Too many times, politicians and pundits will overhype the importance of a particular election – “it’s a watershed election”, etc. All elections are important, but behind the clichés there is sometime truth in the greater importance of some elections, given the larger political backdrop at the time. As a taxpayer, property owner, former Conservation Commissioner and former Selectman who no longer recognizes the Cohasset (at least in its politics) or the members of the BOS, this is how I view Saturday’s election.
I am supporting Martha Gjesteby.
Martha and I are on different sides of the party registration fence, but I have known her since my beginnings in town government in 1989 and have always known her as a person of integrity, of decency towards all, and of open-mindedness on issues. I applaud her for standing up in a difficult political climate. She will truly be a representative for all, and will not behold herself to any special group or cabal in town. She will show respect for all and return civility, at least as to her own conduct.
Attendance at Town Meeting was paltry once again, and I hope that doesn’t signify an overall blissful indifference. Perhaps only until town government involves you do you care, but even if that is what you believe you should be concerned about how things are being run for that day when you are forced to be involved, especially if you are not a member of the club.
While we must select a candidate and I am selecting Martha, this is not an election necessarily about particular candidates. One of course only wishes we had more office holders standing for office, or a recall process, because I do see this election as a referendum on how we are being run and the political atmosphere that has been created. It is thus important for all to vote no matter which side you are on.
At its simplest, this, like all elections, is about whether you want officials to represent all the people or just a select few. Yes, even in a small town, the larger “people” can be subverted to the interests of a few. The Cat Dam situation clearly showed us that. There are many sub-issues that one could go on about in endless detail to debate how well the BOS has handled them or not handled them, some serious, some fleeting:
Cat Dam (both avoiding the law and the proper jurisdiction of the ConComm for years, then making the position of one group the position of the town, then removing members in the middle of a hearing & decision process in favor of candidates orchestrated by that same one group).
Town Manager (turning the so-called Governance Comm. Appointed in response to Cat Dam into a town manager shadow group: undermining both Mr. Lombard and Mr. Coughlin because needed change was pushed by both, albeit not always diplomatically; undermining them and the previous Town Acct. [personally witnessed at one of Mr. Coughlin’s first meetings]; allowing those who did not agree with Coughlin’s selection to attack him and be treated poorly [admitted by Mr. Carr]; and however you feel about Mr. Coughlin personally, one way or the other, how the whole fiasco came about and played out).
Water Dept. – related issues.
Treatment of Town Counsel.
Lack of civility, especially if you don’t agree with the powers that be.
Lack of transparency, especially in regard to what is now disclosed to the press, and the oft-encountered situations of major decisions being made without public discussion, implying decisions behind the scenes (Cat Dam and Mr. Coughlin’s fate being two clear examples).
Lack of appreciation of the Open Meeting Law, conflicts of interest law, at least arguable on the surface in some situations, and of other laws and procedures.
Devolution of executive power to too many self-important elected and unelected sub-boards or individuals.
Lack of an assumption of responsibility for all the fiscal and management fiascos that occurred under the collective watch of those now running the town.
Not all of these are issues of the BOS directly, but nevertheless both it and the incumbent chair, Mr. Carr, bear responsibility (and as noted, Mr. Carr even took some, however belatedly and inconsequentially, with respect to the personal treatment of Mr. Coughlin). The BOS is the chief executive authority of the town and the sole policy-making authority of the town. It also is responsible for setting the tone and manner of political discourse and respect for all the citizens of the town. The referenda in this election are whether the Board knows what its position is, what it entails, and has it shown leadership? Do newly-enacted policies to correct admitted deficiencies (and let me tell you about the shelf-life of BOS policies) fall under the category of too little too late, or are they the way forward?
I, for one, am guided most by two recent events as emblematic of all other issues – the handling of the Cat Dam matter and the hearing to remove Mr. Coughlin, in an unprecedently bizarre, star chamber-like physical setting, which speaks clearly to who is and who is not running the town (and it is not the BOS). Having been a Selectman, I will concede to them that often the public is very ignorant of all the facts and some are best left unspoken. I no longer play “inside baseball”, but having sat in their seat I am nevertheless disturbed and shocked by what I am seeing, from people I thought I knew and were even friends. There is no leadership, there is no unity, and there is great disfunction and unrest. I truly believe the Board fails to appreciate it, for it is only usually a few who speak up, and dare they do, they are vilified in the blogosphere or even the Globe.
After seeing the paltry turnout at Town Meeting, I only ask that all take the time to weigh the issues, reflect on these two events, reflect on what has gone on in recent years, and participate by voting, one way or the other. The sun will still rise on Sunday.
PS – I write here only because the Mariner does not take any pieces geared towards a candidate. A stripped-down, no names version of this was still not acceptable. I appreciate its policy, but in light of the always present, on-the-surface indifference of many when it comes to town government and politics, I wanted to share my views and encourage people to vote.© Copyright 2012 Bob Monty, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed