As we embark upon a new year, one accompanied with fresh opportunities, hopes, and dreams, there is pause to reflect upon the aspirations, expectations and prospects of a year now gone. Certainly for me, the past year has witnessed its share of excitement, expectation, and exuberance. As well, it has offered its share of dismay, disappointment, and disbelief.
The past year has proven to be an "eye-opening" experience that all too frequently has been witness to a one-dimensional, self-serving, and dishonest approach as it relates to important issues facing this community. During this period, I have gained deeper insights into not only the people, but the process of local governance. Suffice to say, I have encountered my share of disillusionment with this process, but equally so, I have gained a deeper appreciation for the importance of balance and moderation. During this period I have gained a deeper appreciation for the efforts of our Community Preservation Committee (CPC), the Conservation Commission (ConCom), the Public Lands Advisory Committee (PLAC), the Recreation Committee, and the Economic Development Committee (EDC). Each of these entities is crucial to the prosperity and protection of our community.
The year started with high hopes for me as two freshman selectmen were closing in on their first complete year and one had dreams of significant progress with their increasing experience and comfort level. Equally so however, doubts lingered and I decided to enter the race for selectman as a means of spiriting dialogue on important issues facing this community. With low expectations of earning a seat on the Board, but grateful for the opportunity to engage residents during my door-to-door campaign, I was no doubt exuberant when the final results came in.
That exuberance would guide my approach in terms of fulfilling campaign promises grounded in objective, principled, and accountable representation. Those pledges included the establishment of a coalition of business owners, government representatives, and residents in an effort to address the economic challenges facing our community. This alliance gave birth to the Merchants of Sturbridge, whose efforts have been well documented, requiring no redundancy here.
As well, there was significant progress made in terms of public access to information as each of the Charter designated boards/committees previously not offering on-line access to meeting minutes, has now implemented protocols to do so. We are grateful for their efforts. Equally so, the issues surrounding telecommunications service in Sturbridge - though previously relegated to little more than lip service - have been addressed frankly, directly, and comprehensively. There has been a significant push in terms of prioritizing this issue that has been chronicled here. One is cautiously optimistic that significant progress is unfolding and those efforts will soon bear fruit. To that end, we should be most grateful for the efforts of those members serving on the Cable Advisory Committee, in particular Jean Bubon, Mary Afable, and Al Jones.
There has also been progress in terms of the Town’s overall approach to management of the Sturbridge Landfill/Recycling Center. Increased cooperation among several members of the Board of Selectmen (B.O.S.) has resulted in better communication and collaboration with the Board of Health (B.O.H.). To that end, new initiatives currently being developed by the B.O.H. (including green proposals), will be soon forthcoming and there is little doubt that these initiatives will increase the efficiency of the Landfill/Recycling Center. One is grateful for the efforts of these elected health officials and their appointees.
The success of the Burgess School renovation proposal manifested as a result not of any efforts undertaken by the B.O.S., but rather in direct proportion to the outstanding labors undertaken by the members of the Burgess School Building Committee. They are to be congratulated, as they bear the rightful ownership of the success associated with this project.
In terms of the Town’s sewer service area, we have initiated discussions and have undertaken preliminary efforts towards identifying weaknesses in the current plan, most notably the lack of infrastructure on Route 15. One is hopeful that we will accomplish something substantial in the near future. To that end, one is grateful for the efforts of Selectman Ted Goodwin and his willingness to engage in an "alternate models approach". As well, Selectman Scott Garieri has provided support in terms of problem-solving this issue. This collaborative effort will no doubt result in a more pragmatic and progressive solution to some of the issues inherent with the current service area. The challenge before us now is refocusing our efforts, which for too long have been needlessly distracted elsewhere due to a Board member's personal proclivities.
There is still work to be done in terms of senior services and additional efforts are forthcoming. So too, I believe we need to develop a more practical user-friendly approach as it relates to the immediacy of resident access to pending budget requests. This will provide taxpayers with the ability to assess the tax impact of proposed requests in terms of their aggregate effect, as opposed to the more historical approach that tends to view such somewhat in isolation.
Certainly, over the last six months our focus has been by need, redirected to the appointment of a new Town Administrator (T.A.). The departure of our former T.A. has created a void requiring attention. Sadly however, there remains little doubt that a strong argument could be offered to suggest that this relatively straightforward process (or so one would think) has been plagued with missteps, misdirection, misinformation, and misrepresentation.
The self indulging approach undertaken by the B.O.S. Chair in personally voicing her opposition to individual Search Committee members relative to their established qualifications, coupled with her questionable participation in the committee selection process, as well as her involvement in discussions surrounding a complaint submitted to the B.O.S. by her husband, leave little doubt in my mind of her inability to objectively and fairly execute her duties. These actions and others chronicled here have resulted in a significant level of personal disappointment in terms of the high regard I previously held for this individual.
Adding to this disappointment, is the dismay experienced as a result of the attempts by Chairman Blanchard and our part-time T.A. to subordinate and usurp the very constitution of our community - the Sturbridge Town Charter. The first attempt dealt with an effort to wrestle control of Board of Health (B.O.H.) personnel away from their appointing authority, that being, the Board of Health. Basing their argument upon a favorable legal “opinion” from Town Counsel, which was squarely in opposition to the Town Charter, Mrs. Blanchard and Mr. Racicot sought B.O.S. support for this incursion into the sovereignty of the Board of Health. Their efforts were rejected by a majority of selectmen. Those efforts have been previously chronicled here.
This of course was followed by a second activist interpretation of the Town Charter by Mrs. Blanchard and Mr. Racicot (buttressed by another favorable legal “opinion”), seeking the extension of our agreement with the part-time/interim T.A.; this despite clear and convincing Charter language to the contrary. This effort proved successful as three members of the Board of Selectmen voted to support what amounts to a weakening of our constitution. Further information on this subject can be accessed here.
Though this issue is now behind us and one is resolved to live with the outcome, (that is after all, the role of democracy), it is wise to bear in mind that the occurrence of a single successful encroachment upon the documents held sacred relative to our town governance, will most assuredly lead to others. The gates have been opened and this should stir concern in all of us for despite one’s position in terms of this particular issue, there will undoubtedly come other excursions involving interpretist activism regarding the Charter. When such occurs, individuals may side differently on the particular issue in question, arguing vigorously in defense of the sanctity of our Charter. Sadly, the horse has now left the stable and reining him back will prove a very difficult endeavor. Such after all, is the nature of horses.
There was as well, a significant level of disbelief in terms of the misrepresentative statements made by at least 2 members of the B.O.S. One such case involved the most egregious of human failings, that being the bearing of false witness against a human being, as exemplified by one member of the B.O.S. It is one thing (though certainly wrong) for an individual to misstate the truth, as this particular individual has on several occasions; it is another entirely for that same individual to bear false witness. There is in my view, no greater sin than to bear false witness against a fellow human being. To specifically state that someone has done something, which one knows not to be true is the worst character defect an individual can harbor. To experience such was no doubt the lowest point of my year. I am still at a loss to understand the motivation of this particular colleague, chronicled here. The character failings of this individual were to say the least, disheartening. Yet, one is reminded that there is little benefit in dwelling on such things. Though our relationship has sustained irreversible damage, the need to work in a cooperative manner is vital to this community's success; thus, it is necessary to move on.
Equally troubling have been the misstatements – i.e. multiple broken promises of an individual once highly regarded by me. Pledging to “be a voice for open, accessible government that considers all sides of every issue” our chairman has (in my view), been anything but. Instead It is my firm believe that she has misused her position to better situate herself in a manner most influential and beneficial to her personal proclivities. This of course, with one goal in mind. As well Madam Chair has regularly endeavored to silence dissenting opinions based upon relevant, factual, and scientific information that directly challenges the legitimacy, or lack thereof, as it relates to positions she supports.
During her campaign in 2008, this same individual spoke of the need to “work together to end the divisiveness in town government that has developed over the past three years” prior to her election. Instead she has created more divisiveness by abandoning all reason in her efforts to influence the outcome of the T.A. search. As well, her attempts to usurp the Town Charter on multiple occasions have done little if anything to foster cooperation with other town entities and indeed everything to challenge it.
Her promise to “establish a partnership with the business community to develop a strategy that will help ensure [their ability] to remain and prosper in Sturbridge thereby increasing our tax base” proved to be nothing more than hollow words. The business partnership now existent within the community (established May – 2009 boasting over 100 members), was so undertaken and created void of any assistance on her part. To be sure however, other elected and appointed representatives have stepped up and provided a great deal of assistance and support. In the years ahead these partnerships will become ever more important and valuable.
Candidate Blanchard promised to “implement the long-delayed third DPW crew to improve the productivity and efficiency of that department”. To date, and certainly during my eight month tenure, this issue has yet to be raised a single time. To be clear, I am not suggesting one way or the other whether the merits of this promise; I’m merely stating the subject has failed to find its way onto our agenda. It is illogical to assume that an issue never discussed can become part of any deliberative process.
Then candidate Blanchard pledged as well to “move [the community] forward and deal with the important issues we face”, committing to “provide the leadership to accomplish this”. One might well suggest that our community is on a treadmill, feverishly running in place while the “important issues” facing us are tendered little more than lip service. We are a listing ship taking on water. This of course, due to the needless and all too frequent misdirection of our energy elsewhere.
As 2010 beckons, we are reminded that the campaign season will soon officially begin. The commencement of such will afford opportunity; said opportunity will thus provide choices and additional promises to be contemplated. Careful consideration and deliberation will no doubt be important as we weigh the importance of integrity and character.
For me certainly, there have been missteps as well. During my first month on the Board, while considering the reappointment of committee members, I refused to support a reappointment to the Conservation Commission (ConCom). Some suggested my position was personal due to the strained relationship existing between myself and the appointee; I can assure you that such was not the case. I firmly believed that a change was necessary on the ConCom.
Nevertheless, it was in hindsight, an appointment I should have remained silent on as it was simply too soon in my tenure to consider preventing a long-standing appointment. Equally noteworthy, too little time (16 months) had separated the strain between us and regardless of any genuine intentions, there existed doubt in the minds of some. The decision to engage this issue was clearly a misstep for me. With all sincerity, I can say with certainty that I am pleased the outcome was different from that which I supported during that period. The breath of experience this individual brings to the ConCom is essential.
There is little doubt that I have learned a great deal this past year; some good, some otherwise. All however, very useful. I will continue to execute my responsibilities on behalf of residents with vigor, grounded in the philosophy of principles before personalities. The execution of my duties shall remain always, based upon, integrity, objectivity, balance, and accountability.
To be certain, despite the disappointments, dismay, and disillusionment, I am ever more determined to maintain my commitment to honest governance. Equally, I will continue to deliberate in a thoughtful, educated, informed, and self-less manner, ensuring always that my decisions are based upon intellectual deliberation and discovery, not self-aggrandizing emotions.