|VERMONT SECRETARY OF STATE - Jim Condos|
|State of Vermont
Office of the
Secretary of State
Volume 1 Number 4
Voice from the Past
DECISIONS AND DECISIONS
Think about all the decisions you make each day. What should I wear? What will I have for lunch? Should I stop at the store on the way home tonight? Decisions, decisions, decisions, all day long, the little snap judgments of daily life.
Think of the last car you bought and how you made that decision. That took more care. What went into the final choice?
You had narrowed your options, dispensing with the ugly ones, the expensive ones, the ones that looked like trouble. You whittled the list down to two or three, and then you went back and forth, balancing the pros and cons until you made a choice. There came a time when a decision had to be made, and you bought the car.
Now consider appointment to the zoning board or planning commission. We always need good people, and youd be perfect. We know youre skilled at making decisions. Look at all the practice youve had.
Lets go over the rules of play. This is really no different from buying that car. First thing is, you need to learn to be skeptical. A cocked eyebrow is a valuable asset and attitude in this endeavor. Be a Missourian. Show me.
Ask questions. What the devil are you talking about? Tell me what you mean by that. Say that again another way. Dont let them leave the table without telling you what you need to know.
Its important to know the law. With the car, you knew it all came down to the contract. With board decisions, you need to know what the law says, before you reach your decision. Where does it say we can do that? How does the law define that word? Read it aloud.
Remain impartial. Thats the most important part. You know what that means. You do it every day. You dont accept everything you hear. You make adjustments according to the source of the information you take in and rely on. You try to get the information you need while ignoring the sales pitch.
You can tell when somebody isnt impartial. Remember the House impeachment hearings last January? Its so difficult to serve as a partisan and judge at the same time. Judges should be sober. You should be able to stare at those faces and not be able to tell the outcome, because it isnt time for the outcome yet.
This is not to suggest that a decision-maker enters the room completely devoid of all experience, bringing only reason to the table. That would be impossible. The challenge is to be able to remain undecided for as long as possible.
You make the decision at the end. Thats the way you bought that car. Thats the way you make tough decisions, waiting until youve learned everything you need to know and have time to sift it and apply it. Thats called deliberation.
Deliberation is an essentially mysterious process. It is exempt from the open meeting law, to allow boards to meet and talk about decisions without worrying about the formalities of public notice and minutes. They need time alone to think, and the law sanctions it.
Ideally, the board takes a two-step process to reach its decision. First it makes findings of fact. Thats cold, hard numbers, shapes, values, taken from the evidence. Then it makes conclusions of law. It takes the facts and applies them like onions in hamburger patties to the law. Step one, then step two. That keeps things balanced.
But what happens in those airless rooms late at night? Its hard enough to decide things on your own. What chemistry motivates a boards rulings could be the subject of a hundred masters theses and never be completely defined. It decides what it decides. If it followed the rules, it has nothing to be ashamed of.
Like that car.
Vermont Secretary of State
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