Town Meeting Trophies
You could feel the discontent at the Special Town Meeting on Tuesday, literally rumbling from person to person as the temperature rose before the meeting even started in the Lawrence Memorial Auditorium. I've been going to Town Meetings for nearly 20 years and have never seen an evening like this. The fact that Town Meeting Members gave such attention to such minute detail speaks to two major points raised by some unhappy local legislators. One was by Finance Committee Chairman Gary Anderson when he passionately and eloquently put our leaders, both elected and appointed, on notice: The public trust is at risk. The other was by Town Meeting Member Leslie Lichtenstein, who pointed out as part of her comments expressing frustration that critical information was received as Town Meeting Members walked in the door. She noted that "the citizens of Falmouth didn't elect a rubber stamp Town Meeting." These early comments set the tone for the evening. I was waiting for Peter Finch to jump up and tell us he was mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. He certainly would have won a Town Meeting Trophy (TMT) for that. With that in mind, here are some other TMTs from this, the meeting of our discontent:
The TMT for best performance was a runaway. Although Moderator Dave Vieira at least got some consideration for adroitly handling a sometimes simmering crowd, FinCom Chair Gary Anderson clearly stole the show. He was at all times respectful but equally as stern in his warnings and told the assembled citizen-legislators that he is "frustrated and distressed" and offered a clarion call to Selectmen and Town Meeting Members alike. "This town has a systemic financial problem. We spend more than we take in." For all its powerful simplicity, this comment summed up an evening of variations on that theme, and led the way for more than three hours of relentless repudiation of our current financial plan. "We forecast for hurricanes; why don't we forecast for financial storms" said the Chairman rhetorically, to applause and shaking heads in response to balancing a budget after the fact.
Conservation Commission member Ed Schmitt gets the TMT for most courage for proposing an increase in taxes by supporting article 3. His assertions were challenged and voted down, but he showed that you can take a contrary view without being a contrarian and deserves credit for that. His fuzzy math, though, asserting that an increase in the rooms tax from 4 to 6 percent was a 2 percent increase (it's fifty), was later corrected by longtime moteliere Milton Kelly, who gets the TMT math award.
The "what were they thinking?" TMT could have gone to a few speakers, including emerging gadfly Marc Finneran, for asserting that public employees asleep on the job should blame their boss, but the usually thoughtful Deb Siegal takes this one for her head-scratching assertion that the concept of tourism as the engine that drives our economy is a "fallacy." She followed up this clunker with a not-so-veiled attempt to eliminate funding in the budget for the Chamber of Commerce. Note to Chamber President Jay Zavala - invite Deb to be a celebrity greeter next summer; I bet she'll change her mind!
The meeting was not all doom and gloom. Bob Antonucci gets the nod for best comedic moment for lamenting about the mood and disgruntlement in the room by noting that this Town Meeting was "probably the most frustrating experience for me beyond being on the High School Building Committee." At that time, in that place, Town Meeting needed a laugh, and Bob delivered.
Our Badge of Bombast is becoming to the TMTs what Tiger Woods is to golf; you just expect Rich Latimer to take home the award for saying too much, and once again, he did not disappoint. From telling Town meeting that he hails from two different precincts (it's #2, Rich), to his impolitely tagging Kevin Murphy with the moniker of having an "anti-tax theology," to doing his best Arnold Horshack impression by waving his hand and shouting at the Moderator, this memorable Town Meeting was sprinkled with his forgettable behavior. Joe Netto was in the running for this one, but when Chiefs Riello and Brodeur eloquently and accurately defended their spending, he got the message and sat down. Joe, could you spread the message to Rich?
At some versions of our local democracy reality show, Town Meeting members can seem detached, even laodicean, as big ticket issues sail through with nary a peep from the gallery. This was not the case on Tuesday. The action to place $3,600 in the Stabilization Fund, the town's savings account, was a symbolic gesture with a very real message: get our financial house in order. Our elected Town Meeting Members get a group TMT for sending that message loud and clear.
This column is reprinted from the Falmouth Enterprise.