That’s right.  Oxford Supervisor Lawrence Wilcox ejected Fred Lanfear, the president of the Oxford Historical Society, from the last Town Board meeting.  Lanfear is a respected citizen and the author of the definitive history of Oxford. 

On March 13 the Town Board topic was gas drilling.  Historian Lanfear was heckled, interrupted and finally silenced for. . .serving as the town historian!  He was trying to apply the lessons from Oxford’s history to Wilcox’s controversial 2007 zoning laws that will industrialize our traditional village and farming community founded by veterans of the American Revolution.

Away with history!  Ban the naysayer!

By this time, the meeting had almost degenerated into a Hollywood Western mob scene.  A gas supporter had already fingered the leader of the “bad guys” and announced his big landowners were “taking the gloves off”.  A retired professor was shut up for asking a science teacher on the board about public health and the disposal of millions of gallons of radioactive waste if fracking were permitted in Oxford.

The next day the Oxford police were investigating a serious act of vandalism against the truck of a vocal participant in the gas drilling debate.

Suppression of speech?  Malicious damage to property?

How could this happen in our peaceful little Town of Oxford?  Mind you, Oxford Village had just led the community in a respectful discussion of fracking that produced consensus in eight months.  Mayor Terry Stark’s process was a model of democratic, responsive and cooperative government.  In February the Village of Oxford calmly prohibited gas drilling in this same meeting room

The Village leadership brought the community together; now the Town leadership is dividing it.  How?

The Village mayor received 20 critical questions about gas drilling in July and answered them fully within a month.  Since July Supervisor Lawrence Wilcox has received more than a hundred important gas drilling questions from citizens.

So far his board has refused to address even one of them!

You can read them here: http://www.oxfordvisionaries.org/unanswered-questions/

Encouraged by the positive Village experience, the broader town community has been asking and answering serious questions about gas drilling.  That’s why 1000 Oxford residents petitioned the boards against fracking.  And why only a few gas leaseholders—those who might profit—remain proponents of industrializing rural Oxford.

While Wilcox’s board stubbornly clings to its ignorance, these gas supporters benefit if tough questions about hydraulic fracturing remain unanswered.  That know-nothing alliance produced the ugly intolerance at the meeting.  That’s why a discussion of science was suppressed.  That’s why a historian was thrown out of a public meeting for reporting what happens to Oxford when outside economic forces strip the community of a natural resource.  Then as now, a few locals benefit before the industry skips town and leaves a poorer community trying to recover for decades. 

The majority of Oxonions oppose this fate.  A greedy few welcome it.

Now—against this self-imposed toxic background– at its next meeting the board confronts a new crisis for the history books.  Amidst last meeting’s high drama many missed the most important exchange.  A board member was forced to admit that the current pro-gas zoning laws were enacted illegally.  Supervisor Wilcox announced those laws should be rescinded because of their “many faults”.

How will this play in Dodge City next Wednesday night?  The meeting starts at 7:30 in the old bank building.

The board has two choices.  It can continue to stonewall and incite mistrust and discord.  Or, it can take Wilcox’s advice, rescind the bad laws and encourage full community participation in workshops to create a new Comprehensive Plan as required by law and encouraged by the ChenangoCounty Planning Board.  The 100 questions are an excellent point of departure.  Both advocates and opponents of hydraulic fracturing can defend their points of view in an orderly atmosphere free from intimidation and threats of violence.

Once you read about the “many faults” in the 2007 zoning laws, you’ll agree with Supervisor Wilcox.  Dump them on April 10!

Here are two examples.  The Zoning Board of Appeals was given sole responsibility to approve or reject gas drilling permits from Albany.  But the members of the ZBA point out the laws are devoid of any grounds to make such momentous rulings.  You’ll read about this “fault” in “Blindfolding and Handcuffing Oxford’s Gatekeepers”.

Oh yes, speaking of Hollywood Westerns, the town’s model gas drilling road agreement passed in November heaps so many unchecked powers and invitations to corruption on the highway superintendent—– that fracking will make him “The High Sheriff of Oxford”.

Tune in again tomorrow.