I used to use the phrase "may you live in interesting times" frequently until a wise friend and colleague told me that those words come from an ancient Chinese curse, widely attributed to fictional Chinese storyteller Kai Lung. So it went for Falmouth government and politics in 2009. The times were indeed interesting and, it seemed, at times cursed. Incivility and bad behavior was at its peak during this last trip around the sun, most notably in the corner conference room of Town Hall. Some events, though, peeked through the darkness and renewed my confidence and faith in our locale. Here, then, are the best and worst of Falmouth in 2009:
#5 Worst - Wasted Wastewater: Politicians, bureaucrats, and consultants all love acronyms and the issue of planning for the town's future wastewater needs is full of them. Most notably, the CWMP, or comprehensive wastewater management plan, has been the subject of much discussion but less review lately. With experts and leaders like Rep. Matt Patrick clamoring for a more thorough review of alternatives, the Selectmen nonetheless agreed to pursue this half-a-billion dollar initiative after admitting that they had not read the full report, leaving many local heads scarred from incessant scratching.
#5 Best - Wonderful Wastewater: Just this week, the potential runaway project mentioned above became an example of leadership and forethought by our fab five in the corner conference room. By voting to hire a facilitator to help residents and Town Meeting Members wade through the volumes of information and multiple financing scenarios, the Selectmen, particularly Chairman Pat Flynn, have taken a potential divisive issue and turned it into an opportunity to collaboratively solve on the of the most important issues facing the Town. That's what good government is about.
#4 Worst - Go Fly a Kite: What was a simple request for a young couple to exchange vows in an idyllic setting on the Kite Field in Falmouth Heights became an unfortunate symbol of what is wrong with the all-too-parochial mindset of the Falmouth Heights Maravista Improvement Association. After granting a permit to allow for a wedding on a beautiful town-owned patch of green near the ocean, the Association bullied the Selectmen into reversing their decision. The Board then allowed the wedding, with conditions, and set the venomous ballpoint pens and keyboards of Association members rolling. As the year draws to a close, Association members are still attempting to run their slice of the town without having received a single vote at the ballot box, this time regarding the paving of the Heights Beach parking lot. Civic involvement is great. Civic harassment is not.
#4 Best - Preserve and Protect: The designation of Falmouth as a "Preserve America" community by First Lady Michelle Obama was the culmination of years of work by dozens of Falmouthites, topped off with a public gathering and celebration this fall at Historic Highfield, a building that is a living testament to the power of community organizing and the truly local historic preservation vision of a few special Falmouth residents. This designation, bestowed on few communities, not only opens opportunities for grant funding, it recognizes Falmouth's undying commitment to honoring our rich history and the people who made it.
#3 Worst - Bad Counsel: The display by former Assistant Town Counsel Ed DeWitt at the Fall Town Meeting in arguing for an article in which he not only had a personal interest but pending litigation was an ugly moment in recent Town Meeting history. By not fully disclosing his personal stake in an important zoning matter and crafting his argument to appear altruistic and not-self serving, this former counsel to the Town fell a few notches on the respect-o-meter.
#3 Best - Pals of PAL - Although not directly a local government matter, the break-in and theft at the local Police Athletic League building, which is sustained largely through the volunteer work pg Falmouth Police officers, was a community loss. The sting of thugs heartlessly taking away from local kids was felt in every village. In typical Falmouth fashion, though, when news of the theft of thousands of dollars in electronic equipment spread, individuals and organizations alike leapt to help. I was notified of the theft via an e-mail from PAL management. Within minutes, locals responded, including retired police Sgt. Tom Mountford, who was the first to offer a generous and heartfelt donation. Nearing Lily-esque stature as a benefactor to all that is good in Falmouth, restaurateur Bill Zammer quickly followed. The kindness and generosity in the aftermath of this downer raised the spirits and renewed the hope of many a Falmouthite.
#2 Worst - The Recall that no one can recall - The attempted recall of neophyte Selectman Melissa Freitag ended as it began: with a whimper. The cowardly mastermind of this ill-conceived and ill-fated attempt to embarrass and intimidate a newly elected official never revealed himself, leaving the pundits and coffee shop prognosticators plenty of ammo to speculate. In the end, though, we all lost. This pointless process proved little more than you can get ten people to sign pretty much anything, and perpetuated bad feelings and mistrust at a time when Town Hall could least afford it.
#2 Best - Madden Scores a Touchdown: Our local version of Madden '09 did not include any quarterbacks, but freshman State Rep. Tim Madden surely scored when he convinced the Registry of Motor Vehicles to establish an express Registry in the Edward Marks, Jr. Building on Main Street to replace the nearby office that had closed. First term Reps don't usually get a chance to score. Madden took this one from the 20 and sprinted in for an easy score.
#1 Worst - With friends like this....: Selectman Ahmed Mustafa's bizarre behavior began in May with his declaration that he would decline to vote. As the year comes to a close, his unremitting attempts to thumb his nose at good government and the people who have elected him have become tiresome. His most recent antics, accompanying former Constable and current complainer George Morse to Boston to file an action against the very people with whom he serves, demonstrates the contempt he has developed for his own home town. Pat Flynn was right - maybe the recall papers were taken out against the wrong Selectman.
#1 Best - The Answer is Blowin' in the Wind - It's easy to talk about new revenues. It's tough to produce. It's easy to talk about being green. It's an entirely different issue to make it happen. The Town's erection of a wind turbine and immediate plans for another, producing renewable energy, an influx of much needed cash, and millions in energy cost savings, is one of the most significant achievements in the last decade locally. Assistant Town Manager Heather Harper hit a home run, a green grand slam on this one, and deserves our admiration for being the driving force behind Falmouth's shining moment of 2009.
This column is reprinted from the Falmouth Enterprise.