Bad Government and Bad Manners

I guess, at the end of the day, the answer to the question is provided by the “expert” you believe, and in which “expert” you trust. Or maybe the answer is simply provided by the expert who provides the answer you want. If you hire enough of them, someone will say what you want to hear.

And I guess, at the end of the day, the will of the people is not nearly as important as the will of the privileged.

The woeful and doleful saga of the planning for and siting of a combined dispatch center for our public safety agencies took its latest bizarre turn this week with a unanimous vote of the selectmen to locate the combined dispatch center in the cramped basement of the police station. This location, previously rejected by an earlier consultant, is now the top choice based on the input from a new consultant.

Last spring, when the town tried to cram through a proposal to construct the dispatch center on the performance stage in the gymnasium of the Gus Canty Community Center, the Town Meeting rightfully exercised both its legislative appropriation authority and its bully pulpit appropriate authority and offered a resounding NO and a resonating admonition to the town manager and selectmen to go back and work out a solution—to design and construct the new dispatch center at the fire headquarters on Main Street.

That message was not muddled—like the process that got us there. That message was not based in emotion and vituperation—like the process before and since of fighting with the firefighters union, refusing to provide them information, and racking up thousands in legal fees. That message was clear direction from our elected local legislators to our elected local executives to undertake a “major course of action” and fulfill their duties as outlined in our town’s charter. For the selectmen and town manager to once again offer a one-fingered salute to our citizen legislators by once again rejecting the fire station as a site, citing their own superior knowledge and perspective, is not only bad government, it’s bad manners.

The town’s new decision to build the dispatch center at the police station was based, in part, on the new consultant’s estimates for construction and the logic that the cheaper costs of a police station renovation should drive the decision. However, how are we supposed to have confidence in the estimates when these very estimates are significantly reduced from just a few weeks ago? When consultant Kaestle Boos Associates presented a preliminary plan in September, the estimates for construction were $1.15 million for the fire station renovation and $966,000 for the police station renovation. Just weeks later, the same renovations have been reduced to $729,000 for the fire station, and $578,500 for the police station, with a flimsy and unsubstantiated explanation that the previous numbers were “raw.” With that sort of fuzzy math driving decisions, it is pure folly to believe the same people when they tell us that the project—which was originally billed to save the town $165,000 per year in personnel costs and now only purportedly saves $100,000 per year—has any cost benefit at all.

Back in April, selectman Doug Jones was quoted as saying, “It is my belief we’ll try to do everything we can to get in at the fire station,” referring to the board of selectmen’s willingness to heed the wishes of its local legislative branch colleagues and site the dispatch center at the fire station. When moderator David Vieira bangs the gavel at next month’s Town Meeting, Doug and his colleagues in the corner conference room will have to answer to that commitment. I’m guessing their defiant behavior this week won’t sit well with Town Meeting and that they will, once again, get their comeuppance. Unfortunately, that comes at a cost: in the form of increased legal fees for needless donnybrooks with local unions, increased construction costs when the consolidated dispatch finally gets built, and, most importantly and unfortunately, increased frustration with and depleted confidence and trust in our elected officials.

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