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In Appreciation: Joanne Wojtusiak

I was deeply saddened to read that Joanne Wojtusiak had “ceased her earth walk,” as she might have described it. And what an earth walk it was — at least from a slight remove, since I live in Warren.

I am not sure if Joanne and I ever formally met but we did speak on the phone (landlines) once or twice, and I did see her at a few Cornwall public hearings over the years. She struck me as a rather unique institution in that town, functioning as faithful watchdog over the town’s governance process — sometimes welcomed, other times maybe not so much.

She certainly did her factual homework and went right to the heart of problems that many did not yet recognize. Her long-view analyses were rarely personal — rather, always principle/issue oriented.

But I did sense a touch of personal heartbreak regarding the subject of citizen participation in public matters when Cornwall’s BOS and P&Z decided to cease public participation in spoken form during official meetings, opting instead for written comments only. She thought something of utmost participatory vitality had been lost.

I told Joanne that Cornwall, compared to many other towns in our area, was a 10 in terms of being open to public input. I pointed out that she may have simply gotten used to a process of speaking as a member of the public during town meetings that is actually quite unusual, in regard to how such meetings are generally structured.

The general model is that written comments are accepted and read into the record and public comments are taken too at the beginning of meetings. Warren now allows comments at the beginning and end of meetings.

I even added that I sometimes wondered how Cornwall’s boards ever made a decision with the public commenting constantly throughout their deliberation process.

But, but, but, I added, they had gone whole hog in the opposite direction with no in-person public comments at all. While that might be appropriate in certain large city public venues, it’s usually considered anathema in small towns.

The general model is that written comments are accepted and read into the record and public comments are taken too at the beginning of meetings. Warren now allows public comment at the beginning and end of BOS meetings. Joanne carved out a unique activist role for Cornwallians and non-Cornwallians alike. Sometimes the thorn in our side is the best field guide to where the nettles thrive. Such thorns, though vexing to some, are to be cherished for the clarion call they provide in democracies. She will be sorely missed and certainly not easily replaced.

B. Blake Levitt

Warren, Conn.

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