Where's the Beef?


Do you ever get the feeling watching a Selectmen's meeting that your television is actually tuned to the TV Land cable channel for an old rerun and not FCTV for live local action?  Lately, I can't help but wonder what is going on when I tune in at 7:00 on Mondays for our local version of the movie Groundhog Day, where the same day is replayed in its entirety over and over again.

Approve of a parade.  Approve a request for a wedding on a beach.  Transfer a liquor license.  These important but routine items seem to have become the main content of the weekly meetings of our chief elected officials.  In the words of a favorite commercial, "Where's the beef?"  We watch the meetings weekly and look for leadership on a host of issues facing our community.  What we have been getting is a summary of routine items that could be on any agenda - all bun and no beef.  What we have been getting is officials who are not fulfilling the charge we give as individual voters to our Selectmen - lead us.   

Our Town Charter, the blueprint for our local government, makes it clear that our Selectmen should be concentrating on major issues and offering major solutions.  Section C3-1 states that the Selectmen's charge is to be "setting policies to be carried out by the Town Manager and other officers, board and commissions appointed by the Board," and to put those policies into action by  "recommending major courses of action to the Town Meeting."  Major courses of action does not include having a wedding on Old Silver Beach.

So where have the major issues gone?  They have not gone away, I think, just down the hall a bit from the Selectmen's meeting room and into the corner office, behind closed doors.  Based on what we have been reading and seeing, some of our Selectmen have, with increasing regularity, taken issues on themselves and not involved their colleagues in community-based solutions.  Another portion of the Charter reminds our elected leaders that they possess no individual powers and can only exercise authority as a Board.  Why then, do the major issues of the day - affordable housing, future planning and goal-setting, transportation, and major financial decisions - seem to have faded from focus and come to the Board with solutions already in place, or not at all?  

What I'd like to see - what we all deserve - is a return to the day when a challenge before the Town was presented for a sincere and in-depth discussion of solutions and where Selectmen were encouraged to have varied opinions on potential solutions.  I can't remember the last time I watched a meeting and felt good about the depth of issues examined by our most important board.  How do the Selectmen feel about the status of the many 40B projects requiring oversight as they are completed?  How about their feelings on the progress of the cleanup on the MMR? Of various pieces of legislation impacting local governments now under consideration on Beacon Hill? We don't know because discussions are tightly controlled and do not occur on Monday nights.

One recent example of this board-less management of our local affairs jumped out at me when I read that Selectmen Pat Flynn and Carey Murphy were chosen to develop a policy on flying our nation's flag at half-staff - an important and very visible policy, only to have their effort partially thwarted by an executive level decision made by a group including Selectmen Chairman Mustafa.  His declaration pre-empted any policy by ordering that only the flag at Town Hall will be subject to this policy.  Why not let the Board make this decision?  Isn't this a major course of action?  A policy?
This is but one example that speaks to the larger issue of a Board without focus - or with authority wrongly vested in the Chair.

Town Meeting is coming up soon and we have six candidates thus far for a seat on the Board of Selectmen.  Now would be a good time to revive lively and open debate - beefy debate - about the issues that matter.  It all starts with the agenda on Monday nights.  There's the beef. 

This column is reprinted from the Falmouth Enterprise.

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