On a May late afternoon the members of the Board of Assessment Review filtered in the single door of the old schoolhouse that serves as Town Hall for the small Town of Benson, N.Y., population less than 200. They took seats, randomly, around the two tables placed end-to-end and used by the Town Board every second Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m. sharp.
One new member took a seat against the wall where the public sits, not being accustomed to moving from the watching to the doing. The first-time members, sitting almost at attention, fidgeted in nervous anticipation of a test of their judgment, and worried about how they would respond if, heaven forbid, there may even be drama.
The past members casually relaxed with their knitting and small "talk of the town," expecting a long afternoon of forced sequester as is usual on this day.
A lone citizen walked haltingly in the door, their purpose revealed by their unfamiliarity. Could it be? Yes! There's going to be a hearing.
The members eagerly, as trained, and almost joyfully, helped the complainant fill out the paperwork. Yes, it appeared their civic responsibility would finally be tested.
As the members filed out into the semi-darkness, more sedately than children did for generations years ago, there was a sense of satisfaction with the board's verdict. They had actually reduced one citizen's tax.
Buried deeply within Democracy's cumbersome apparatus, shining within the bureaucracy like a small star barely visible, was this one small deed.
They will gather again next spring, as dependably as the swallows' return, and then again disperse into the night.
town councilman and one-time BAR member