Falmouth's blog

Joe Ferreira - A Labor of Love for a True Public Servant

Joe Ferreira has been serving the public his whole life.

While he may not be a household name here in Falmouth, the former top cop from Somerset currently serves in a critical role as a Governor’s Councilor, meeting weekly to approve billions in state spending and provide advice and consent on important gubernatorial appointments, including judgeships, magistrates, notaries, justices of the peace, and other quasi-judicial positions.

The districts for the Governor’s Councilors are larger than the nine Congressional districts in the commonwealth, as there are only eight elected councilors. Joe’s district includes all of Cape Cod and the islands, most of the South Shore, and a good portion of the South Coast, encompassing a diverse and varied population and political geography.


Being far from an expert myself on the duties of this enduring and time-tested but somewhat obscure office, I recently reached out to Councilor Ferreira to explore his take on the office he has held since January 2015. I expected a typical polished but political response and a referral to a staff member or website for my research. What I got was much more. I got information, experience, and a new, durable relationship. He not only graciously gave of his time to talk to me about the council and its role in the executive branch, but also invited me to attend one of their weekly meetings in the Governor’s Executive Offices at the State House, which have been held regularly since the council was established in 1780. I arrived at the State House and made an acquaintance with a newly minted politician. I left several hours later with a new friend and fellow public servant. I was impressed with his temperament, his compassion, and his humanistic approach to his work. He has no ‘litmus test’ for judicial appointees, other than being steadfast in his belief that they must possess the proper temperament to allow for fair and reasoned deliberation.

The councilors are modestly compensated for their important weekly work—they are paid slightly over $26,000 annually to sit in judgment on some of the most important decisions any governor can make, the makeup and composition of the jurists and magistrates who comprise the third branch of government—the judiciary. That makes Joe’s work as a Governor’s Councilor a labor of love—and true public service. He handles it with a steady but open hand, taking his elected role as holder of the public trust seriously.

Adroitly run by veteran Boston-based Councilor Christopher Iannella, the council meetings are a fascinating study in the machinations behind this ancient but efficient body. The meeting I attended was a mix of humor, respect, and tradition, blending the entertainment of political banter with the serious business of approving an appointment to the Massachusetts Court of Appeals. The nominee, Vicki Henry, was later approved by a wide margin, but the hearing was proof-positive that the council takes its role seriously. They peppered the nominee with thoughtful and pithy questions, and although she answered them with equal thought and pith, their role as arbiters of the governor’s judicial nominating judgment is professionally and thoroughly fulfilled. Joe asked tough, fair questions. He read Justice Henry’s application carefully and met with her, sizing up the temperament that is the cornerstone of his judicial philosophy. He took the time to ask me what I thought as a long-time political observer,and listened intently as I shared my thoughts on the comprehensive, caring, and insightful answers by the intellectual and social justice heavyweight who now sits on the Appeals Court.


As a former police officer who rose to the rank of chief in Somerset, Joe understands local issues. Having also served on that community’s planning board, he also understands the value of volunteers and citizen participation in our government. He passed out 10,000 nail files as he traversed the district during his hard-fought campaign in 2014, stumping 16 hours a day from Brewster to Berkley, and Falmouth to Freetown, meeting a population concerned about their future and those entrusted to guide us toward it.

Before we left the State House for a quick bite to eat, where we sized up the meeting and day’s events over a burger at the 21st Amendment, we stopped by the unpretentiously appointed offices for the councilors, drably appointed with gray cubicles and a telephone, and checked the messages left for the still-new councilor. There is no real pomp—just real work—in the offices of the Governor’s Council. Joe let me listen to a couple to get a flavor for the full-time demands on this part-time job. From objections to the deer hunt on the Blue Hills Reservation, a location far from Joe’s sea-hugging district, to requests for help with a Justice of the Peace license, to calls of frustration on federal immigration policies, the voicemails were a microcosm of the varied nature of today’s public discourse. He handled them like he did his deliberative duties at the meeting—with fairness and care.

Like I said, being a Governor’s Councilor is both a labor of love and true public service. I’m glad to know and to share that we’ve got a true public servant on the job.

My Brother K.C. - A Pillar of Strength and Support

My first memory of a hug from my brother was on a dark day that profoundly shaped and changed both of our lives. I arrived home from my daily educational pursuit at Lawrence School late on November 4, 1981, after having babysat for my cousins in West Falmouth. As my Uncle Craig drove me back in his Falmouth-appropriate maroon Ford station wagon to our family home in Fisherman’s Cove, I noticed a line of familiar cars in front of the house. I thought the queue of autos was an impromptu party and jokingly lamented to my uncle that I was not invited.

This was a party to which no teenage boy wants an invitation. Friends and family were gathered to commiserate with our family and each other over a sudden and tragic loss. My mom and brother met me outside the front door and my mother gently placed her hands on my shoulders and softly uttered the words that would alter all our lives. “Daddy died today,” was her simple pronouncement. My brother, who carried and still today proudly carries our father’s name—Kent H. Clarkson—wrapped me in a loving embrace and walked me down the driveway, noting tenderly to me that I had always been “good at praying” and that that moment was a good time to bring those skills to the family. As my world crumbled around me, there he stood—as he does today— as a pillar of strength and support. Today, he is that pillar of strength and support to countless Falmouthites he has touched with his generosity of self and spirit.

I believe that my brother Kent—known to many simply as K.C.—began his life of service on that day. He had dreams of becoming a veterinarian and caring for animals in need. Instead, he embarked on that cold November day on a life’s work of caring for others in need. He put his own dreams aside and, as my mother observed, “took over” caring for the entire family, working even harder at his job at the old Donohue’s grocery store on the corner of Trotting Park Road, fulfilling the role that he saw for himself as leader of the family.


Mom worked hard herself both outside the home and as a strong, dedicated parent, hoping that K.C. would see that he could pursue his own dreams—as I would be able to—but his die was cast as he saw it to live a life of service and purpose. After graduating from Falmouth High School, he continued to work hard and save, purchasing his first home at 19. By now, he was a trained and skilled carpenter, lovingly taught the craft by family friends and mentors John Palanza and Jimmy Vidal, and also worked as a truck driver for the Augusta family at Falmouth Lumber. He was building wonderful additions to homes, as well as building some of the community relationships that endure today.

In 1988 he proudly became a member of the Falmouth Police Department, following in the footsteps of that same Uncle Craig who was by our sides on that fateful day. He has served honorably for 28 years, leaving a mark on many segments of our community, having worked alongside old friend Doug White as the school resource officer at Lawrence School, as a pioneer of the field training program, teaching and mentoring dozens of officers, and for more than a decade as a detective, solving some of the most notable and vexing crimes in our town’s history. It was his ability to relate to the community he served, though, that will be his lasting imprint. We grew up modestly, appreciating people and relationships over material successes. K.C. has brought that humanistic philosophy to his work, taking time to sit with and counsel less fortunate citizens, offering the same caring strength he did to me. He’s even been known to search the woods for a lost soul or two, helping guide them back to the warmth of family—literally and figuratively.

K.C.’s career in law enforcement, however, has not been the limit of his service to his community. Despite being a decorated veteran of the Falmouth Police Department and a widely respected investigator, his real imprint has been his work beyond, outside of the cruiser and in the community. As one of the founders of the Cape Cod Police Athletic League, K.C. took that family commitment to service, inspired by his mom and solidified through his life experience, and brought it to a Capewide audience, providing free programming to at-risk kids from Palmer Avenue to P-town, never accepting anything but hugs and gratitude in return. More recently, K.C. has embarked on probably his most significant venture yet, partnering with local philanthropist Harry Turner to open a local facility to provide critically needed addiction services.


Of all the accomplishments and accolades, K.C.’s most prized accomplishment is holding the title of husband, father, and grandfather. He cherishes his time with his wife, Trina, and daughters Lindsay, Brooke, and Brittany, and, most recently, the joy and companionship of grandson Kolby. His role as grandfather is especially poignant, as his own grandfather, Guido Baroncelli, was the pillar for K.C. that he is for others.

Soon, though, after nearly three decades of putting on the uniform, K.C’s journey is set to take another path. At the end of this month he’ll hang up the gun belt and unlace the boots for the final time, entering into retirement as a police officer, but continuing his service to others and to the community—and family—he loves.

So, let me be the first to say what should rightfully be a community chorus of gratitude and appreciation to a veteran police officer and community benefactor who is also my brother, my keeper, and my friend. Thank you, K.C., for caring for us. Thank you for giving of your time. Thank you for being that pillar of strength and support. Thank you, most of all, for your generosity of self and spirit.

Madison's Lesson is Falmouth's Opportunity

As James Madison and others were grappling with the Revolutionary-era challenge of creating a balance of executive powers in the then-nascent union, other questions nagged and dogged those early patriots, among them the role that citizens—and their varied interests—would play in the new democratic experiment. In the Federalist Paper #10, Madison explores the roles of what he calls “factions.” He clearly advocated for a vibrant and active public, noting that “Faction is to democracy what air is to fire,” undoubtedly endorsing the participation of, and a role for, varied interests in American political discourse and American democratic institutions. Madison cautioned, however, that the “instability, injustice, and confusion” of these factions could be a “mortal disease” to the new government unless a proper role for citizens and their interests was found.

Madison noted that the formation of a federal government—a representative and not a purely democratic one—was an important step to providing democratic deference to a pluralistic society, while not bowing to the potential chaos and disorder of a pure democracy. He further opined that the ability of the federal government’s elected representatives to deflect some of the noise of the “factions” by prioritizing and blending varied interests was critical to both the success of the new nation and to preserving the integrity of the faction for democracy’s sake.

Madison’s lesson—and its legacy—have an important and timely application here in Falmouth as we turn the page on another year of representative self-government, one currently riddled with questions and concerns about the state of our local discourse and indeed its very foundation—the representative Town Meeting. Many questions arose after what some termed an invective-filled edition of our twice-annual democracy bee last month, where the tone and tenor of the discussion sunk to depths heretofore not seen in the Lawrence Memorial Auditorium.


Our local legislators are the local version of that deflective and prioritizing body that Madison envisioned. We elect them to deliberate and blend our interests into the town’s most important policy statement—our local budget—and to govern the governors by passing local laws that keep our chief elected officials and their appointed managers in check. They are the people’s voice, and we depend on them to speak with that voice to represent us.

But something went terribly wrong this time around. That voice was louder, meaner, and nastier than ever before. Well-respected students of the local political process have lamented on this page about the quality—the lack thereof, really—of the debate at Town Meeting. Local elder statesman and experienced legislator Eric Turkington observed, “But what we haven’t seen before is the amount of gratuitous invective and unfocused hostility expressed toward the town, its management, and its elected and appointed leaders that was on display at this last Town Meeting.” Eric is right. The question is, why?

Some offered an oversimplified explanation, pointing to the “Trumpification” of our local political process: that is, the Donald Trump-esque choice to opt for outrageous one-liners and catch phrases over meaningful debate. That is partially true, as some seem to relish the opportunity to be disruptive on television (guilty as charged myself in my younger years), but it glosses over the substantive underpinning of the discontent and mistrust that brought out people’s inner Donald. The insults and name-calling were indeed a new low. They were indeed disappointing. They were indeed uncharacteristic of our typically classy and well-informed legislature. They were not, however, without a cause and a motive. The lack of preparation and straight answers by our local leaders for a running series of Town Meetings fomented the discontent that boiled over in November. A budget with no backup, proposals with no justification, and clearly evasive and at times sneering and scornful answers by those appointed to run our affairs and spend our precious tax dollars—more than 100 million of them—acted as a cattle prod for the simmering bucking bronco collectively gathered as our elected Town Meeting.


On Town Meeting floor, neophyte local legislator Peter Hargraves lamented that our selectmen, town manager and finance director were being “attacked” and that criticism of them has no place in Town Meeting. James Madison would disagree, if he was there, and I concur with our constitutional framer. Informed discontent is a cornerstone of a pluralistic society—even a local government —and is designed to hold our leaders accountable. Unfortunately, in the face of inexplicable and unchecked executive behavior, the “‘instability, injustice, and confusion” envisioned by Madison emerges. That’s what we saw at Town Meeting—and what we will continue to see unless those same officials replace the disdain with respect, replace the slipperiness with substance, and replace the obfuscation with objectivity. This theory doesn’t excuse the bad behavior at Town Meeting—but it explains it.

James Madison, along with George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, was one of a handful of the founding fathers of our nation with the strongest influence on the development and passage of the Constitution and believed fervently in the role of the public will and democratic ideals in the new republic. While he cautioned of the potential anarchy of the masses, he nonetheless recognized their need to be heard and impactful. Here in Falmouth, it is important to echo the same admonition and ultimate optimism that disparate voices—and the need to both tame and coalesce them—are the foundation of a healthy democratic republic—and a healthy local government. The burden—and the opportunity—now lies squarely in the corner conference room to take Madison’s lesson seriously by respecting and embracing those voices.

Janey Norton - A Living Falmouth Legend

Falmouth has many sports legends. From former pro athletes like Nick Fotiu, the only New York native to play for the New York Rangers, to bejeweled Olympian Colleen Coyne, who skated with her teammates to Olympic gold in 1998, to locals like Rick Corey and Doug Doolittle, whose gridiron mastery and undefeated season in 1975 are still the stuff of town legend, our local history is loaded with stories of athletic success.

Not all of our local sports legends, however, made their mark—and their memories—on the field. Some shaped teams and shaped young lives as coaches. Names like Billy Andrade, Fred Toran, Jim Kalperis always evoke smiles and Clipper pride and are always in the discussion when the question of the “greatest” occurs at the coffee shops and kitchen tables in our community.

No discussion, however, of the greatest coach in Falmouth history would be complete without adding Janey Norton to the list. Janey recently retired after more than two decades as the veteran coach of the perennially successful Falmouth High School field hockey team. She leaves behind a long list of successes—on and off the field—and an even longer list of friends and fans, all grateful for her leadership, her compassion, and, most importantly, her commitment to student success.


Janey was feted at the Coonamessett Inn on a recent Sunday, as former players, parents, and coaching colleagues made up a steady stream of admirers to pay tribute to this living local legend. As Donna and I enjoyed a stroll down memory lane with old friends John and Sue Kelleher, whose daughter Kait enjoys the distinction of having played on Janey’s last team, we watched a parade of Falmouthites share hugs, memories, adoration, and approbation with Janey and her family.

Janey’s sister Maura Sullivan, acting as emcee and ambassador of admiration for the event, provided an overview of Janey’s accolades and accomplishments on the field and in her work as a teacher. Falmouth field hockey has become synonymous with success under Janey’s leadership and tutelage; during her tenure, the team racked up nine Old Colony League championships, four Atlantic Coast League championships, and 21 post-season tournament appearances, including a South Sectional championship in 2003. During that same time, Janey fostered a love of field hockey in the youth of Falmouth, creating and directing a summer camp for elementary school age athletes and providing opportunities for high school age athletes to teach and coach themselves, providing probably her most important legacy—coaches and teachers of tomorrow.

This amazing success was no surprise to those who know Janey best—her family. Driven to competition by her older brothers who, in Maura’s words, were “bigger, stronger, and merciless in competition, whether it was on the field or diving for the clicker to the TV,” she became the first female athlete in Bourne High School history to earn 12 varsity letters. That love of competition led her to Salem State College, where she played field hockey, then to teaching and coaching, then to Falmouth, where her first season in 1994 began the legend.


Despite that coaching success, Janey is devoted to her family. The word “hug” does not do justice to the passionate embrace provided to Janey by her twin sister, Judy, at her Falmouth festivity, symbolizing the esteem of an entire family. The undying love and support of her wife, Leslie, and children, particularly Taylor (Fuzzy) Sullivan, who was able to play on Falmouth’s varsity team, provided her with the foundation to be part of Falmouth’s folklore. Fuzzy was part of the terrific trio of best friends, including Julia Dalton and Jenna Clarkson, who in 2013 made up the core of one of Janey’s most memorable teams.

Janey’s transition from coaching was spurred by her new role as principal of the Peebles Elementary School in Bourne. The Peebles students’ gain is Falmouth field hockey’s loss, but Janey will remain an engaged and engaging presence in town and will, as her sister also noted, “find a way to still play with the game that she loves so much and the people that mean so much to her.”

Well, Janey, we love you right back. Congratulations—and thank you—to one of Falmouth’s living legends.

The Best Artist Shares the Best Place

During this season of giving, some of the most important—and precious—gifts that we both give and receive are those that are omnipresent but ever-changing. Our most valuable gifts are priceless but prized and treasured. Our lasting gifts are those that have lasted and sustained changing times and changing mores. Our shared rich history—our identity as a community and as a collection of Falmouthites—is indeed our most precious gift.

Perhaps no single member of the community has better captured that gift of history throughout our history—and selflessly shared it with us—than legendary local artist Karen Rinaldo. Her ability to artistically exhibit the soul of our community and its landmarks and landscapes on canvas has touched lives for generations since she came to Falmouth as a self-described “creative soul” in the 1970s. Since then she has become deeply rooted in—and her artistry has been woven into—the fabric of the community she so loves. Karen’s gift to Falmouth is in her philanthropic pursuits in generously sharing her artistic gift with all of us and in supporting organizations that help preserve the historic bits of that same local soul.

Karen’s deep love for and respect of history is rooted in her own formative experience living in a pre-Revolutionary homestead in Worcester on the old Post Road that meandered through 18th century Massachusetts. Replete with secret tunnels and stories to match, this house sparked Karen’s profound connection with history and passion to preserve it. It was also the site of her first philanthropic exercise. She would charge a nickel to locals and provide tours of the house and tell the tales of its journey through time. She would then donate the proceeds to a local charity. The house was later razed, taking with it the physical remnants of those memories but solidifying Karen’s commitment to preservation. In much the same form, her work continues in that fashion today. Through her paintings, Karen takes us on tours of Falmouth’s history and preserves what may have been razed by raising our awareness and appreciation for the Falmouth of yesterday.


Her journey to Falmouth—and to the life of an artist—was not-so-gently nudged by what Karen calls a “defining moment” of her life. After youthful escapades and what she described as “prowling around,” she found herself as a 16-year-old before a judge. When the magistrate sternly but paternally asked her what she intended to do with her life, she told him she wanted to be a painter. He quizzically responded with another question, asking if she intended to paint with a big brush or a small one, mocking her whimsical but resolute response. She proudly and determinedly (if perhaps a bit timidly) reported to the judge that she wanted to, “be a painter with a small brush who paints fine paintings.” The judge replied, “Kid, you’re gonna need a lot of luck.” Karen knew that hard work begets luck, and set out that day to prove to the judge that she could paint with the small brush—but make a big impact. That day and those prophetic words—from Karen and from the judge—formed the foundation and the portal to a life dedicated to sharing her gift and her gratitude with others through that small brush.

Not too many years later, Karen found herself in Falmouth, pursuing that same goal of painting fine paintings. Her gallery, now a local landmark at the end of Scranton Avenue next to the venerable Clam Shack, was a fish market, replete with lobster tanks and rubber mats on the floor. The location, however, perfectly fit Karen’s love of colorful panoramas and connection with the sea. She displayed paintings there, and began to integrate into what is now her hometown. Through the 1980s she continued her relentless pursuit of living the life of an artist, always seeking local charities to support with her artwork. Her images on the Falmouth Fireworks tee shirts are now the stuff of local legend. People collect these local treasures like baseball cards—I have a few myself and look forward to my annual visit with Arthur Ratsy to buy mine. One of her gallery locales throughout that locally nomadic journey was a spot on Academy Lane, near the chamber of commerce. Her gallery didn’t have a phone, so she would give out the number of the pay phone outside the chamber building, then hurl herself hurriedly down the stairs and outside when it rang, hoping a willing and eager customer was on the other end.

The customers came. In 1989 the fish market next to the Clam Shack closed, and Karen had found a permanent home for her paintings and her passion. Still today, she sits in the modestly appointed studio, richly replete with the markings of a true artist’s lair: her inimitable works of art in various stages of completion, a canvas facing the priceless vista of Vineyard Sound, and of course, lots of small brushes. A generation later, Karen continues to capture the essence of our local soul, and continues to build on those tours of her homestead, living a life of purpose with her charitable pursuits.


One of her latest—and most amazing—projects has been working with the Falmouth Preservation Alliance to create the Heritage Map, a virtual tour of Falmouth’s history, character, and landscape, all in one remarkable work of art. The map, a tour of Falmouth’s history through its landmarks, depicts past and present buildings, locations, and neighborhoods that helped shape our local history. Completed with pen and ink as well as watercolor, Karen’s opus was completed painstakingly with hundreds (yes, hundreds) of tracing sheets that would overlay hand-drawn portions of this massive and important work. Working with the Preservation Alliance fits with Karen’s outlook on life and on Falmouth, as she sees this project as a chance to develop an even deeper connection with her community and provide a tribute and a lasting example of how a small brush can leave a huge legacy. She shared with me, with a twinkle in her eye and a contented smile on her serene visage, that, “A chair is just a chair if no one is sitting there,” paraphrasing singer Dusty Springfield. Falmouth should be grateful that we have Karen Rinaldo sitting in the artist’s chair next to the Clam Shack. To learn more about the heritage map, visit www.falmouthpreservationalliance.org or reach out to Karen directly at [email protected].

Karen Rinaldo told me that Falmouth is the “best place in the world.” She noted that she gives back because, in her words, “You give until the spirit stops giving to you.” So she gives—so much—to us. What a gift that we have the best painter to share with us her vision and view of this best place.

A Big Solution to a Big Problem

Police Chief Ed Dunne does not see alcohol and drug abuse and the recent rash of overdoses and deaths as a police problem. He sees them as a community problem.

Police Chief Ed Dunne does not see the solution to alcohol and drug abuse in our community and the recent rash of overdoses and deaths as a police solution. He sees it as a community solution.

That change in the paradigm, that shift in how the problem is seen, is an important—and nothing less than seismic—shift in the focus of how we as a community begin to reduce the amount of untimely and tragic deaths within our borders.


As a result, the approach to make progress toward a reduction of overdoses, and ultimately a reduction and elimination of heartbreaking deaths in our community, must necessarily be a collaborative and collective one, where all disciplines, all agencies, and all pieces to this critical solution puzzle, all have the opportunity to contribute to the design and implementation of that same solution.

Chief Dunne is working with more than two dozen community leaders to make that happen. Recognizing that the sheer scope of this problem requires a multi-disciplinary approach, he has sponsored the formation of the Opioid Community Coalition of Falmouth (OCCF), a loosely affiliated but closely knit alliance of community members whose simple but profound mission is, “To save lives by mobilizing the community in order to increase awareness and reduce the availability and misuse of opioid drugs.”

The key, of course, is in the word community. As a police agency, one sworn to and charged with upholding the law, its normal function is to mobilize its own resources. However, this is no normal problem. According to Chief Dunne, this year alone, more than 118 overdoses and 10 deaths have been recorded in the area, clearly identifying this crisis as one of the most important and pressing public health issues of our time. Bringing together an alliance of dedicated and committed representatives from every corner of the community is just what needs to happen.


The idea came to the chief late one sleepless night as he was answering e-mails and thinking hard about what the police department could do to combat the overdoses and deaths plaguing Falmouth families. The revelation, as simple and profound as the mission that would follow, was that this community problem deserved—in fact, desperately needed—a broad-based solution. We could not and cannot arrest our way out of this. We could not and cannot talk our way out of this. We could not and cannot even pray our way out of this. We must do all of those—and more. The OCCF was born that night.

At the OCCF’s most recent meeting in late October, more than a dozen agencies, from the district attorney’s office to the school department to Gosnold to local and state elected officials to representatives of print and electronic media were represented. They were joined by volunteers from the Substance Abuse Commission, the Falmouth Prevention Partnership, and even some representatives of the faith-based community. The circle of community was completed with attendance by our town manager, health agent and several police and fire representatives. Even local pharmacies, which play a critical role in distributing the legal but equally lethal prescription form of opiates, were at the table and are willing to do their part. At the next meeting in January, an even broader circle will be opened, and attendees will include people in recovery, those still in the throes of the disease of addiction, additional local treatment providers, veterans groups, and even dentists and doctors, who play a critical role in the prescription of opiates and the diagnosis of addiction. The chief hopes to expand the circle even wider and invites members of the community to provide feedback and suggestions.

The work of the OCCF will build on the outstanding police outreach activities already in place, led by true community policing professionals like Sergeant Mike Simoneau, who accompanies local substance abuse treatment professionals to the homes of overdose victims to offer far more than the typical police response. Sgt. Simoneau provides advice and information on available treatment and resources to help the newly sober stay sober, or the newly relapsed get sober. That sort of rare dedication and commitment are already saving lives. The OCCF aims to help save even more.

Chief Dunne, when he hatched the idea of the OCCF that sleepless night, knew that something “big” had to be done. Widening the circle to include all facets of this burgeoning crisis is just the big thing that was needed. This is a big solution to a big problem.

When the Irrational Becomes the Absurd

At some point, perhaps, the irrational becomes so pervasive that it becomes the absurd, but does that mean that it eventually becomes rational? I say no.

On November 9, our local legislators will converge on the Lawrence Memorial Auditorium to conduct the people’s business in the autumn version of our Annual Town Meeting—the town’s precious exercise of representative democracy. The menu always includes small servings of both nonsense and irrationality, and the presence of yet another spate of articles related to the town-owned wind turbines offers a heaping helping of both.

Article 1 on the Special Town Meeting warrant seeks to transfer yet another “sum of money” (local legislative vernacular for hundreds of thousands of dollars) to a financial bottomless pit called the “Energy Receipts Reserved for Appropriation Account” for the ongoing expense of having the turbines stand silently while the town stands loudly and fights with itself and its citizens. This is accompanied by a related article on the Annual Town Meeting warrant (Article 8) seeking a $350,000 mid-year increase to the town’s legal budget, “due to labor, wind turbine, and Conservation Commission expenses,” according to the town’s own document. Combined, these articles seek more than a half-million dollars in funding to support the town’s simple unwillingness to admit it made a mistake.

We have turbines that lose money and a burgeoning legal budget that self-perpetuates with ongoing litigation that includes the town suing itself and its citizens. The town claims that it would, however, be too costly to simply stop the bleeding and dismantle the turbines. I have yet to see an official breakdown of these costs, and since the town still refuses to embrace transparency and actually post a copy of the town’s budget on its website, it is impossible to assess and understand any financial impacts.

Yet another article seeks the legislative branch’s assent on a rewrite of history that is as hurtful as it is haughty. Article 3 on the Special Town Meeting warrant seeks to amend the town’s zoning bylaw—retroactively—to make the turbines exempt from local zoning. By including the phrase “in existence as of the date of this bylaw” in this revision, the turbines would become exempt from the permitting that they are now required to seek as a result of the town’s recent judicial defeat at the state’s highest court.

This comes on the heels of an epic flub where the town intended to file a judicial appeal against its own zoning board of appeals for declaring one of the turbines a nuisance, but missed the filing deadline, effectively ending at least that battle—at least for now. So, in response, the town simply seeks to jump into Marty McFly’s DeLorean and bring us back in time so that they can fix what was broken years ago. The problem with that approach? You may be able to fix what they perceive to be a broken bylaw, but no time machine can fix the broken trust, the broken lives, and broken futures for those impacted by the turbines, not to mention the broken relationships for those in the community torn apart by this divisive issue.

Can you see where the town’s nonsensical and irrational behavior comes in here? It may be hard to pinpoint, as it is pervasive in this sad, spiteful, shotgun approach, which seeks multiple ill-advised solutions to further the town’s immovable and rigid methods. As I’ve said before, I and many others celebrated the erection of the turbines as a triumph of the town’s commitment to renewable energy. I did not foresee the impacts on our town—on my friends and our neighbors. Today, I and many others admit we were wrong. Why can’t our local executives do the same and stop the madness? They can certainly follow the lead of our planning board, which voted unanimously this week to reject the selectmen’s revisionist history and will offer a recommendation of indefinite postponement along with harsh words on Town Meeting floor to this duplicitous attack on our sensibility.

Our Town Meeting members are educated and dedicated. They do their homework. They can see through the town’s intransigence and they’ve surely seen the hurt it has caused, financial and personal. They’ve seen the town defeated in every major legal decision related to these mean machines; this latest legal bungling is simply the most recent chapter in this tragic tome. They hopefully see the recklessness of continued pursuit of a failed public policy.

I urge Town Meeting members to take a stand. I urge Town Meeting members to open the door to the only reasonable resolution—to dismantle the turbines, stop the mounting financial catastrophe, and begin to heal a divided community. That begins with NO votes on Annual Article 8 and Special Articles 1, 2, and 3

Bad Government and Bad Manners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's the Economy!

Today’s economy—both here in Falmouth and on a national level—is a complex marble cake of ingredients, its diverse components blending together to produce a successful result, while striking a delicate balance between those ingredients. Those components—the ingredients of our local economic marble cake—are diverse, their assortment and variety all contributing to that marbled economic mosaic.

Our local economy is diverse in its engines, what makes it chug successfully—from the bustling and critical service sector, which supports not only our summer visitors, but also provides a wide variety of retail and restaurant choices for a busy and vibrant year-round population to our century-old scientific and intellectual sector, which supports hundreds of year-round jobs and attracts educated professionals from around the globe to spend their time and their money here, to the burgeoning healthcare industry, which is appropriately responding to our changing demographic and providing a variety of services to all residents, to our agricultural sector, rich in history and contributions to our local color. 

Diversity is also plentiful in the people who contribute to those sectors. The people of Falmouth—today’s vibrant and inviting mélange of humanity—are as varied as the economic engines they feed. The citizens and residential non-citizens who contribute to our economy come from nations and cultures across the globe, creating heterogeneity that makes for a local culture and local community that is rich with traditions, influences, and more.

The source of that diversity is also varied. It is cultural, ethnic, and economic. Some workers in the local service industry—today primarily from Jamaica and Eastern Europe, but in the recent past in large numbers from Ireland and Brazil—travel to Falmouth on visas and stay for a short time. Others, including scientists and other highly educated professionals who study, conduct research, and discover at the institutions in Woods Hole while contributing to the private sector spinoff incubator companies that provide high-paying local jobs, stay for a year or more, planting roots and raising families in the community. Even those families, who stay for several years, likely, provide support to other family members back home. The concept of remittances, or the amount of money that migrant workers send back to their nations of origin, more simply described as sending money home, points to the profound economic impact of those who visit and work for a month or a decade that cannot be ignored.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonprofit agency whose mission statement is “an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide,” more than 15 million migrant workers from Mexico and China alone produce and remit more than $35 billion in earnings back to their native nations. When analyzed on a worldwide level, the value of remittances far exceeds the total value of foreign aid from and to all nations combined. The simple fact is that money earned in the United States—including Falmouth—and transmitted across the globe is part of a complex financial underpinning that is inextricably linked with the overall economy of the United States—and that of Falmouth.

If we simply and robotically follow the xenophobic rantings of some policymakers and dismiss all of the non-citizens and send them home—the services they provide and their impact on the economy go with them. It is both shortsighted and contrary to documented demographic analyses to oversimplify and state that foreign workers take jobs away from American citizens. Demographic trends plainly demonstrate that there simply are not enough Americans—particularly in the Northeast—to perform all of the work that needs to be done. That trend will worsen over the next 20 years, making that shortage of workers—and the need to accept and encourage contributions of human capital from other nations—more acute. Our economy—nationwide and here in Falmouth—would collapse on itself if those millions of workers were forced to leave.

For all of these reasons, the decision by the board of selectmen to support school committee member Leah Palmer’s initiative to grant voting rights to non-citizens in local elections should be supported. Certainly controversial but equally courageous, the unanimous vote by our elected executives demonstrates their understanding of the concept that a diverse local workforce in 2015 must necessarily include a diversity in the origin, status, and citizenship of our workers.

Extending the right to vote in local elections for these residents, who are as much a part of our community as the selectmen who supported the concept, is not just good government, it’s good economics. Furthermore, it recognizes that the selectmen are willing to smash the decades-old and outdated paradigm of what constitutes the right to be here, live here, and work here. Continued reliance on a fear-based policy of closing the door to those who look, sound, and believe differently will further deteriorate our ability to compete and succeed in the global economy—nationwide and here in Falmouth.

Any of us who is not a native—as in a Native American—can trace their roots back to a family member who came here as an immigrant. The rules have changed since everyone had to come through Ellis Island. We adapted and updated the rules. It’s time to update the rules again—nationwide and here in Falmouth.

Seeing is Believing at Ballymeade

I am a man of faith. I believe in things that I cannot see. I believe in gratitude. I believe in goodness. And, yes, I have an abiding belief in a power greater than ourselves. Those beliefs sustain me and guide me through good days and bad. I cannot see those things, but I know—and have faith—that they are there.

However, that faith does not extend to issues of public policy, public trust, and public permitting. In those arenas, I believe that seeing is believing, and that those who wish to succeed in any of those public venues has a duty to act openly and in full view of the public. That burden to literally show and tell rests squarely with those seeking permission from the government and exists on behalf of both those entrusted to grant permits and those of us simply interested in or impacted by an issue.

So, as someone interested in the proposal currently before the planning board to revamp the existing golf course at Ballymeade and to add additional new housing units to that neighborhood, I reached out to town hall last week and asked for a copy of the filing, so I could see for myself. The planning staff was helpful and responsive. Soon after my request for information on the project, I received an e-mail with the proponent’s application and several plans detailing the first and second proposals to construct condominiums on the site.

Although the plans submitted provided a fair amount of detail on what was being proposed, the one-page application provided little, if any, information on who was proposing to do it. So the town has information on the “what” of this development, but not the all-important “who.” The project proponent, a limited liability company named FWG, LLC with an address in Norwood, was listed on the form, but nothing else. News reports of the hearings before the planning board provided a couple of names, but little else has been revealed. Typically, a major development puts the proponent front and center, building relationships and building trust with the neighbors and the community. The lack of any person or persons in whom to trust and on whom to rely is troubling. More due diligence by the town (and incidentally a much more thorough and rigorous application for developers beyond the one-page introduction) is imperative.

I followed up with the planning office and asked what more information was available about the developer. The answer was “none.” Then, like an eerie but unfortunate homage to this week’s passing of the great ballplayer and even greater quotemaster Yogi Berra, this vague, untold story became like déjà vu all over again. As with other major proposed developments in town recently, the information on who is really behind this significant proposal was lacking, and the stories being told in public simply did not seem to match up with those being told when the cameras are off and the reporters are not present.

As a real and troubling example, several Ballymeade residents informed me that, at private meetings with the homeowners, the project was represented by developer Michael Intoccia, who acted as master of ceremonies at project meetings, presenting himself as a principal, if not the major, player in this unfolding drama. If Mr. Intoccia is intentionally staying off the public stage, that would be understandable given his history. A quick google search reveals a rash of broken promises, bankruptcy, and bamboozling. If he does emerge in public as linked to this project, the planning board should ask him about the state attorney general’s news release where former AG Martha Coakley scolded Mr. Intoccia, noting that he “took thousands of dollars in advance payments from new home buyers for houses he never delivered,” adding that the developer was ordered to repay more than $525,000 to those bilked by his scheme.

Is that the kind of developer involved in this project? We don’t know because we haven’t been told who the wizard is behind the curtain. Is that the caliber of businessman we want taking money from current and future residents? We won’t know until the planning board asks.

Indeed, you can believe in things that you cannot see. However, building condos is not included in that leap of faith. In this case, we need to see it to believe it. We cannot simply act on faith that the Harold Hill-esque promise of a good result with this project will, in fact, be good for the neighborhood—and the community. At the very least, the planning board should ask for a much more thorough report from the proponent, including the names and credentials of the development team. Furthermore, they should hold off on any approvals until they are comfortable that the leaders of this project have the ability, the resources, and—most importantly—the integrity to get it done.