Falmouth's blog

A Legal Oxymoron

A foray into the appellate process in Superior Court is, by its very nature, an adversarial proposition. When people look to the judicial branch to seek relief, it is often characterized as “seeking clarification,” or “ironing out some wrinkles” related to a particular issue. The politicians and pundits can spin it any way they want. It’s a lawsuit, and when the town sues itself, it is rarely a good use of the peoples’ money.
In 1994, the Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals granted a special permit for a “café style” restaurant overlooking the Steamship Authority docks in Woods Hole at Hank Jonah’s Leeside Restaurant. A firestorm of epic proportions erupted, replete with protests, petitions, and pilloried local officials. What followed was years of disputes, legal wrangling with town boards suing one another, and the expenditure of more than $100,000 in public resources just on legal fees. The café style restaurant, of course, was McDonald’s, who pledged to have table side service to avoid the Falmouth zoning bylaw that banned fast food restaurants in the village, and the dispute tore the town apart. The Planning Board sought to challenge the ZBA’s ruling, but didn’t have access to the funds. They asked the Selectmen to help, and the Selectmen obliged.
During the long legal process that ensued, Barnstable Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Dolan opined that the Falmouth ZBA had acted, as a matter of law, properly. She ruled in 1997, after three years of coffee shop talk and letters to the editor, that the Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals did not exceed its authority when it granted a special permit for a McDonald's to open. To clarify, the judge did not offer an opinion on whether or not she’d prefer a Big Mac to a homemade burger in Woods Hole, she ruled, as a matter of law, that the ZBA acted properly in granting the permit. Years more wrangling and appeals resulted in a further appellate ruling that validated the first. The only thing that saved the golden arches from being a neighbor to the Landfall was a group of guardian angels named the Crowley family, who purchased the building from Hank and kept the Leeside and its storied history going – where it still stands today.
For me, as a Selectman throughout the process, the legal proceedings validated a couple of other points as well, tenets of good government, if you will. Chief among them is my aforementioned point that town boards suing town boards is rarely productive and always expensive. The other is that passionate citizens working together can usually develop a better solution that politicians and people in black robes.
When I read the headline in last week’s paper that the Board of Selectmen decided to sue the ZBA over the issue of their declaration of the wind turbines as a nuisance, I had flashbacks; it was ‘back to the future” in Falmouth. The issue this time is not McNuggets in Woods Hole, it is turbines in West Falmouth, but the level of public interest and public disagreement is similar. According to a statement from Chairman Brent Putnam, the Board has decided to lead the charge in the town heading to court against itself to, “protect the financial interests of the town.” Well, I’m no Clarence Darrow, but protecting the town’s financial interest by incurring significant legal costs by suing one’s governmental self appears to be a bit of a legal oxymoron.
The question for the court is not whether the turbines are a nuisance. The question for the court will be whether the ZBA acted within its rights – within its authority as granted in the statute – in making the declaration. The Board of Selectmen should not insert its judgment in place of the ZBA. They should not file a legal challenge based on a philosophical disagreement.
This process will, most likely, drag on the like the six-figure dispute over McDonalds, and simply serve to eat up the legal budget and chip away at what little public confidence remains related to this harrowing local issue. That is, unless the Board of Selectmen can channel their inner cooperative selves and work out a less costly – and less combative – solution.
 

Bill's Gift

Caroline was wondering what life would throw at her next. Newly sober and ending her treatment program, she was committed to a life free of the gripping and powerful chains of addiction, but had no home, no job, and no direction. “I didn’t want a hand out, but a hand up,” said this vibrant and able woman as we chatted last week. Just when the gift of desperation that led her to her first days of sobriety was shifting into the curse of despondency and defeat, something happened that changed her outlook – and her young life.
Bill Dougherty walked up to Caroline and handed her a $20 gift card to Dunkin’ Donuts and an offer of work. That was her hand up. Like he has done with so many other young women, Bill simply offered Caroline a chance to be a part of something. The clinicians and analysts call that the “attachment model,” where newly sober people are engaged in a program that makes them “part of,” that is, committed to the success of an organization, and in turn, themselves. I simply call it Bill’s gift.
As the founder, Director, driving force, cheerleader, energy, and optimistic force behind Recovery Without Walls, Bill Dougherty has helped hundreds of women get the hand up that Caroline talked about. The program, with a modest office on Gifford Street in Falmouth, provides as Bill calls it, a “bridge for women coming out of treatment.” That bridge acts as a pathway to housing, employment and engagement in recovery and the Falmouth community. Even the most optimistic statistics on substance abuse recovery tag a success rate of about twenty percent. Stated less optimistically but more realistically, a full four out of five people who embark on the journey of recovery typically don’t make it. Addiction is one of this nation’s most pressing public health issues. It is estimated that more than two-thirds of arrests nationwide can be directly linked to the use and abuse of drugs and alcohol. Numbers like that are what makes Bill’s gift – Recovery Without Walls – so special – and so important. In its eight year existence, close tracking and follow-up place the success rate of those who have been engaged in RWW at 74%, more than three times the national average. Success, for RWW participants, is defined by far more than sobriety, which is difficult and achievement enough standing on its own. Program participants are polled a year after they enter the program and are deemed successful if, in addition to sobriety, have safe housing, are working in career-focused employment, pay taxes, and volunteer in their community. Program participants have gone on to stellar colleges like Mt. Holyoke and Smith; they have attained professional licensure as Clinical Social Workers. Bill’s goal is to go far beyond creating a pathway to sobriety. His goal when RWW started was to encourage participants to be good – and productive citizens. His goal – his dream – his gift – is being fulfilled.
It’s now time for RWW to give back to the community that has given so much to help so many women. Next weekend, on the shores of Buzzards Bay at the Sea Crest Beach Hotel, RWW will host a volleyball tournament. Assisting in the promotion and public relations for this event is Caroline, who five months after meeting Bill and becoming active with RWW, has a job, a home (with her 15-year old son), and a purpose.
According to Bill, the tournament is being organized and run by the very women who have been helped by RWW. Consistent with the mission of Bill’s gift, those who have been given the gift are now giving back. The funds raised will actually be turned back to several Falmouth charities – Wings for Falmouth Families, the Cape Cod Center for Women, the Audible Local Ledger, the Samaritans, and Compassionate Care ALS, among others. The public is enthusiastically invited to attend. More information is available on Recovery Without Walls Facebook page.
When Bill Dougherty started RWW eight years ago, he envisioned a three part mission:
He wanted to provide a bridge for women coming out to treatment.
He wanted to provide a pathway to education for those same women.
He wanted to help make Falmouth a better place through helping those same women.
Hey Bill: mission accomplished. Falmouth is a better place because of the gift of Recovery Without Walls. Falmouth is a better place because of your gift. Falmouth is a better place because of you.
 

So What Now?

So what now?
With the results of Falmouth's recent elections a muddled array of mandates and disapprovals, the challenge remains to move forward in the interest of progress and get to work.
But what now?
A review and analysis of the detailed ballot results reveals an ongoing deep divide in the local electorate clearly defined by geography. 
Although veteran Selectman Pat Flynn cruised to an easy victory buttressed by her experience and thoughtful and reasoned approach to governing, even the matriarch of local elections had a less convincing victory when you analyze it closely.  As with past elections, Precincts 1 & 5, loosely defined as the neighborhoods of Woods Hole and North Falmouth, carried the day for both of the victors in the race for the town’s top elected post.  Pat topped the ticket in Precinct one, garnering nearly a quarter of her total for the entire town from that one locale.  She tallied 914 votes from her strong supporters in Woods Hole, 175 more than her closest competitor (the also victorious Rebecca Moffitt), and an impressive 634 more than the third-place finisher in Precinct One, first-time candidate Marc Finneran. 
Here’s where it gets interesting.  Take away those numbers, and Pat still scores a comfortable victory with a slightly less convincing margin, but the numbers for new Selectman Moffitt dip to a third place finish, with Finneran pulling out a 165-vote victory rather than a 294-vote loss.  In fact, Finneran polled a first-place finish in four of the town’s nine precincts, an impressive showing for a first-time candidate and a clear notice to all five incumbents that the simmering discontent in town is nearing a full boil.
Now of course, that is a somewhat unrealistic crunching of the numbers, because the victor is crowned town-wide, but that neighborhood analysis demonstrates a couple of important points: as Precinct One goes, so goes the election (we’ve known that for a while), and if the rest of the town wants to change that, the simple solution is to get out and vote and stop complaining.
If anything in this election could be considered a mandate, it was the second of the two ballot questions.  Question One, which sought approval of funding to continue efforts toward improved water quality in both our drinking water and coastal water bodies, passed by a comfortable 1,448 vote margin, but Question Two, which asked for a commitment to spend money to remove the town’s wind turbines, received a resounding no vote – by more than a 2 to 1 margin.  More than 6,000 of the 8,941 voters who expressed an opinion on this question said no.  That’s a mandate. 
So what now?
The clear expression of an opinion by our voters does not, however, lessen the pain and anguish that lingers.  Unlike the cranberry wars, which were really a battle of philosophy and ideas, this conflict goes to the core of some residents’ quality of life. 
This newly constituted Board of Selectmen, armed with the full knowledge that only Pat Flynn stands in office with any clear mandate of support from the voters (Doug Jones’ 500-vote victory a year ago was close to a mandate but the Precinct 1 factor blurs that line), must lead.  They must work to heal the division in town. 
But what now?  How do they do that?
They can pick their battles.  Not every issue is an opportunity to make an ideological point.  The recent and unnecessary donnybrook over committee reappointments is an excellent example of the potential abuse of power and discretion that only serves to deepen the divisions in town.  If someone is willing to volunteer and does so honorably, they deserve to keep serving.  Memo to Selectmen: If a dedicated volunteer disagree with you, swallow your pride, thank them for their service, savor that we live in a democracy, reappoint them, and move on. 
They can watch our dollars.  Marc Finneran’s message resonated because people identified with it.  A succession of public works and public utility missteps (is the Transfer Station making money yet?)   has deflated public confidence.  An opportunity exists to bolster that confidence by demonstrating efficiency and proficiency on the water filtration project.  A professional project manager and a project delivered under budget would go a long way towards improving the sentiment of a skittish public.
They can get along.  Democracy encourages – even requires dissent, but it doesn’t require discord.  The level of animus on Monday nights has been far more than the public wants.  The level of discord has been far more than the public deserves.  It’s time for our elected leaders to get along or get going. 
These are just a few suggestions, all with the theme of doing the peoples’ business with more focus on the business and less focus on the people doing it.
So what now?  Time to get to work.
 

I Am Me and I Am Okay.

On occasion as a kid, I’d walk through the doors of Falmouth High School for my day’s journey in learning wearing bright blue corduroy overalls and Velcro sneakers.  That outfit wasn’t necessary hip.   Other days, I’d don a full tuxedo, replete with a bright red cumberbund and bow tie.  My brother would loudly protest to my mother.  “He can’t dress like that,” he’d announce.   My mom would smile a wry and knowing smile and remind my brother that I was “unique,” and just being me.  My perplexed but protective older (and bigger and stronger) brother would then protect me from those kids in school who didn’t understand my mother’s assessment that I was simply, “unique.” 
Despite my brother’s unyielding love, support and protection, he couldn’t be by my side every minute.  The taunts and jeers inevitably came.  Those words stung like an angry hornet on a hot summer afternoon.  They were balanced, though, with complements and meaningful glances of support and admiration, mostly from those kids who felt the need to conform to the style and fashion of the day, kids who perhaps didn’t have a Mom who encouraged them to simply be themselves.  I came to relish my ability to make a statement by what I wore; it grew into an ability to speak out and take a position on issues that were important to me.
Back in those days, a poster hung proudly on my side of the bedroom I shared with my brother.  The poster was a gift from my mom.  On it was a poem entitled, “I am me.”  It is an ode to self-esteem by Virginia Satir, an author and psychotherapist who aptly opens the door to all of us being the unique person that Mom encouraged me to be. 
The poem begins:
“I am me. 
In all the world, there is no one exactly like me. “  It continues,
“Therefore, everything that comes out of me is authentically mine because I alone choose it.”
It finishes with the simple and powerful declaration,
“I am me and I am okay.”
These words carried me through some difficult times as a youth, when kids who didn’t understand or appreciate a classmate wearing a tuxedo made their displeasure known loudly, and sometimes unkindly and viciously. Today, I, along with my Mom, and yes, my proud and still loving and supportive brother, continue to enjoy my uniqueness.  These days, I still don a bow tie now and then, and although I’ve shed my Velcro sneakers, I have grown into a man who not only appreciates being a little different, I’ve learned to appreciate and celebrate that in others.  I relish the mosaic of humanity that makes up our community, our Commonwealth, and our country.
As I contemplated the recent publicity over the short-sighted, callous, and just plain mean comments made by Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries, where he openly admitted that his company targets “cool” and “skinny” kids for their clothing line, I harkened back to my days at FHS, where I most certainly would not have been one of the kids targeted had Jeffries’ myopic marketing been around.  In fact, if Mike Jeffries had been at Falmouth High in the mid-80’s he probably would have been beaten up by my brother for picking on the unique kids like me. 
So, if you wear things just a little different than the other kids, it’s just fine with me.  If you like to sing in the hallway, are proud to be in the Marching Band, or simply relish your own identity, then good for you.  Pay no attention to Mike Jeffries or others like him.  In fact, have empathy for the fact that his mom probably didn’t appreciate his uniqueness. 
On my bedroom wall today, I have a poster hanging proudly.  It was a gift to me from me, inspired by the love and confidence shown to me by my Mom.  At the top, it simply says, “I am me.” It contains the same anthem to self-belief that I had on my wall as a kid.  At the bottom, it says, “I am me, and I am okay.” 
I read it every morning.  I agree.  I am me.  I am okay.  I think Mike Jeffries should come on over to my place.  I’ll don my plus-sized tuxedo and read him the poem.
 

Done Too Soon

One of Neil Diamond’s greatest, but not-too-well known songs,  was the wonderful example of musical poetry, “Done too Soon.”  In the song, one of the entertainment world’s all-time great performers lists several  iconic figures in history, from Jesus Christ to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, from gifted wordsmiths H.G. Wells to Edgar Allen Poe, and laments their early passing. 
He notes that,
“And each one there
Has one thing shared:
They have sweated beneath the same sun,
Looked up in wonder at the same moon,
And wept when it was all done
For bein' done too soon.”
I wept in silent sorrow last week for another Falmouthite who, like the giants of history mentioned in the song, was done too soon.  Just recently, I implored readers to “live like Renee,” and follow the lesson of my FHS classmate Renee Pelletier Costa, who lived a full and meaningful life, despite her damming cancer diagnosis.  Now, immortality has gently nudged another member of the FHS class of 1986.  Patrick “Pat” Grant, who leaves an indelible mark on our community for his spirit, his joie de vie, and his ability to connect with people and share his gift of hope, has passed.  The community response has been amazing.  As I stood in line at the wake last week, The mosaic of our community on display at Chapman Cole & Gleason on Main Street was remarkable.  From community leaders in their shirts and ties, to senior citizens holding themselves up with the supportive arms of their loved ones, to the workers that keep our economy chugging dressed in their Carhartts and work boots clumped with the wet spring soil, the queue of Falmouthites lined up in the cool late afternoon weather to pay tribute to this beloved businessman, purveyor of smiles, and friend to all, stretched well into the parking lot.  The gratitude – Falmouth’s gratitude – for a life well lived was palpable and profound.  When I got the opportunity to express sympathy to Pat’s family, they all expressed amazement at the outpouring of love and support.  That love and support was the simple, quiet, and deeply felt repayment to Pat himself for the thousands of lives he touched with his positivity and generosity throughout the years. 
Like Renee, Pat lived for some time with cancer – but he lived – he smiled, laughed, and continued to work through his diagnosis and treatment, insisting that his positive outlook would win.  He was right.  Although Pat’s time here in Falmouth has ended, his legacy will be felt for some time. I saw it in the faces that greeted his family.  It was clearly evident in the throngs who attended Sunday’s fundraiser at the Beach House in North Falmouth, raising more than $70,000. It is clearly felt in conversations with those who knew him best.
According to a heartwarming story in Tuesday’s Enterprise, Pat’s belief in the value of each and every day was clear at a young age.  “Every day is a holiday and every meal is a feast. That is how you have to live,” noted Pat to his sister Drawde.  She explained that, “He just lived each day for what it offered.”  How powerful in its hopeful simplicity.  How wonderful that Falmouth was blessed with Pat’s optimism and love of life – for forty-five seconds, for forty-five minutes, for forty-five brief but meaningful years.
It seems to me that the lessons on the imperatives – the true essentials of living a good life - continue to be made available to us by people like Pat.  The challenge remains –  we can cherish these lessons for a brief time during our sorrow for our loss, or we can truly reflect on those lessons, and make the lives of others better through our own actions – person by person, day by day, deed by deed – like Pat did.  The challenge and its implication on our lives is profound, but open up the opportunity to truly transform Pat’s lesson into action – and ongoing improvement of the human condition right here in Falmouth.
Cherish each day.  Help others.  Spread smiles. 
Live every day as a holiday.  Savor every meal as a feast.  Live every day for what it offers and be grateful.   Live the lessons of Pat Grant.
 

Good Public Safety Practice and Plain Old Good Sense

A village Fire Station is more than just a town building.  It’s more than a place to house our first responders and their equipment.  A village Fire Station is part of the fabric of the community.  At the head of Davisville Road, on the northwest corner where the gas station and convenience store is today, there used to be a fire station.  The building still stands.  It was moved down the road a piece and now hosts a couple of apartments rather than the shiny red engine that used to fill that venerable old building along with soot, stories, and the satisfaction of those who served. 
When the building went out of service, a new, larger, and more modern station had already been built in its place.  That new Station 5 still stands today, just a few steps away from the final resting place of its older cousin, and acts as the hub of fire and rescue response for the entire eastern section of town. 
That changing of the guard for those who guard our safety was more than 25 years ago, but our local leaders understood then that the new station was an imperative before closing and moving the old one – to satisfy good public policy, good public safety practice, and plain old good sense.
Not too long after the East Falmouth station was built, a similar proposal to modernize our fire and rescue response emerged.  That plan sought to have a new, modern station built on Thomas Landers Road, perfectly situated pretty darn near the geographic center of town, where our firefighters could fan out like the spokes on a wheel, and respond more rapidly to Hatchville, North, and West Falmouth locations and improve response within the all-important six-minute time-frame, identified by the National Fire Prevention Association, the American Heart Association, and others  as a critical point of demarcation for emergency response. The plan was to close the North and West Falmouth stations, but like the earlier plan, only when the new station was built, ensuring response times and the public safety would remain intact. At the time, our elected and appointed decision makers listened, debated, listened some more and then concurred, and the plan was deferred until the day when a Hatchville station was built. 
We fast forward to today – where the plan has been altered and the common sense is gone.  The current plan under consideration by the Board of Selectmen to simply close the West Falmouth station and hope for a new Hatchville station down the road reverses the previous trend of a thoughtful and inclusive approach.  It endangers both public confidence and public safety, both precious commodities that should be paramount to our decision makers.  By some accounts provided at a recent Selectmen’s meeting, response times to some sections of West Falmouth would balloon up to more than ten minutes – perhaps as many as eleven, nearly double the optimum time to respond to a Falmouthite in need.  While I understand that the first responder from West Falmouth is an engine and not an ambulance, it is still a first response by a trained and skilled professional – most often a paramedic – that can offer lifesaving assistance. 
The people of West Falmouth are rightfully troubled and concerned, and have mobilized to convince the policymakers – our elected leaders – that their voices must be heard.  At that same meeting on this important topic, hundreds of signatures from Falmouthites were presented, offering an emphatic and unified plea to protect their village – our village. 
Selectmen promised a robust and engaging discussion on the topic.  “When we do make that decision,” said Board Chair Kevin Murphy, “we will make that decision as an entire community.”
That’s good, because the community will surely be impacted. 
Here’s hoping our decision makers take a cue from their counterparts of yesterday and listen.
 

Food For the Soul of Falmouth

I’ve often said that it takes a name to make a town, but it takes people to make a community.  Falmouth – with its bright and varied mosaic of a populace, is indeed a community.  I’ve been to many towns, but not every one of them is a community.  From our proud and storied heritage, to our varied ethnic influences, to the scientific hub within our midst, to our active and thriving business community, to our bountiful and diverse cultural opportunities, Falmouth is truly a community like no other. 
The brilliant and gleaming tiles of that local mosaic were shining brightly last weekend as I had the opportunity to see some of the best that our bountiful and diverse cultural community has to offer.   I took in (savored, really) the Falmouth Theater Guild’s latest opus, Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man. 
One of my favorite shows, The Music Man is an American Legend, telling the story of the smooth-talking swindler Harold Hill and his foray into stubborn River City, Iowa to spin his web of deceit and convince the cautious and obstinate locals that he can save them from the impending peril of a newly arrived pool table by forming a boy’s band.  I played the CD of the Broadway version from start to finish a couple of times on Friday in anxious anticipation of an engaging and enjoyable evening of trouble “with a capital ‘T’ and that rhymes with ‘P’ and that stands for Pool” in River City.  I was not disappointed.  The FTG’s local production was toe-tapping, hand-clapping, standing ovation success.  It was an extraordinary example of community theater – and an enduring example of the exceptionality of the Falmouth community. 
I’m not an easy sell on a local stage version of this classic, having been a participant in the cast myself a couple of times (both times as the Mayor, of course).  The music, lyrics, and nuances of the dialogue are second nature to me.  These Falmouthite thespians nailed it.  Under the skillful instruction of Director Joan Baird, the spot-on music of Henry Buck, and the precision choreography of Anne Edgar, this cast hit the stage with energy, enthusiasm and efficiency, and never stopped.  It was one of the finest examples of community theater I have seen – in Falmouth or elsewhere.
Peter Cook excelled as the slippery but loveable Hill.  He embraced the role with vigor and was a believable and commanding presence on the stage.  As someone who was in a real boy’s (and girls) band (the FHS Marching Band) with Peter a few years back, I was thrilled to see a local embrace his gifts, share them with his hometown, and excel at something he loves. 
Annie Hart Cool may have a future as a comedienne if she decides to give up the real estate gig.  She grasped that the part of Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn, the Mayor’s wife, is meant to be over-the-top and delivered a hilarious and memorable performance.  Cathy Lemay was a convincing and enjoyable Irish widow Paroo, demonstrating great comedic timing and providing an affable and delightful interpretation of one of the show’s leads. 
One of my fondest memories of the FTG’s prior version of the Music Man, which hit the stage a dozen or so years ago, was the melodious sounds of the Barber Shop quartet.  On stage, these fictional school board rivals coalesce to become an inseparable musical team.  Back then, locals Peter Clark and Chuck Woringer were the backbone of this memorable foursome, taking their act to functions and civic events long after the last curtain fell.  They graced the Highfield stage again in a reprise of their formal roles.  Almost as tuneful as the sweet sounds of “Lida Rose” was the clear and palpable chemistry between these two standout Falmouth citizens, joined ably by Bill Mock and Michel Perrault. 
If you were in the audience and closed your eyes at the Highfield Theater before the lights came up, you may have thought that Shirley Jones herself, the original Marian “The Librarian” Paroo on stage and screen, had made the trip to the former Beebe Estate.  Jodi Edwards’ divine voice was yet another highlight of this unforgettable evening.
In the days after the show’s debut, as I relished the memories of the show, soaked in the gratitude of a local gem like the FTG, and perused the program, the Director’s note caught my eye.  The stage chief’s ode to her cast included an observation.  “The support that each cast member lends to each other is food for the soul,” she noted, observing that they arrived at the first rehearsal as strangers, and arrived on opening night as family.
Well, Joan, your cast’s delightful performance of the Music Man was food for the soul of our community.  Well done. 


 

A Friendly Coterie of Commerce in Falmouth

Kevin and Trish Robinson searched for just that right place.  They traveled from Maine, to Virginia, to Newport in 2009, looking for a place, not just to settle, but to call home.  After many months of searching, including a trip to Falmouth, they found that home, and purchased the former Mostly Hall Bed & Breakfast, a stately home just steps from the Village Green on West Main Street.  Trish was hanging up her corporate cleats and looking forward to an exciting new venture:  managing a bed & breakfast.  Kevin had shortly before hung up his own, leaving a law practice for desired simpler surroundings.  They upgraded the venerable mansion, which sits back from the street, hovering over the grounds and the northwest corridor of the Village Green like a majestic sentry keeping watch on a kingdom, and called it the Captain’s Manor Inn.  The meticulous grounds make this magnificent edifice a highlight of our revitalized downtown. 
Kevin and Trish sought a post-corporate vocation.  What they found is a home.  When they reached out to other B&B owners seeking collaboration, they sought cooperation.  What they found was a group of new friends and supporters.  I had the pleasure of joining Kevin and Trish, as well as the owners of five other Falmouth B&Bs for dinner recently, and was introduced to one of the Falmouth business community’s best stories – a group of business people who seek camaraderie along with competition – who pursue mutual success and not just individual achievement.
The Falmouth B&B Association together purchased a charity item at the FHS Senior Auction – dinner cooked by me – because of their collective commitment to the community.  That says it all right there.  They – individually and collectively – wanted to make a statement of support for the young people of our community – of their community.  As Donna and I, ably assisted by our pals Jack Rosenbaum, Annie Holden, and prep cook extraordinaire Barb Clarkson, prepared braised short ribs, parmesan risotto, and individual apple pies for twelve new friends, our leaders of the local hospitality industry shared stories of handymen and window washers, demonstrating that with all the technology available at our finger tips today, the strongest endorsement of a business is still a referral.  And refer they do.  Since the success of the local B&Bs are built on referrals, they actually refer business to one another and even share a website for common reservations. 
As they enjoyed apple martinis and meatballs as well as sweeping and dazzling views of Vineyard Sound  on the porch of Bailey’s-by-the-Sea, hosts Liz and Jerry Bailey demonstrated what all in attendance called the “law of abundance,” that is, the concept that there is enough for all of the local establishments to share.  Enough commerce, enough information,  enough good will, and most certainly, enough smiles and laughter.  Howard Grosser, owner of the spectacular Inn on the Sound at the crest of heartbreak hill, pitched the idea of the joint charity purchase to his fellow innkeepers and was an engaging companion in the kitchen as my crew and I stirred, braised, and blended.   He told the story of how 11 B&Bs dotted the landscape in Falmouth Heights in 2000, and how that number had dwindled to less than a handful today, evidence of the toughness of the business – and of the steadfastness of my dinner guests. 
Innkeepers Martha Bridgers & Julie Brienza from the lovely Woods Hole Passage explained how they divvy up the responsibilities with Julie handling the outside and Martha the indoors.  Jim and Maureen Trodden, owners of the striking Inn at Siders Lane told an amusing story of how Jim asked his barber (who just happens to be a former B&B owner and my Dad) Phil Stone about the business.  Like other members of this friendly coterie of commerce, Phil was happy to oblige and share his experiences.
I asked our dinner guests to offer one word to describe Falmouth.  From “eclectic,” to “inclusive,” to “welcoming,” our room full of Falmouth ambassadors offered a mosaic of good vibes about our community.  Anne Grebert, owner of the historic Captain Tom Lawrence House, simply said, “Nice.”  Yes, indeed.  Isn’t Falmouth – and its B&Bs and their owners – really, really, nice. 

A New Kind of Constant Vigilance

Hug your kid. If you don’t have kids, hug your neighbor’s kids. Hug your neighbor.

The events in Boston this week – the actions of a faceless terrorist who acted at the same time cowardly and brazenly, shook a city, stunned a Commonwealth, and jolted a nation. But clearly, these actions did not have their desired effect. Terrorism and acts of terror are designed to instill fear and to change the way people behave – to alter the lives and habits of the targets of terrorism. Note to the Boston Marathon bomber – you failed.

The images of people running toward the blast, of people putting themselves directly in the line of fire of flying shards of metal, nails and lethal ball bearings told the story of the soul of a city and the failure of a gutless terrorist. The tragedy of three young, promising lives lost will forever be linked with marathon Monday and with the city of Boston, but the stories of dozens of lives saved by homemade tourniquets, by strangers risking their lives to help strangers, and of the resilience of the Hub and the support of a nation of friends and supporters, will also be an enduring piece of this dark chapter in our local history.

From Yankee fans paying tribute to their Boston rivals by singing the Red Sox late-inning anthem “Sweet Caroline,” amid smiles, thumbs-up and other friendly gestures, to Bruins fans singing the National Anthem themselves 15,000 strong, to well wishes pouring into Beantown from around the globe, this week showed the best of what Boston – and its friends around the world – has to offer.

We’ve heard our elected officials at the national level say that there are no Republicans and Democrats this week. We’ve seen an unwavering commitment to putting a hand up to attempts to change our way of life. As the investigation continued in Boston and another sick and suffering terror monger sent ricin-laced letters to Washington, Americans and Bostonians continued to live their lives, asserting a sense of patriotic confidence and ethnocentricity that is uniquely American.

The coalescence of good vibes – this amalgamation of patriotism, civic pride and neighborliness in abundant quantities that we’ve seen this week – is reminiscent of a time twelve years ago when a nation came together after another cowardly attack. Before Monday’s attack, though, we may have slipped back into having a bit of a crust on us. The post-9/11 national camaraderie has slowly dissipated over the last decade, replaced by a few more one-fingered salutes on the highway, a few fewer hold-the-door-open random acts of kindness, and a general grumpiness.

Why does it take a tragic event to return us to a friendly discourse? Why do the politicians only tell us they’ll get along when Americans lose their lives? In the words of Rodney King, why can’t we just get along?

I was flying to the west coast this week, and I observed a grandmother traveling alone with her young grandson. They were not seated together, and the nervous Nana was clearly uncomfortable with her young grandson seated by himself. That is, until the kind man seated next to the grandson leaned over, fastened the boy’s seatbelt, extended his hand and said, “Hi. I’m Mr. Martin.” The boy had a friend for the six hour flight, and Nana had a piece of mind. Mr. Martin was just being a good person. Just because. He didn’t extend his hand because of a cowardly act in Boston days before. He didn’t chat with the young boy out of some obligation to contribute to the healing. He was just being a good guy.

Let’s take the lesson of Mr. Martin and keep it in mind the next time a knucklehead cuts us off in traffic. Let’s remember the need for a new kind of constant vigilance – one that reminds us that kindness, compassion, neighborliness and camaraderie – as Falmouthites, Massachusetts residents, and Americans – should be a constant in our lives.

Well Done at Falmouth Town Meeting

“A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.” So said the 26th Chief Executive of our democratic experiment, these United States.  Teddy Roosevelt, widely credited with returning character to the center stage as a necessary quality in elected officials, would have been proud of the conduct of our resident lawmakers this week.  As another Annual Town Meeting filled the Memorial Auditorium at the Lawrence School, and as passion, ideas, opposing views, and intense emotion wafted around the room, our local decision makers, entrusted by the voters with the responsibility to decide on some pretty weighty issues, conducted themselves with an abundance of character.  Whatever your feelings on the outcome of any article, Town Meeting Members conducted themselves admirably.

As always, some quips and quotes, and some personalities deserve recognition.  With that, here is the list of recipients of the coveted annual Town Meeting Trophies (TMTs) –

A group TMT for respect and decorum goes to the entire body of local legislators.  The issues related to the town’s wind turbines have been among the most contentious and difficult the town has seen in a generation.  The presentation of opposing views, the heartfelt testimony of neighbors impacted by the turbines, and the impassioned pleas by local officials were all sincere, respectful and genuinely presented.  Unlike the Cranberry wars of a few years ago, where personalities and politics ruled, this debate reinforced the importance – and value – of electing our citizens to make decisions.
Precinct Three Town Meeting Member Robert Donahue gets a Rabbit-from-a-Hat TMT for his motion on the floor to raise the salary of veteran Town Clerk Michael Palmer.  The salary for our capable and committed Chief Election Officer has long lagged well behind Michael’s appointed colleagues, but it takes some skill to convince Town Meeting Members to make an adjustment to the budget on the fly.  Mr. Donahue presented a thoughtful and thorough case, and the Town Clerk’s salary is closer to where it needs to be.

The Rocky Balboa TMT goes to local gadfly Marc Finneran, who keeps getting tossed to the mat, but keeps getting back up for another round in the democracy donnybrook.  At this week’s legislative session, he offered two articles, one seeking a repeal of the Community Preservation Act, and another proposing assigned seating for Town Meeting Members.  Both were dismissed handily.  I’ve said it before.  Marc’s delivery may be suspect at times, but he cares enough to stay involved.  His persistence and civic commitment is worthy of recognition.

The quotable quote TMT for best phrase of the session was a hotly contested one.  Planning Board Chair Ralph Herbst jumped out to an early lead on night one when he suggested to the assembled citizenry that, “you can thank us if you want to,” in response to the Planning Board’s hard work on the wind turbine bylaw.  Longtime legislator Scoba Rhodes was also in contention with his suggestion on a zoning article proposed by realtor Lisa Kenny.  “I think we oughta give this lady what she’s asking for and move on,” said the respected and retired educator to laughter and acknowledgement.  The article passed handily.  The TMT, however, goes to Brenda Swain, whose quote during the wind turbine debate kindly acknowledged a gentle admonition for good behavior.  She quoted poet Maya Angelou and softly noted to her colleagues that, “I’ve learned that when I have pains, that I don’t have to be one.”  Town Meeting heeded that gentle nudge, and behaved with respect and kindness during an extraordinarily difficult debate.

Town Meeting legend George Hampson gets the comic relief TMT for his attempt to negotiate a closing time for night two.  In the middle of the emotion and difficulty of the discussion on the potential dismantling of the wind turbines, the clock crept toward 11PM, and George rose for his perennial request for a vote to continue after the bell tolled.  He suggested 11:30, then, hearing the groans from a emotionally drained and fatigued audience, quickly quipped, “Do I hear 11:15?”  His comic relief was met with some welcome and cathartic laughter from a weary crowd.

That legendary guardian of democracy Margaret Thatcher, whose passing last week reminded us all of the value of thoughtful and reasoned but well-informed and strong debate, had this to say about governmental deliberations: “Do you know that one of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas.”  That may have been true in Baroness Thatcher’s England, but not here in Falmouth.  This week’s exchange of ideas and not emotion, of facts but not feelings, leaves me feeling good about our local democracy.

Well done, Falmouth.

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