Open letter to the community: Councilman Michael Wolfensohn, in his own words
November 19, 2010
by Michael Wolfensohn
Here are facts about what happened on Oct 9, 2010. You can make your own decision on how you might have handled it.
I was finishing up a walk with my dogs in Gedney Park and saw two boys selling homemade treats. I asked them what charity the proceeds were going to, as I was going to buy something to support the cause. They told me it was for “the charity of us.” I said, “Fine,” and headed home with my dogs.
Once home, I started to think about what would happen if a treat made with nuts were sold to a child with allergies? Would the town be responsible? Would the boys and their families be liable? Or, I thought, what if I go to the park next week and there are other people selling all kinds of products, not just baked treats? Is that what we want in our parks?
As a town board member, I was genuinely concerned for everyone’s safety and the peace and well-being of our park. So I spoke with Town Supervisor Barbara Gerrard, who advised me to call the police to see if the boys had a permit, as the permit protects both the town and the vendor.
In hindsight, maybe I should have gotten back into my car, gone back to the park to ask the boys myself if they had a permit and to explain why a permit was necessary, to protect themselves and the town. But a couple of concerns went through my mind.
1. Was it my place or responsibility to be the person to question the boys? I wasn’t sure.
2. Did I want to speak with boys’ parents? It’s not difficult to imagine a situation where there might be a disagreement, which would be counterproductive. If the parents weren’t there, was it OK for me to approach the unattended boys about this without their parents being present?
3. Should I get into my car and drive back to the park to handle a situation I wasn’t sure I should be addressing in the first place?
The answer to the above questions were either “No” or “I’m not sure,” so I decided the wiser thing to do was to notify the police and have them check it out. I believed then and do now that they were the better people to handle this than I.
I understand that one policeman was sent and from what I’m told said: “Guys, you have to pack up; you need a permit.” The boys said, “Fine,” and left.
When government steps in and there is no bad result, people say the government is overreaching. When government fails to act and the result is bad, people say government has been negligent.
I felt I had a responsibility to protect both the boys and the town I represent.