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Palmyra board’s rash in dealing with public

Blitzpolitics accelerated through spring as decision-making on the Palmyra Town Board of Trustees reached peak efficiency. Action was being taken and completed before it was even approved.
Unfortunately, there is a bend in the tracks and the runaway Palmyra political machine is on the verge of derailing.
Conductor Roy (Speedy) McClanahan has really kept the boiler stoked. He has been described as ‘fanatical’ when it comes to the pursuit of worthy town projects and grant money. He has a clear sense of purpose, is decisive and an independent thinker.
There aren’t any backseat drivers on the Speedy Line. He wouldn’t stand for it, and why should he?
As long as he gets his passengers ‘ the good people of Palmyra ‘ to their destination, Speedy feels he has done his job. No doubt he is frustrated by all the red tape blocking his path, but his political machine cuts right through it.
Hold on. Somebody pull the emergency break.
Despite being elected by a strong margin, McClanahan has conducted meetings before hostile crowds since 2000 ‘ his first year in office. If there is a crowd, it’s hostile.
No doubt a lot of supporters for Palmyra’s current board decide to stay home rather than participate in the occasional boisterous meetings. Should supporters appear and argue the board’s pros and cons, it might be impossible to resolve any issue. The board has accomplished a lot, but inevitably, it has made some enemies along the way, and its decision-making process is questionable.
(McClanahan said a lot of detractors were out-of-towners who attended meetings when the board was in the process of withdrawing from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. He renewed that claim recently, saying out-of-towners were back to protest potential annexation.)
Of course, with Palmyra’s new de facto rules of order, it would probably be impossible for anyone outside of the board to have a significant impact on the efficiency of meetings. However, there is a difference between efficiency and fairness, just like there’s a difference between what is legal and what is just.
No matter what progress is being made outside of town meetings, the meetings have become an example of democracy gone awry. The result is self-inflicted harm, and the bulk of that is falling on McClanahan as town board president and meeting facilitator.
The casual observer can’t help but wonder if the decision-making process has reached the point of speaking before thinking. For instance, District 1 Councilman Alvin Brown was escorted from a June 5 meeting for speaking out of order. Brown hadn’t been allowed to say a single word prior to his outburst.
Denying Brown the chance to comment was the board’s prerogative, but consider that earlier in the meeting and in a subsequent meeting, McClanahan alleged that either Brown or Trustee George Morgan had planted a document in the office of the Harrison County Circuit Clerk. McClanahan tiptoed around the issue the day Brown was removed from the meeting and finally jumped up and down on it on June 18.
Making someone sit in silence while accusations are being tossed at them sounds like a trial, not a town board meeting. Don’t forget to add a town marshal playing bailiff and McClanahan’s gavel.
When the crowd murmur grew too loud at the June 18 meeting, McClanahan took one year off the life expectancy of each of the 40 audience members by slamming his gavel like he was trying to ring the bell at the circus. Later, when a controversial ordinance was on the agenda, the crowd volume again swelled, this time with sarcastic laughter, when McClanahan said, ‘I don’t think we ought to open it up to the public for discussion.’
Saying that in a town meeting is a lot like saying ‘No comment’ to a newspaper.
Even being acknowledged by the board doesn’t always mean being heard, as one audience member found out at the end of the June 18 meeting. When it was clear the speaker did not support a potential annexation, McClanahan banged his gavel and said the meeting was adjourned.
Most of the audience quickly stormed out while the town attorney, Gordon Ingle, advised McClanahan that a motion and second was needed to close the meeting. Eventually, these were made.
Put simply, the board needs to be consistent and fair in dealing with public comment. Town boards do a lot of work behind the scenes. McClanahan has put a great deal of time into performing his duties as town board president. Despite any behind-the-scenes successes, the regular meetings are the public face of the board, and that face is turning ugly.