Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Why Change Riders in the Middle of the Apocalypse?

I have no interest in Middleboro politics – except when Middleboro politics threaten to decrease the quality of my life in Bridgewater. Like, oh… say, putting the world’s largest casino a few minutes from my front door.

Since the beginning, I’ve never felt that this was only “a Middleboro issue.” And, in the course of trying to understand what was happening, and as part of being involved with it, I necessarily spent a lot of time in Middleboro, most especially, at selectman’s meetings.

A lot of people have been saying that the Recall Effort, which culminates this week, has nothing to do with the casino - but I’m not so sure about that. I've watched ‘Vote Against Recall’ signs and signs for the incumbents pop up on the same yards I used to see pro-casino signs.

This recall movement had been simmering, like hot coals at a clambake, well before the casino issue showed up, and rightly so. Middleboro selectmen had been systematically stoking those coals with thousand dollar bills for years.

Then, like a jack-in-the-box wound too tight, a casino popped up out of nowhere, and something strange happened. Poorly managed government suddenly became bad government. Inability to control spending took a back seat to stifling the public voice. A long history of public input and debate over every building project, from a giant incinerator to a donut drive-thru, was thrust aside in a frenzied hysteria to change the world as we know it.

So, while the casino may not have been at the birth recall movement, it almost certainly caused those hot coals to become the ten alarm gasoline soaked conflagration it did.

Why? Because, under these extraordinary circumstances, and with more people tuning in, more were able to see what Middleboro’s elected and town officials were made of.

Wayne Perkins, for one, perched at the selectman's table like an Easter Island statue, exploding into fiery sentience only when whatever imagined injustice brewing under his thin skin suddenly boiled to the surface - whether it was in response to accusations of a Selectman-Jack Healy-Wampanoag conspiracy, or indignation over remarks that Selectman Bond had made to the press regarding his bud-for-life, Bridgewater selectman Herb Lemon. The most notable of these outbursts, of course, was that infamous and seemingly endless invective he used one evening to justify his official position that a casino would be the single best thing to ever happen to the town of Middleboro, a veritable diamond-studded life preserver flung onto deck of a sinking ship, and exactly what the hell was the matter with you if you couldn't see it that way.

In 2003 Mr. Perkins told the Enterprise, “I won’t support a casino. There is no way, shape, or form.” What a difference four years makes, huh? I guess once you’ve gone through all the firewood and burned all the furniture, there’s nothing left to toss on the fire but your integrity.

It became clear, in the time I spent in Mr. Perkins presence that it didn’t really matter to him what the public thought. He had to pay the bills, not you. And he’d do it the way he saw fit. If he said it, it was so. If he believed it, then it was. End of story. Get in line, or get out of the way.

Personally, I don’t care how many eons Mr. Perkins’ bones have been rattling around on this planet, if you’re going to run for office, especially in a small town where you get right up close and personal to your constituents, you’d better have your ears and your mind open.

I’ll see the incumbent’s signs on the side of the road, and I’ll wonder, why do these people want to stay in office? Do they really think they’re good at this job?

Take chairwoman Marsha Brunelle. Now that’s a mystery. Here you have a high profile job in town government - an official elected by the public, yet seemingly the public isn’t very high on her agenda. Especially when it asks questions and demands answers. No, that would never do.

My most vivid impression of Ms. Brunelle was the day she that announced, to a standing-room-only crowd of pro- and anti-casino forces, that she had made the effort to research the Massachusetts state law regarding selectman’s meeting and discovered to her infinite delight that she was not required to listen to public input. And that was that.

Bring on the dog complaints! Give me those salary negotiations and photo ops in the Gazette! But in my house, you just keep your casino comments to yourself. And out came the gavel if you stepped out of the party line - although, if you did tow the pro-casino line, she’d honor you with a small satisfied smile, like a little treat for a dog which has just learned to stand on it’s hind legs and bark on command.

My gut feeling is that Ms. Brunelle is a good person who wants to make her town better. I know she was involved in the transformation of the old Memorial Junior High school into the beautiful new Kindergarten, which I wholeheartedly applaud and greatly appreciate. I just don’t think she’s suited, at all, for the job of selectman.

For one thing, the Town Hall is not one person’s house. It’s the Town’s house. And whether you like it or not, you’ve got to listen to what the people have to say, obscure state law or not, because it’s the right thing to do, and because you’re there to do the right thing. And a gavel is for bringing order, not beating down controversy.

One evening, in the Plympton town hall, I sat through a selectman’s meeting with my heart beating like a bass drum because, though I wanted so much to share with them what I knew about the proposed casino in Middleboro, I was honestly frightened of speaking up - having been conditioned by watching Marsha Brunelle’s liberal use of the gavel. But to my surprise, in Plympton, as well as in Halifax, Carver and Lakeville, I discovered that my comments were welcome. I would watch, again and again and again, as selectmen in those towns encouraged opinion and debate. And that’s what I’ve always thought selectman should do – welcome the voice of the public because of what could offer, not smother it with a pillow until the legs stop kicking.

Which brings me to Selectman Spataro. I think Steven would have a lot of potential if it weren’t for his complete inability to stand and deliver when it counts. Oh sure, he’ll occasionally offer up some contrived bit of spitfire at odd moments and for no apparent reason, morphing briefly into a cartoon Tazmanian Devil when he’s not actually threatened.

During the casino debate Mr. Spartaro could have easily stood together with Mr. Rogers and strongly denounced Mr. Bond’s motion to move the town meeting forward as fast as possible. The Tribe wasn’t going anywhere. It never was. But Mr. Spataro allowed Mr. Bond, of all people, to put him on a leash. Mr. Bond, a life-size Malibu Ken doll with a law degree and an ego that could fit inside a size XXL Yankees cap - which undoubtedly hangs in his hall closet. The same Mr. Bond, who, when feeling threatened, calls a lawyer or holds a press conference.

Mr. Spataro, how will you ever be able to stand up to big scary unions, powerful town employees and marauding packs of flying monkeys if you can’t even stand up for yourself? How can you think that you will ever be able to look across the negotiation table and turn down another 80% pension or 90% health care plan? How can you promise not to let the Tribe become the biggest voting block in town if they move in? How are you equipped to prevent theoretical casino windfall from becoming a feeding frenzy for shark skinned department heads? Explain.

And for everyone who may be starting to get the warm fuzzies about the incumbents, believing perhaps that they’ve learned their lessons, that they’ve changed, that this little recall dope slap thing will make everything better – be aware that less than a month ago, the Board approved a letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs which, while pointing out that the town has approved an agreement with the Wampanoag tribe, left out the part about Article Three – the one in which even people in orange shirts remained in the hot sun, after being there all day, so that they could hold up their hands and say “We don’t want a casino”.

And no, article three wasn’t binding. But that doesn’t make it less true.

Towns like Middleboro and Bridgewater, which have grown faster than their local governments have been equipped to deal with in the last decade, are facing enormously difficult challenges. Who we chose as our elected officials to handle those challenges is more important today than perhaps at any other time in either of our town's history. Our very character and life's blood is at stake. Will our leaders respond to these challenges by throwing in the towel? By selling out to the highest bidder? By rushing into decisions, insisiting that they know best, counting out the public, and refusing to fight for what's right?

I don’t believe the upcoming recall election is, at it's heart, about the mismanagement of town funds, nor is it about a casino. Ultimately, it’s about leadership. And from my unique vantage point this summer, the only leadership I ever witnessed, was in someone else’s town. Not in Middleboro and not in Bridgewater - because leadership has nothing to do with a closed mind, a fast gavel or a weak spirit.

Should you support recall? Not only should you support recall, you should draw a little smiley face in the circle provided on the ballot before filling it in.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

You can bet that I will be at my precinct to cast a vote to recall the second the polls open. The arrogance of this BOS to rush through an ill-conceived plan astounds me. I would think they would be hiding out in a hollow somewhere rather than face our now torn apart town. Shame on them!

Anonymous said...

I recall Town Moderator Thomas stating that article 3 was just an opinon question & didn't really matter. What exactly does that old coot regard a vote...? Say for office, if not just an opinon question?

wayne said...

Gladys,

I wish you could vote Saturday!
Everyone who received a campaign
letter from Mr. Perkins today should read your words before voting!

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