At last evening’s Board of Selectmen meeting (Tuesday, Feb. 21), the selectmen unanimously voted to adopt a Proclamation affirming the town’s commitment to civility, respect and understanding.

Following a draft written by two Wilton residents, Heather Wilcauskas and Pamela Hovland, and submitted at the prior BOS meeting on Feb. 6, the selectmen decided to adapt the language from what had been suggested and compose their own proclamation.

One major change was to replace original wording of ‘tolerance, inclusion and civility’ with ‘civility, respect and understanding.’

After almost 15 minutes of discussion, parsing words and meanings of what language they would accept and what they wanted to convey, the four members present (first selectman Lynne Vanderslice, Michael Kaelin, Dick Dubow and Dave Clune; selectman Lori Bufano was absent) voted unanimously (4-0) to adopt the proclamation.

The proclamation they wrote and adopted reads:

“We the selectmen of Wilton, CT do hereby affirm our town’s commitment to strive for civility, respect and understanding, and to value the diversity of those who live in, work in and visit our community without regard to gender, religion, sexual orientation, race, national origin, ethnicity, disability, political views, or social or economic status.

“We encourage all of our citizens to participate fully in our town government as envisioned in our Town Charter. Our commitment to inclusion of all citizens informs our values and enriches our community

“We further resolve that the principles of civility, respect and understanding will guide the actions we take as selectmen.”

After the vote, selectman Dick Dubow commented on the high number of emails they had received about the proclamation proposal, noting it was the most emails he could recall receiving from the public.

The idea had originally started as a partisan effort, growing out of a meeting of the Democratic Town Committee shortly after the Presidential election last November.

But the proclamation’s framers opted to make bi-partisan instead.

“Heather and Pamela have been working on this for a couple months. Their intention was to work with the RTC, and they reached out to the RTC chair right before the last meeting. From what I understand, the RTC has been working on it, and they formed a subcommittee, so they’re going to work on this,” Vanderslice explained.

However, the selectmen debated the merits of letting the effort develop the way it started–which would likely take several months–or adopt their own version that they would write themselves. The opted for the latter, in the interest of both saving time and making it their own.

“All we are doing is reaffirming the way we’ve lived, making a public pronouncement that we’re welcoming, tolerant, inclusive,” said selectman Kaelin. “It begins, ‘we the selectmen of Wilton…’ The statement I’ve drafted and the statement Lynne drafted, we drafted. We’re not adopting the Democratic proclamation or the Republican proclamation, the League of Women Voters’ or Heather and Pamela’s proclamation. It’s the Board of Selectman’s proclamation.”

The BoS members took time to debate the meaning of several words and phrases:

Vanderslice said that the word ‘tolerance’ might not have as positive a tone as she wanted. “You tolerate your mother-in-law. I think it should be more than just tolerate.” Saying that, “respect and understanding require more work,” she called attention to what she said has been the opposite of civility and tolerance lately, specifically on the Facebook page “Wilton 412” and in emails she receives.

She took care to mention town employees, noting she was bothered by some of the uncivil ways some residents had referred to town employees. “That’s why for me it requires a lot more effort,” she said. “I also added the word ‘strive’ because I recognize that we are not there. I wanted this document to be a recognition that we have a lot of work to do.”

Dubow said he felt strongly about keeping in a sentence from the original draft: “We resolve to reject policies that threaten or diminish this commitment, or that target or marginalize specific groups.” However Kaelin disagreed, noting he wouldn’t vote to support any proclamation that included it.

“I don’t want the suggestion that anyone is doing those things. I want to make the statement 100-percent positive,” Kaelin said.

Clune helped convince Dubow that the line about “…civility, respect and understanding will guide the actions we take…” would be close enough to what the latter wanted captured in the statement.

At the end of the discussion, and the unanimous vote adopting the proclamation, applause broke out from the members of the public that filled the seats, some of whom had come to speak out in support of the proclamation. No one spoke out against it.

Dubow noted how impressed he was with the number of residents who contacted the selectmen to support the initiative, and he thanked Wilcauskas and Hovland for presenting the idea.

“I can’t thank you enough for initiating this, this was a community wide effort, The number of emails we received, it’s quite remarkable–I can’t recall another time we received this number of responses.”

He also suggested that Vanderslice announce the adoption of the proclamation by writing a letter or op-ed piece, to publish in local media and on the town’s website. “It’s important to convey our actions to the rest of the community,” he said.

Wilcauskas and Hovland were both very pleased that a proclamation was approved, and sent statements to GOOD Morning Wilton following the move by the BOS.

Wilcauskas wrote:

“Tonight’s adoption by the BOS of their Civility, Respect and Understanding Proclamation was a great demonstration of the democratic process in action. While Pamela and I, with the help and support of a large number of people in the community, presented the original idea to the Selectmen, they embraced the spirit of our proposal and drafted a forward looking, proactive statement that truly affirms our community values, making us a welcoming community for those who live here, work here, and visit here. It was humbling and gratifying observing the Selectmen’s thoughtful deliberation, resulting in a strong, positive statement affirming the core values that will govern our actions in the future. We should all be proud to be members of such a forward  thinking, supportive community.”

Hovland agreed:

“This proclamation was truly a grass roots effort that grew organically into something that many Wiltonians participated in, regardless of their political affiliation. Clearly it was a message that resonated with our community; many people felt strongly enough about it to write emails, send letters and attend meetings to make this initiative come to pass. Heather and I are particularly proud that Wilton’s elected officials have shown their leadership in our state by proactively adopting this statement of inclusion and respect. My hope is that other cities now follow this lead.”