GRAY — After six years on the Town Council and more than a decade on the Planning Board, Peter Gellerson is stepping away from local government.
His decision to not run for re-election, which comes amid calls for increased civility and transparency on the council, is driven by a personal health issue that requires his time and energy.
Gellerson spoke with the Lakes Region Weekly about his service and the town he’s lived in since 1979.
Q: What drove you to get involved in town government in the first place?
A: Well, I started out on Planning Board – and primarily I got involved because, at that point I was working for Blue Rock Industries in the construction world, and felt as though I had something to offer on the planning side of things in town. I’m not an engineer by education, but I’m an engineer in practical experience . So, that’s why I joined … I just wanted to volunteer my time to help the town.
Q: What do you see as your greatest accomplishment as a member of the Town Council?
A: To be honest, the electronic signs that we (installed outside of town offices) in my first term. I really worked hard to get that done, because I wanted the townspeople to be able to know more about what was going on in local government, local activities. That’s what I’m most proud of probably in my six years, is being part of getting those electronic signs installed, because I don’t know if there’s any other town that has anything quite like that.
Q: Is there anything that you would do differently, or things that you see as missed opportunities in those six years?
A: Nothing really comes to mind. The two councils – the two different groups that I’ve served with – have for the most part worked well together and cooperatively together and tried to do the best they could for the town. I don’t have any fault to find with what we did as a group for either of my two three-year terms.
Q: What do you see as the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead for the town?
A: For me, the No. 1 challenge is getting younger people involved in local government. The people that are involved now are getting older, and for the most part, the younger crowd is not stepping up to the plate. I mean, I know Manny Archibald is somebody I would consider to be young, and I know he didn’t win (in race for Town Council earlier this month), but we need more of him running, being on committees, being on the council, being on some of the other (groups). We need some new blood on the various groups that are part of the town government.
Q: It seems like the last few months have been a bit of a challenge for the council between resignations, proposed secession efforts, calls for transparency and civility. Do you see this as a critical moment for the town, and have you seen instances like this before?
A: No, honestly this is the worst I’ve seen it (in six years) … You cannot be thin-skinned. You cannot take offense if you lose. It’s a democracy, and you’re bound to lose on certain things. I’ve lost on certain points, and you pick up and go on to the next one.
Q: Are heated moments inevitable, are they going to happen on any council, and if so, how as a councilor do you react in that moment?
A: Civility on the council the past year has been really lacking … I consider this to be the worst I have ever seen it by miles. It just doesn’t belong there. The council needs to work as a team. It’s doesn’t mean you can’t disagree, but you disagree civilly – and that has not been the case.
Q: In terms of decorum, through Robert’s Rules of Order, is there already sort of a structure of how people should be acting, and is it just not being followed?
A: Well, I’m no expert on Robert’s Rules, so I don’t know if I can even speak to that. I’m familiar with some of it, but there’s a lot of it that I’m not familiar with. It’s just common decency that has alluded our grasp a few times in the last year, when there’s no need of it. You can disagree without being disagreeable.
Q: As a now former council member, would you say there needs to be some sort of codified rules, or is it more of a recognition among the members that this is how we proceed?
A: I’m not a great one for rule books, I think it should be common sense and common courtesy that carries the day.
Q: Is there anything we’ve missed that you’d like to cover about your time on the council or future plans?
A: I don’t have any real future plans. I’ve got a health issue that I need to take care of first. I’m 68-plus, that’s why I said we need some younger people coming into the mix … I’ve probably done my duty. Between the council and the planning board, I’ve served 19 years total.
Q: What’s your favorite part about living in Gray?
A: The people. Gray has a lot of wonderful people in town.
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.