There have been rumors in Rutland over the last month, mostly about how the old boys’ network must be protecting attorney Christopher Sullivan, who was free for nearly three weeks before his arraignment Thursday. On Facebook, on the barstools and at the hairdressers around the city, the rumors bore a common thread: The claim, the belief that he is somehow being protected from the full force of the justice system because of who he is — a former city attorney and member of the city’s “establishment,” aka the old boys’ club.
It’s as difficult to prove that claim as it is to disprove it. What is certain is that there is more than enough grief and pain to go around for all the families involved.
The last 10 or so years have given us more than our share of tragedy and corruption, from Terry King to Carly Ferro, from crack cocaine to heroin, and from suspect city accounting practices to pornography in a police cruiser. In the context of all that, there is reason to be worried, reason to be suspicious, but we should also not get too caught up in the negative, lest it drown out the good.
The movie “The Blood in this Town,” about the annual Gift of Life Marathon blood drive, carried a double meaning in its title, along with a bit of irony. It was about blood, sure — the thousands of liters of life that were donated by regular people — who by playing their own small part each did their part. But it also referred to the old blood — the old boys’ network — that was holding this city back, through a calcified, regressive, self-perpetuating network of mediocrity.
The truth is that the old boys’ network is on the way out, and a new network — one built by regular people, by a new generation of civic and business leaders, by a new generation of public servants — is being built through hard work and professionalism. And networks — as our city’s new grant-writing crime analyst has shown — are the most important part of putting out the fires that plague our city.
An informal network can serve a useful purpose. If there is a network of community leaders who know each other on a personal level, share common interests, and bonds of family and community, that network has the potential to be very helpful in making good things happen for their community as a whole. A personal phone call, a quick meeting, a rapid network mobilization, can cut through red tape and inertia faster than a relatively more formal process.
From another perspective, that kind of network is ripe for corruption, because its decisive actions take place out of public view. The term “old boys’ network” has a well-deserved negative connotation. An old boys’ network almost by definition exists more to protect its members than to serve the greater good. When those in power become more concerned with protecting their own position than in serving the public good, that is a form of corruption in and of itself.
But Rutland’s old boys’ network — and there is much evidence that it did exist — is dying off.
The new network, which is built not by the people sitting in the old power structure, but by the people who are connecting to build something new, is growing up. We should trust in the justice system — but temper that trust with verification, instead of not trying to trust at all.
There are people in the city who want to sit back, talk about the past and bemoan the present. But there are others who have gotten to work kicking the remnants of the old boys’ network out the back door and building a new foundation. These are the people who hold the power — the power to build the future.