‘Mistakes Are Made’

I’m about ready to propose a new law urging all elected officials to dispense with the phrases “mistakes are made” and “mistakes were made.”

At the 2PM meeting Friday at the Town Office, to discuss the current mess over the library-loan proposal, Carla Lootens said, “Mistakes are made.” This is not the first time Carla has used the passive voice when discussing mistakes that town officials have made. The question is: WHO made the mistake? If I may put on my grammar-nerd hat for a minute: The passive construction is a “tell” signifying that the speaker prefers to obfuscate who did what. Didn’t many of us learn in English class to generally steer clear of the passive voice, precisely because it’s often vague and confusing? (I still enjoy my Strunk and White style guide.)

For me, the problem is not that people make mistakes. Carla is right: Of course we all do. It’s a given. What matters is how we own up to them, apologize, course-correct, and move on. The first step is saying, “Man, I messed up. Darn. Sorry! Let me try to make amends.” Maybe you could even say, “Wow, thanks for catching what we overlooked. You’ve probably spared us some headache later.”

Forgetting to have a public hearing to discuss the proposed million-dollar loan, as the law requires, is not a minor glitch; that loan for the library is by far the biggest issue to come under discussion at Town Meeting this year. The library renovation (or replacement) has been a contentious issue for more than a decade, generating diverse and heated opinions. I believe that the Selectmen simply forgot to schedule and post a hearing, and that their error was not malicious or intentional.

But I’m troubled that they seem to be spinning it as no big deal — fixed in just a few easy-peasy steps. Even yesterday, Lloyd said, “We followed the RSA’s.” NO: The Selectmen did NOT follow the RSA’s. The law requires a public bond hearing, held in the presence of the governing board (i.e., the Selectmen), before the Town Meeting votes on the proposed million-dollar bond.

I get the sense that a number of people at the Friday-afternoon meeting, as well as a number of concerned Tuftonboro residents, are not quite processing this. The prior hearing is not optional. Chip said that he’d been thinking that it made more sense to have a the public hearing after the vote, when the Selectmen  could provide more details about interest rates, which bank the town will use, etc. Carla agreed that this made perfect sense. But it doesn’t matter that Chip and Carla think this makes perfect sense: It does not comply with the law. Which is why, Wolfeboro for instance, on January 4 of this year, had a properly noticed public hearing on its library article.

p.s. I’d never actually support any law that banned the phrase “mistakes were made,” because I highly value free speech. People are free to talk like buck-passing bureaucrats if they wish to do so.