Chris Perry Column: I'd Love To Prove Him Wrong

Chris Perry •

Full disclosure: I have known John for over 30 years and I consider him a good friend. In fact, my oldest daughter, Kate, slung ice cream for him when he owned Yogurt Plus back in 1994.

His initial journey to Nantucket had an interesting start. Traveling up from New Jersey in 1989, John rented a car, and “somewhere along the way in Connecticut, I asked ‘Sooze’ to marry me…”

“Thankfully, she said yes, and we continued up to Nantucket. At the time, I had no idea that we had to take a slow boat to the island, and when we arrived, Nantucket was jamming because it was July 4th weekend. That’s the good news. The bad news was that we did not reserve a place to stay in advance,” John added.

After vacationing on Nantucket for a few summers, John and Susan Trudel permanently returned to the island in 1993 and fell in love with Nantucket.

“We really did not know the island that well but we just loved the vibe and the community spirit. Almost instantly, I knew this is where I should be,” John added with a hint of nostalgia.

John co-owned Yogurt Plus for a few years before he turned to construction and property management. He was familiar with both of those fields from his days in New Jersey, and after working for Peter Boyton, John started up with Brad Hunter and then eventually set out on his own.

“Back in New Jersey, I bought a Time Life book called ‘Home Improvements’ and learned things the hard way. Eventually, I started doing my own light plumbing, electrical then carpentry, roofing, etc. It translated well on Nantucket and it eventually led me to secure my construction supervisor’s license in 1999,” Trudel added.

John continued: “After a few years, I always wanted to get involved with town politics. I used to think that the ultimate board to serve on must be the Select Board. I was active with a lot of youth programs such as Little League, student lacrosse, and the Boys & Girls Club due to my two sons. But, it was the Select Board that really caught my eye early on.”

John doesn’t think that way anymore.

Last week, John Trudel resigned from his seat on the Nantucket Planning Board and his position as a member of the Nantucket Planning and Economic Development Commission.

“Initially, I was very excited to get involved in town politics. Joe Marklinger resigned from the Planning Board and as an alternate, I ended up stepping into his open seat. Once that term was done, I ran unopposed for a five-year term and I am presently in my second, five-year term. But, things are very different. Today, one person is pitted against the other and it is not healthy. I get the feeling some people are more excited about who is exposed and hurt along the way than they are about the true nature of the discussion,” offered Trudel.

He’s right.

Trudel’s resignation letter was full of complimentary language and sincere appreciation for his time on the Planning Board. He talked about the committed and respectful staff, the support & guidance he received and he wished everyone well moving forward.

As John said to me, “I don’t want the focus to be on my resignation. It is just time for me to move on.”

That may be true. But you could tell there was much more that was unwritten which could be seen if you read between the lines.

Trudel’s resignation is the continuing tip of the iceberg. It does not matter if you support Trudel or not. That’s not the point. What does matter is that good people are leaving public service because it is getting nasty on Nantucket.

With each passing scrum, there is a growing element on Nantucket who like to stalk, love the kill, and could care less about who is hurt along the way. They appear - disappear - then reappear because they enjoy fueling the negativity. The short-term rental debate, PLUS, the African Meeting House, the fire chief hire, Surfside Crossing, the Snell kerfuffle - the list goes on and on and the lack of respect and our inability to exchange different points of view is not good for our community. With friends and neighbors pitted against each other, Nantucket is changing right in front of our eyes with very little pushback.

“When I first moved to Nantucket, I felt the same sense of community that I was familiar with where I lived in New Jersey,” Trudel offered.

He continued: “I remember meeting our neighbors - David (RoJo) and Ellen Rojcewicz - over on Vesper Lane. Sooze and I planned on painting Yogurt Plus one weekend before it opened for the season. Dave and Ellen just showed up unannounced and helped us paint the interior. It wasn’t about money - it was all about neighbors helping neighbors. Everyone used to be like that.”

“We have lost that sense of community, respect, and helping our neighbors on Nantucket. Whether it is because everyone is chasing the dollar, maybe our priorities have changed or maybe we just don’t have the time anymore. But whatever it is, we are looking more and more like D.C. and national politics than what I remember Nantucket used to look like when I first came to the island,” Trudel summed up.

He’s right.

People love controversy. It incites strong opinions and turns up the heat. But controversy comes with a price. And the price on Nantucket is good, qualified people are resigning while others are simply staying away from public service.

Why bother?

All you have to do is look at how difficult it is to get a full slate of qualified candidates to run for public office. Additionally, chairpersons desperately search for warm bodies to fill volunteer spots on the appointed committees and boards. And if the positions are filled, look at what these public servants go through on a regular basis.

Why put yourself through the criticism and scrutiny?

“I was constantly blamed for being pro-development, accused of being involved in backroom deals, and subjected to personal attacks. Don’t get me wrong, I can take it and I actually enjoyed my time on the Planning Board where I felt my skills were helpful. But when the level of caustic rhetoric started to go way over the top and when the people who were throwing around unsubstantiated conspiracy theories suffered no consequences, then I knew it was time to leave,” said the former Planning Board member.

“At the very least, put your name on a ballot. Most of them would never consider doing that or taking on the added responsibility. To them, it’s easier to just criticize from a distance,” sounded a frustrated Trudel.

He’s right.

“I’m not the brightest bulb or the sharpest knife”, said Trudel. “But I served. What is frustrating to me is that I know brighter bulbs and sharper knives in the community and they refuse to get involved simply because it has become too stressful and a thankless responsibility.”

Once again, he’s right.

The lack of civility has become the norm. I have witnessed it firsthand as both a former, elected member of the Nantucket School Committee and now as a citizen of the Nantucket community. I bet you have too. The end results are clear. Fewer and fewer people are stepping up and fulfilling what should be their civic duty that comes along with living in a small community like Nantucket.

Where do we go from here?

John Trudel isn’t so sure. For the first time in quite some time, he’ll be an interested community member watching from the sidelines. What he sees is a town in a particularly vulnerable position unsure of which path to follow. That’s unsettling to someone who used to lead not follow.

I can’t say that I have ever seen John back down from a challenge. If I were a betting man, my guess is that John would have preferred to finish out his second term as if he were competing in a tight, three-set paddle tennis match. But, it wasn’t the challenge that prevented him from completing the task. He just felt it was time for someone else to finish the journey.

It won’t be long before we know who is willing to step up and face a very different Nantucket as the newest member of the Planning Board. Qualifications will include a thick skin and the skills to diffuse volatile situations - potentially working in a contentious environment - and the ability to resist the temptation to take the bait. Sounds all too familiar as most of the local positions require these skills.

Moving forward, what should be ringing in our ears is John’s assessment that “Nantucket’s pool of qualified candidates available to serve will continue to shrink unless something changes.”

For small towns like Nantucket to survive and prosper, it is important for its community members to take a turn as well as serve a term. If we don’t, and John is right, his ominous prediction will come true and that does not bode well for the island.

I don’t always agree with John; but in this case, I hope Nantucket proves him wrong because we’d both be happy with that.

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