I have opined in this space before on the lost art of listening. Alas, I'm not sure some folks in Town Hall were listening. A quick review of the headlines from recent editions of the Enterprise, (with the skills I acquired in Mr. Pickle's speed reading class at Falmouth High), reveals several issues that appear to be causing the cauldron of common sense to bubble over, simply from a lack of attention to what the parties are saying to one another. The situation is akin to the age old question of the tree falling in the woods: If people on two sides of an issue are blah-blah-blah-ing at one another and don't listen to the other side, is either participant really saying anything? I think the answer is no.
Take the current scrum between the Town , the Registry of Motor Vehicles, and the Falmouth Retirement Board. The long standing effort to place an express Registry office in the old Artists Guild building on Main Street in the building now named for my pal Eddie Marks has suddenly hit a huge roadblock with the news that the Retirement Board has filed an injunction to keep the RMV out of the public building used for more than a century for the peoples' purpose. The Retirement folks, whose governing board includes Fire Chief Paul Brodeur and Town Manager Bob Whritenour, say that they have rights to the space intended for the RMV. At first glance, it's easy to gaze in wonder at the Retirement Board, and wonder why they are trotting out the skunk so late at this garden party, but one has to wonder - was anyone listening to the Retirement Board all along? It is rare that any governmental board actually goes to court against another. Usually all avenues of communication have been exhausted. Did that happen here? I suspect not. Rep. Tim Madden already knocked one out of the park by getting the Registry to commit to coming to Main Street. Maybe now he can hit another walkoff homer by getting the two sides out of court and around a table for a little listening.
If the local purveyors of trash disposal services were practicing the magical skill of listening, do you think the Board of Health would be "facing a dead end" in its ability to get its point across, as reported last week? The issue at hand, a 20-year old regulation that has never been adhered to by the haulers (and admittedly not been enforced by the town), is being treated as a hot potato, getting tossed from hauler to hauler, with no one willing to simply listen to the Board of Health, the rule of law, and the U.S. Supreme Court, which chimed in on the issue in 2007, and simply comply. The net result to the town is tens of thousands of dollars in fines and a dysfunctional transfer station. Jim Vieira's suggestion for a task force is a great idea - as long as those at the table do more listening than talking.
My long-time friend Ronnie Braga has been volunteering for our young Falmouthites for nearly 40 years. His departure from the Recreation Committee is a loss for Falmouth. His main beef, couched in a couple of solvable issues, is that no one was listening to his concerns and complaints.
I have a good friend who likes to suggest that people take the cotton out of their ears and put it in their mouths. He might have a point here. Is anyone listening?
I did, however, find some evidence this week of at least a willingness to listen in the most unlikely of places - at a meeting of the Selectmen. Their plan to dedicate a couple of meetings to exercising their most important role - communicating policy and setting goals - is a welcome development. Sure, plenty will chide them for only holding a few meetings on "substantive" issues and for delegating dog hearings and beach weddings, to the staff, but their willingness to sprinkle a dash of humility on the conference table and actually listen to one another is something that deserves both recognition and praise. See, even I can listen, and hear when good stuff is coming out of the corner conference room.
This column is reprinted from the Falmouth Enterprise.