It all started innocently enough. I saw a notice in my local paper that my small town would be holding a strategic planning meeting, part of an effort to resuscitate it from the post-industrial malaise that has left so many New England towns in the economic dumps. I’ve never been particularly active in town, but curiosity got the best of me, so I ventured to the local high school on a Saturday morning, parked my car, and crunched across the gravel-strewn lot.

“Are you here for the charrette?” asked a friendly, dark-haired woman in a black coat, who was standing by the path to the door. I said I was, and she handed me a piece of paper. “This is just a guide to some of the language they’ll be using inside,” she explained with a pleasant smile. I took it, thanked her, and continued walking, reading as I went.

The first item on the list said, “You are about to be manipulated.” Hm, I thought. That’s sort of an odd approach, but probably intended to get us thinking creatively. I skipped past the definition of charrette to item No. 3, which told me the plan was to “steer an unsuspecting group into ‘reaching consensus’” — hang on. Unsuspecting? And what was with the air quotes? I scanned the rest of the flyer, and there it was in bold type: Agenda 21.