Falmouth's blog

When the Irrational Becomes the Absurd

At some point, perhaps, the irrational becomes so pervasive that it becomes the absurd, but does that mean that it eventually becomes rational? I say no.

On November 9, our local legislators will converge on the Lawrence Memorial Auditorium to conduct the people’s business in the autumn version of our Annual Town Meeting—the town’s precious exercise of representative democracy. The menu always includes small servings of both nonsense and irrationality, and the presence of yet another spate of articles related to the town-owned wind turbines offers a heaping helping of both.

Article 1 on the Special Town Meeting warrant seeks to transfer yet another “sum of money” (local legislative vernacular for hundreds of thousands of dollars) to a financial bottomless pit called the “Energy Receipts Reserved for Appropriation Account” for the ongoing expense of having the turbines stand silently while the town stands loudly and fights with itself and its citizens. This is accompanied by a related article on the Annual Town Meeting warrant (Article 8) seeking a $350,000 mid-year increase to the town’s legal budget, “due to labor, wind turbine, and Conservation Commission expenses,” according to the town’s own document. Combined, these articles seek more than a half-million dollars in funding to support the town’s simple unwillingness to admit it made a mistake.

We have turbines that lose money and a burgeoning legal budget that self-perpetuates with ongoing litigation that includes the town suing itself and its citizens. The town claims that it would, however, be too costly to simply stop the bleeding and dismantle the turbines. I have yet to see an official breakdown of these costs, and since the town still refuses to embrace transparency and actually post a copy of the town’s budget on its website, it is impossible to assess and understand any financial impacts.

Yet another article seeks the legislative branch’s assent on a rewrite of history that is as hurtful as it is haughty. Article 3 on the Special Town Meeting warrant seeks to amend the town’s zoning bylaw—retroactively—to make the turbines exempt from local zoning. By including the phrase “in existence as of the date of this bylaw” in this revision, the turbines would become exempt from the permitting that they are now required to seek as a result of the town’s recent judicial defeat at the state’s highest court.

This comes on the heels of an epic flub where the town intended to file a judicial appeal against its own zoning board of appeals for declaring one of the turbines a nuisance, but missed the filing deadline, effectively ending at least that battle—at least for now. So, in response, the town simply seeks to jump into Marty McFly’s DeLorean and bring us back in time so that they can fix what was broken years ago. The problem with that approach? You may be able to fix what they perceive to be a broken bylaw, but no time machine can fix the broken trust, the broken lives, and broken futures for those impacted by the turbines, not to mention the broken relationships for those in the community torn apart by this divisive issue.

Can you see where the town’s nonsensical and irrational behavior comes in here? It may be hard to pinpoint, as it is pervasive in this sad, spiteful, shotgun approach, which seeks multiple ill-advised solutions to further the town’s immovable and rigid methods. As I’ve said before, I and many others celebrated the erection of the turbines as a triumph of the town’s commitment to renewable energy. I did not foresee the impacts on our town—on my friends and our neighbors. Today, I and many others admit we were wrong. Why can’t our local executives do the same and stop the madness? They can certainly follow the lead of our planning board, which voted unanimously this week to reject the selectmen’s revisionist history and will offer a recommendation of indefinite postponement along with harsh words on Town Meeting floor to this duplicitous attack on our sensibility.

Our Town Meeting members are educated and dedicated. They do their homework. They can see through the town’s intransigence and they’ve surely seen the hurt it has caused, financial and personal. They’ve seen the town defeated in every major legal decision related to these mean machines; this latest legal bungling is simply the most recent chapter in this tragic tome. They hopefully see the recklessness of continued pursuit of a failed public policy.

I urge Town Meeting members to take a stand. I urge Town Meeting members to open the door to the only reasonable resolution—to dismantle the turbines, stop the mounting financial catastrophe, and begin to heal a divided community. That begins with NO votes on Annual Article 8 and Special Articles 1, 2, and 3

Bad Government and Bad Manners

I guess, at the end of the day, the answer to the question is provided by the “expert” you believe, and in which “expert” you trust. Or maybe the answer is simply provided by the expert who provides the answer you want. If you hire enough of them, someone will say what you want to hear.

And I guess, at the end of the day, the will of the people is not nearly as important as the will of the privileged.

The woeful and doleful saga of the planning for and siting of a combined dispatch center for our public safety agencies took its latest bizarre turn this week with a unanimous vote of the selectmen to locate the combined dispatch center in the cramped basement of the police station. This location, previously rejected by an earlier consultant, is now the top choice based on the input from a new consultant.

Last spring, when the town tried to cram through a proposal to construct the dispatch center on the performance stage in the gymnasium of the Gus Canty Community Center, the Town Meeting rightfully exercised both its legislative appropriation authority and its bully pulpit appropriate authority and offered a resounding NO and a resonating admonition to the town manager and selectmen to go back and work out a solution—to design and construct the new dispatch center at the fire headquarters on Main Street.

That message was not muddled—like the process that got us there. That message was not based in emotion and vituperation—like the process before and since of fighting with the firefighters union, refusing to provide them information, and racking up thousands in legal fees. That message was clear direction from our elected local legislators to our elected local executives to undertake a “major course of action” and fulfill their duties as outlined in our town’s charter. For the selectmen and town manager to once again offer a one-fingered salute to our citizen legislators by once again rejecting the fire station as a site, citing their own superior knowledge and perspective, is not only bad government, it’s bad manners.

The town’s new decision to build the dispatch center at the police station was based, in part, on the new consultant’s estimates for construction and the logic that the cheaper costs of a police station renovation should drive the decision. However, how are we supposed to have confidence in the estimates when these very estimates are significantly reduced from just a few weeks ago? When consultant Kaestle Boos Associates presented a preliminary plan in September, the estimates for construction were $1.15 million for the fire station renovation and $966,000 for the police station renovation. Just weeks later, the same renovations have been reduced to $729,000 for the fire station, and $578,500 for the police station, with a flimsy and unsubstantiated explanation that the previous numbers were “raw.” With that sort of fuzzy math driving decisions, it is pure folly to believe the same people when they tell us that the project—which was originally billed to save the town $165,000 per year in personnel costs and now only purportedly saves $100,000 per year—has any cost benefit at all.

Back in April, selectman Doug Jones was quoted as saying, “It is my belief we’ll try to do everything we can to get in at the fire station,” referring to the board of selectmen’s willingness to heed the wishes of its local legislative branch colleagues and site the dispatch center at the fire station. When moderator David Vieira bangs the gavel at next month’s Town Meeting, Doug and his colleagues in the corner conference room will have to answer to that commitment. I’m guessing their defiant behavior this week won’t sit well with Town Meeting and that they will, once again, get their comeuppance. Unfortunately, that comes at a cost: in the form of increased legal fees for needless donnybrooks with local unions, increased construction costs when the consolidated dispatch finally gets built, and, most importantly and unfortunately, increased frustration with and depleted confidence and trust in our elected officials.

It's the Economy!

Today’s economy—both here in Falmouth and on a national level—is a complex marble cake of ingredients, its diverse components blending together to produce a successful result, while striking a delicate balance between those ingredients. Those components—the ingredients of our local economic marble cake—are diverse, their assortment and variety all contributing to that marbled economic mosaic.

Our local economy is diverse in its engines, what makes it chug successfully—from the bustling and critical service sector, which supports not only our summer visitors, but also provides a wide variety of retail and restaurant choices for a busy and vibrant year-round population to our century-old scientific and intellectual sector, which supports hundreds of year-round jobs and attracts educated professionals from around the globe to spend their time and their money here, to the burgeoning healthcare industry, which is appropriately responding to our changing demographic and providing a variety of services to all residents, to our agricultural sector, rich in history and contributions to our local color. 

Diversity is also plentiful in the people who contribute to those sectors. The people of Falmouth—today’s vibrant and inviting mélange of humanity—are as varied as the economic engines they feed. The citizens and residential non-citizens who contribute to our economy come from nations and cultures across the globe, creating heterogeneity that makes for a local culture and local community that is rich with traditions, influences, and more.

The source of that diversity is also varied. It is cultural, ethnic, and economic. Some workers in the local service industry—today primarily from Jamaica and Eastern Europe, but in the recent past in large numbers from Ireland and Brazil—travel to Falmouth on visas and stay for a short time. Others, including scientists and other highly educated professionals who study, conduct research, and discover at the institutions in Woods Hole while contributing to the private sector spinoff incubator companies that provide high-paying local jobs, stay for a year or more, planting roots and raising families in the community. Even those families, who stay for several years, likely, provide support to other family members back home. The concept of remittances, or the amount of money that migrant workers send back to their nations of origin, more simply described as sending money home, points to the profound economic impact of those who visit and work for a month or a decade that cannot be ignored.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonprofit agency whose mission statement is “an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide,” more than 15 million migrant workers from Mexico and China alone produce and remit more than $35 billion in earnings back to their native nations. When analyzed on a worldwide level, the value of remittances far exceeds the total value of foreign aid from and to all nations combined. The simple fact is that money earned in the United States—including Falmouth—and transmitted across the globe is part of a complex financial underpinning that is inextricably linked with the overall economy of the United States—and that of Falmouth.

If we simply and robotically follow the xenophobic rantings of some policymakers and dismiss all of the non-citizens and send them home—the services they provide and their impact on the economy go with them. It is both shortsighted and contrary to documented demographic analyses to oversimplify and state that foreign workers take jobs away from American citizens. Demographic trends plainly demonstrate that there simply are not enough Americans—particularly in the Northeast—to perform all of the work that needs to be done. That trend will worsen over the next 20 years, making that shortage of workers—and the need to accept and encourage contributions of human capital from other nations—more acute. Our economy—nationwide and here in Falmouth—would collapse on itself if those millions of workers were forced to leave.

For all of these reasons, the decision by the board of selectmen to support school committee member Leah Palmer’s initiative to grant voting rights to non-citizens in local elections should be supported. Certainly controversial but equally courageous, the unanimous vote by our elected executives demonstrates their understanding of the concept that a diverse local workforce in 2015 must necessarily include a diversity in the origin, status, and citizenship of our workers.

Extending the right to vote in local elections for these residents, who are as much a part of our community as the selectmen who supported the concept, is not just good government, it’s good economics. Furthermore, it recognizes that the selectmen are willing to smash the decades-old and outdated paradigm of what constitutes the right to be here, live here, and work here. Continued reliance on a fear-based policy of closing the door to those who look, sound, and believe differently will further deteriorate our ability to compete and succeed in the global economy—nationwide and here in Falmouth.

Any of us who is not a native—as in a Native American—can trace their roots back to a family member who came here as an immigrant. The rules have changed since everyone had to come through Ellis Island. We adapted and updated the rules. It’s time to update the rules again—nationwide and here in Falmouth.

Seeing is Believing at Ballymeade

I am a man of faith. I believe in things that I cannot see. I believe in gratitude. I believe in goodness. And, yes, I have an abiding belief in a power greater than ourselves. Those beliefs sustain me and guide me through good days and bad. I cannot see those things, but I know—and have faith—that they are there.

However, that faith does not extend to issues of public policy, public trust, and public permitting. In those arenas, I believe that seeing is believing, and that those who wish to succeed in any of those public venues has a duty to act openly and in full view of the public. That burden to literally show and tell rests squarely with those seeking permission from the government and exists on behalf of both those entrusted to grant permits and those of us simply interested in or impacted by an issue.

So, as someone interested in the proposal currently before the planning board to revamp the existing golf course at Ballymeade and to add additional new housing units to that neighborhood, I reached out to town hall last week and asked for a copy of the filing, so I could see for myself. The planning staff was helpful and responsive. Soon after my request for information on the project, I received an e-mail with the proponent’s application and several plans detailing the first and second proposals to construct condominiums on the site.

Although the plans submitted provided a fair amount of detail on what was being proposed, the one-page application provided little, if any, information on who was proposing to do it. So the town has information on the “what” of this development, but not the all-important “who.” The project proponent, a limited liability company named FWG, LLC with an address in Norwood, was listed on the form, but nothing else. News reports of the hearings before the planning board provided a couple of names, but little else has been revealed. Typically, a major development puts the proponent front and center, building relationships and building trust with the neighbors and the community. The lack of any person or persons in whom to trust and on whom to rely is troubling. More due diligence by the town (and incidentally a much more thorough and rigorous application for developers beyond the one-page introduction) is imperative.

I followed up with the planning office and asked what more information was available about the developer. The answer was “none.” Then, like an eerie but unfortunate homage to this week’s passing of the great ballplayer and even greater quotemaster Yogi Berra, this vague, untold story became like déjà vu all over again. As with other major proposed developments in town recently, the information on who is really behind this significant proposal was lacking, and the stories being told in public simply did not seem to match up with those being told when the cameras are off and the reporters are not present.

As a real and troubling example, several Ballymeade residents informed me that, at private meetings with the homeowners, the project was represented by developer Michael Intoccia, who acted as master of ceremonies at project meetings, presenting himself as a principal, if not the major, player in this unfolding drama. If Mr. Intoccia is intentionally staying off the public stage, that would be understandable given his history. A quick google search reveals a rash of broken promises, bankruptcy, and bamboozling. If he does emerge in public as linked to this project, the planning board should ask him about the state attorney general’s news release where former AG Martha Coakley scolded Mr. Intoccia, noting that he “took thousands of dollars in advance payments from new home buyers for houses he never delivered,” adding that the developer was ordered to repay more than $525,000 to those bilked by his scheme.

Is that the kind of developer involved in this project? We don’t know because we haven’t been told who the wizard is behind the curtain. Is that the caliber of businessman we want taking money from current and future residents? We won’t know until the planning board asks.

Indeed, you can believe in things that you cannot see. However, building condos is not included in that leap of faith. In this case, we need to see it to believe it. We cannot simply act on faith that the Harold Hill-esque promise of a good result with this project will, in fact, be good for the neighborhood—and the community. At the very least, the planning board should ask for a much more thorough report from the proponent, including the names and credentials of the development team. Furthermore, they should hold off on any approvals until they are comfortable that the leaders of this project have the ability, the resources, and—most importantly—the integrity to get it done.

Jim Murphy - Deserving the Moniker of 'Great'

During his recent visit to the United States, Pope Francis spoke to a joint session of Congress and shared his thoughts, his hopes, and his vision for a better world. At the very beginning, he paid tribute to America’s Greatest Generation, noting that they are the “storehouse of wisdom forged by experience…who seek in many ways…to share their stories,” further noting that it is they who “build up this land.”

While I haven’t met Pope Francis and don’t profess to have access to his thoughts, I’m going to opine that since he likely has a direct channel to his boss and has a leg up on most of us in the omniscience category, that he was well aware that God was going to bring home one of our great storytellers just three days later and that the reference in his speech was indeed an homage and early eulogy to Falmouth’s own James F. Murphy Jr.

To have known Jim Murphy was to most certainly know a storehouse of wisdom forged by experience and a true and passionate storyteller who built up each community and each person he touched with his gift. That gift of storytelling was borne of a deep understanding of and respect for the power of words. Although his voice has been silenced with his passing this week, his words live on as his legacy, forever telling his tale of a tireless teacher through his stories, his books, and, most notably and poignantly, his family.

I first met Jim Murphy 30 years ago, when he invited me into his home for my entrance interview for Boston College. I was a young and eager, if perhaps self-doubting, Falmouthite searching for answers and for direction. I remember like it was yesterday Jim sitting comfortably in his chair, legs crossed and hands folded in his lap, striking a comfortable (and comforting) but simultaneously confident and scholarly pose, gently guiding me toward greater understanding and a decision—and toward being comfortable myself.

That’s a rare talent, to be able to both teach and comfort someone. Jim made a career—and a lifetime—of it. He shared stories of his work at BC, where he taught in the Woods School of Advancing Studies, and simply told me, “You’ll do great there.” I believed him. All doubt left me. I walked into the interview nervous, tentative, and unsure of myself and my future. I left an eagle, soaring and believing as I still do today, in the motto of that fine Jesuit institution, “Ever to Excel.” It was Jim’s simple but generous gift of time and a gentle sharing of his own history that provided me with the belief that I could indeed excel. I have never forgotten his warm smile on that day and his gentle touch as he put his hand on my shoulder and escorted me out of his living room, ushering me toward my own academic journey. He knew my dad had died just a couple of years earlier and on that day provided just the right amount of paternal kindness to keep me on track. I am forever grateful and mindful of the profound impact of that single day and single act of kindness.

My story of a life and a scholarly direction made better was repeated thousands of times during the life of Jim Murphy. Teaching, storytelling, encouraging, mentoring, and making a difference were not just career pursuits for Jim: they were his passion and his opus. Whether those stories were being told as a professor at BC, where his pursuits were honored in 2010 with a scholarship in his name, or at Sandwich High School, where he served as head of the English department and directed numerous theater productions, or at Mass Maritime Academy, where he shaped and changed young lives for more than a quarter-century, or at home with his best friend and cherished wife, Margaret, Jim has left a legacy of words that will resonate for generations.

“Great” is a descriptive word that is overused in our American lexicon. We say “great” when we mean “famous,” as in great athletes and great actors. We should reserve the use of that word for those who truly deserve and fit the meaning of “remarkable in magnitude, degree, or effectiveness,” as Merriam-Webster defines it.

Jim Murphy deserves the moniker of “great” in all facets of that definition. He was, in his work, his life, and in his family, remarkable in magnitude, degree and effectiveness. Today as Falmouthites, we shed a tear at his passing and for the hole in the soul of our community, but also share a smile for having known a great man.

A Pillar of Humility and A Pillar of the Community

“I have a dream,” one of the most powerful and iconic phrases of the20th century, has vast and varied meanings, and is used in a variety of contexts to denote everything from struggle to hope to diversity to social justice.

For the Terry family here in Falmouth, it symbolizes the tireless and dedicated work of family matriarch, and pillar of humility, Denise, who carried on the legacy of Eugene Lang’s “I Have A Dream” Foundation, mentoring dozens of children in need and helping provide them a pathway to education, recreation, and a way out—and up.

As Donna and I arrived at the splendid but comfortable Terry home recently to cook a charity dinner won by Denise and husband, Don, as a benefit to the Falmouth Museums on the Green, the family matriarch was emptying the dishwasher while choreographing the placement of furniture and dishes for the upcoming family repast, an event scheduled to not only celebrate their winning bid, but also Denise’s birthday.

As “Papi” Don emerged in a Japanese robe, obtained on one his many trips abroad while a senior staffer in the US Congress and a worldwide expert in international development, he was swarmed by adoring granddaughters Lucia and Anabel, while grandsons Henry and Noah intently watched and analyzed the Red Sox. Wise beyond his 10 years, Henry, upon meeting me, immediately offered his analysis of the failures of this year’s team and his thoughts on how it can be improved. I offered to provide him the inside scoop on next year’s Falmouth Commodores team and noted that we would welcome his scrutiny and baseball breakdown. I have a feeling he’ll take me up on that.

As Donna and I began preparing our culinary collation of red wine-braised short ribs and Parmesan risotto, assisted dutifully by our parents Phil and Donna Stone, the warm and spacious kitchen bustled with activity. This house, used as a summer retreat for previous generations, then renovated and lived-in full time by Don and Denise upon their retirement a few years back, is far more than a home. It is a headquarters for the lives, the love, and the learning of the Terry family, all of which are tangible and palpable, flowing through each room and all the inhabitants like a gentle, loving breeze.

At the center of the life, love, and learning of the family is Denise. Ever the teacher, offering thoughts, sharing memories, and suggestions to daughters Elizabeth, Meghan Amy and Eleanor, she is the center—the lifeblood—of the house, but not the center of attention. Her kind and relaxed demeanor is evident in her children and grandchildren and in her local charitable work. Denise is the secretary for the Carousel of Light, the local nonprofit dedicated to preserving Lance Shinkle’s hand-carved opus, and is an active member of St. Barnabas Church, sharing her wit, wisdom, and educator’s skills with hundreds of Falmouthites and visitors alike. This pillar of humanity is also a pillar of the community.

When Don and Denise lived in Washington, DC, Denise was teaching at Sidwell Friends, the capital’s leading private school, dedicated to educating the children of Washington’s elite. Denise’s passion, however, was (and is) sharing her teaching talents and her compassion with a wider slice of humanity. Through her Episcopal church, she and others initiated a local version of Eugene Lang’s foundation, dedicating their efforts to providing that same way out and up to some of Washington’s less fortunate learners.

Begun more than 20 years ago with a group of 72 kindergarten students, Denise and her fellow dreamers raised funds and raised hopes, providing those young people with after-school tutoring, summer camp, rides to soccer games, and the same love and learning granted to her own children. Eventually, Denise left her job at Sidwell Friends, dedicating herself fully to fulfilling those dreams—of Eugene Lang, of Martin Luther King Jr., of those 72 kids, and of Denise herself—and providing a pathway to do it, including annual tuition of $4,000 for each dreamer. A generation later, almost every one of those 72 students has earned a GED, a third have college degrees, and four have earned a graduate degree. The world is a better place due to Denise’s efforts.

Don and Denise’s children understand—and live—that commitment to the betterment of the human condition. Elizabeth lives and works in Washington, writing on important public policy issues for international organizations. Amy is an attorney and lives in New Haven with husband, Colin (who, by the way, can really swing a club and actually beat Jordan Spieth in a golf match a few years back). Meghan earned a PhD in developmental psychology from Boston College and lives in Watertown with husband, Andrew. Youngest daughter Eleanor, who has taught Advanced Placement statistics classes in the challenging environment of Brooklyn, New York, was recently honored by the New York Times, which noted in its effusive praise that she, “doesn’t just teach math, she teaches optimism.” After cooking and spending dinner at the Terry home, it’s easy to see where she gets it. The Times continued its homage to the Terry teaching legacy, noting that “She’s the teacher you want your kids to have.” The Terry women all share—and exude—that same upbeat teacherly demeanor and optimism.

Their roots are strong in Falmouth. Although Denise hails from New York, she spent summers in Falmouth with Don, and as their romance turned into marriage, and marriage turned into a loving family, each summer was spent in Falmouth. From tales of summer peanut butter sandwiches on Hudson Street to summer breakfasts with Don’s dad at Angelo’s supermarket to summer jobs at Capers, where the BBC stands now, the Terry women may be ”from” somewhere else, but they are Falmouthites all.

They all converged on Falmouth to celebrate the birthday of their mom and teacher. What they celebrated was a shared commitment to humankind—just by being together and being the people that Don and Denise raised them to be. There is no greater legacy than that.

Another Fun & Friendly Falmouth Day

The friendly admonition to runners and spectators alike, as nearly 13,000 stories of personal perseverance were set to unfold in Woods Hole last Sunday morning, August 16, told the simple but unforgettable tale of another phenomenal installation of a Falmouth tradition. “Be nice to each other and have fun,” said the starting line announcer, stating the obvious, but reminding all of us that those two themes are at the heart of every Falmouth Road Race–and were most certainly the core of this 43rd edition.

As my longtime pal, and one of Falmouth’s favorite volunteers, FCTV producer Kevin Lynch and I traversed the town and many of the Road Race-related events last weekend, those themes of fun and friendliness pervaded every moment. We spent hours interviewing and chatting with runners, supporters, organizers, and visitors, and each, although their stories differed, struck those familiar refrains in sharing their road race memories. 

On Saturday afternoon, August 15, we visited with local legend Eddie Doyle, as he supervised and cheered on another successful Falmouth Walk, a family-oriented fundraising prelude to the big race which raises thousands for local charities, including the Falmouth Housing Trust and the Falmouth Military Support Group. Annie Connolly and Carole Kenney, the tireless leaders of each of those organizations, were on hand to walk and cheer themselves, supported at the finish line gathering by the ice cream creations of Richard (Smitty) Smith, whose delicious donations make so many local events so much sweeter.

From there, we headed over to the pre-race expo in the Robert Antonucci gymnasium at FHS, where thousands picked up their numbers, their goodie bags of Falmouth Road Race swag, and some tips and information on healthy running and healthy living from the dozens of vendors providing plenty. We learned of the contents of the swag bags from some energetic volunteers from the Mashpee High School chapter of the National Honor Society and chatted with swag bag chief Lori Andrade on what it takes to put together 13,000 of them. Kevin and I had the good fortune to spend some time with the inspiring father-and-son team of Dick and Rick Hoyt, who show and teach us far more from their close and abiding relationship than they do with their annual moving trek from Woods Hole to Falmouth Heights. I enjoyed a quick catch-up with the recently retired but still dynamic and vigorous Falmouthite Jay Zavala, who was manning a booth for the Falmouth chamber’s upcoming “Jingle Jog.” As always, his lovely wife, Susan, was by his side, equaling his effervescence and good will. We chatted briefly with race guru and race president Scott Ghelfi, who humbly and kindly credited the hundreds of local volunteers for making the weekend events

As the sun came up on race day, Kevin and I stopped in and checked in with Police Chief Ed Dunne, whose well-oiled machine of multi-agency security worked seamlessly on the ground and in the air to keep us safe. We then headed over to the Lawrence School, where the bleary-eyed but eager runners were boarding school buses for an early morning ride to the starting line. The buses run with precision, looping from Lakeview Avenue to Water Street in Woods Hole and back again–a boomerang of effective transportation run by just one of the race’s teams of volunteers.

At Lawrence, as the sun was peeking over the weathervane atop the historic cupola, stretching like the would-be racers themselves onto the ballfield where the runners engaged in pre-race nutrition of protein drinks and bananas, pre-race excitement and encouragement, and even pre-race prayer, the air was filled with anticipation and enthusiasm. After a good morning chat with FPD Sergeant Mike Simoneau and hopeful runner Amanda Ravens, we boarded a bus ourselves, trying to find some pre-race optimism. We found it for sure. Our bus was loaded with an entire team of ebullient, lobster antennae-wearing runners, whose lighthearted laughter and banter did not match the specter of the humidly oppressive seven-mile trek ahead of them. When I noted to the group leader that his organizational skills would come in handy in a political campaign, my new friend Don Patterson told me that his uncle is treasured veteran town clerk Michael Palmer. ’Nuff said.

We arrived in Woods Hole, and both the heat and exhilaration were palpable. I gathered a quick update on security from FPD Captain Jeff Smith, then enjoyed a visit with veteran runner Ken Gartner and his son Henry, who was set to run in his first Falmouth. I heard several stories of pre-race inspiration, including tales of athletic altruism from Hanoverians Susan Glover and Anne McNamara, who made the trip from the South Shore to support Team MR8, founded in honor of Boston Marathon victim Martin Richard. I managed to have an interesting and delightful chat about the Falmouth of yesteryear with one of the “Falmouth Five” Brian Salzburg, who, along with four other members of that truly elite group, has run each race from its inception in 1973. It was fitting that I shared a Sunday morning smile and salutation with Scott Ghelfi at that moment, as his kind and respectful stewardship of this iconic experience has kept the community feel at the forefront of this event.

As the throngs began to sense the pending start, the singing, sprinting, eating, and drinking (water and Gatorade, of course) graduated to a more contemplative concentration. I still managed to squeeze in a quick visit with Greg and Sandee Parkinson, respectively the family’s lead doctor and the lead runner, although word on the street was (and is) that youngest son Christopher, who practiced his sprints as a caddy at the Golf Club of Cape Cod, might have supplanted his mom to grab the latter moniker. I also savored the chance to quickly connect with a couple of FRR veterans, Don Delinks and former state representative Tom Cahir, who was running in his 34th Falmouth.

Just before the starting gun went off and Kevin and I joined sportswriters and photographers, including the Enterprise’s own Rich Maclone aboard the press truck, I enjoyed a quick chat with three of my favorite Falmouthites, Alan, Phyllis and Julie Silver, who may be in Falmouth only part time, but add a year’s worth of good-will and memories with every passage of the calendar.

As our journey to Falmouth Heights began, an enthusiastic fan rang a cowbell for the passing elite runners on Church Street. As we neared the soon-to-be-preserved Nobska Light and noticed more than a dozen boats enjoying a seafaring vantage point anchored in the ocean, I glanced at the timer–and it was at slightly more than four minutes. While I collected my consciousness at the thought of any human being able to run a mile in four minutes, the cheers continued as we raced ahead of the pack. Amid the yelling and yodeling, I managed to share a wave along the way with Kim deLalla Greenlaw at her family perch on Oyster Pond, with the fantastic floor man Tim Kerr along Surf Drive, and with Uncle Craig Clarkson and his clan cheering on Cousin Katie on Shore Street.

As we made our way toward the finish, where the lead pack dwindled to seven and the nearly 13,000 behind trudged through the sweltering summer sun, I spotted cherished local artist Karen Rinaldo shooting photos near her studio at the Clam Shack, then noticed old pal Jeff Stouffer at the turn near Charlie Bardelis’s Island Queen.

We jumped off the press truck and into the press tent as winner Stephen Sambu breezed across the finish line, followed closely in the newly established “countdown” competition by women’s winner Diane Nukuri. I had the chance to interview both–they are not only great runners–they are also winners in life and great people, part of what makes Falmouth such a great race.

The throngs then followed, some minutes later, some hours, but all had stories of triumph and determination. I saw Walpole’s Jacqui Dolan sprint across, just as the gazelle-like Rita Pacheco finished her trek while Hanover’s Claire Reilly logged another completion alongside Robbie Berquist and Tim Mullen, while family athletic supporter Ann Foster cheered them on. I then waved in acknowledgement as the personal stories of locals Mike Burton, Jen Murphy and the father-and-son team of Reggie and Matt Soares were all enhanced with a Falmouth finish. The City of Champions was well represented, as Brocktonians Mary Waldron and city councilor Bob Sullivan made the undulating and challenging course look easy.

I met up with Donna on the ballfield, and we were showered with more stories of success and charity, including a moving visit with Moe Guernon, who introduced us to daughters Shayla and Alexandra Guernon, who were running on the Dana-Farber team to raise funds and awareness in memory of their uncle Paul J. Kelley Jr., who recently lost his own race against cancer. That was just one of the unforgettable tales of the day. As Donna and I were walking back up the hill to head home, a couple of ladies labored toward the finish, and finish they did. The amazing personal accounts of Lisa Kelliher and Erin Burke added another spectacular chapter as they crossed the finish line, tackling their fears and showering us all with inspiration.

At its core, that’s what this race is about. As exciting as it is to watch world-class athletes sprint to the finish, it’s even more fulfilling to watch everyday people find the grit, faith, and determination to fulfill a dream, complete a goal, and inspire an entire community. Thanks to all who shared their stories to enhance the lore of another fun and friendly Falmouth day.

Coincidence or Arrogance?

How big is big enough?
How honest is honest enough?

Both are simple questions with difficult and complicated answers. Here in Falmouth, right in the heart of our downtown, both are being tested, formulated, and perhaps even conjured nearly every day.

When the issue of building a hotel at the east end of Main Street first surfaced, it seemed like a natural progression of revitalization in an area that had recently been rezoned to encourage reuse and redevelopment.   I’ll be honest - the prospect of both economic development and infrastructure improvement in that part of our downtown intrigued and perhaps even excited me.  I casually followed the issue as it developed, and nothing occurred – at least at the beginning – to dissuade my optimism.

Then, last summer, when neighbors raised concerns that the developer was providing a piecemeal unveiling of their plans, resisting requests to provide a comprehensive plan for the site, I started to get an uneasy feeling.  While the concept of ‘a hotel’ seemed like a good idea, the developer’s resistance to present a comprehensive picture of ‘the hotel’ portended for some an adversarial process rather and a collaborative one.  With the benefit of hindsight a year later, it is clear that they were right. As neighbors and other interested citizens raised concerns about the size, scope and appropriateness of a 108-room hotel that sprawled within a few feet of some neighbors’ properties, the developer’s design team made minor aesthetic changes to the plan, but has acted in response to regulatory concerns, not in cooperation with concerned neighbors.  The answer to the question of how big is big enough has not moved toward consensus.

Around  the same time as that development of a large, imposing Marriott in Falmouth village was unfolding, a seemingly unrelated and far more innocuous development directly across the street from the proposed hotel garnered much less interest.  The announcement last May that the Mariner Motel, owned and operated by the same family for nearly thirty years, had been sold to another family, was met by many with both praise and a sigh of relief.  The family who purchased the Main Street landmark for $1.7 million announced that the Mariner Motel would continue be run as a family business and no building permits would be sought, according to a published report at the time.  With the kerfuffle across the street, there were sighs of relief with the news that this 30-room facility was not part of the overall Marriott plan. 

Or was it?

I called the Mariner Motel this weekend, looking for a room for an upcoming visit from a family member.  After chatting with a very helpful reservation agent, I asked if I could use my Marriott points at that facility, wondering if perhaps the old and new were in fact somehow affiliated.  I was told no, but that the owner was a ‘big wig’ with Marriott and wished to keep that information discreet. My heart sank and I started digging – and did not like what I saw.  The information I gathered is all publicly available and is provided here for consideration by both the public and public regulators.  

The corporate entity that is developing the Marriott at 556 Main Street is called Falmouth Hospitality, LLC.  It was created in October of 2013.  The corporate entity that purchased the Mariner Motel at 555 Main Street is called Blum 7 Hospitality Management, Inc.  That company was formed in March of 2014.  Those geographically close but seemingly otherwise unrelated corporate transactions do not raise any concerns until you dig a little further. The President of Blum 7 Hospitality Management, Inc. is Jan Blum. A simple review of Jan Blum’s LinkedIn page reveals that his full-time job, when not managing the Mariner Motel, is as Area Director for the Marriott International, overseeing hotel operations for “25 Marriott managed hotels in MA, MD, VA, NC and SC.” Before his promotion to Area Director, Jan worked as the Director of Franchise Operations for Marriott International, where he,  “facilitated new hotel openings and conversions for Marriott branded hotels.”

So to review the facts as we know them, the new owner of a facility at 555 Main Street is moonlighting with managing a small motel while he manages 25 Marriott facilities, and before that he supervised the opening of new Marriott facilities.  He purchased that motel within a couple of months of the announcement that a new Marriott would be proposed right across the street at 556 Main Street. 

While it is entirely possible that this is simply an amazing coincidence, it is also possible that something more clandestine – and sinister – is going on here.

Further research revealed that Robert Walker, the principal of Falmouth Hospitality, LLC, has had a spirited history with local regulatory boards.  A story from June of 2013 in the Westford version of wickedlocal.com, just months before he formed the holding company for the Falmouth project, notes that Walker told the Westford Planning Board that, “You don’t got a god damn clue,” in response to their negative vote on a site plan review.  While that behavior is unrelated to the Falmouth project, it certainly and publicly speaks to the willingness of the developer of a project that would significantly and forever change our downtown to work with local boards. Walker has sued several communities over regulatory decisions. That fact is easily obtainable with a simple Google search.

The arrival of Blum and Walker in downtown Falmouth at the same time may be a case of an innocent and unintended confluence of events.  Conversely, it may be a case of corporate narcissism and the arrogance of untruth.  The only way to find out is to ask.

So, what now? 

The development rests in the hands of our regional planning agency, the Cape Cod Commission, whose mission is clearly stated on their website.  They exist, simply and profoundly, to “keep a special place special…to protect the unique values and quality of life on Cape Cod by coordinating a balanced relationship between environmental protection and economic progress.” Furthermore, in the enabling act that created the Commission, its founders noted that, “The region commonly known as Cape Cod…possesses unique natural, coastal, scientific, historical, cultural, architectural, archaeological, recreational, and other values; there is a regional, state and national interest in protecting, preserving and enhancing these values; and these values are being threatened and may be irreparably damaged by uncoordinated or inappropriate uses of the region's land and other resources.”

That interest and those values are at stake.  Right here.  Right now. 

When members of the Falmouth Planning Board courageously and correctly raised concerns about the size and scope of the project, Town Planner Brian Currie incorrectly admonished them to simply, “Review what is in front of you,” hinting to them that they did not have the ability to look at the broader plan and the bigger picture.  As elected officials they do – and now is the time that they should.

This project, simply as a result of the unanswered questions raised in my research, begs further review and due diligence.  The full Commission is soon making their decision based in part of the project’s impact on community character.  Until the questions about the scope of the entire project – on both sides of the street – and the real entity or entities behind it are answered, the impact on community character simply cannot be determined.  As a result, in the interest of our community, of our community character, and in the interest of the good government they were created to be, the Cape Cod Commission must deny this request, and preserve the integrity of the process and the people it serves.

Falmouth Commodores - All Stars in Our Hearts

Falmouth’s favorite barber Phil Stone (sorry, Andy Dufresne) and I stood on the hill at Guv Fuller Field last Sunday, a breezy, cozy, quintessential Falmouth summer afternoon.

As we watched Falmouth’s team—the Falmouth Commodores of the Cape Cod Baseball League—take the field for their last game of the season, Commodores general manager and lifelong Falmouthite Eric Zmuda joined us in both conversation and fanciful reflection, as Phil painted a Rockwellian picture for us of the early years of Falmouth’s team, when the games were played at the ballfield in Falmouth Heights and a young superstar named Roche Pires used to launch home runs onto the roof of what is now the British Beer Company.

Phil seemed to drift himself back to those formative years, when Falmouth’s team was named the “All-Stars.” His family owned a house on Central Park Avenue, right on the ballfield in left-center field, and you could almost see the baseball sailing through the thick, salty air from home plate, bouncing on the roof of the nearby building that seemed like a mile away, with a young future barber jumping for joy and cheering from his front yard. Phil, returning from his visit to the Falmouth of yesteryear, returned his attention to the on-field activities and wistfully noted to Eric and me, “Y’know, that’s true today. They’re still the All-Stars.”

Eric and I, as Phil himself nodded in appropriate self-realization, smiled broadly and glanced knowingly at one another, realizing that we had just experienced one of those rare life moments that formed both a lasting memory and a defining truism.

Yes, indeed, Phil. Today’s Commodores—in addition to being Falmouth’s team—are indeed Falmouth’s All-Stars. What makes that statement truly true and truly exceptional is that our local all-star team encompasses a mosaic of the entire community—from the players to the families who host them and house them, to the coaching staff, to the volunteers, to the board of directors, to the community and business partners that support the daily details of a world-class sports franchise.

This all-star team has members from every village and every segment of the greater Falmouth community, and last Sunday’s wrap-up game of the season brought all of those folks together, along with hundreds of adoring fans, to show our community just how much our local all-stars mean to us all.

Even before the first pitch was thrown, this celebration of community was hitting ’em out of the park. Team president Steve Kostas assisted the local Marine Lodge of Masons in honoring Commodores lifetime board member Al Irish, whose 70 years of volunteer service were highlighted with a circle of love and support that brought many attendees to their feet with applause and wiping their eyes with tears on their cheeks.

Steve then honored—individually and by name—each of the team’s interns and batboys, a genuine personal touch that is both the hallmark and the core of this team. As President Steve read familiar Falmouth family names like Kinsella, Souza, Vieira, and Sherwood and handed team photos and signed baseballs to young volunteers, the crowd roared with delight—both because local youth were involved with this slice of Americana and because this team and its leaders took the time to recognize and highlight that.

Recognizing that sense of community, Cape Cod Baseball League commissioner Paul Galop then took the field and awarded the team the coveted Commissioner’s Cup, an annual honor granted that, in the words of the commissioner himself, “goes to the team that demonstrates professionalism on and off the field.”

In a chat after the award, the commissioner explained what he meant, noting that President Steve and GM Eric were “spectacular” and that he could not find enough superlatives to describe their leadership—and our team. The photo with the cup and the commissioner, joined by beloved coach Jeff Trundy, was a snapshot not just of the culmination of thousands of volunteer hours and an equal amount of corporate and community support. It was also a snapshot of the values that make this team so much more than a sports franchise. They are, as Phil so aptly noted and the commissioner repeated, all-stars on the field, in the community, and in our hearts.

I agree. The Commodores’ place—in our community and in our hearts—begins with the dedicated crop of volunteers at the core of the team. Steve and Eric, joined by more than a dozen dedicated locals on the board of directors, donate their time, open their homes, and just plain show up year-round, to help the starting nine take the field.

Those volunteers are joined by supporters from every corner of the community. As the interns and batboys jogged onto the field to receive their honors, a new, spectacular and solar-powered scoreboard flashed proudly in the outfield, a gift from the Falmouth Road Race.

Commodores’ stalwart concessionaire Artie Robichaud and his team made sure the burgers were juicy and the drinks were cold, while corporate sponsors like Eastman’s and the Woods Hole Group did their part to support the off-field details. Other longtime supporters, like Smitty’s Ice Cream and Rocky Gomes and his turf aficionados at the DPW are always there, year after year, to make Falmouth’s team of all-stars the best.

Thank you, Phil, for reminding us of that simple but powerful notion that an all-star is defined by so much more than wins and losses, and thank you to President Steve, GM Eric, and all the supporters of Falmouth’s All-Stars

Falmouth's World of Costly Conflict

The difference between adjudication and mediation as tools in dispute resolution can be profound.

To put it simply, when a case—resulting from a dispute or conflict—is adjudicated, a solution is imposed after opposing sides provide evidence and testimony. When a case is mediated, it is resolved in a matter that is non-adversarial and based in the solution of resolution, not in the dispute itself, or more importantly, not in the personalities and personal feelings of the disputing parties. Perhaps the master of mediation and ultimate dispute-resolver himself, Abraham Lincoln, offered his thoughts on this subject in clear self-deprecation as an attorney when he suggested, “Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.”

I suggest that our community would be well-served with this proven approach. But alas, it appears that our decision-makers are wedged in a world of costly conflict, sorely in need of the kinder, gentler side of dispute resolution. Last week’s Enterprise report that our community leaders have spent nearly a million and a half dollars over the last five years in special counsel fees—public dollars spent recklessly in the form of extra legal costs over and above our normal legal budget—is an epic-sized problem that is far more than a financial concern. It speaks to the fight-first style of governing that is costing us millions in public dollars and scores more value in lost public confidence. The town has spent more than $400,000 the last two years alone on special labor counsel, fighting preventable—and resolvable—fights with our own employees.

It is an unequivocally erotetic exercise to simply ask: is it wrong to spend so much of our money fighting unnecessary fights? Why can’t we just get along? Is there a better way?

The answer to the latter and perhaps not rhetorical question is, simply, yes. There is a better way, and I’m offering my services—free of charge—to be part of it.

Let’s be clear. These out-of-control costs are not the general legal expenses incurred through our valued and professional legal staff. Our in-house team of three legal veterans—two dedicated and capable attorneys, and a respected and experienced paralegal—provides a high level of service and serves our town well. Their budget of slightly more than $300,000 is appropriate for a town our size and is money well spent. The extra budgetary costs borne through a combative philosophy and unyielding sense of executive entitlement are where help is sorely needed.

I want to be part of the solution. I was pleased and honored to have recently been trained as a mediator through the American Arbitration Association (AAA). At the training in Washington, DC, national leaders in the mediation field provided insight on the nuances and advantages of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) through mediation. They taught attendees—whose experience ranged from being a federal judge to a construction manager, from an experienced litigator to a school board member—to focus not on finding fault or assigning blame, but to steer conflicts toward a prospective, cooperative resolution, mutually agreeable to all parties. This concept, while far from novel in most of the world, appears to be a legal anathema to our fighting Falmouth administrators. But why? Why can’t ADR be our first option? I’ll ask again: why can’t we just get along—in the public interest?

Here’s what I propose: our appointed executives, department managers, selectmen, and regulatory committees should voluntarily submit to participation in mediation as a first step in any conflict. I’m not the only AAA-trained mediator in town. We have, I am sure, a bevy of qualified locals who would give of their time to help resolve disputes through what the AAA itself calls “an informal, economical, and efficient way to address the substance of controversy.” I stand ready to help bring this concept to the corner conference room.

The handout at the training included a pithy and prescient quote from former Chief Justice Warren Burger. He said that, “The notion that ordinary people want black-robed judges, well dressed lawyers, and fine courtrooms as settings to resolve their disputes is not correct. People with problems, like people with pains, want relief, and they want it as quickly and inexpensively as possible.”

That is true in many ways here in Falmouth and particularly so with our burgeoning legal costs. We want relief—quickly and inexpensively. Let’s mediate.