Falmouth's blog

General John Flanagan - An Indelible Mark of Honor and Service

“To those of us who knew him well, General John Flanagan was a warm feast in a very cold forest. He was class, character, integrity and courage. Among the givers of the world, The General stood the tallest. He more than paid rent for the space that he occupied on this planet, forged through his legendary loyalty, friendship and compassion for those in need.”

As I struggled for the words to describe the remarkable life of purpose that was led by General John Flanagan, to introduce his successes on behalf of a grateful community and share his legacy with generations of a surely appreciative nation, I turned to my friend and fellow wordsmith Wayne Soares, a nationally recognized motivational speaker, and genuine friend and admirer of Gen. Flanagan. The words of the preceding paragraph were his heartfelt sentiment. As only Wayno can do, he aptly described a Falmouthite whose passing truly leaves his legacy, and has left his indelible mark of honor and service from sea to glorious shining sea.

To simply call John Flanagan a war hero, although that is an apt and appropriate moniker for this decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, where he was awarded the Silver Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, twelve Air Medals and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, would not fully tell the tale of his life of purpose and patriotic service. To simply call John Flanagan a dedicated academic, although that is an apt and appropriate moniker for this scholar who held an MBA from Boston College, was a graduate of the National Defense University and a Distinguished Graduate of the Air War College, and served as a Professor of Transportation and Logistics at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, would sell short his undying commitment to teaching, learning, and shaping young men and women into citizens of honor and dignity.

To simply call John Flanagan a successful businessman, although that is an apt and appropriate moniker for this effective and efficacious executive, who played an essential role in the introduction of the 747 airliner into commercial service with American Airlines; served as CFO of a Hertz trucking company in Europe; and worked as Vice President and Treasurer of Holland America Lines , would not do justice to his business acumen and capacity to productively lead multi-national and complex organizations.

To simply call John Flanagan a valued, respected, and active member of the Falmouth community, although that is an apt and appropriate moniker for this committed volunteer, who found the time and energy to serve as Chairman of the Falmouth Transportation Commission, organized successful golf tournaments at the Golf Club of Cape Cod, and stood proudly behind his record as a candidate for Selectman, would not properly reflect his unwavering sense of duty to the community he called home in the twilight of his life.

War hero. Academic. Business Executive. Valued Citizen. Yes, indeed, Brigadier General John Flanagan was each of these things separately and all of them together. Wayno finished his thoughts on the General’s life and legacy with this suitable closing: “The purpose of one's life is to simply matter -- to count -- to have made some difference in the lives of others. General John F. Flanagan certainly did that.” Yes he did, Wayno. He made a difference in his community, his nation, and in this world. Each life he touched through his varied adventures and achievements, from flying an L-19 "Bird Dog"  over the treetops of Vietnam, to swinging a golf club in Falmouth, to parachuting into the South China Sea, was a fascinating and colorful tile in the mosaic of this purposeful life. Thank you General, for enriching us all – for enriching the world in which we all live – the world in which you lived a full and bountiful life.

Building Falmouth's Field of Dreams at FHS

The current athletic complex at Guv Fuller Field is a venerable old relic

 One of my favorite potent and convincing illustrations when appearing in a debate as a candidate was, “Look, I know how to perform under pressure.  I’ve been at the 50-yard line at a Boston College football game with 50,000 screaming fans awaiting my next move.”  After I sensed that the faces in the crowd were sufficiently impressed (or not), I’d drop the punch line: “Of course, that performance was in the band.”  Kidding aside, I’ve slogged through enough muddy, battered fields to know the value of a good home field.  When fields are wet and worn, injuries occur (even with saxophone players).  When fields are old and tired, the quality of the games declines.

When fields are wet and worn, injuries occur.The current athletic complex at Guv Fuller Field is a venerable old relic that has hosted decades of games and created catalogs of wonderful memories.  Those recollections of the Halcyon days of the town’s athletic complex in the center of town will never change.  The successes, When fields are wet and worn, injuries occur failures, epic battles with Barnstable on cold and blustery Thanksgiving mornings, and countless rallies there, with Mr. Ford dressed as a Pilgrim, are with us – and are part of our community – forever.  The field itself, though, has likely outlived its optimal usefulness.   It’s time for an upgrade.

Next week at Town Meeting, our local legislature will have the opportunity to take the first steps toward bringing a modern, multi-purpose athletic field complex to the grounds of the High School, leaving the baseball diamond downtown.  This will allow our local athletes and musicians to practice and play on a safe, all-weather field that will be the catalyst for a new generation of memories.

The request for $35,000 in design funds at next week's town meeting, in fact the entire effort, is typical Falmouth.The request for $35,000 in design funds – in fact the entire effort – is typical Falmouth.  It’s yet another example of what’s right with Falmouth and what makes this town a community.  The request wasn’t simply generated out of a laser printer somewhere in the bowels of Falmouth High School and sent over the Selectmen’s office to go before town meeting.  This – like so many other successful efforts in town – was the result of citizens getting together – neighbors helping neighbors – and combining public and private resources for the benefit of the entire community. 

The names on the committee’s letter to Town Meeting Members read like a who’s-who of legendary Falmouth volunteers. From Patrick Callahan, who stepped in as a volunteer to help finish a troubled High School building project and was a major benefactor in revamping the FHS field hockey field; to Sandy Cuny, who has been volunteering her time on behalf of the wellness of our youth for decades; to Mike Duffany, whose very name is synonymous with good works in our town; to Joe Martinho, who has donated countless hours to youth sports, housing, and scholarships;  to James “Kalpy” Kalperis, who was working and volunteering on behalf of the youth of Falmouth before most people reading this column were born, this high-energy and high-powered group has the experience and know-how to get a project done right, done well, and done with a maximum amount of private resources. 

The very fact that those prominent Falmouthites are willing to attach their names and their credibility to the project is reason enough alone for our elected local legislators to support this barn-raising of a field of dreams.  However, our Town Meeting members do their homework.  So, like an infomercial for a RonCo super-slicer and food dehydrator, I can say, “But wait!  There’s more!”  This project will provide a savings to the town in long-term maintenance costs, as the upkeep for a turf field, including expenses for maintenance, watering, and fertilizing, would be significantly reduced.  Moving some of the activities to the High School would allow for a permanent fence for the Clippers and Commodores ballfield that would remain downtown, a significant upgrade.  The turf field at FHS would even provide the opportunity for other youth sports and recreation activities, from football to field hockey to lacrosse to have a place for their programs to thrive.

The committee is wisely not looking to build the FHS field of dreams right now.  Their simple and reasonable request is to access some funds to design a complex and bring the pictures back to Town Meeting so that our legislators understand what they’re buying and building.  That’s a smart approach.  That’s the right approach.  Our committee of fabulous Falmouthite volunteers agrees.  Let’s hope our Town Meeting members do too.  

Election Day Musings

Being in public service isn’t easy.
The praise is faint, the work is endless, and the critics are omnipresent

Elections can be funny things. Sometimes, the results surprise us. Other times, the headlines on the day after are just what we expect. In all cases, we get exactly what we deserve. In this open society, where we all truly have the gift of the freedom to express ourselves through both our words and our deeds, our ability to grumble and pontificate about the results is directly proportional to our willingness to be part of the solution, particularly our willingness to cast a vote on election day.

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So first, for this pre-election musing, I firmly commit that my willingness to offer opinions has been, is, and will be backed up with a firm and unwavering commitment to exercise my right to vote; I strongly urge and encourage everyone to do the same. With that qualifier in place, here are some thoughts on some of the names on next week’s ballot:

Our two State Representatives, Tim Madden and David Vieira, despite the fact that neither faces a challenge, deserve our vote as an affirmative validation of a job well done. Although they represent differing political parties and philosophies, they most assuredly share a commitment to Falmouth that is commendable and worthy of both praise and a filled-in circle on the ballot. They both communicate effectively, are involved with and responsive to the community, and demonstrate a willingness to shed their respective dogmas for the sake of a local issue. I’ve written before about the “Cape Cod Party,” which is a collection of local democrats and republicans who share a singular commitment to the issues relevant to our peninsula. Tim and Dave are card-carrying members. Keep up the great work, fellas.

The race for State Senate has become heated and a bit nasty in its final days, mostly as a function of some not-so-nice press missives from challenger Tom Keyes. Senate President Therese Murray – our Senator – has managed the Commonwealth’s legislative agenda during one of the most successful periods in the history of this great state, while much of the nation struggled and languished in a great recession. Our students’ math and science performance is among the tops in the nation. Our education system is now recognized as one of our country’s finest. The performance of the Massachusetts economy during this economic tumult has far outpaced that of some nations, never mind other states. Our bond rating remains at an enviable AA+, and our unemployment rate continues to be one of the lowest from sea to shining sea. Senator Murray has been at the helm with steady leadership throughout those successes. She deserves our vote and will certainly get mine.

Speaking of steady leadership, I can vividly remember the day in May of 1993 when Pat Flynn first assumed the moniker of Selectman. Perhaps it was because it was the same day as I put on my own big boy suit and assumed a similar title, but lo, these many years later, Pat is still working tirelessly on behalf of her adopted hometown and has now added County Commissioner to her long list of endeavors. She has taken on this regional responsibility with the same thoughtful, thorough approach to governing that she brought – and brings – to her work on the Board of Selectmen. Regional leadership will become more critically important in the years to come as local budgets continue to get squeezed. Having a Falmouth voice at that table is unquestionably important. Pat is that voice.

And finally, speaking of regional leadership, the entirety of Cape Cod and the South Shore – now joined by the South Coast – has benefitted from the approachable, active, and steadfast leadership of our Congressman Bill Keating. Bill has made his first term a categorical success through his indefatigable efforts on a seemingly limitless list of issues from homeland security to fisheries. He has been a strong presence on Cape Cod – and in Falmouth – and has earned the respect and admiration of this constituent.

Being in public service isn’t easy. The praise is faint, the work is endless, and the critics are omnipresent, waiting for an opportunity to pounce. The rewards, however, for doing the peoples’ business, are enormous. The look of gratitude on the face of a citizen whose life has been positively impacted by a decision you had the opportunity to make makes the long hours and barbs from a gadfly worthwhile. The public servants mentioned here get that, and have dedicated their lives to that pursuit – the simple but noble notion that we each have an obligation to participate in making this third rock from the sun a little better – each day of our lives. A cynic might look at the candidates acknowledged here and simply note that they mostly represent a particular side of the ticket. A thoughtful and thorough voter, though, might look at the hard work, commitment and integrity of all of them, and make a more mindful choice. Which will you be on election day?

Falmouth Eats - And Grows Closer - Together

“Falmouth Eats Together" - Free and delicious

Talking and eating are two of my favorite things.  When I visit Paul Rifkin at his Moonakis Café, I get to do plenty of both.  And so it was last Sunday, as I enjoyed some delightful eggs benedict and even more enjoyable and engaging conversation with one of Falmouth’s finest volunteers. 

Paul Rifkin at his Moonakis Cafe.Paul believes in community.  He believes in service.  He is committed to both.  He also believes in attaching action to that commitment. 

As we enjoyed coffee, conversation, and sustenance together, he described the convergence of those ideals as part of a new local effort to bring members of the community together – to break bread and build a stronger sense of community. 

"Falmouth Eats Together"

Called “Falmouth Eats Together,” this event, proclaimed as a “free, delicious meal” by its organizing committee, comes supplied with a vision that, “community members of all backgrounds and economic circumstance will sit together as a community rooted in compassion to enjoy the breaking of bread.”  I can’t think of a more simple yet powerful idea to bring people together in this time when our airwaves, iPhones, and TV screens are filled with an overflow of negative nonsense about each other. 

While passionately describing the power of the inaugural event, held last Thursday, Paul pointed around the bustling, packed restaurant that has been successfully serving one of Falmouth’s best breakfasts for two decades.  He noted that although everyone seemed content and happy with their pumpkin nut pancakes and tasty omelets, people were not communicating and interacting beyond their own table – beyond their own people.

Falmouth Eats Together aims to change that.  Through the first event, which drew more than 150 diverse Falmouthites, it already has.  Paul explained to me how the idea of the event was hatched – nearly simultaneously – through a couple of different Falmouth venues.  A few months ago, Paul and fellow Saturday peace vigil-ers and Occupy Falmouthites Joyce Johnson and John McWilliam were discussing how to take their sense of commitment beyond their peaceful protests and really bring the notion that we’re all in this together to a wider audience – with a wider, deeper meaning. 

At the same time, uber-volunteers John and Debbie Netto were strategizing with Falmouth Service Center guru Brenda Swain and having similar machinations on how to take the success and benefit of the annual community Thanksgiving dinner and spread that good will across the calendar.  A call to saint-disguised-as-chef Dave Mutti and his brother Gary followed, and the committee to organize Falmouth Eats Together was born.  Paul believes that the group came together so swiftly and so easily as a result of divine intervention.  He may be right.  He noted at breakfast that many of his good works are part of his own plan to “play catch up to get into heaven.” 

The venue for this first event was then aptly decided to be a local church – and Rev. David Calhoun from the John Wesley United Methodist Church opened the doors and hearts of his church community to be a part of this “community love fest,” as my self-proclaimed hippie turned businessman friend called it. 

So, all that was left was the meal itself.  With the Netto’s and the Mutti’s expertise in preparing for hundreds of hungry folks, things came together with the same efficiency and sense of purpose that has led to a truly remarkable event every Turkey Day.  Dave and Gary prepared gallons of Dave’s award-winning turkey chili, which has taken first place at the Martha’s Vineyard Chilifest four times, and some salad, root vegetable soup, cornbread, and homemade blueberry cobbler filled out the menu.

Paul.  The Reverend was probably right.  I think the angels were there to confirm that your game of catch up is complete.According to Paul, the contagious enthusiasm was palatable in the room.  He described the  work of many volunteers, including some young people who volunteered to fulfill honor society requirements, but will be back to be part of their community.  Julia Ferreira, Kelly Bohnenberger, and Sara Jalowy learned on that day the true meaning – and that lasting impact - of volunteering.   

Reverend Calhoun noted to Paul after the inaugural event – which will be held again on November 8th and again on December 13th – that he could “hear the sound of angel wings” as dozens of Falmouthites broke bread and built relationships with people they otherwise would probably never meet. 

Not to worry, Paul.  The Reverend was probably right.  I think the angels were there to confirm that your game of catch up is complete.

Julia Taylor - What's Right With Regional Government

 Julia Taylor has earn my vote on November 6th

Julia Taylor.I believe in County government.  Outside of the sometimes provincial borders of Massachusetts, regional governments are actually the norm throughout the United States.  Counties provide efficient education, public safety, public works, and regional planning assistance and direct services from sea to shining sea. 

I’ve dedicated a fair amount of thought as to why Massachusetts, where it all began, is different, and that moniker that is used to describe America’s hometown is my basic conclusion.  Because our entire democratic experiment began on the shores of Plymouth nearly 400 years ago by a few brave freedom-seeking souls, followed in short order by the emergence of other distinct communities, the borders between communities represented (and in some cases still represent) a true distinction of values, practices, and mores.  

We evolved into a modern day version of that dynamic – with many similar but culturally and socio-economically different communities in close proximity.  In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, county government, that is, regional solutions to regional issues, has suffered by being a logical vehicle for delivery of those services, but counterintuitive to that paradigm. 

We've evolved into a modern day version of that dynamic – with many similar but culturally and socio-economically different communities in close proximity. That counterintuitiveness, however, has been set straight by some regional governments who got (and get) it right.  Here on Cape Cod, The Barnstable County government is a respected and recognized leader in providing regional services that provide Cape towns with a low-cost, effective alternative to the administrative and financial burden of providing those services within their own borders.

While some offer a tired and baseless refrain that it is an unnecessary additional layer of government, regional governments, and ours in particular, actually save towns money by supplanting the need for small towns to each provide services that know no borders.  For example, the County Department of Health and the Environment conducted 90 health inspections for the town during a recent busy season, saving the town thousands of dollars in temporary personnel costs. 

The County Purchasing Department conducts regional bids for the purchase of everything from road salt to copy paper, giving towns bulk purchasing power and saving untold hours of bid preparation and execution.  This kind of support isn’t heralded in a news release or touted by the anti-county crusaders, but it’s real savings and the delivery of real services.

Why I will vote for Julia Taylor 

She hasn’t used her elected position to further her careerJulia Taylor has been a leader in bringing these kind of no-nonsense benefits to the people – the taxpayers - of Falmouth for more than two decades.  As Falmouth’s representative to the Assembly of Delegates, the County’s legislative body, Julie and her practical, down-to-earth approach are good examples of what’s right with local and regional government today. 

She hasn’t used her elected position to further her career.  She doesn’t see it as a personal benefit to be used to advance a personal agenda.  She has been and is an in-the-trenches, nuts and bolts public servant who has overseen the delivery of millions of dollars of services and benefits to the people of Falmouth with the simple aim to be of service to her fellow citizens.  That’s a commitment to the public good – along with a body of work and commitment to modesty – that is rare in public service today.

There have been times when I have questioned the role of the Assembly and its elected legislators to our regional government, and those discussions are a worthy of a pithy public policy debate.  I have come to believe, though, that regional services are a necessary – a critical – component of our future.  The current tenor of some of the pre-election nonsense related to this issue highlights what is wrong with our public discourse today. 

I ran against Julie myself more than a decade ago, and she won what was a respectful, issues-based campaign, based on her then record of success.  That record is longer, more impressive, and more successful today.  These many years later, it is my pleasure to endorse her candidacy for the same office, as her leadership on regional issues is too valuable to let go.

At a time when municipal budgets continue to get squeezed, state aid remains flat, and federal mandates continue to burden local governments, the ability to provide regional services as a viable alternative to the outdated “way we’ve always done it,” may very well be the savior of local government as we know it.  Julie Taylor is the right person at the right time to take us in the right direction.

Julie’s opponent, Andrew Putnam, is a bright and energetic young man who has a promising career ahead of him, but the county should not be his training ground during such a critical time.  I’d love to see him stay involved and gain some local government familiarity in a more appropriate venue consistent with his limited experience.

Julie Taylor, as a dedicated Falmouthite and volunteer for all the right reasons, has earned my respect and admiration.  On November 6th, she’ll also earn my vote.

A Smile is Contagious

He was one of the few kids that I allowed to call me Troy.

Growing up in a tight-knit family in East Falmouth, I was always taught to show respect for my elders and addressed our neighbors, for example, as Mr. and Mrs. Keating, or Mr. and Mrs. Doyle. Today, a generation later, they are Ernie & Jan and Dennis & Sue, but those values instilled in me as a young man are still present. When I saw an old Scouting volunteer at an FHS Field Hockey game last week, my instinct was to call the bus driver Mr. Moreland, but I realized that I’ve come a long way from my early days in Fisherman’s Cove, and offered Ben a warm hello, although that youthful reverence and respect will always be there. It was armed with that sense of decorum and propriety that I cringed when my daughter Jenna’s closest friends offered a term of endearment. What began as a respectful and proper “Mr. Clarkson,” consistent with my upbringing and expectations of them, developed into an affectionate and simple “Troy.” At first I balked, thinking these young whippersnappers were being fresh. Then, I realized that these kids were not being disrespectful at all, but genuinely warm and engaging, and that their friendly moniker was no different than my use of the term “Uncle Bob” to identify my beloved scoutmaster. Today, I relish many close relationships with an amazing group of young men and women who Jenna calls friends, who I call student athletes, leaders, and role models, and in whose capable hands and minds we will place the future of our community.

Albino Fernandes, Jr., known adoringly and affectionately by an entire community simply as “AJ,” was one of those kids. His tragic passing this week leaves a hole in the soul of our community. AJ was one of those rare kids, rare humans really, who sought, brought, shared, and spread smiles wherever he went. Today, as our town mourns and remembers together, you can see cars throughout the local landscape painted with the phrase “a smile is contagious,” a simple but powerful tribute in honor of the wide and toothy grin known by many and loved by all. This week, in soundless sorrow and solitude, I drove by the scene of AJ’s heartbreaking accident, a burgeoning memorial known now simply as “the tree,” and silently wept as young people gathered, clutching flowers, candles, and each other in an outpouring of friendship and fondness rarely, if ever, seen in Falmouth. I try to always remain teachable, and, even in the face of the almost unspeakable calamity of the loss of such a promising young life, find some comfort and solace or perhaps a lesson in the events of each day. As I struggled over the last several days to find that bright spot in this sad episode, the image of AJ’s smile kept coming to me. A few months ago, Jenna and I were enjoying one of our regular dinners at Paul’s Pizza, where AJ then worked. He sprang over to the table, naturally offering an effusive and earnest hello, filling our portion of the restaurant with instant warmth and happiness. After several requests from Jenna to share some of our pizza and AJ sheepishly resisting, his smile grew even broader as he enjoyed a slice of linguica as only Paul’s can cook it. That broad smile will be with me forever.

Literary legend C.S. Lewis offered a lesson that we can take from AJ’s untimely departure. “When we lose one blessing, another is often most unexpectedly given in its place,” said the author who gave us the Chronicles of Narnia. AJ Fernandes was most certainly a blessing to every person he met. Perhaps the most unexpected blessing of his loss is the enduring legacy of his unforgettable smile. After all, as AJ taught and continues to teach us, a smile is contagious.

A Nadir of Public Comportment

The Falmouth official who demonstrated the worst behavior in public.Note to Gene Kulander:  You’re off the hook.  Our former Police Chief, who breezed into town in the Spring of 1993 and brought with him both innovation and controversy, has held the dubious distinction for nearly twenty years as the Falmouth official who demonstrated the worst behavior in public.  He had a bad habit of taking aim (with his mouth not his sidearm) at public officials and citizens alike, and lacked both a filter and any sense of social graces.  Through his “Chief’s Chat” on FCTV, and regular rants in this paper, he dressed down members of the Board of Selectmen, Finance Committee, and anyone else who dared disagree with his agenda. 

It was too bad that he chose to behave like a petulant child and offer public tantrums.It was too bad that he chose to behave like a petulant child and offer public tantrums, because his agenda for moving the Police Department forward was a good one.  He was an early leader in the concept of community policing and understood that a police department that was de-mystified to the public could better serve the community.  He inscribed “we serve because we care” on each cruiser.  He instituted the bike patrol, re-energized a Main Street walking beat, and was a pioneer in using varied media to connect with the public.  The problem was that connection was electrified with venom and distasteful behavior, and he went from being wildly popular to undeniably vilified in a short amount of time and left Falmouth an angry man.

Since then, no Falmouth official has come close to the sort of rub your chin, scratch your head, and raise your eyebrows behavior that Gene Kulander exhibited in public.  That is, until last week.   When I read the newspaper account of last week’s Board of Selectmen meeting and the scrum between DPW Director Ray Jack and citizen gadfly Marc Finneran, I chalked it up to the latest back-and-forth between an interested and passionate but poorly behaved citizen and a dedicated public servant who was growing weary of the constant jabs coming his way. 

"You talk to my wife and I’ll take your head off!” - Ray Jack.I opined in last week’s column that we should separate Marc’s message from his poor delivery and dig deeper into the meaning behind his rants.  I didn’t give the issue much more thought, and was content to just watch the situation unfold, confident that everyone had their say, and that the town could get back to discussing pay-as-you-throw, the transfer station, and wastewater.   Then I watched the video.

What I saw and heard indeed caused me to rub my chin, scratch my head (and shake it in disbelief), and raise my eyebrows.  When I first heard a roaring voice bellow, “You talk to my wife and I’ll take your head off!” on the video, I naturally assumed it was a citizen, because I was sure that no official appointed as the guardian of the public trust and confidence would behave like that.  I was wrong.  I was then in disbelief.   Then I was saddened.  Then I began to get a little annoyed myself.

The inflamed, nearly uncontrolled behavior displayed by one of the leaders of this community toward one of its citizens was a low point.I’ve hundreds, perhaps thousands of public meetings in my career.  I’ve seen my share of confrontation, and been both the recipient and the presenter of some pretty lousy behavior.  I have never seen what I saw coming from the corner conference room last week.  The inflamed, nearly uncontrolled behavior displayed by one of the leaders of this community toward one of its citizens was a low point, a nadir of public comportment that has tainted an otherwise honorable and distinguished career, perhaps beyond repair.

It goes without saying that Ray Jack owes the community an apology.  No official, no matter how distressed and perturbed, can scream wildly and threaten a citizen without consequence.  It challenges the very integrity of our form of government if this bad behavior goes without censure.

Is that enough, though?  Would a heartfelt and humble public apology suffice? I just don’t know.  I lamented for years that Gene Kulander’s  confrontational demeanor would leave a scar on our town.  I guess it did, at least for me, as  I’m writing about it nearly two decades later.  I’m afraid that Ray Jack’s legacy will be similar, and like Kulander, his good work will be obscured by the memory of his inability to simply be nice.  That, too, is too bad.

Separate the Message from the Messenger

It was a frigid January night in 1994.  A robust early winter snow had draped Falmouth in a thick blanket of white.  My friend Ron “Ronnie D” DeSouza was home on leave from the Army, so we headed over to Finnegan’s Pub in the old Falmouth Mall for an after dinner drink (or two). 

After reminiscing and laughing for a couple of hours, Ronnie D and I left the warm confines of Mike Giery’s cheerful establishment and began the short trek back to my place on Jericho Path in Falmouth Heights.  The icy exit from the mall was more of a challenge than I anticipated, and I attempted to muscle my way out of the ice and snow.  For the record, that’s never a good idea.  We wound up getting hung up in a snow bank, the wheels of my Volkswagen spinning helplessly as a seeming mountain of snow and ice peaked under my car.  After what seemed like hours of frantic digging with frozen, trembling hands, we had made nary a dent in freeing my car from its frozen restraints.  This was before cell phones enjoyed today’s omnipresence, so our frozen hands were sure to be met with an equally chilly reception when we returned home to a couple of assuredly perturbed mates.

Just as our efforts seemed as futile as a speaking time limit on Rich Latimer at Town Meeting, a white van rolled by, its cheerful driver looking on with a mix of interest and humor.  I didn’t know the motorist, but he nonetheless hopped out and offered his help.  I was never so happy to see a winch in my life.  The good Samaritan tied up his mini-crane to my car and pulled it effortlessly out of the snowbank, saving Ronnie D and I both from certain trouble, if not a night on the couch.  He asked for nothing in return and refused our offers of remuneration, simply parting with a smile and a “good luck.” 

That good Samaritan was current Town Hall gadfly Marc Finneran.  I share this story because it has been a reoccurring thought in my head as Marc’s latest donnybrook with DPW Director Ray Jack was publicized and debated.  Over the last several years, starting with his distasteful “This town needs an enema” sign on his lawn, Marc’s disdain for our local government and its governors has been apparent and widely noted.  In delivering his criticisms, he has been sometimes brash, usually vigorous, and always confrontational.  His message of good government and accountable government officials has been lost in his delivery.

I am faced, though, with two quandaries when analyzing this situation.  The first is that some of Marc’s points, messages, and questions are valid, and we can’t simply dismiss his points because of his flawed delivery.  When he offers a mocking reminder that we were told that the transfer station could make money “in a heartbeat,” he’s right.  When he raises vehement opposition to the way the town’s dirty water situation was handled, he’s right.  It’s simply contrary to good government if we ignore the validity and importance of his points because he acts badly. The second, and related, struggle for me is that my wintry experience with Marc nearly twenty years ago proved to me that he is a kind and decent man, willing to help a stranger.  Could it be that years of being thwarted and ignored by local officials has contributed to his delivery?  It’s certainly a question worth pondering. 

The nature of discourse and public debate, both locally and nationally, has become bogged down in personalities, personal attacks and ready-for-tv sound bites.  We must separate the message from the messenger and focus on the solutions.  Ignoring the message because of the delivery and distaste for the messenger results in decay and deterioration – in both our ability to solve the problems and in the public trust. 

It’s time to separate the message from the messenger and solve some problems.

The Falmouth Community and Coach Trundy Deserve an Explanation

I’ve said it before, but nothing beats a Braga Burger.  From the perfectly crafted outer crust expertly char-grilled into each side, to the tasty, juicy, pink interior, to the fresh and airy Kaiser roll used for each carefully crafted offering, Ron Braga’s legendary burger has been a staple of athletic events in Falmouth for a generation.

One summer about ten years ago, I had the pleasure of helping out when Ronnie had the concession at Fuller Field for the Falmouth Commodores.  Each home game, we’d open up the creaking, worn down building behind home plate about an hour before the first pitch and get the popcorn popping,  light up the grill, fill up the cooler with cokes and waters,  and start the French fries.  I can still hear the sizzle of the Braga burgers on the portable flattop griddle outside the concession stand and taste the wayward pieces of crispy brown and salty fries that I’d grab as I maneuvered from side to side in the cramped quarters. 

After every game, Ron would feed the team their evening meal (a healthy combination of burgers, dogs and fries) as part of his contract.  Those post-game meals were a great opportunity to get to know the ballplayers and coaches on a personal level – as real people and not simply images and living metaphors of athletes and coaches conjured up from years of watching games on television. 

It was during those enjoyable and relaxed episodes that I got to know Jeff Trundy.  He was then the fairly new Head Coach, but had nonetheless clearly already committed to Falmouth, as evidenced in his words and deeds.    An affable and pleasant Mainer with an abundant laugh matched only by his infectious smile, Coach Trundy would take the time to hang out to get to know his players on a personal level – as well as Ronnie and me – and spoke fondly about the Falmouth community and the Commodores organization. 

Now I don’t profess to even begin to know the inner workings and the business end of running a baseball team, and I certainly don’t have the inside track on the relationship between Coach Trundy and the Commodores’ Board of Directors, but as a manager of people and money and the public trust for many years, I know this much: There is a right way and a wrong way to part company.  The news this week that Coach Trundy was unceremoniously dismissed after nearly two decades with the team just simply doesn’t sit well. It was unequivocally the wrong way to conclude a long, successful and, at least publicly, harmonious relationship. 

By Coach Trundy’s own account, the dismissal came via a late night cell phone call with little or no explanation.  Commodores GM Bob Clark is quoted as offering a simple and incomplete explanation – “I just felt it was time,” he offered flatly when queried by local media.  The first mistake in that statement was right at the beginning.  Whether the authority existed to dump Trundy is an issue for the Board of Directors and its lawyers, but any decision of that magnitude should, by its very magnitude, have been treated with more dignity, and had the word “we” rather than “I.”  The rumblings that this was less than a consensus decision with no formal vote of the board makes it even more troubling.   

The Commodores are not a public agency, but they are a community asset.  Coach Trundy is not a public employee, but is beloved by the community.  As a result, this is an issue for and relevant to the Falmouth community, and the Commodores owe the community an explanation.  What would have been the harm in showing appreciation for his years of dedication and success and simply offering a congratulatory statement rather than a terse discharge? 

I’ll do what the Commodores didn’t, and offer heartfelt and warm thanks to Jeff Trundy for his love for  the Falmouth community, for mentoring scores of young men, and for bringing smiles to the faces of thousands on warm summer evenings for a generation.  Best wishes, coach.  Your smile is always welcome in Falmouth.

Go Ugly Early

The setting was a small, cramped public affairs office on the second floor of Building 158, an imposing metal and concrete edifice that also served as the maintenance hangar for the F-15s of the 102nd Fighter Wing. 

The time was sometime in the early 90’s, before websites, email, and smartphones became staples in our daily communications and (gasp) we as public officials had to strategize on just how to communicate directly – and sincerely - with the public.

The players in the conversation were me, an early-20’s, wide-eyed, idealistic and somewhat know-it-allish public affairs employee of the 102nd; my then-boss, now pal Doug Karson, a more experienced but still greenish communicator tasked with crafting a message that made the then-nascent but incredibly complex study and cleanup of the MMR approachable to a skeptical and skittish public; and Lt. Col. Everett Foster, a veteran of community relations and environmental public affairs, who had been dispatched from the Pentagon to teach us a few things. 

Colonel Foster was sharing his experiences with Doug and me when he let out a gem that became the philosophical cornerstone of what is now one of the benchmark programs in all of the Department of Defense for communicating the complexities and bureaucratic gobbledygook of environmental cleanup. 

With a wry smile and his glasses perched on the end of his nose, our sage Air Force officer peered knowingly at us and simply said, “Go ugly early.”  That was it. 

With those simple yet potent three words, our teacher and mentor from the Pentagon gave us the blueprint for an entire community relations program: Be truthful.  Be swift.  He taught that philosophy from coast to coast as Chief of Environmental Public Affairs for the National Guard Bureau from 1986 to 1998, and made his mark on national military policy – teaching senior military and civilian officials an important lesson in the human side – the genuine side – of working with the public.

Go ugly early.  That’s Everett Foster’s legacy and a lesson for all in government – professionals and volunteers alike.

Colonel Foster’s lesson can be accepted by open and eager minds, like those of two young public affairs officials back in the 90’s, or force fed with the not-so-velvet hammer of fines and sanctions, as evidenced by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s recent imposing of a $60,000 penalty on the Town of Falmouth for its handling of the discovery of E. coli in the town’s drinking water two summers ago, and the town’s failure to notify the DEP and the public. 

Nobody went ugly early on this one, and we all now pay the price – through hefty fines and shattered trust.  The town’s reluctance – or inability (both equally troubling scenarios) to share information with the public in a timely and truthful manner drew the ire of the Commonwealth and its legal and environmental regulators that has hopefully turned that reluctance into enthusiastic engagement and candor. 

The $60,000 smack down by the DEP is the result of negotiations from an original fine that could have approached $650,000, a pretty hefty price for a preventable lapse in forthrightness, and a blatant reminder of the critical importance of trusting the public enough to accept and understand bad news.

Really, that reluctance to heed the lesson of Colonel Foster and “go ugly early” is at the core of the problem – and the lesson - here.  Public officials must always remember that the citizens of a community are full partners in its operations and need – and deserve – to be in the loop on the workings of government beyond the good news of ribbon cuttings and award ceremonies. Citizens are smart enough and understanding enough to accept both good and bad news, as long as they trust that their elected and appointed leaders are working toward a solution.  That trust begins with living the lesson of Everett Foster.

Let’s hope our local officials heed the lesson and remember it next time some ugly news emerges.

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