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.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Courtship of Massachusetts

For cdpLakeville, my muse...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Putting the 'common' back in the Commonwealth

The Governor sells out the Bay State.
To the highest bidder.

See it on Video!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Holding a Sign

It’s not easy holding a sign.

People tend to forget that you’re a real live person, not just a message on a stick. They’ll avoid you. From car windows they’ll shake their heads or laugh, they’ll give you a thumbs-down (or worse.) Familiar faces from around town, some whose kids have gone to school with mine since pre-school won’t make eye-contact. Friends I’ve known for decades will walk by and snicker.

Fortunately, many other friends, neighbors and even complete strangers will go out of their way to thank me for being there, and for doing what I’m doing. The smiles, waves and thumbs-up, and the people who will just stop and ask for more information, still outnumber the negative faces. So, I guess I should focus on that. But sometimes, it’s hard.

I never wanted to be an 'activist'. This past Spring, with the hectic school year winding down, I was planning on a lazy summer, beach days with the kids, nights on the screen porch, planting a garden, catching up on my reading. I’d never envisioned, in April, that by August I’d be standing with my sign at the State House in Boston. That I’d be part of a group hand delivering a letter of concern to the Governor.

Because back in April, I was just worried. Mostly about my property values, a little about traffic, and some about the size of a proposed casino in Middleboro. And though I’m not a gambler, I wasn’t anti-gambling.

So I thought I should learn more. And one of the first things I learned is that there have been people who’ve been studying the subject of casinos in Massachusetts for a very long time.

Massachusetts Senator Dan Bosley, for example, has been looking into it for 11 years from an economic standpoint and reached the conclusion that it’s a ‘zero sum game’ and ‘a sucker’s bet’.

The League of Women Voters, who pride themselves on thoroughly researching every important issue, have been looking into casino gambling in Massachusetts since 1982 and are still strongly opposed.

The Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling has been studying the issue and reaching out to those with gambling addictions and their families since 1987.

And the Southeast Regional Planning & Economical Development District which has, since 1968 devoted itself to the “expansion of economic opportunity, protection of natural and historic resources, and development of excellent physical and cultural amenities” in many of the towns, including Middleboro, which would be effected by a casino, has gone out of it’s way to express it’s own serious concerns.

One of the things I've learned to count on, when outside holding my NO CASINO sign, are the people who will stop by to tell me that I don't know what I'm talking about. Invariably, they mention Foxwoods. Wonderful place. Nothing to worry about...

Perhaps you’ve visited Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun and had a nice time there. Maybe a great time. That’s the casino’s job, and they’re good at it. So you start to think… that kind of thing would be great in my neck of the woods. What could be wrong with that?

But do you really know what that area was like before the casinos came? Have you ever stopped in any of the surrounding towns for anything to eat or drink, or buy – with the exception of a tank of gas, or ventured beyond the confines of the resort? You probably don’t have an idea of what the traffic was like before the casinos, or how many residents who could afford to, moved away, or that many of their homes are now being used by imported labor for ‘hot-bunking’. You weren’t there to see the schools fill up or the local businesses in the area fail, and you couldn’t have known that before the casinos were built, there was one gambling addiction center in Connecticut, and that now there are 17 taxpayer funded centers. And have you noticed the odd overabundance of gashes in the trees along the route left by cars driving off the road. And obviously, from your car window it’s impossible to see the skyrocketing suicides, bankruptcy and crime in the 35- 50 miles around the casinos.

I don't know what the water situation was in the area around Foxwoods before it was built, but I do know that every summer, in Bridgewater, we are banned from using automatic sprinklers in the garden. Because the water levels are low. And there are a lot of other towns in the area which impose water bans, sometimes starting as early as mid-Spring. And I know that there have been wells going dry in Middleboro in recent years.

A mega-casino requires 1.5 million gallons of water a day at peak. Where's it going to come from? Certainly not from my sprinkler.

This issue goes far beyond whatever benefits someone might envision a Middleboro casino might offer to them personally, from an imagined job for an indigent nephew, to slot machine nirvana, to someplace to catch a show, a nightclub hotspot, a new business opportunity, or another golf course.

The world’s largest casino isn’t in Las Vegas. It’s only a two hour drive away. And it even has a major competitor down the road, in case you get bored.

Do we really need to turn New England into the Land of the World’s Largest Casinos? Is that where most people want to live? Is that the legacy our generation will leave on this state?

The conservative estimate for a Middleboro casino is 50,000 visitors a day, with an additional 6,000 - 15,000 employees.

Think about it... 55,500 people reside in Plymouth, spread out over the geographically largest town in Massachusetts. Which means that every single day, easily, more than the entire population of the town of Plymouth would descend on a few hundred acres off Rte. 44. (Also known as the Evacuation Route...)

More than the entire populations of Middleboro, Bridgewater and Lakeville combined.

More than that of Carver, Kingston, Halifax, Plympton, Raynham and Berkley combined.


That’s what would be coming down our streets and highways, creating pollution and waste, and utilizing our precious resources, every single day, night and day, 365 days a year.

Can anyone still insist that there's really 'nothing to worry about' ? That a project of this magnitude won't have an adverse effect on the South Shore? That it won't change it forever? That it wouldn’t have serious repercussions?

All this and our taxes won't even go down!

So... how can we possibly plan for an appropriate amount of 'mitigation' so that those of us who already call this place home won't end up paying the price for someone else's brand new city?

Until someone can give me a real answer, I'll just keep holding my sign.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Middleboro Casino and the Circle of Doom

I'm limited in the number of pixels that they'll let me take up here on the Blogspot, so forgive me if the map above is a little hard to read.

The map itself was provided by the Regional Task Force on Casino Impacts, and we at CasinoFacts added some town lines and color.

At CasinoFacts we know that the impacts of a mega casino will effect communities within a 35-50 mile radius, but the Task Force just wanted to limit themselves to a manageable 10 mile impact radius, otherwise known as the Circle of Doom as indicated by the orange circle. The darker orange circle indicates a five mile radius around a proposed casino at the Precinct Street location.

Notice that the entire towns of Bridgewater, Halifax and Plympton fall within the circle.

All but the very outskirts of Lakeville, Carver, Kingston, East Bridgewater and Raynham are there, too.

And someone might want to get on the horn to Berkley, West Bridgewater, Hanson, Pembroke and Plymouth from the looks of it.

But we all know that it's just a map. Think of it in terms of impacts. Like traffic. 50,000 + visitors a day, 24/7. Thousands of employees. Tour busses, tractor trailers making deliveries night and day. Garbage trucks hauling away the waste of a 'new city' more populated than the town of Plymouth down country roads. Wear and tear on our streets and highways. Trash, pollution, noise, speeders, DUIs.

Look at the already congested Rte. 3, skimming just outside the Circle. It travels through Weymouth, Duxbury, Marshfield and the entire length of Plymouth.

And speaking of Plymouth - I'd like to point out that many of the towns on this map use the roads within the Circle of Doom as an escape route in case of an emergency at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant. Just a thought.

And don't even get me started on Rte. 44.

And 'Traffic' is just one impact.

So let's hear it for the Middleboro Selectmen who appointed a seven person (not expert) impact study group and gave them six weeks to look at how a casino would impact Middleboro (not the region).

Our towns are not the equivalents of Ledyard, North Stonington, Montville or Uncasville Connecticut - communities around the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos. We have our own issues unique to this rural, yet rapidly growing section of Massachusetts.

To assume 'mitigation funds' will somehow take care of all the unforeseen problems that would result from this proposed, inappropriately located monstrosity, is simplistic and naive.


Monday, September 3, 2007

Casino U

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Yesterday, on my walk through town, I watched teenagers carrying suitcases.

Computers, TV’s and min- fridges were being shuttled down the street in hand carts, while people hoisted boxes and armloads of books. Everybody looked a little lost.

The kids were back for another year at Bridgewater State College.

Watching it unfold, as I do every year around this time, I had to smile. I remember pouring over college catalogs in junior year of high school, trying to decide on the best place for me. At that point in my life, it was the biggest decision I’d ever had to make. I remember filling a cardboard box with albums, some paperbacks, a teddy bear, framed photographs, and loading it into the car, exchanging my bedroom in Middleboro for a dorm room in Boston.

It’s an exciting time for a student.

But if a casino comes to Middleboro, potential students will have to consider another factor into their choice. Do they really want to go to a school located a few short miles from what has been described as‘the world’s largest casino’?

Can't you just imagine the inevitable conversation...

“So… where do you go to school?”
“Bridgewater State.”
“Oh… the casino college?”

Bridgewater State will avoid all connections to a next-door mega casino on it’s web site and in it’s literature, of course, but the fact remains, if you drive down the road that runs right in front of Boyden Hall, BSC’s stately and iconic main building, in less than ten minutes you’ll find yourself at the proposed site.

And parents, too, may want to consider if they really want the lure of gambling and 6,000 slots so close to their kids.

And they absolutely should.

Due to the explosion of televised poker championships and on-line gambling sites, gambling addiction among college students is skyrocketing. The existence of an enormous casino so close to their campus further sends the message that gambling is acceptable, exciting, and even something desirable.

The marketing dollars spent to promote the new casino will be staggering. People in-state and out will be subjected to "The Wonder of It All" type of commercials which will run all night and day on all channels.

The Gaming and Alcohol industries both face the problem of having to market to a demographic which includes those who are legally prohibited from participating. And just as underage college students manage to find ways to get hold of alcohol, they will find a way to get into casinos. In fact, it's already happening and causing a regulatory problem for the gaming industry.

In a study for The College Student Journal, students residing in an environment which affords many opportunities to gamble were surveyed. Though 21 is the legal age for casino gambling, 59.8% of 18 year olds, 72.8% of 19 years olds and 86.1% of 20 year olds admitted they’d gambled at least once in a casino. For college students over 21, the percentage rose to 92.5%.

And making things worse, according to the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling, "Teenagers have a problem gambling rate of 10%-17%, a rate 2 to 3 times higher than the general population."

College students who become problem gamblers will spend money they don’t have, max out their credit cards, steal money or credit cards from others, resort to other crimes to pay off their gambling losses, lie, borrow and steal from family and friends, do poorly in school, lose jobs and scholarships, and eventually become depressed and suicidal.

And let's not forget that this casino would offer free around-the-clock drinks. How many college students wouldn’t drive ten minutes for that?

Bridgewater State College is still an excellent choice for an education. I’ve watched BSC shine under the leadership of Dr. Dana Mohler-Faria, and am pleased he is pursuing University status for the College. But as an alumna of BSC myself, I would definitely prefer not to see it’s reputation tainted by it’s proximity to a huge casino.

As we can see on maps, this proposed casino is close enough to schools, playgrounds and residential neighborhoods. But it’s most insidious effects may be experienced by the students and their families, of the college just up the street.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Myth of Inevitability, Part 2

In the 'Cradle of Liberty', the citizens of Philadelphia found themselves facing the prospect of living next door to a couple of mega casinos.

Public dialog was suppressed. Deals were made behind closed doors. Remind you of something?

But then, ten concerned Philadelphians got together and formed an anti-casino grassroots organization with the objective of creating greater government transparency and public input into proposed casinos.

But despite their efforts, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board agreed to license the SugarHouse and Foxwoods casinos.

Casino-Free Philadelphia was not defeated. Their battle cry became “No casinos in our neighborhoods and no casinos in anyone else’s neighborhoods.”

What started as ten volunteers became hundreds.

When the state Gaming board refused to make public site and traffic plans, the group washed the Board’s windows for the media – to make the point of transparency. After two months of focused action, hundreds of pages of casino plans were released.

In less than 20 days, Casino-Free Philadelphia gathered 27,000 signatures to create the first citizen-initiated referendum in thirty years, and which asked voters if casinos should be kept 1,500 feet from homes, schools, and places of worship. In other words, a pretty difficult hurdle in a large city consisting of many distinct, closely knit, residential neighborhoods.

Not to be outdone by an uppity pack of Philadelphians, SugarHouse lawyers went to court and got the signatures thrown out. So much for Liberty.

And yet, Philadelphia City Council accepted that all those signatures did, in fact, represent the true public opinion - and voted unanimously to place the referendum on the ballot.

Still refusing to believe that money can’t buy you love, casino interests paid private investigators to drum up dirt in an effort to discredit the volunteers who had gathered the signatures.

And they teamed up with their old pals on the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, and sued the City to kick the referendum off the ballot. At issue was that a 1,500 foot buffer would effectively prevent any casino from being built in Philadelphia (duh...) And so, the State Supreme Court, confirming that casinos have more rights than it's citizens, sucker punched the people of Philiadelphia by handing down a decision to strip the referrendum off the ballot.

So the citizens held their own election. A citizen's election. This past May, just as we in Middleboro were taking our first steps along the road they knew so well, the citizens of Philadelphia voted YES. YES meaning NO CASINO. In fact they voted 95% YES to 5% NO.

And so the battle moved to the State and Federal level. Meanwhile, ethics violations have been filed against the Chairman of the Gaming Control Board.

Which just goes to show you, when the door opens for casino interests, the voice of the people goes out the window. Yet another reason to keep fighting, and for not getting into bed with these people in the first place.

Thanks to the efforts of it's citizens, Philadelphia, in the meantime, remains casino-free.

Casino-Free Philadelphia credits their success to three factors in their favor: Volunteerism, Passion and Creativity.

I see these same three things every day in the words and actions of the members of CasinoFacts.

It's only a 'done deal' if you don't do anything.

Join.   Volunteer.   Make a difference.

No Casino.

I thought you might like to see a few of these inspirational Philadelphian go-getters in action: