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From Bennington Banner, March 8, 2007

By Mark E. Rondeau

STAMFORD — Voters at Monday's floor meeting may not have wanted to discuss the controversial national issues on the warrant, but two military veterans did have a brief debate on whether a discussion was appropriate in such a forum.

Residents voted 55-28 to not discuss two articles put on the warrant by petition. One called for the orderly withdrawal of troops from Iraq; the other called for the impeachment of President George W. Bush.

During a break in the meeting after the vote, Lt. Col. Steve Grant, a Stamford resident and 20-year career officer in the Air Force, who is on active duty, said he personally would have liked to debate the articles. He flies transport planes, supplying the troops and bringing them to the Middle East and back to the United States.

"I have a little bit of a different perspective than most people would because I just got back from Kuwait yesterday," he said. "So it's my job to fly there, to fly missions back and forth."

Still, he thought it a good thing for the town not to debate the issues at the meeting. For one thing, his impression was that the town is pretty evenly split on these issues.

"Probably (it's) better to have this debate in a coffee shop somewhere than actually to make it an actual article in a town meeting that really should be about budgets and town issues and not necessarily real strong political issues," he said. "Personally, I don't think this is the forum to do it."

While Grant was speaking to a reporter, another tall man, wearing a blue checkered shirt, came up and was listening quietly.

"Hi, I'm Peter Haviland, and I sponsored the article about the impeachment, and I think this is the perfect opportunity to discuss it," he said. "This is democracy at the grassroots level. If we can't discuss it at town meeting, where can we discuss it?"

Haviland is an Army infantry veteran of the Vietnam War who teaches at Conte Middle School in North Adams, Mass.

Grant replied: "I think adding it as an article to a town budget is not the appropriate way to do that. Now, that's my personal opinion. I understand you have your personal opinion and, yes, this is a democracy. And because of the sacrifices people make that's why we have the ability to do the things that we do and practice the democracy that we have."

Haviland: "As I said, this is the perfect forum for that, to discuss issues about democracy. I feel our democracy is being challenged right now by the administration. It's being challenged in every number of ways, and if we can't discuss it here, where can we? And I think the reason why the Vietnam War was ended when it was because of public forums like this, people speaking out against it."

"We're getting into a debate," Grant said. Soon, the school portion of the town meeting was about to begin and the men walked away together, talking quietly.


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