed by a dedicated group of volunteers. And it takes place on a country setting of 13 acres of open space.
So many people showed up at the meeting, constables were forced to ask people to leave to get the number of people down to 40 -- the maximum occupancy limit. Those who departed were left standing outside trying to get a glimpse of the action inside.
Makes you wonder why supervisors didnít have the foresight to move the meeting to a place that can accommodate more people. Other municipalities do just that when they know thereís a hot topic and the possibility of a large crowd.
More people turned out to support The Barn, in fact, than a meeting held for the possibility of establishing an earned income tax in Pocopson. Thatís a good indication of how passionate people feel about the subject.
Supervisors only listened to comments from the residents. Thatís understandable, because Spring Brook was not on the agenda. But I found it odd that after a few people commented, supervisorsí chair Ricki Stumpo remarked ďare we getting to end of this thing?Ē
Are you kidding me?
If Iím an elected official, I stay until midnight, or however long it takes, so residents can get their say. They took time from their busy schedules to drive to the meeting and be heard. The last thing they need to hear is officials brushing them off. Clearly, Stumpo is out of touch with her constituents.
And itís ironic indeed that Pocopson supervisors made it clear from the start they would not answer any questions on the topic. But alas, they did answer a question, because it made them look good. When Erin Tatum, a handicapped adult, asked whether the supervisors had been to The Barn at Spring Brook, there was a collective ďyes.Ē
But hereís the real question that should have been asked. Have any of the supervisors viewed the programs that are held at The Barn? The answer would have been much different.
One of the conditons is that there be no more birthday parties at The Barn. Just what constitutes a birthday celebration in the eyes of the Pocopson supervisors, a cake, a song? What gives the Pocopson supervisors the right to dictate the nature of birthday celebrations and who can or cannot have them. Didnít Pocopson township recently celebrate a ďbirthdayĒ in their Founderís Day activities?
The controversy has touched off the emotions of people well beyond Pocopsonís borders. A petition has been started, and last I looked it had more than 1.600 signatures. And a fund-raising campaign has been started as well at http://www.springbrook-farm.org/pages/DonateNow.html.
This is not a lower class of people. They deserve birthday parties. They deserve to celebrate religious observances. They deserve to get a ride on a miniature pony.
They deserve a program like The Barn at Spring Brook.
Fran Maye is editor of The Kennett Paper.