by Ruth Heil (www.RuthHeil.com)
Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) member 2019-2021 and chairperson (2020-2021).
Delivered to the Lower Frederick Township (LFT) Board of Supervisors Meeting via Zoom during their December 7, 2021 general meeting.
In 2018, Rachel Hendricks informed me that the supervisors had been persuaded to create an environmental advisory council. I knew about EACs for many years. I had declared in the past that the only civic appointment I felt qualified for was membership on one. So Rachel’s news meant it was time for me to emerge from the shadows and serve.
I submitted my letter of interest and was interviewed and then appointed by supervisors Liedike, Hexter, and Sacks. In the spring of 2019, I and five other LFT citizens began meeting. We started the tedious work of figuring out how this new entity would fit in.
Responsible, civic-minded people often harm the environment because they do not know the error of their ways. To understand and advise on the topic of ecology, one must be a student of Nature, whether through formal education or just astute observation. Once appointed, I swore to always speak up on behalf of what I’ve learned about Nature, whether the words would be popular to voters and other listeners or not.
When Rachel resigned, I was voted chairperson in 2020 and again in 2021. I asked for time on the agenda tonight, because I want to share three important points I’ve learned during my term:
First, the individuals with whom I’ve served have been dedicated and committed to doing what they believe is best for this township. This also includes township staff, consultants, and those on other boards. When most people want to run far away from anything to do with politics, these folks gave of themselves and their time to keep our community safe, healthy, and prosperous.
Further, I now realize that others, like me, may have originally questioned their abilities. Supervisor Hexter stated it simply at a meeting when she said, “We don’t go to supervisor school.” Instead, we learn as we go, bound by the terms of municipal code and Pennsylvania law, under the watchful eye of our solicitor. Good decisions are hinged on advice from professionals such as our township engineer and police chief as well as the assistance of a township manager who somehow holds it all together in order to make the most of the effort. Collectively, it works. With ecology-minded volunteers on our park board and because we now have an EAC, Nature has been given input into those decisions.
In 2020, the year I became Chair, the makeup of our Board of Supervisors changed to the five members here today. For the majority of the time since, we’ve worked under the cloud of Covid-19. Our municipal government can be frustrating at times, but from what I’ve seen, the people who have had a role in it during my term are all remarkable in their thankless dedication. And that includes the engaged public.
Which brings me to my second point: Government works when the public participates. We are often told that, for our democracy to succeed, the least we can do is vote. While that is true, I offer instead that first we must pay attention.
The leadership has made this easier during my term. With internet access, you can do so without leaving your home. You can read the new township newsletter or regularly check its website. And now, the virtual broadcasts forced by Covid allow you to listen in to public meetings from your Lazyboy.
There is no segment of American government that so affects your daily life in Lower Frederick Township as Lower Frederick’s Township municipal government. And when you pay attention, you realize that occasionally you have something to say, to contribute. You come to understand the challenges of leading an entire community filled with people who have conflicting opinions and experiences. Which brings me to my third and final point.
Public discourse and disagreement matters, but not because it separates us; because it holds us together. Tonight’s natural resources protection ordinance is a case in point. The simple fact that we have come this far, that we are talking about this, proves that our little municipality is willing to do the difficult work of figuring out a local solution to a huge problem, one that if unsolved, might ruin us. I realize that’s a bit melodramatic, but hear me out.
Nature is suffering from a century’s long, global ordeal in which society–taxpayers like you and me–pays for the costs of privatized profit or interests. I come from coal country. There, an entire industry has left its neighbors to contend with environmental mistreatment, treatment which the taxpayers were left to clean up after the spent coal mine was abandoned. It happens over and over again, most often in the rural corners of our society.
The seller of coal is becoming destitute today. And because they’ve traded ancient treasures for temporary wealth, that wealth is fading into dust. And what they’ve left behind is land that is unsuitable for life.
The threats where I live now are different. Before us is an opportunity to chart a different future, one that considers the living, non-human contributions to our society. But in the process, we must figure out how to meld together all of our constitutional rights. We must find a balance.
No matter what the topic, whether related to the EAC, emergency services, or a community festival in fall, the more we share of ourselves, the better the outcome. I’ve often disagreed with my fellow citizens, but if discourse was expressed with the intention of truly improving things, not tearing them apart, the resulting compromise was always for the best.
May we all at least try to trust in each other’s intentions and share our experiences and all the emotions that come with it with respect. It’s hard to lead. It’s hard to speak up. But since our problems circle the globe, it’s also hard to find a better place to live than Lower Frederick Township.
I thank you all for enduring this prepared exit speech. Frankly, I just couldn’t go without saying what I felt needed to be said. This experience has been one I will never forget. It truly has been an honor. I hope I have inspired another student of Nature to emerge from the shadows and fill one of two soon-to-be-open positions on the EAC.