It’s not what you might expect to find right next to a stack of Town Council workshop agendas. But desperate times, at least for the beleaguered citizens of Windham, call for desperate measures.

“It is as pervasive as the common cold, but far more damaging,” warned a handout that mysteriously appeared last week at the entrance to the council’s chambers. “It mutilates, cripples and corrodes the human spirit. Those infected by it are broken men and women aimlessly plodding along. The dark clouds brooding over them obscure their vision and cause them to become confrontational, apathetic and cynical. Their lives are like flat champagne, without any sizzle.”

It’s called “negativitis.” And someone out there thinks Windham has it bad.

“I didn’t put it there,” Town Manager Tony Plante said Tuesday when asked about the flier. “And I have no idea how it got there.”

A bit of background:

In the spring, while the Town Council considered a plan to eliminate the town’s emergency dispatch center and hop aboard Cumberland County’s regional 911 operation, things got a little sticky.

A veteran police sergeant, apparently upset that council Chairman Bill Tracy supported the switch, reportedly fired off an e-mail to Councilor Carol Waig suggesting Tracy had an undisclosed conflict of interest.

Police Sgt. Michael Denbow allegedly wrote that because Tracy works for Gorham Savings Bank, and because the bank does business with Cumberland County (the bank financed the Sheriff’s Department’s cruisers), Tracy should recuse himself from voting on whether to join the regional dispatch center.

Tracy was quickly cleared of any conflict. Denbow, meanwhile, was suspended and eventually fired for inappropriately using police resources to investigate the Town Council chairman.

Then the real fun began.

In September, moments after the council approved a policy limiting communications between councilors and town employees, Councilor Waig resigned on the spot.

For starters, Waig told her colleagues that she was upset about being “de-friended” en masse by town employees who were suddenly scared to death to be seen on her Facebook page. She also took a parting swipe at the “arrogance” of “council leadership.”

Then, in late October, less than a week before the Nov. 2 election, Councilor Donna Chapman abruptly pulled the plug on her re-election bid. Chapman, who’d gotten into hot water for granting a local newspaper an interview about the Denbow mess, said she was fed up with Chairman Tracy in particular and the town’s “dirty, nasty politics” in general.

Finally, just after the election, Tracy himself resigned, effective immediately, for “personal reasons.”

Which brings us back to last week’s handout. Its title: “‘Negativitis’ cripples the human spirit.”

While nobody seems to know how it found its way to the Windham Town Council chambers, the 1,200-word essay was penned by Chuck Gallozzi, a professional development consultant from Mississauga, Ontario.

Gallozzi began writing his self-help columns for Outreach Connection, a newspaper for Toronto’s homeless population, after he was laid off from a corporate job and he decided to channel his free time into something, well, positive. Eleven years later, he now makes a living putting on seminars for white-collar types (mostly accountants) who are looking to improve their outlook on life.

“My articles are read all over the world simply because of the Internet,” said Gallozzi, 72, in a telephone interview. “Actually, the article that gets more attention than anything else, interestingly, is on laziness. That’s the one most people speak about.”

People who no doubt have nothing better to do.

Essentially, Gallozzi’s treatise on “negativitis” is a 13-item list of reasons why being negative will at the very least take the “sizzle” out of your champagne and, at worst, put you in an early grave.

My favorite is No. 10: “Because those who live in a world of doom and gloom alienate others, they have no choice but to look for other negative people to associate with. They feed off one another and get locked in a clique of losers.”

“We find what we look for – that’s the magic key,” explained Gallozzi. “If I look for something to be thankful for, something to be happy about, something to be excited about, I find it. But if I look for something to complain about, something to be miserable about, I find that.”

Speaking of complaining, Town Manager Plante did get a call the morning after last week’s workshop from a resident who was miffed at the juxtaposition of the “negativitis” handout with the meeting agenda.

“It’s a little ironic that somebody would take offense to something that speaks of positive thinking,” noted Plante. “I think the only way you could take offense to that is if you were someone who’s inclined to be negative.”

Not so, according to Patrick Corey, who should know. He made the call.

Corey, who works out of his home as a creative designer for an ad agency in Rhode Island, has attended enough council meetings to be called a “council watchdog” last week by the local weekly newspaper. “I wish they hadn’t done that,” he said. “I’m not sure why they had to use that term.”

Corey’s take: The “negativitis” essay, sitting there right next to the council’s agenda, reflected a broader attempt by what’s left of the council – it’s now back up to six members and seeking applications from townsfolk with “positive energy” to fill Tracy’s vacancy – to squelch any and all legitimate debate.

“I think they’re trying to brand anything that’s not in line with their agenda as ‘negative,’ ” Corey said. “I don’t think we have a negativity problem. I guess it just depends on how you view negativity.”

Indeed.

Monday morning, someone walked up to Plante in the town hall and posed a tricky question: “If you’re being negative about being negative, does that mean you’re being positive?”

Plante, wise man, chose his words carefully.

“Mathematically speaking … maybe,” he replied.

 

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: [email protected]