25 years ago this week, a sitting selectman referred to the town’s Community Center as a “fiefdom” and vowed to resolve ongoing issues there. For the record, Merriam-Webster defines a fiefdom as “an area over which someone exercises control as or in the manner of a feudal lord.”
I found it rather amusing to see the word “fiefdom” appear in a 1998 edition of The Daily Evening Item and, with July often a slower time of the calendar, it was a surprise to see such furious rhetoric appear. The gist of the issue for Selectman Diane St. Laurent was a lack of clarity about leadership at the center, culminating with the town’s seniors no longer being able to host their annual picnic at the facility because of concerns about damaging the floor of the gymnasium.
The $2 million center opened in the fall of 1997, and was at the time, as it still is, shared by the Council on Aging and the Parks and Recreation Department. While the two mostly coexist in harmony nowadays, in the wake of the center’s opening they struggled to schedule events because of space issues. The facility was also plagued by a leaky roof and a faulty heating system.
Only exacerbating those issues was the resignation of Council on Aging Director Nancy Orne in the spring, with the selectmen searching for a replacement.
St. Laurent directed much of her anger toward the building’s leadership.
“This issue with the floor seems to be the ‘crisis du jour'” she is quoted as saying at the time. “I am very confused as to who is actually overseeing that whole building.”
“There seems to be a clashing of who owns the building. The town owns the building. Our tax dollars pay for that building. It’s getting to be a little bit tiresome when it seems to be a fiefdom down there and a little bit of a war is going on,” she continued. “I would like to see it resolved.”
Selectman William Purdin proposed patience because of the absence of the director, and suggested the board bring COA Chairman Cliff Brown and Parks and Recreation Director Tom Hammond before them to hammer out the issues.
St. Laurent said she was disappointed the division at the center had been going for as long as it had without resolution, and suggested it was coming to a head.
“People are now getting a little fed up with it,” she said. “Some of the Council on Aging Board of Directors have to tone down their displeasure. There are attitudes on both sides that have to change.”