Where else but Town Meeting can you learn the origin of the word "boarder," hear a few tunes from the Brian Boru Pipe Band, visit with friends, and participate in democracy in the same night? Boy, I love this stuff. Towns throughout Massachusetts are considering changes to their forms of government that would vest legislative authority in a Town Council, similar to the workings of the government in Barnstable. While that may work for some, this week's Falmouth Town Meeting was yet another example that although our traditional New England form of government may not be perfect, it works and works well her in Falmouth.
Here then, are this Town Meeting's version of awards for the good and not-so-good, affectionately know as our Town Meeting Trophies (TMTs):
Kudos and the TMT for best presentation go to the tandem of the Historical Commission and the Falmouth Chamber for their efforts in getting Falmouth declared a Preserve America Community by the White House. This designation, granted to no other town on Cape Cod and only a handful in the Commonwealth, recognizes the historic character of our hometown and our efforts to preserve it. Banners will fly on Main Street in recognition of this accomplishment.
The "thanks for the info" TMT goes to aspiring gadfly Craig Martin, who is a prolific letter writer on this page and is now dipping his toe in the Town Meeting pool. He informed the assembled citizen legislators who were debating an article on the meaning of the word "boarder" that the origin lies in early American guest houses who would serve dinner to their visitors on tables made of long boards. He also served to overcomplicate a very simple article that went down to defeat, but his etymological trivia was well received.
The TMT for supreme hyperbole was a close one, with Henry Dick's inane description of Route 151 as a "kill zone" holding up until night two, when Historical Commission Chair Sheryl Kozens-Long offered a laugher warning that the number of members of the Commission should be reduced in part due to the upcoming flu season. Town Meeting Members agreed to reduce the Commission from seven members to five, but I strongly suspect the scare of H1N1 was not among the reasons why.
Moderator Dave Vieira once again steered the ship of local democracy deftly and with ease. He does, however, get an amnesia TMT for suggesting that a legislative matter would be best referred to "Mr. Patrick or Mr. Turkington." Freshman Rep. Tim Madden may have something to say about that referral. The Moderator did a nice job, though, of injecting humor at some times when tension was rising and did his best to contain the ever-unpredictable Richard Latimer. Many thought that Latimer's new perch on stage as the Chair of the Planning Board would be the great subduer. No chance. He was a nudnik to the process and was demoted back to the audience on night two. He does get at least a nomination, though for best laugh of the session for asking me after the first night why Joe Netto hadn't said much and suggested he probably wouldn't be nominated for an award. The TMT for best comedic moment, though, goes to Daniel "Pup" Gould. After and admission of "aging a bit" by frequent awardee Dan Shearer, Pup opined that "I'm not as old as Mr. Shearer and no one else is either," to the good-natured delight of the crowd.
The TMT for best recommendation goes to Selectman Chair Pat Flynn, who worked with her colleagues and the Finance Committee to postpone a proposed $200,000 for vague spending on wastewater planning. The words consensus and coalition are not simply buzzwords when it comes to this project. Our chief elected official intends to foster genuine and in-depth community discussion on the half-billion dollar wastewater project that will indeed be the most significant undertaking in the history of our town. Her willingness to commit to reaching consensus before the money is spent is not only rare, it is laudable.
Which brings us to the other end of the TMT spectrum, the Badge of Bombast. While in the past, this award has been bestowed on the speaker who simply talked too much but said too little, a new winner has emerged, not for the volume of his offerings, but for the questionable motive and unfortunate content. Former Assistant Town Counsel Ed DeWitt argued enthusiastically against a zoning article in which he has not only a personal interest, but pending litigation. His arguments were for the benefit of his own pending lawsuit, something rarely seen and never appropriate at Town Meeting. He further eroded his credibility by offering an insult to Town Planner Brian Currie, suggesting that this 20+ year town employee was unqualified to answer a question simply because he is not a lawyer. Not your most shining moment, Ed. The Badge of Bombast is yours in a runaway.
The finances are still dire, but the process is promising. We get to come back in April and do it again.
This column is reprinted from the Falmouth Enterprise.