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But can we train them to stop spending needlessly?, by John McGauley

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If I were on the Keene City Council, I’d take great umbrage at a proposal that requires elected city fathers and mothers undergo mandatory training on professional ethics, sexual harassment, gender sensitivity and, perhaps, if the city attorney allows it, inclusion, implicit bias and diversity.

Training? That’s the word used throughout the proposal. Doesn’t that word make them sound like dogs? You “train” dogs.

In a June 25 letter to the council and Mayor George Hansel, our newest council member — and by the way, the single unelected one — Andrew Madison, asked for “training” on these subjects.

When a Sentinel reporter followed up with Madison about why he wrote the letter, he said “With the Black Lives Matter protests of last year and the Me Too Movement of a few years prior, I felt it was appropriate for the council to … take action on that, to set an example for the rest of the community by undertaking that training ourselves so that we can identify ways we can better serve our constituents and better work with our city staff, and better work with each other.”

I love that part “to set an example for the rest of the community.” What’s that mean? Should we all undergo “training”?

I’ll bet there were a few council members who secretly resented that a newbie backbencher appointed by them last February 9-5 to replace a council member who resigned, would hurl a virtue-signaling hand-grenade like this into a meeting. They might have thought: “Hey, bud, why don’t you first, you know, campaign and you know, like, get elected?”

But what was one of them going to say to object?

“As a sexist, corrupt, bigoted and, by the way, exclusionary human being, I don’t think this training is necessary.”

Is that what someone was prepared to say? Methinks not. And if they did, everybody in the council chambers would have gotten the vapors and experienced loose bowels.

The mayor referred the proposal to the council’s Finance, Organization and Personnel Committee, which this week backed it. Asked what he thought of the measure, Councilor Thomas Powers, who chairs that committee, said “Training is always good.” That’s kind of a bland catch-all statement.

Currently, Keene has no mandatory training for council members like what Madison has proposed, according to City Manager Elizabeth Dragon.

Good. The only ones who should have the right to “train” elected officials are the voters.

And here’s something that I find interesting, and kind of amusing. The city previously offered a voluntary sexual-harassment training session for councilors a few years back, but — surprise, surprise — it wasn’t “particularly” well attended. Those sexists!

And because our councilors didn’t want to sign up for that, Madison said that’s why he’s asking for this “training” to be mandatory.

As I’ve written in the past, if the Keene City Council didn’t exist, I’d have to invent it so I’d have something like this to write about.

So, here’s what I imagine this might look like. The council members are in a room, notebooks in hand and all eyes are upon a teacher — somebody from out of town with a couple of graduate degrees and a pointer — up front with a PowerPoint presentation. The instructor poses this question:

“So, you’re at your desk and a man walks in and hands you an envelope with money in it and says it’s yours if you vote to approve a zoning change for an apartment complex he wants to build. What would you do? A) Place it in your desk drawer and tell him it’s a done deal. B) Open the envelope, count the cash and then indicate to him it’s a little light. C) Immediately call the chair of the Finance, Organization and Personnel Committee and inform them of this breach of ethics.”

The council members earnestly write down their answers.

Then the instructor tells them: “You know, I mentioned that it was a man who was offering this bribe. No one asked me why do we always assume that people who offer bribes are men? That’s gender sensitivity. Women are just as capable as men of being corrupt.”

You get my drift. It never ends.

Who’s going to conduct the training? As Christ said, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. The official Biblical quote says “he,” and that’s exclusionary.

Is there a person so pure of heart, so clean of intent, so free of Original Sin, that they’re qualified to “train” our council members to be so upright?

How long should this “training” last? One day? Two weeks? One day every month? In the proposal itself, the training that Madison wants would be “regular,” rather than a one-time requirement. What does “regular” mean?

Also, since city funds will be used to conduct such training, will it be open to the public, so we can monitor untoward statements or questions made by council members?

How much are we willing to pay to have our City Council members thoroughly sanitized? I smell a consultant in our future, the Acme Training Company, and they’ll charge about $30,000. After all, Acme trains corporate officials in Boston.

Upon completion of the training, do participants receive some certification that they are now free of impure thoughts? A framed certificate? Can one flunk the training?

What sanctions can the city impose on elected officials who choose not to engage in such training? Or what if they backslide and someone “outs” them as having some less-than-ideal characteristics?

This whole thing is terribly ill-conceived and fraught with problems. What is it about our current national psyche of self-flagellation that has spawned this proposal?

And you know what? The full council will approve it, unanimously.

Training, by golly. Sit! Heel! Bad dog!

John McGauley, an author and local radio talk-show host, writes from Keene. He can be contacted at mcgauleyink@gmail.com

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