Prolific American author Louis L’Amour understood local government. His father was a local politician in the Dakota Territory early in the western novelist’s life. So, when he offered his opinions on democracy, he had personal observations as a foundation for his thoughts. On democracy, he noted that, “to make democracy work, we must be a nation of participants, not simply observers. One who does not vote has no right to complain.”
Well, Louis L’Amour would have been proud to observe the machinations and deliberations in the Lawrence Memorial Auditorium this week, as Falmouth’s twice-annual living example of democracy unfolded. November Town Meeting brought out our local elected legislators and, staying true to the axiom offered by L’Amour, they participated, contributed, and partook in many important—and lively—debates and decisions.
The advent of the Annual Town Meeting also means that we dust off the coveted cache of baubles for each legislative session, the Town Meeting Trophies (TMTs), and recognize Town Meeting members and other participants for their memorable moments.
To start things off on a high note, the Comic Relief TMT, a highly desirable takeaway for the speaker who delivers the best chuckle-inducing moment or most memorable one-liner goes to Town Meeting newbie Don Mallinson. While pitching his successful bid to ban plastic bags in town, Don recognized the late hour on night two and abbreviated his planned presentation. “The mind can absorb only what the rear-end can endure,” he noted charitably to many appreciative guffaws. We can’t predict how many votes went his way because of his derriere deference, but he nonetheless delivered the best line of the two-night session and deserves his first TMT.
Not all of the discussions were as lighthearted and witty.
There’s always a donnybrook or two when passions run high and dozens of opinions clash in a legislative gathering that brings more than 200 local legislators, elected by their neighbors to represent their village, together to conduct the people’s business. Sometimes, the clashes are humorous. Others not so much.
This week’s parliamentary plenary had a couple examples of dustups: one that fit like an old shoe, familiar and comfortable, and the other that left me shaking my head and would have been best left to the speakers’ imaginations.
There’s always an annual bout between moderator David Vieira and veteran legislator Rich Latimer. This year’s version debating whether the Town of Bourne’s Solid Waste facility is a landfill or a transfer station (it is actually both) was mildly entertaining but did leave me wondering how Rich so easily gets under David’s usually thick skin. It was, however, a good example of passionate democracy unfolding before us and our annual example of two Town Meeting veterans who care enough to bark at each other.
Another example of a Town Meeting tête-à-tête, however, was less instructive. Town manager Julian Suso’s reminder to the attendees that a previous speaker belonged to a public employee union was a naked attempt to discredit both a thoughtful and thorough presentation on an article, and a respected veteran of Town Meeting and Falmouth Fire Rescue. The dubious “Under the Bus” TMT goes to our town manager for his regrettable treatment toward Scott Thrasher.
The Big Winner TMT goes to perennial gadfly Marc Finneran who, after repeated annual attempts to pass legislation with a petition article, actually successfully advocated for two initiatives—both good ideas and both which passed by comfortable margins. Marc effectively championed greater transparency in reporting the town’s legal caseload and convinced Town Meeting to ask the school committee to reconsider its abolition of neighborhood voting in schools. No matter your position on these articles or their proponent, we all owe Marc a debt of gratitude for his perseverance and his willingness to challenge us to build a better Falmouth.
The Honesty TMT goes to town counsel Frank Duffy, whose frank (pun intended) and succinctly truthful answers have merited recognition with a TMT before. When asked a question related to how a road taking in Woods Hole was different from a road taking in East Falmouth, Frank simply answered, “I’m not sure.” If that same level of forthrightness was practiced by all on stage, the session would have likely gone very differently.
The Quintuple P (prior planning prevents poor performance) TMT goes to our town hall senior staff, including the town manager and finance director, for what appeared to be several preventable gaffes that reflected poorly on our corner offices. If they understood the Q-P concept, then perhaps the moderator would have not had to angrily bang the gavel after Article 19 and declare that, “We’re going to take an adjournment and somebody better do the math,” after multiple tally amounts for a $4 million capital plan were offered for the final vote.
Or, perhaps if the town manager had coordinated with the recreation committee before offering up their building for a combined dispatch center, then an important step forward in public safety communications would not have been scuttled.
And, just maybe, if more research had been done on the purchase of a $615,000 town hall annex, then Town Meeting old-timer Andy Dufresne would not have had to publicly admonish the manager. I’m usually proud to be a Falmouthite. There were a few moments this week when I grimaced at that thought.
The Badge of Bombast, the most coveted and prestigious TMT, had a plentiful list of contenders this session. Annual nominees Rich Latimer, Dan Shearer, and even the always pithy Joe Netto were in contention for both the frequency and length of their pleadings. However, a new winner emerged from relative obscurity and took this year’s prize. Bob Donahue, who has been inching his way toward local bombastic notoriety the last few years, has finally reached the promised land of grandiloquence.
So, there were winners and losers for the Town Meeting Trophies at this week’s legislative assembly, but we were all winners being represented by more than 240 Falmouthites who care enough to get elected, get seated, and get heard. Well done.