Falmouth's blog

Falmouth Board of Health Acting Boldly in the Public Interest

The auditorium at Morse Pond School was packed.  The room was filled with citizens,  business owners, Chamber representatives, elected officials, and other assorted decision makers, each clinging to a varied notion of the uncertain future before them, and sharing that sense of economic Armageddon on the horizon.  
At the front of the auditorium sat the Falmouth Board of Health, poised to promulgate regulations banning smoking in bars and restaurants.  They asserted that Falmouth would be a healthier community if smoking were eliminated in our eating establishments. 
Several in the audience – I among them – reacted angrily, assuring our local stewards of public health that surely our tourism-based economy would crumble and our very raison-d’etre as a community was at stake.  I remember offering a somewhat melodramatic speech (perhaps I had a flair for that back then), then marching out of the room to applause for dramatic effect. 
Despite my theatrical pleadings and the somewhat more reasoned arguments of others, The Board of Health (BOH) decided nonetheless that their mission of protecting and promoting the health of the citizens of Falmouth was their prevailing and guiding principle.  They enacted the smoking ban in town.  That was 1993.  Since then, the predicted economic disaster did not occur.  Hungry patrons did not flee to other communities so that they could enjoy a Marlboro with their meal.  They stayed.  They paid. They enjoyed.
Today, many call our revitalized Main Street “restaurant row.”  Our downtown has become a hub of commercial activity for the entire Cape, featuring an eclectic mix of wonderful eateries where residents and visitors alike can enjoy a wide variety of outstanding fare – without cigarettes and cigars.  People come from points far and near to Falmouth for what it offers – a destination to savor and remember. 
Other communities followed the lead of Falmouth’s forward thinking health guardians.  The Earth did not crumble.  Our economy did not suffer.  Patrons did not flee to a more smoke-liberal Canada.  Today, nearly two decades later, our visitors in virtually every community enjoy a smoke-free dining experience.
I can say today with a simple acknowledgement and no dramatic speeches or flowery language – I was wrong.  John Waterbury, the BOH member and civic leader who, against harsh criticism and public reproach, championed a healthier Falmouth – was right. These many years later, it is clear to me that government’s primary interest of protecting the public safety and public health of its citizens should be vigorously supported, even in the face of condemnation from young, know-it-all knuckleheads like me.  John’s courage and perseverance taught us all an important lesson and led us to a better Falmouth. 
Today, that same Board of Health, and some of the same stewards of a healthier Falmouth, including John and his longstanding and stalwart colleague George Heufelder, are considering another smoking ban.  This time, they have their sights set on the sale of tobacco in pharmacies.  The thinking, according to George, who is director of the Barnstable County Department of Health and the Environment and one of the most respected public health officials on Cape Cod, is that with pharmacies, “you have something that’s supposed to be selling you products for your health, and they’re selling you something that we obviously know is not for your health.”  Obviously, George, you are right. I suspect that if this debate were occurring alongside the debate about smoking in restaurants twenty years ago, I’d offer some blathering histrionic pabulum about the rights of pharmacies to sell anything the please, despite the obvious contradiction in selling life-saving drugs and life-ending cigarettes in the same locale.
Here’s the good news:  This debate and public policy initiative – this mission to further the public health – is taking place in an era and in a community in tune with an acute awareness of the debilitating impacts of cigarette use, and a willingness to do something about it.  The BOH deserves our thanks and gratitude for once again stepping out and acting boldly in the public interest.
We may hear a hue and cry about the disastrous economic impacts of banning tobacco sales in pharmacies.  We may hear of the economic Armageddon set to befall our purveyors of medicine if we allow the ban of carcinogenic items in their shops.   As I go into the pharmacy to purchase products designed to keep me healthy, I’ll suggest they have lunch on restaurant row and chat with someone who was around in ’93. 

A Troublemaker in Resolute Pursuit of a Better Tomorrow

At lunch, he ordered a diet Pepsi with a “splash of Obama.”  My unabashed liberal friend never misses an opportunity to spread his message – and a smile.  “I am getting arrested because I think it’s going to save my grandchildren,” said unapologetic activist and civil disobeyer Paul Rifkin.  As we enjoyed a good lunch and great conversation on a recent afternoon, this audacious troublemaker on a mission explained his latest series of protests – and arrests – and the cause that has him on one hand strengthening his resolve to continue his civil disobedience in the name of awareness, yet on the other hand strengthening his respect for the dignity and kindness with which he’s been treated by the police.
Paul Rifkin is not getting arrested simply for publicity.  He believes that the lives and futures of Cape Codders is at stake.  “I attempt to follow in the tradition of Thomas Paine and Martin Luther King, Jr.,” said this spry and energetic septuagenarian.  “I strive to waken the unconcerned from their head-in-the-sand apathy.  My resistance is a moral imperative,” he continued, speaking passionately and eloquently about his concerns related to the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth.  Our get-together came on the heels of his most recent arrest, one that occurred the day charges were dropped from his previous detainment.  Paul and his fellow crusaders, 14 of them with an average age is 69, upon learning of the dismissal of the charges from the Judge, headed straight back to Pilgrim to further their campaign to raise awareness about evacuation plans for  Cape Codders should an accident occur at the nearby nuclear facility.  Paul’s problem:  There are no legitimate evacuation plans for the Cape.  The emergency plan would close the bridges and provide Cape residents with Potassium Iodide, a compound designed to lessen the impacts of radiation.  
“The results of a meltdown would be a catastrophe in perpetuity,” warned Paul, explaining why he is so passionate about this issue.  “There should not be an acceptable risk.”  He took great pains during our visit to heap acclaim on the Plymouth Police Officers who arrested him, giving particular kudos to Plymouth Police Chief Mike Botieri for acknowledging the role of non-violent dissent in our society. As he sat in jail contemplating his next bold move to raise awareness, he bailed out a young man unaffiliated with his group, recognizing that this 17-year old didn’t have the money to bail himself out and just needed a break.
That’s the beauty of Paul.  Whether you agree or not with his message, he continues to be a courageous teacher in resolute pursuit of a better tomorrow.  While many of us complain, Paul takes action.  While many of us sit by and watch troublesome events unfold, Paul risks personal freedom in pursuit of the public good.   The same audacity that led him to get arrested twice in rapid succession at the gates of Pilgrim permitted him to fly in a helicopter over the facility and take pictures – something that rattled the decision makers at Entergy, the owners of the plant.  Paul believes he revealed unpermitted construction with those photos, and plans to continue to expose what he considers to be an “arrogant ignoring of the public welfare.”
“People pay attention to personal sacrifice.  They understand the discomfort of going to jail,” he explained, revealing the simple yet powerful motive behind his multiple encounters with police. 
While I agree with Paul that Pilgrim’s plans for Cape Cod are woefully inadequate and that closing the bridges and passing out magic pills in the event of an accident is hardly a plan worthy of confidence, I do have faith in the efficacy of modern nuclear power. 
The real issue here, though, is not Pilgrim.  It’s Paul.  In an era of ever-declining voter turnout and ever-increasing apathy, we should all take note and pause to observe – and emulate – this troublemaker on a mission.

Live Like Renee

I’m wearing a bracelet today.  I don’t often wear jewelry, especially since my college ring washed away in the surf of Old Silver Beach years ago.  But today, a brilliantly green elastic bracelet is hugging my wrist.  Like many themed bracelets of a rainbow of colors that are seen on wrists all over these days, this bracelet has an inscription on it that defines its purpose, its good news message. 
“Live like Renee,” it simply says.  That simple invitation speaks volumes, though, about a life recently cut short, but one that taught vast lessons on love, family, attitude, courage, and yes, life. Renee Pelletier Costa died recently.  She was an FHS classmate of mine, but became a teacher to us all with her life of purpose, a life that packed lifetimes of meaning into a brief 44 years. 
Renee lived with cancer for more than a decade.  But she lived.  She lived life.  She refused to let a damming diagnosis and an insidious disease stop her from being a wife, mother, and inspiration. In 2011, when Renee was awarded the Unsung Heroine Award by the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, the local paper covered her truly heroic existence.  They reported that, “In October 2008, Costa was in the hospital for a battery of tests. She was unable to eat or drink anything for three days. Her only nourishment came from tubes.  But when the day of her son Aaron's Cub Scout camping trip arrived, she told her doctor she was checking out of the hospital. She was determined to be there, along with her husband, Sean, and their three other children.”  We idolize sports figures for acrobatic touchdowns.  We readily canonize musicians for the gift of a voice.  We elevate politicians to rock-star status because of their photogenic faces and perfectly cropped hair.  That’s fame.  Heroism is something far greater and meaningful.  Renee Pelletier Costa was a heroine. 
Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini, who leads the city where Renee, her husband Sean and their four children Alexandra, Aaron, Hayden and Jennifer have planted their roots, summed up his reaction to Renee’s zest for life.  “I was astounded,” he simply said, encapsulating the wonder an amazement that people have when learning on the life of purpose lived by this amazing woman.
On her Facebook page shortly before her death, Renee noted to her friends that, “My family, my kids have given me a most incredible gift. They have all said that they are ok with my desire to die at home. They want me to be comfortable, and they want to be close to me when the time comes. Everything I hoped for.  I can't imagine a more precious gift than to have my family and dearest friends all around, not afraid to be there for me when it's time.”  Just a few short and precious weeks later, Renee got that gift.  She died like she lived, surrounded by family, love, faith, and support.
We should all live like Renee.  What more precious a gift is there than the ability to live each day with gratitude? 
That’s the lesson from this bracelet that I wear and from that life lived.  We spend time lamenting the behavior of others, bemoaning our unmet expectations, and complaining about the state of affairs in our town, state, nation, and world, and yet we often fail to pause and simply contemplate the gift of a single day.  In that context, the knucklehead in traffic, the bombastic know-it-all on CNN, or the rude clerk at the coffee shop gain perspective. 
Renee lived.  She didn’t battle cancer.  She didn’t struggle with the disease.  She just lived.
I’m going to try to live like Renee.  I’m going to be grateful – just for today.

Is the Ghost of Wastewater Past Visiting Falmouth?

Here’s what we know.  Falmouth Town Meeting members, our elected local legislators, will soon be asked to approve spending nearly $6 million to fund wastewater initiatives, including $4.5 million for engineering studies to link the towns near Little Pond in Falmouth Heights to our wastewater treatment facility (WWTP) in West Falmouth.  We also know that on the heels of this discussion, our decision makers will be considering similar big-ticket initiatives to move forward on design for a water filtration plant, and be asked to appropriate additional big dollars to dismantle and discard the wind turbines that produce much of the power for the WWTP. 
Here’s something else we know: Falmouth does not stand above its fellow Commonwealth communities as a shining star of efficiency and stellar performance when it comes to planning, constructing, and delivering public utilities.  The request for millions in design funds for all of these projects, and the related and resulting hundreds – yes hundreds – of millions of dollars in construction funds, does not come with long-standing credibility and a history of flawless judgment when it comes to building and running facilities that treat and deliver water and wastewater. 
The original design of the WWTP atop a glacial moraine in West Falmouth was flawed from the get-go.  I’m no geologist, but I’ve seen enough huge boulders when visiting friends in West Falmouth to know that a spot where the glaciers deposited huge, house-sized rocks is probably not the best place to build a facility that will need to discharge lots of water to percolate into the sandy Cape soil.  Local legend persists that the designers simply never asked, and certainly never dug deep enough to see the problem that lay beneath.  That’s old news, though.  Those discussions happened thirty years ago, and do not (or should not) have any bearing on today’s public utility planning.  With the recent mishaps of our boil water order, the turbine saga, and now the ongoing debate on how many hundreds of millions we should spend on wastewater, though, I’m beginning to think maybe we’re jinxed.  Perhaps a public utilities curse was placed on us by some vengeful spirit years ago. It’s almost as though the ghost of wastewater past is visiting us. 
Other theories may apply.  Perhaps our elected and appointed leaders, and we taxpayers, are unwitting participants in some cruel, farcical hoax designed to entertain observers.  I’m waiting for Ashton Kutcher to pop out at a Selectmen’s meeting with a huge smile and a guffaw to let us know we’ve been punked. 
Another more likely theory is that we just need to do a better job planning, designing, discussing, selling, and building our public infrastructure.  We are and always have been a great road town.  Generations of pavement gurus, from Manny Rapoza, to Nate Ellis, to Bill Owen, skillfully managed nearly 400 miles of public and private roads.  The same stellar history – most notably our recent history - is not in place with our infrastructure related to our drinking water and its dirtier cousin.  Who among us doesn’t still hesitate just a bit and sniff a glassful of water before taking a drink?
Selectman Brent Putnam was on to something when he suggested that maybe we want to see the results of the $2 million we spent last year on innovative solutions to wastewater before we dedicate millions more to a predetermined solution.  Why not take a little more time and get it right?  If that approach was taken before building a WWTP on top of a glacial moraine, the entire discussion of wastewater today might be completely different.
The volunteers, employees and consultants involved in the whole scope of current projects on the horizon, particularly the wastewater planning volunteers, have pored over hundreds of documents, scores of data, and analyzed a myriad of possibilities in getting us to this point.  The volunteer hours and expertise brought to the table is worth millions.  Literally.  They deserve nothing less than our abundant gratitude and praise. 
Don’t we owe it to those invaluable volunteers to get it right?

Facebook Memories of Falmouth

Last weekend, while riding around town and house hunting with my pal and realtor extraordinaire Kevin Gagnon, I relished the opportunity to sit in the passenger seat for a change and simply take in some of the late winter sights, piecing together the mosaic of our community as we rode through Falmouth’s varied and wonderful villages.  As we headed East on Main Street, it was like the crocuses began to peek out of the snow-soaked and weary soil right before our eyes, as one of the surest signs of Spring burst some bright red color into an otherwise dreary day.  Dairy Queen is open!  That institution and anchor of summer commerce at the tip of our downtown thoroughfare has been a harbinger of warmer and more pleasant days for generations.  Jim Twomey proudly carries that tradition like an honored trophy, welcoming Falmouthites and visitors alike to make memories and share sweet treats.  Of course, I didn’t just wax philosophical about the imminent printemps, I doubled back after my tour around town with Kevin and ordered a large vanilla cone with cherry dip. 
The brisk temperatures precluded the usual drips all over my shirt, so I stood outside for a few and savored the opening of another great season at this Falmouth institution.  As my eyes wandered to the Bank of America on the corner, my memory drifted to the days when you could get the best grilled hot dog in town at that locale when it was HoJo’s, that is, of course before it became a more healthy stop when the Burke brothers built one of the first Jack in the Beanstalk locations there. 
With such a rich history, Falmouth has so many opportunities to weave together a tapestry of wonderful memories.  Several Falmouthites have taken to Facebook to catalog their fond memories for all to enjoy.  With frequent posts from a number of people of all ages, but anchored by a couple of dedicated memory makers, “If you grew up in Falmouth, MA you remember….” has become a popular stopover while heading through cyberspace to share thoughts and recollections on the people and location that have contributed to our local color. 
Just this week, Falmouthite Matt Harlow, who has relocated to Florida, but has Falmouth’s maroon and white flowing through his veins, posted a thought on the fire whistle that used to be behind the Headquarters on Main Street, puffing out a twice daily tone that was not only a daily opportunity to set your watch, it became as ingrained in Falmouth’s identity.  From Matt’s original post , which simply noted the memory of the whistle and lamented its demise, nearly 100 comments followed, including a suggestion for a petition to bring it back.  What fun it is checking in on this kaleidoscope of memories. If a petition circulates to bring back this tile of the local mosaic, I’ll not only sign it, but I’ll take a few sheets for signatures myself.
Another regular memory maker, posting as Falmouthite Mike Crew, checks in nearly daily with pictures or thoughts brining back vivid memories for many.  A picture posted this week of the cannonball hole at the Nimrod, which sadly recently closed its doors, created mental images of one of the defining moments in Falmouth’s identity.  I could picture the British frigate Nimrod firing on this venerable building, which formerly stood closer to the ocean, and proud Falmouthites and other patriots ably defending our shores. 
I remember my parents taking us for some of the delectable desserts at Elisie’s where Crabapples is now, as a special treat.  A couple of great pictures of that Falmouth landmark are up on the page as well. 
I’ve often said that it takes a name to make a town, but people to make a community.  With thanks to folks like Matt Harlow and Mike Crew, the people, places and things that make Falmouth the community it is are now available for us all to see, to savor our own memories. 
I’m going back to DQ this weekend.  I think I’ll go on Facebook from my iPhone and enjoy another trip back in time.

Time for Falmouth to Come Out of the Cave

Plato’s The Cave, a brilliant and enduring masterpiece of philosophy, is an allegory that tells the story of people, identified as “prisoners” by Socrates the narrator, chained inside a cave facing a wall.  The shadows cast on the wall by objects behind the prisoners and a fire acting as illumination are their version of reality – it is what they see, what they know, therefore what they believe, and by extension, that with which they are comfortable. 
As he is discussing the allegory with his companion Glaucon, Socrates  discusses the nature of learning by observing that, “whereas, our argument shows that the power and capacity of learning exists in the soul already; and that just as the eye was unable to turn from darkness to light without the whole body, so too the instrument of knowledge can only by the movement of the whole soul be turned from the world of becoming into that of being, and learn by degrees to endure the sight of being, and of the brightest and best of being...”
In other words, Socrates was noting that learning, like seeing, is an experience, one in which all of the senses participate, and that our knowledge becomes our reality.  The prisoners confined to the cave knew only the reality of the images cast before them, so despite the ability of their eyes to see, and their minds to grasp and comprehend the vibrant and colorful life outside the cave, their imprisonment in their own dull and colorless life was the existence they knew.
Socrates continues to suggest that a prisoner released from the cave would perhaps question the true reality – life and its associated images, colors, and shapes outside the cave – and instead insist that the monochrome and pallid life inside the cave was indeed reality – and perhaps preferable.
Upon reading the article in Tuesday’s Falmouth Enterprise and contemplating the unwillingness of local officials to embrace social media, brining citizen engagement and community outreach into the 21st Century, my thoughts drifted immediately to Plato’s great allegory.  The reluctance noted in the article to use modern and effective tools like Facebook and Twitter to reach an intelligent and tech-savvy public, grounded perhaps in a cave-like fear and trepidation of a more colorful reality, demonstrates a thinking and a paradigm of a commitment to the tools of yesterday, that must be changed.
The recent blizzard is an excellent example of the value – and imperative use – of social media in today’s local government service delivery.  During the storm, when widespread power outages negated the use of televisions, telephones, and most desktop and laptop computers, many (perhaps most) citizens had their smart phones as their only method of communication.  Many towns responded with a barrage of updates through Facebook and Twitter, providing residents with regular and reliable information on power outages, shelter locations, warming centers, and other important information.  The citizens were quite simply better served with a simple and efficient update through their most reliable source for information.  In addition, social media has become a reliable and popular source of general information, providing update on public meetings, seeking input on policy proposals, and establishing outreach to a whole new segment of potential volunteers, activists, and leaders.
The reasons for not responding to the need for joining the modern era here in Falmouth provided by local officials in the news report simply aren’t compelling. Many towns have successful and vibrant social media outreach – with few problems and positive feedback.  Our Falmouth officials appear to be chained in their own cave, trapped by the colorless images of local government displayed in their own fragmented reality.
Plato, through his narrator Socrates, concludes in his great work that, “You must contrive for your future rulers another and a better life than that of a ruler.”  That concept, I believe, is the foundation of honorable public service.  Our role as elected and appointed leaders is to work toward a better tomorrow for those who follow. Sharing information – and engaging the public who we serve – is an integral part of fashioning that better tomorrow, for it is the very people we serve who can then help shape their own tomorrow.  Facebook, Twitter, and the vehicles for public engagement that haven’t been invented yet – are essential components to today’s government.
It’s time for our local officials to embrace that concept – that reality – and come out of the cave.

What a Movie Falmouth Would Make!

It’s been said that truth is stranger than fiction, but a combination of both can certainly be interesting as well, and sometimes provide a smile or a chuckle during difficult moments.
As I was surveying local damage from the recent storm and lamenting my non-call back from DPW and town officials on my snow inquiry, I pondered the real-life drama of this snowstorm and how the events that unfolded would look as a feature film or made-for-TV movie. 
I pictured a pre-storm meeting of Emergency Management Officials, with Judge Reinhold holding court as Town Manager Julian Suso, coordinating efforts in anticipation of the “Snow Apocalypse,” the aptly named movie.  As the able but tentative Chief Executive issues directives for the storm response, defiant DPW Director Ray Jack, played skillfully by Gary Oldman, protests that he doesn’t want to send plows down roads where people have disagreed with him.  Chairman of the Board Kevin Murphy (Louie Anderson), who is on-hand to observe the CEO in action, reasons with the wily DPW Chief, and ensures him that “the world is round for a reason,” and that dissenters like Marc Finneran (Jeremy Irons) will get their just desserts in time.  
As the storm begins to swirl around and power goes out, the harried pace of the first responders begins to take its toll.  Although Emergency Management Coordinator Shardell Newton (Sally Struthers) attempts to open  a shelter at Falmouth High School, she quickly gets distracted by a parade of demonstrators led by State Rep. David Vieira (James Remar) who are incensed that former Selectman Melissa Freitag (Sean Young) did not say the Pledge of Allegiance before the storm began.   Police Chief Eddie Dunne (Nicolas Cage) quickly and deftly quells the budding protest, instead convincing State Rep. Tim Madden (Alec Baldwin) to deliver an impassioned and motivational pep talk for the plow drivers, led by DPW Highway Guru John Lyons (Mike Starr). 
Chief Dunne then pairs up with some of his best men in blue to foil an effort to take over the airwaves at Channel 13.  In an attempt to overthrow the local government by influencing the viewing public, a disgruntled but brilliant and crafty Joe Netto (Joe Pesce) has stormed the channel 13 offices and held FCTV leader Deb Rogers (Goldie Hawn) captive and takes to the small screen to air his dissent.  Led by veteran Officer KC Clarkson (Dennis Franz) and a strike team of local crime fighters including Lt. Jeff Smith (Jason Alexander), Sgt. Chris Hamilton (Dolph Lundgren), Det. Bob Murray (Ron Perlman) and Officers Ruben Ferrer (Antonio Banderas) and George Cabral (Bob Newhart), the officers successfully diffuse the situation by convincing Joe that the administration of local affairs will be returned to the Halcion days  of Falmouth Town Government by bringing back the winning team of Eddie Marks (Wilford Brimley), Matt Patrick (William H. Macy) and Pat Flynn (Estelle Getty) to lead the community. Joe gladly stands down, and heads to Winston’s for a drink.
Meanwhile, the storm rages on and an anxious public looks to their current leaders to respond to the lack of plowing, as the DPW Director is now holed up in his office on Gifford Street.    A delegation from the Board of Selectmen, including Brent Putnam (Crispin Glover) and David Braga (Randy Quaid) attempt to reason with the public works chief to no avail.  Instead, Town Clerk Michael Palmer (Tommy Lee Jones) is deputized to oversee the town’s storm response, and takes command, delegating and managing like a pro, restoring both the town’s infrastructure and the peoples’ confidence to suitable levels. 
For his efforts, Palmer is awarded a gold deputy’s badge by the team of former Police Chiefs Anthony Riello (Dominic Chianese) and Dave Cusolito (James Gandolfini). 
At the conclusion of the storm, life slowly returns to normal, as a weary but grateful public takes to the pages of the Enterprise, under the steady and trusted hand of Publisher Bill Hough (David Strathairn), for a reliable recap of the whirlwind event. 
What a movie that would make. 


Just Say No to These Gloomy Stanchions of Enforcement

My friend Dan likes to say, “You can’t fit ten pounds of dirt in a five pound bucket.”  True enough.  He aptly uses that analogy to point out some of the challenges of our resource-challenged life in local government these days.   It’s a simple rule of doing business in a leaner, ever-demanding world of local service delivery. 

The Capital Advisory Committee certainly has a tough job.  They understand Dan’s simple but powerful analogy and are living it in their dedicated volunteer work daily.  They’re grappling with ten pounds of requests for improvements to our equipment and infrastructure, and less than a five pound bucket of cash to satisfy them.  They deserve credit and kudos, though, for working hard to bring some interesting and unconventional solutions to this vexing problem, rather than simply offering the old refrain of tax increase.  With the potential loss of the wind turbine, revenue, and the loss of associated savings in electricity at our Wastewater Treatment Plant, funding our capital needs may become even more of a challenge. So, as custodians of our public resources and the public trust, we want them to look at all options and consider all ideas as a means to fund our needs for cruisers, snow plows, and building repairs.

However, some ideas, no matter how pressing the need for funding, should just be simply declared DOA.  Bringing back the parking meters to Main Street is just such an idea.  Back in the mid-90’s, the proposal to remove the meters as part of the transformation and revitalization of Falmouth Village was among the more hotly debated issues of that era, along with the very public quarrel on red brick vs. bluestone and the then-tenuous future of Highfield Hall.  As chair of the Main Street Revitalization Committee, I refereed (and threw a few grenades myself, I suppose) many debates and some donnybrooks on this sensitive issue.  In the end, the recommendation was made to the Selectmen that if we were investing $3 million into revitalizing our downtown, that it sent an inconsistent message to attempt to attract visitors and pedestrians to our downtown, then not only ask them to shell out a quarter to park and enjoy our public chef d’oeuvre but whack them with a ticket should they spend a few extra minutes shopping and spending money.  I agreed with that logic as one of the leaders of the revitalization effort, as a Selectmen, and as a fella with some (just a little back then) common sense.  The Board agreed, and the meters came out. 

Critics assailed the decision and predicted a parking apocalypse, where travelers to the Vineyard would leave their cars in cherished Main Street spots for days on end, clogging up the public spaces and choking commerce in the Village.  Much like the Mayan predictions this past year, the apocalypse never materialized.  In fact, for more than a decade, parking has been orderly and organized, and the multitude of public spaces on and adjacent to Main Street have contributed to a flourishing retail and commercial center, and have helped the Falmouth downtown thrive like few others in the Commonwealth.   We spent millions to remove the telephone poles to make the downtown more esthetically pleasing.  To now spend money to bring back their smaller step-siblings would be contrary to everything so many – in the public and private sectors - worked for years to accomplish.  It would be like intentionally waxing your car just before driving through a mud puddle.

Given this success, tinkering with that delicate balance of commerce for the sake of a few thousand bucks a year by putting the meters back is an idea that should respectfully be laid to rest.  I’d rather see the Capital Advisory Committee give a detailed review and report on Peter Boyer’s brainstorm of an override to fund a capital stabilization fund than revive an idea whose related income would be less than the salary of the employee required to enforce it.  The Selectmen should just say no to the return of these gloomy stanchions of enforcement. 

We certainly need funds to fulfill the town’s capital needs, but not at the expense of prior successes that have become part of our local identity. 

No Votes - No Meetings - No Polling Needed for This Solution

Other than responsibly and professionally managing the peoples’ money, acting as the guardian both of public funds and the public trust, no job of local government is more important than protecting the safety of our citizens.  To be sure, though, those of us in positions of authority and import don’t have all the answers. Government leaders who think they do usually fall short of truly leading for that very reason, because they lose touch with the brilliance and passionate activism right before their eyes in the form of citizens who believe in each other – and in their community.   I have seen many powerful solutions emerge from a single citizen’s brainstorm, and I am a firm believer that the public is smart enough, zealous enough, and clever enough to themselves focus on the solutions and sometimes solve a problem before the community – and perhaps even the government itself – is aware that one exists.  I am also a firm believer that the issue of guns in our society is not (or at least should not be) a conservative or liberal, a Republican or Democratic issue.  Keeping our streets, our children, and our neighborhoods safe is a moral imperative, not a political hot potato. 
We saw both concepts – community based answers and a non-political solution to guns on our streets  - at work and thriving in Falmouth last week, as the “gun buyback” hosted by the John Wesley United Methodist Church and supported by the Falmouth Police Department resulted in the staggering total of 206 rifles, shotguns, pistols, and other weapons being turned in, in exchange for supermarket gift cards. Politics aside, that is good news for Falmouth.

Before the activists on either side of the gun control issue hit the keyboard with a retort to this column based on their perceived theme of these remarks, let’s be clear – this isn’t about the Second Amendment or about an assault weapons ban or what the folks on either hill (Beacon or Capitol) have to say about guns.  This issue is about a safer community and how some local people who care did something about that.  Whatever your political leanings, that is something worth noting.

The 206 guns that were traded in were lawfully owned and none were stolen.  That is great news, but the real headline and lasting value of this program is that those weapons are now unavailable for theft by a would-be bad guy.  Falmouth is a safer place to live and work thanks to this experience and the locals who made it happen. 

This worthwhile and amazing event was initiated by John Wesley parishioner Tiffany Van Mooy who, along with other concerned parishioners, approached pastor Reverend David Calhoun in the wake of the recent tragedy in Connecticut.  Realizing that safety is indeed a community issue and not some far-off, nebulous policy of government, Dr. Calhoun worked closely with Police Chief Ed Dunne to organize this event (By the way, no need to use the moniker ‘acting’ with this top cop – he’s proven once again that he is deserving of the distinction permanently).  The local business community, including Peking Palace, Pie in the Sky, and Supreme Pizza, joined in and offered donations of gift cards to support the effort, adding yet another angle of involvement in this Falmouth answer to a nationwide problem.

And so it went.  The community saw a solution and the community made it happen.  No votes, no meetings, no polling had to take place to remove more than 200 deadly weapons from circulation in Falmouth. 

So to Tiffany and all parishioners of the John Wesley church who helped out, to Reverend Calhoun, to Chief Dunne, to the businesses who donated, and most importantly, to the Falmouthites who brought 206 guns to a local church to make an emphatic statement about the safety of our community – thank you.  Thank you for caring, thank you for doing, and thank you for being part of the solution.

Betting on the Daily Double of Agrarian Success in Falmouth

The tree-lined canopy on Davisville Road is one of the most picturesque scenes in our community.  This Rockwellian snapshot of a charming country road produces a lasting image of the bucolic and pastoral setting that is Falmouth.  A quick glimpse at that scene, though, belies the rich agricultural past that is draped over this historic and beautiful neighborhood. 

Davisville Road, like much of East Falmouth, was once a mecca for farming and agriculture.  Bustling farms producing strawberries and other local produces dotted the landscape throughout East Falmouth.  Walking to school at East Falmouth Elementary, I used to cut through an old, worn path through a meadow whose dark, abundant soil formerly served as the earthly assembly line for Falmouth’s premier produce.   That meadow is now a subdivision, but the memories and impact of that era still weave themselves into our local identity.  In addition to its colorful tapestry of science and tourism, Falmouth’s nearly four-century story has an agricultural chapter that goes back generations.    That chapter continues to be written, as farming and agriculture continue to be colorful tiles in our local mosaic.

These colors shine brightly weekly when the Falmouth Farmers Market is in session on Main Street.  Located in the heart of our downtown at Peg Noonan Park, the Market has become an important showcase for our agricultural roots – and the produce blossoming today from those roots – since its inception in 2008.  According to the Market’s website, the mission of this fantastic weekly event is to, “feature(s) Cape Cod and Southeastern Mass. grown and artisanally crafted vegetables, fruits, cheeses, lobsters, breads, pies, pastas, smoked fish, herbs, vegetable starts and ornamentals.”  Fresh, local, and made with care, love and cultivated with human hands.  What can be more supportable – and sustainable – than that?

I had the pleasure of speaking with Farmers Market Board member Patricia Gadsby this week, and am now even more convinced that this local effort, which has become a local agronomic institution, is a critical element in the continued success of our downtown.  Patricia shared with me some of the history and good works of the market, including their “prodigious” support of the Falmouth Service Center.  More than 3,500 pounds of locally cultivated produce was donated to Falmouthites in need in the last year.  That’s community.  That’s the circle of life.  Patricia told me the heartwarming story of a young Falmouth boy, who while attending the Farmers market on one of the many school trips that visit the market each season, stood in front of the colorful array of fresh, local vegetables, and simply blurted out, “Yum, yum, yum!” 

Commissioner of Agriculture Greg Watson, himself a Falmouthite, has noted that our agricultural future depends on the success of small, local farms and family friendly produce.  The Falmouth Farmers Market embraces that concept, providing access to locally grown, non-industrially produced sustenance that also contributes to our local economy – a daily double of agrarian success right in Falmouth Village.

Our local decision makers deserve credit for supporting the efforts of the market – and now have an obligation to continue that support.  On Monday night, the Farmers Market will appear before the Board of Selectmen for their annual permit to operate at Peg Noonan Park.  Some rumblings have been heard that a seed may have been planted to move the market away from the downtown, perhaps to Marina park, to reduce congestion.  To take this thriving commerce out of our downtown would go against every tenet of support for local agriculture and the very raison d’etre of the market itself.  Patricia pointed out in our conversation that the current location is near public transportation, close to the bike path, and nicely complements the thriving restaurants on our Main Street.   It has also become an attraction in itself, bringing visitors and shoppers to our retail hub. 

For all those reasons, and more – not the least of which is sending a strong message of support for the kind of sustainable  future our own Commissioner Greg Watson has spoken about – the Board of Selectmen should bet on this daily double of agrarian success and loudly proclaim support for the Falmouth Farmers Market – in Falmouth Village.