I’ve had an interesting political encounter over the last 24 hours. I thought I’d share it with you….
Yesterday morning, Brushy Mountain Beekeeping sent out in their monthly newsletter a call for support for beekeepers located in Plymouth Township, Pennsylvania. I often participate in these calls even though I’m not local to many of those communities because I find the issue important. I’ve also found that once one town/county bans beekeeping, others often follow suit. Same thing happens if a town legalizes it or supports it.
In the case of Plymouth Township, the council was considering a more restrictive ordinance that, according to the petition, would limit beekeeping to only the largest lots in the county, roughly 8% of the lots or so.
So I decided to write a letter in support of urban beekeeping, and this is what I wrote and sent to the council at large, the planning commission, and the beekeeping group in Plymouth Township:
I’m writing in support of your local beekeepers.
My wife and I have kept up to five hives in our downtown, backyard neighborhood for many years now and find the experience wonderful. Our garden has never been so strong and healthy, and many of my neighbors have said the same. Plus, the honey we’ve harvested has been a wonderful addition to our diets and our own personal economies!
Beekeeping is a safe hobby filled with considerate, careful people. I personally have taken great pains to position my hives in a way so as not to bother my neighbors, going so far as to construct a new fence and a large wall at my own expense. This spring, I will plant bushes and trees to provide additional barriers and privacy. These efforts have provided protection for my neighbors, privacy for me, and a safe place for my bees in addition to beautifying my home. To date, the only people who have been stung are me and other friends while we were inspecting our hives. I’m sure the beekeepers in your area are equally careful and considerate.
Bees are among the most beneficial of insects. They pollinate over 30% of all the food we eat. But they are paying a terrible price with Colony Collapse Disorder and other issues. Their numbers and dwindling and, in large measure, it is only the consistent and regular activity of the commercial and hobbyist beekeeper that is sustaining this essential contributor to our agricultural economy. Your support would go a long way to helping us ensure the survival of this critical species. In fact, many recent studies point to backyard beekeepers as the safety net for the entire species because these hives tend to be much healthier, stronger, and better cared for than the larger commercial operations.
I urge you to put your energy and commitment into supporting your local beekeeper and the critical benefits their bees supply to your community.
My wife and I are not local by any means (we’re in Utah), but I sincerely wish that I could invite you to join me sometime at my hives. You’ll find them to be pleasant, relaxing, and wondrous creatures. In the warmer months, you’ll often find me sitting outside with my back resting against the hives listening to the comings and goings and gentle hums of one of God’s most incredible creations.
Pretty benign, right? At least that’s what I thought.
Last night, I got the first reply from Sheldon Sampson, the Chairman of the Council. Here it is (Note: All of his responses are unedited.):
Know your facts
That’s it. Three words.
So I looked at that and wondered what it meant. First, I thought it might be an auto-correct issue (sent from an iPhone), and the intent was “You know your facts!” That’s be a pretty cool response (and what some would call positive thinking to the point of being naive:-) ). Then again, taken at face value and assuming no errors, it’s pretty rude. Was he claiming that I didn’t know what I was talking about with beekeeping (Sorry, but I’d fight that claim to the end!) OR was he saying there was more to the issue that I didn’t know about?
I really did want to know, so I replied with this:
I’m not sure I understand your reply, but I sincerely hope you will take the well-documented benefits of beekeeping in consideration as you and others work on this legislation.
I was hoping to have a pleasant conversation like I’ve had with most councils that respond to my e-mails, so I was trying to keep it pleasant, factual, and comfortable.
And then this came:
You have no idea what I know about bees or what we are doing you do you
Oh boy…. My first thought was obviously not. I mean, Sheldon has now sent me a grand total of twenty words in reply to my e-mails, none of which offered any details, any explanations, or any opening for a conversation. And since none seemed forthcoming, I replied with this:
Apparently not. I contacted you and others in support of keeping beekeeping legal due to a petition from a local beekeeping organization. If that is somehow wrong, please enlighten me instead of casting veiled insults.
Again, I’m trying to have a conversation with him, not a fight, but at this point I’m thinking small town political power trip (Plymouth Township is fairly small).
And then this came back:
We are not against bee keeping we are trying to have balance not everybody wants it next to them people who are allergic have a true fear and so you know we have sat for hours with many experts being educated on the matter, and just a side not this not a priority to me now as 3 weeks ago one of our police officers were killed on duty so we have much more pressing things besides bees
Uh… Look, I’m really sorry an officer was killed. That is a tragedy of immeasurable proportions. Just a year or so ago, an officer was murdered in my home town of 3,500. I know what it feels like. My town lined the road for several miles with lowered flags to pay tribute to her life. Just yesterday a border patrol officer was killed who has his roots in my current neighborhood. I know what it feels like. It’s an overbearing cloud of tangible grief. It’s awful.
But that is not an excuse for rudeness, and I think it shames the memory of the officer that a public official would use that as a reason to dismiss someone. At this point, I’m pretty sure I know what kind of person I’m dealing with, and I don’t think I’m going to be successful having a conversation, so I sent this:
I’m sorry for the loss. That is a real tragedy for the entire community, and you have my sympathy.
I also understand your other concerns and appreciate the time you and others are taking to be educated. You are doing more than most councils and public groups that I’ve worked with in the past. I guess I’m just confused at the apparent hostility in your previous responses when a simple thank you or even non-response would have been entirely appropriate to my original letter. My only intention was to offer a voice of support for those in your community who favor beekeeping. I see no offense, no attack, and certainly no reason for the way I’ve been treated. Of course I don’t know you or your efforts. I don’t see how that is relevant given the nature of my letter and the democratic process at work here.
Tragedy aside, you have put on a poor display for a public official, especially towards someone who simply said, “I support this.” I sincerely wish our interactions could have been more uplifting and unifying instead of dismissive, but that is past now.
Again, I’m sorry for your loss and wish you and those you work with well.
And just a few moments ago, I got this in reply:
I’m sorry but when you get 40-50 emails from the petition while trying to work from people who have no idea nor live no were near here I get frustrated we are trying to do the proper thing and thank you for understanding and hearing me
At least we end on a high note, which I’m grateful for.
Let me be clear, I hold no ill will towards Mr. Sampson. Politics is hard, especially when you feel inundated by less important communications during a tragedy. I realize that I judged him too harshly, and I really do wish him the absolute best.
When we complain about the political state of our nation, we can all hold my experience up as a fine example of what is wrong. On both sides. I make no qualms about the fact that Mr. Sampson was wrong to respond the way he did, but I also recognize that my judgements of his actions didn’t exactly help either. We both would have been much better served had we taken the time to communicate in more productive ways.
Mr Sampson–Should you find this blog some day, I want you to know that I hold no ill will towards you. The grand sum total of my encounter with you is not enough to truly know a person or come to any kind of accurate judgement of you, your character, or your abilities. But I will say this: Thank you. Thank you for the apology, thank you for taking the time to respond, and thank you for your service. Being a public servant is not easy, and those who do so carry a huge responsibility that is often forgotten by those who don’t. We’d all be better served to remember that.
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