Falmouth's blog

Shanty Deserves A Local Chance

This week, I googled the “history of Falmouth Heights” and encountered a brief but engaging glimpse at the origins of this treasured section of our community. In it, the author, Nick McCavitt, noted the following:

“Before the year 1870, what is now the Falmouth Heights area was known simply as the Great Hill. The area surrounding the Great Hill was largely untouched, save for the salt works that were found by the shore of Deacon’s Pond. All that changed when a group of Worcester businessmen happened upon the land after a visit to Martha’s Vineyard. Their original plan for purchasing the land was to turn it into a A-list summer resort that would include cottages, hotels, stores and various means of transportation over the 100 acres of the Great Hill.”


If Nick is correct, and some additional research suggests that he is, the very origins of Falmouth Heights were as a summer hang-out, a place where families came to enjoy the natural beauty and agreeable environs. Although the A-list plan didn’t pan out, the resort portion did. A sign on Falmouth Heights Road, sponsored by the Falmouth Heights-Maravista Improvement Association, identifies this village as the area’s “First Planned Resort Community,” confirming for all who live and visit that this place has a special identity as a summer destination.

Given that rich history, the histrionics of a few locals in discouraging another couple of locals from pursuing continued success at their family-friendly restaurant in the village were not only disappointing, they were inconsistent with the village’s own raison d’etre.

As I watched the recent selectmen’s meeting where the locally owned Silver Shores Shanty sought to extend its afternoon entertainment license from weekends to daily during the summer season, the loud and sometimes offensive rebuke offered by a small number of neighbors rivaled the “acoustic trespassing” of which they accused the Shanty. Our democratic republic is built on dissent, and our open government encourages input, but the throw-down exhibited by these residents was simply a naked attempt at ridding Falmouth Heights of one of the few places left where a family can simply enjoy a post-beach ice cream, a plate of whole-bellied clams, a cold beverage, and some local musicians. That sounds like Americana to me; it was portrayed as a noise pollution-emitting nuisance by them.

Now entering its third season of food and fun for Falmouthites and visitors alike, the Shanty is the Falmouth Heights version of the fabled “Cheers,” where everybody knows your name. Owners Bob Flynn and local standout Ted Murphy greet all comers with a wide smile and a welcome staff. They have created a fun-filled family atmosphere that hasn’t existed at that site since the renowned “Shrubs” served great food and even greater jokes there in my youth.

The objections to extending the license—for music during daylight hours—just didn’t add up. Our tourist economy depends on thriving businesses like this one, and the modest request was for tasteful, reasonable, and merited extension. The neighbors’ objections were unfair and unwarranted. Even Falmouth legend Andy Dufresne, whom I nominated for the “All-Falmouth Team” when I feted the occasion of his 80th birthday in a laudatory column, should be benched for his comments. His direct attack on selectman Sue Moran, scolding her and noting that he would “come at her” if she continued to disagree with him, was a low point in the discussion—and a low point of deportment for our usually beloved octogenarian gadfly.

Our stalwart selectman held her own, though. “Falmouth has to be aware of how much we depend on our economy—local folks employing local folks. We have to be careful on putting handcuffs on private businesses,” she opined, offering a voice of reason during an otherwise unreasonable debate.

And that’s really the only point made that bears repeating. The Shanty is a local place, owned by local folks, employing local youth, serving local food. They deserve a local chance —not local handcuffs.

Meals and Memories on Main Street

For nearly 70 years—since the World War II era-members of the Riley or Maguire families have made meals and memories at 273 Main Street.

Today, that tradition continues as this week marks the grand renaissance and re-opening of one of the mainstays of Main Street, Liam Maguire’s Irish Pub. A family labor of love for the Maguires since 1994, this re-opening also represents a window of opportunity through which a new generation of Main Street merchants is emerging. “This represents a dream come true,” explained Deb Maguire, half of the husband and wife duo (Liam, himself, is of course the other half) who have managed, loved, and shared their lives’ work with the Falmouth community for the last 21 years. Deb and Liam took over the restaurant on May 6, 1994—14 years after, to the day, they met. Now, their entire family contributes to the success of this local tradition.

Deb fondly remembers the day she met Phyllis Riley, matriarch of the family who managed, loved, and shared their family labor of love, the Town House Restaurant, on the same site for nearly 50 years before the Maguires took over: “She had a broom in one hand, and some Formula 409 in the other and had every aspect of the business inside her head.” Phyllis, who was in her 70s at the time, is still with us, sans broom and 409. Deb has followed in those footsteps in quarterbacking another community jewel at that locale, but has instead opted to pass the torch (or spoon) to the next generation of Maguires, sons Rory and Shea, to continue this family and Falmouth tradition. Both were heavily involved in the renovations, from sharing ideas to shedding sweat, and are poised to assume their rightful roles in leading the family business.

As I visited the nearly complete renovations at the pub this week, I was amazed at the transformation of this popular gathering spot. The “back room,” which for some was like the distant hinterlands of Siberia, has been transformed into a wide open space, a welcoming addition to the already substantial interior. The dining room is an expanse of mahogany and shiny wood floors, just begging for the thirsty throngs who will fill every inch next week for St. Patrick’s Day—and each day following. Even the bathrooms, long a source of consternation for otherwise satisfied guests, have been expanded and renovated with tile. Rory noted that as well-wishers, friends and other assorted Falmouthites have passed by with words of encouragement, most have inquired about the status of the facilities. The family heard—and acted. Now even the loo is warm and inviting.

Deb described the all-Falmouth team who helped create this renaissance. “We had a local contractor, a local bank—and even a father and son team along with us,” she noted. Local, indeed. Falmouth legend Mike Duffany and several members of his own family have completed the construction, which has included significant work throughout this downtown landmark. Even the floor in the kitchen and rear of the restaurant is completely new—dug down to the dirt with eight-inch chunks of concrete removed and replaced throughout with a new, modern surface. An addition in the back includes an office and a pizza, salad, and dessert station (pizza and dessert always work for me).

Deb Maguire noted to me, with a gleam in her eye and a wide smile, that running a restaurant is so much more than plunging toilets and washing dishes. She’s certainly correct—and has two decades of experience and success to prove it. Along with Liam, Rory, and Shea, she has worked tirelessly, not only creating a successful restaurant, but molding a lasting legacy and a local institution. The renovations unveiled to a loyal and excited fan base this week will set the stage for another generation of success and decades more meals and memories at 273 Main Street

Time For Deliberation in the Court of Public Opinion

For anyone who watches “Law & Order” or any crime and punishment TV show, the concept of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is a well-known and widely held tenet of justice. However, in a civil case, that standard shifts to a preponderance of the evidence, which is “just enough evidence to make it more likely than not that the fact the claimant seeks to prove is true,” according to the online legal resource, The Free Dictionary.
I would submit that the same standard of a preponderance of evidence applies in the court of public opinion for infractions committed by public officials, but the analysis shifts from a jury of one’s peers to the public, ideally a subset of citizens who vote.

Given that paradigm for the consideration and evaluation of public opinion and public official’s culpability, I hereby submit for consideration of the court, the charges of violation of Section I (D) of the Falmouth Public Schools Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plan against school superintendent Bonny Gifford. That section of this vital and imperative community document states the following: “The Falmouth Public Schools expect that all members of the school community will treat each other in a civil manner and with respect for differences. No one in the school community should be a target of bullying in any form.”

For the court’s consideration, here is the evidence related to the charges:

To establish a foundation for our charges, bullying is, “unwanted, aggressive behavior…that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time,” according to the United States government, as documented on its bullying website, www.stopbullying.gov.

Unwanted aggressive behavior related to a perceived power imbalance is central to the story and saga of longtime school employee and beloved community volunteer Johnnie Netto. The very definition of bullying relies on the state of mind and perception of the recipient of the bad behavior and not the aggressor. Given this dynamic, I submit that the very circumstances that have unfolded in public as reported by Mr. Netto and partially denied by the superintendent are prima facie (sufficient and apparent on its face) evidence of bullying, but there is additional supporting evidence.

When Mr. Netto was informed by school facilities director R. Patrick Murphy that changes would be made in staffing and a public outcry and social media backlash caused at least a backpedal, if not a full retreat, Mr. Netto was then called back in a second time to clarify that he was simply being asked to “check with the retirement board,” a practice that is strictly prohibited.

This certainly qualifies for the criteria of behavior that is being repeated over time. If these were kids on a playground and the aggressor noted that he didn’t mean to kick the other kid, he meant to punch him, the bully would still be punished. “I find myself wondering how many more ways the superintendent can insult me,” noted this 67-year-old, 24-year veteran employee. I almost rest my case.

For supporting circumstantial evidence, the exodus of top administrators from the School Administration Building and its environs during the superintendent’s tenure demonstrates a troubling trend of departures of direct reports. The list of top administrators and principals who have left or are preparing to leave includes a roster of virtually the entire management team. Although this cannot be directly attributed to the behavior of the schools’ CEO, certainly the numbers of well-established and well-respected professionals walking away from a highly regarded school system points to both a disturbing trend and an unhealthy environment.

The superintendent’s willingness and inclination to pick a public fight on budgetary issues with former selectman chairman Kevin Murphy at a public meeting shortly after her arrival points to a difficulty in fostering collaborative relationships. The confrontation reported in last week’s Enterprise editorial, in which the sincerity and commitment of the publisher were called into question, certainly supports that conclusion.

The court of public opinion is not a court of law, and the consequence of guilt is less tangible, but we’ve got a crisis of confidence at the historic edifice next to the Teaticket Green, and I believe we have provided sufficient evidence as to why. It’s time for the jury to deliberate.

The Legacy of Uncle Bob

Elvis. Liberace. Gandhi. It takes someone truly noteworthy—and someone truly special—to be known by a one-word name. It is rarer still when someone of that magnitude devotes their life to the service of others. Bob Sylvia, known to the Cape Cod Boy Scouting community simply as “Uncle Bob” was just such a man. Uncle Bob passed recently, leaving a legacy of lives touched, lives changed, and lives improved. I had the honor to deliver the eulogy at his funeral last week. Even if you didn’t know Bob, his impact on humanity is worth noting. As both a tribute to the memory of Bob Sylvia and an example of how to live a meaningful life in today’s topsy-turvy world, here are excerpts from my remarks:
“Probably one of the best ways for me to encapsulate the legacy of Uncle Bob is to share excerpts from a column I wrote several years ago to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the BSA. The last time I saw Uncle Bob was in June of last year, when I stopped into the Bourne Manor to say hello and to give him a signed copy of my book, which included this tribute. He was sleeping when I arrived, and I was simply going to leave the book and be on my way. I’m sure God intervened and provided us a chance to chat one last time. He awoke with bright eyes and greeted me as if I had seen him the day before. ‘Hey, Troy, how are you?’ he said with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. I showed him the book, and his smile grew broader. That moment will remain one of the highlights of my life.
“Here is what I said in that column, “Bob Sylvia has an ‘Eagle Room’ in his East Falmouth home, filled with memorabilia of the eagles he has encountered in his life. ‘Uncle Bob,’ as he is widely known, is not a birder, though, he is a leader and the eagles he has encountered are young men he has guided and led to the highest rank in scouting, that of Eagle Scout. In that Eagle Room, there is a picture of Jesus carrying an injured lamb on his shoulders, given to Bob by a young man whom he carried through a difficult time in his life.

“The young man had recently lost his Dad and had quit scouting. In fact, he had lost faith in most things and was wandering through his young life with little faith or direction. Bob showed up unannounced at his front door one Saturday morning, took the young man for a walk, and convinced him to rejoin the Boy Scouts after nearly a year away. That young man returned to scouting with a newfound vigor and became a proud Eagle Scout from East Falmouth’s Troop 42. That Eagle Room is filled with other photos and symbols telling stories of Bob’s more than 50 years as a leader in scouting. He has helped countless young Falmouth men live the scout law—showing them the way to be good men, good citizens. The Eagles are among us here in Falmouth. We often hear about John Glenn and President Gerald Ford as having the honor of wearing the Eagle badge, but take a look around, and you’ll see some Falmouth-based Eagles in your everyday life. When you make a call for help from the Falmouth Fire/Rescue Department, you just might come in contact with Capt. Scott Thrasher, one of Troop 42’s Eagles. Maybe your call for help would come in our neighboring town of Mashpee, where Fire Chief George Baker may arrive and share some stories of his road to Eagle in Troop 42. Perhaps when your computer needs a fix-up: you head down to Cape Coastal on Locust Street where Eagle (and the dad of young scouts) Chris Alves nurses your electronics back to health, just as he did with fellow scouts while earning his first aid merit badge on the way to his ultimate rank.

“The ‘Eagle Charge,’ the motivating speech given to an ascending scout at his court of honor, where friends and family gather to celebrate, tells the newly minted honoree that, ‘Your position, as you well know, is one of honor and responsibility. You are a marked man. As an Eagle Scout you have assumed a solemn obligation to do your duty to God, to country, to your fellow Scouts and to mankind in general. This is a great undertaking.’ A marked man, indeed. Up on the stage at each Town Meeting, Eagle Scout David Vieira leads us from his position of honor and responsibility as moderator and state representative. Yes, there are Eagles among us.

“So, if you encounter an Eagle, or any member or supporter of the BSA in the next week, thank them for being part of 100 years of building better citizens, a better Falmouth and a better America. I’ll be saying thanks, too. I’ll be doing so as a proud Eagle from Troop 42, the one who was so fortunate to take a walk on a Saturday morning with Uncle Bob those many years ago and was guided back into East Falmouth’s Troop 42 of the BSA. Thanks, Uncle Bob.”

“Today, that column stands as one of the most cherished and poignant I have written.

“In 1979, another Falmouth legend, Kitty Baker, wrote a story—Uncle Bob’s story—in the Cape Cod Times. The article concluded with Kitty asking Uncle Bob what his rewards were for his tireless work with young scouts. “I walk into a store or down the street and hear ‘Hi, Uncle Bob.’ It makes you feel a little nice all over.” Fifty years, five decades of selfless, faithful work shaping young men to be today’s leaders, and all he asked was for a hello.

“Well, Uncle Bob, a big hug and hello to you as you journey to your eternal rest. I’m sure there’s an Eagle Room in Heaven, and I’m sure God has reserved a seat of honor for you.”

As many of you know, I write an original inspirational quote daily and publish it widely. It’s my way of sharing my gratitude. I’d like to leave you with one of those daily sayings that was inspired by Uncle Bob—to carry you through today and all of your days. Please share it widely as part of the legacy of Bob Sylvia. “Success is not measured by notes on a page, your status in life, your wealth or your age. Success is measured by the lives that you touch—not just by how many, but more by how much.” Thank you, Uncle Bob, for your success in touching the lives of us all

Falmouth Commodores - Warm Thoughts for Cold Nights

As I write this column, snow is falling gently outside my window. The gentle beauty of this silent sign of the ongoing drudgery of this winter ends when the flakes land on the four feet already packed on our corner of the Earth, each flake a further sign of Mother Nature’s omnipotence and indifference to our weary state of mind and being.
However, a faint beacon of hope began to shine last week, a bleak but nonetheless abiding sign of brighter, warmer, and certainly better days to come. The departure of the Red Sox equipment truck from a snowy Fenway to the balmy environs of Fort Myers signals the coming printemps for all of Red Sox Nation. It also signals the advent of a new baseball season for Falmouth’s hometown team, the Falmouth Commodores of the Cape Cod Baseball League.

I’m wearing my Boston Red Sox cufflinks—made from a ball that Dice-K tossed on April 5 of the 2007 World Series season to the Kansas City Royals—as a sign of both defiance and hope. Defiance toward the aforementioned Mother, who has us all beaten but not broken, and hope for another season of family-friendly memories at the Guv Fuller Field for Falmouth’s team.

As an important piece of fabric woven into the identity of our community, the Falmouth Commodores, led by a volunteer board of directors, provide affordable family entertainment and the highest quality baseball each summer to crowds sprinkled with fans from around the globe, right on our own Main Street. Each season, for 22 home games, our local nine suits up and takes the field at the Arnie Allen Diamond, offering a chance to see tomorrow’s major league stars up close. MLB standouts like Jacoby Ellsbury, Luke Scott, and David Aardsma all played in Falmouth for Falmouth’s hometown team.

The board members are also an important part of the fabric of our community. They have firm roots here and are engaged in their hometown. People like president Steve Kostas, who donates hundreds of hours each season, works closely with general manager and native Falmouthite Eric Zmuda to put a winning team on the field. They subscribe to the “whatever it takes” school of management; their volunteer hours are about far more than recruiting and retaining players and buying bats and balls. From cleaning out the locker room after each season to painting the dugouts, to picking up trash left on the field after a game, these committed board members, and devoted Falmouth residents, work alongside a volunteer crew of more than a dozen board members to bring a high quality product to the Falmouth community.

That commitment is increasing and broadening this summer. The Commodores, committed also to engaging the team’s young fans, is launching the first ever Commodores’ “Kids Club,” an outreach effort designed to “stimulate children’s interest in baseball at a young age and to build their relationship with the team and its players with the intent of establishing a long-term connection,” according to a Commodores’ press release. What a great opportunity to provide a positive, engaging, and healthy outlet for kids from ages 5 to 12, while playing next to tomorrow’s major league stars. The club, for a nominal donation of $10 for the entire summer, includes kid-friendly perks like a membership card and lanyard to wear to games, a hot dog reception with “Homer,” the team mascot, a chance to sing “Take me Out to the Ballgame” during home games, and their name displayed on the 2015 Kids Club board. The team is making an effort to expand its family fan base and fill the stands for each game. More information is available on the team’s website at www.falmouthcommodores.com.

Of course, running a successful franchise isn’t free. It costs more than $200,000 each year to put together a competitive team. Admission to games is free of charge—the ultimate family friendly gesture from a grateful group of board members—but donations are gladly accepted, as the team is self-supporting through fundraising and corporate sponsorships. As a result, the Commodores are launching their first-ever direct mail fundraising campaign to assist in needed capital improvements to the field and its environs.

For more than 90 years, Falmouth’s team has been providing cool fun on warm summer nights. The Commodores love their hometown. Here’s hoping Falmouth loves them back

Building Bridges By Building Bridges

Sometimes, government works the way it was intended. Sometimes, government is responsive, responsible, and gets things done.
During this week’s version of Snowmaggedon, I, and many in the community where I work, became concerned about the accessibility of fire hydrants. Normal winter weather does not obscure these lifesaving links to water, but 60 inches in less than two weeks can obscure just about anything. Our public works crews were busy plowing, plodding, and punching through our roads and sidewalks, so I reached out to Major General Scott Rice, Massachusetts’ top military officer and commander of the National Guard. I had the opportunity to interview Gen. Rice on my “Troy’s Take” show on FCTV recently and found him to be professional, personable, and responsive. His down-to-earth approach and inviting demeanor made me comfortable in reaching out, and I detected a sincerity and commitment to the people he serves. My instincts did not fail me. The good general, after some legal research and contemplation, worked with Governor Baker and activated the National Guard to coordinate with communities in making roads and hydrants accessible.
What a great example of good government at work. The adjutant general has set a tone of a fighting force that is also a community resource. Our communities are the beneficiary. Kudos to Gen. Rice for reinforcing that the citizen soldiers and airmen of the Massachusetts National Guard are indeed citizens at the ready.

Yes, sometimes, government works the way it was intended. Alas, sometimes it does not.

The prospect of building a third bridge for automobiles across the Cape Cod Canal, brought to you by the same Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) that brought you the Big Dig and other public works nightmares does not inspire the kind of confidence that seeing MA NG Humvees rolling through your community does. At a recent meeting held at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in nearby Buzzards Bay, both MassDOT and the US Army Corps of Engineers, Uncle Sam’s construction and engineering outfit, noted that they would be looking into the prospect and conducting a study. Am I the only one who gets a little queasy when the state and federal government both announce they are conducting studies independently on the same issue?

The Corps noted that the bridges are old and “functionally obsolete.” That may be true from an engineering standpoint, but what value is placed on historical significance? On gauging the ability of the Cape communities’ roads to handle the additional traffic that a third bridge would bring? Or how about the role the Upper Cape communities should play in the design, permitting, and construction?

My friend Dan would say that you can’t fit 10 pounds of dirt in a five-pound bucket. That simply but powerful axiom has to be the foundation of any examination of the construction of another bridge—or even a look at widening, changing, or somehow adjusting the two that exist. (The existing third bridge is for rail only.) Ideas range from a third bridge between the existing Bourne and Sagamore bridges to constructing new travel lanes adjacent to the existing structures. Lots of funding scenarios have been discussed as well, from state borrowing to a public-private partnership. Many, many questions. Not so many answers. I will say that, although public private partnerships are a great model for successful public works projects, creating a toll road and widening the divide between the haves and have-nots by creating a separate entrance to Cape Cod for those who can afford to pay is not a message I want to send.

State Representative David Vieira, who attended the meeting at Mass Maritime and shared his thoughts, had it right. At the meeting he noted that, “We need to preserve and we need to change…but we need to coordinate.” Indeed, Representative. Coordination on filling this five-pound bucket needs to be the starting—not the ending—point. Building bridges over the canal by building bridges with the community is the way to go. Perhaps MassDOT and Uncle Sam can take a page from Gen. Rice’s playbook.

Johnny B-Ball - Ambassador of Gratitude

As I basked once again this week in the allure of being able as a Patriots fan to include the phrase “World Champion” in my sports lexicon, I chuckled and contemplated how our American ethnocentricity leads us to declare our sports champions as world titleholders for sports that are uniquely American. To be clear, if the Patriots played the champions of the Canadian Football League, I’m sure we’d once again be victorious, but it is an interesting exercise to ponder the reach of American sports and our view on how the rest of the world looks at our pastimes.
Johnny Hatem knows all about that. Hatem, a Cape Cod Academy standout with strong roots in Falmouth—and beyond—is a rising star on the basketball court, a local luminary in a sport that was conceived right here in Massachusetts, but one that he learned in Lebanon. The name should be familiar. Johnny’s dad—also named Johnny—is a prominent local businessperson and philanthropist who has built and operated several successful gas and service stations in town and is, like basketball itself, a true American success story.

The elder Johnny (a bit of a misnomer since both dad and son have a youthful appearance) came to the US from his native Lebanon seeking higher education when he was 19. He attended University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and has remained here ever since, although his ties to Lebanon remain strong. He visits often, and his wife maintains a residence there. Young Johnny (we’ll call him Johnny B-Ball for ID purposes) shared his time growing up between the two countries. When he was 5 years old, he was signed up for a basketball clinic during a summer stay in Lebanon. He has been hooked ever since. Although not known as a hotbed for growing basketball prospects, this culturally and religiously diverse nation on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea certainly sprouted a winner in this case. Johnny B-Ball spent summers and even some of his academic time in Lebanon honing his skills. He attended the Sabis International School in Adma, Lebanon, before entering Cape Cod Academy. He is eyeing Stonehill College, Merrimack College, or Bentley University to continue his studies and, of course, play basketball. He plans to pursue studies in economics and political science and aspires to enter the diplomatic corps, with a goal to someday be the US ambassador to Lebanon. I’m sure he’ll outfit the embassy with a basketball court.

As we enjoyed the tasty vittles and terrific customer service together at Bill Zammer’s Coonamessett Inn recently, I learned that Johnny B-Ball has a wise and grateful view of life, likely influenced by his multinational life experiences and the hard work ethic and commitment to excellence instilled by his parents. “You miss shots, you make them,” said this young ambassador of gratitude, who spends time at the Barnstable recreation center teaching the fundamentals of basketball and coaching 5- and 6-year-olds when he’s not on the court himself as one of the Cape’s top point guards. This simple yet pithy rule of life encapsulates Johnny B-Ball’s joie de vie, his infectious smile and his positive outlook. He is quick to praise others. Nodding toward his dad at dinner and blowing him a kiss, an affectionate smile growing widely on his boyish visage, he proudly noted, “He’s my buddy.” He offered effusive praise for his basketball coach, Tom Ferreira, as well. “I love him. He pushes me further than I ever thought I could be pushed,” said the current and future ambassador. Johnny B-Ball is indeed being pushed further—there is no limit to where this kid can go.

Johnny B-Ball’s story is relevant today for a couple of reasons. For all of the negative publicity for today’s technology-obsessed generation with short attention spans and a lack of respect for just about everything, a young man in our midst who is unabashed in his affection for his schoolwork, his family, and his community is noteworthy. In addition, Johnny’s story of cultural and social integration, and his dad’s inspirational story of self-made success reinforces that the American Dream is alive and well—right here in Falmouth

A Good Storm Response in Falmouth? I'm Thinking No

Unprecedented? Perhaps. Unexpected? Not at all. Unprepared? Yes, indeed. Unconscionable? Yeah, maybe even that.
The winter storm dubbed the blizzard of 2015 may be behind us, but the debate on its impacts, the analysis of the efficacy of the town’s cleanup, and the snow itself, lingers. Although the storm left record levels of snow on our roads, it also left the makings of a debate on the town’s preparation and its ability and willingness to provide a commodity far more important than salt and plows—information—in an age when that, above all, is critical.


I conducted a post-storm survey in a couple of ways. On Wednesday afternoon, I took a drive around town to make an assessment of road conditions. I would have checked the town’s social media presence to check up on those from home, but the town is still mired in a Flintstone-esque morass of a commitment to traditional (read outdated) communication with the community. I checked Facebook and Twitter and saw lots of consternation and dozens of pictures of snowy front yards, but no updates from Town Hall Square on the status of the cleanup. Not one post, tweet or blog. Even the website, which most communities use as the window into their operations, was slammed shut, save for a courtesy note providing little information.

One bright and transparent light amid the darkness of the town’s unwillingness to join the ranks of open government is the emergency management operation. Kudos to them for a Facebook page that provided excellent information on the shelter and storm safety. They are an example of what our town could— and should—do to connect with its citizens.

During my travels, I snapped a photo of a sign placed by a citizen on Hope Road in Falmouth Heights. The weary citizen posted “Please Plow” on the street sign, making an exasperated appeal for attention. The results were similar on Dartmouth Street, Hawthorne Street, and Green Harbor Road. No homemade signs were placed on those street signs, but nary a plow had seen their homes. For the second phase of my survey, I posted the picture from the ironically named Hope Road on Facebook and asked for comments. Nearly 200 entries later, it was clear that, although opinions varied on the effectiveness of the cleanup, many agreed that information was lacking. There were the usual polarization and rabble-rousing posts, but many offered thoughtful observations. That was good. Most thanked our hard-working and dedicated employees and contractors. That was good, too. Some lamented the lack of resources available to our storm workers. That also was good. What was great was providing residents a forum to discuss their views, suggestions, and lessons. If only the town was listening.

Lots of good in a bad storm. So what can we learn from this? Here are a couple of thoughts:

Those who offered thanks and gratitude for our plow drivers and public safety workers are correct. They are a hard-working and dedicated lot. However, those who questioned the town’s lack of commitment to providing them adequate assets and resources are also correct. I’d like to see the town provide a detailed assessment of personnel, equipment and private contractors assigned to snow removal for the last five years. Are private plow contractor rates staying competitive? I’m thinking no. Is equipment maintained so it won’t break down? I’m thinking no. Do we take care of our plow drivers and public safety people when they’re on for 36 hours? I’m thinking no. I received reports of employees eating freezer-burned frozen hot dogs because no food was available after 24 hours of work. Is that appropriate? Is that valuing our human resources? I’m surely thinking no.

Those who drew a distinction and raised questions about the difference between snow removal on Route 28 on Teaticket Highway versus Route 28 on Main Street are correct. My observations of the same road in the same town in the same storm were the most powerful example of the town’s lack of preparation for and resources allocation to the storm. Black pavement in one area, a collection of moguls just yards away. One is being plowed by the state, the other by the town. That’s not an issue of the drivers, the plows, or the volume of the snow. That is simple resource allocation. The director of the DPW and the town need to make funding and maintaining our equipment, our contractors, and our employees a priority.

Those who wondered how information was being accepted and shared and complained on the lack of it flowing in both directions are also correct. Town officials may not like social media. They may not like the 21st century. They may not even like pesky newspaper columnists who expose their shortcomings—but all three are here for the duration—and must be accepted and embraced. Well, at least the first two must be embraced. Seriously though, the town’s continued inexplicable refusal to reach out and engage its citizens—and to accept questions, suggestions, and yes, criticisms from those same people—is indeed unconscionable.

And before you take to social media or the blogosphere to lament my assessment of the town’s failings, remember the words of the great observer of democracy Alexis de Tocqueville, who noted that, “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” The same goes for Falmouth. By highlighting some areas of improvement and stimulating discussion, we can move toward the progress and improvement that we all seek and from which we all benefit.

'General' Jim Cummings Fighting on the Front Lines of Addiction

The war metaphor is commonly used to describe our public policy confrontation of the substance abuse epidemic that is unquestionably the most important and imperative public policy challenge of our time.
Our societal attempts to address the death and destruction wrought by drug and alcohol abuse are often characterized as the “War on Drugs,” or the “Battle against Addiction.” Those descriptions are correct in their metaphorical value, as this is a literal fight for survival, with citizens of all ages, races, creeds, and socioeconomic status dying daily. Addiction and its horrific impacts on our community, our society, and our families are indeed a war; it is a war that we must win.

Locally, several field generals and soldiers are waging this war daily here in our community. From retired General (literally, he’s a general) Don Quenneville, who hung up his flight suit and donates countless hours as chairman of the board for Gosnold on Cape Cod, overseeing addiction treatment and recovery coaching; to Bill Dougherty, whose nonprofit agency, Recovery Without Walls, provides a path to employment, housing, and a sense of purpose for women in recovery; to friends and loved ones who carry the heroin antidote Narcan with them and have helped save dozens of lives in the last year, our community is fighting—together—to win each day’s battle in this overall guerre with the highest of stakes.

Another prominent—if perhaps unheralded—general in the battle against addiction in our community is a person who is dedicating time, resources, and his own efforts to reverse the daunting trends: Sheriff Jim Cummings. I caught up with the sheriff and longtime Falmouthite at his office this week and was able to gain an understanding of the efforts he has brought to the Barnstable County Correctional Facility in an attempt to address addiction among the inmates, a problem for more than 80 percent of those who are housed there.

Sheriff Cummings has embraced a host of approaches—some that are on the cutting edge of corrections—to not only reduce abuse among his inmates, but to help them transition back into productive lives once they leave the structure and protection of being in jail. “I see the same people, the same good people,” noted the former state trooper, who has seen his share of bad guys in a long and distinguished career. He explained and we discussed that, after taking office in 1999, the alarming statistic of more than three-quarters of his inmates with identified substance abuse problems caused the sheriff to seek alternatives to simply caging inmates, then releasing angry, addicted men and women back to the streets of Falmouth and Cape Cod.

One of the tools the sheriff uses, and one that is gaining him national recognition, is the use of the drug Vivitrol with inmates. A non-narcotic drug that reduces cravings for opiates and alcohol, Vivitrol has proven effective, while not being addictive, in reducing substance abuse among inmates. The manufacturer, Alkermes, Inc., even provided the sheriff with 50 free doses to pilot a program at the jail.

The program, initiated and supported by state Representative Randy Hunt, was borne of the fact that nearly half of the inmates who were being processed into the correctional facility admitted a problem with opiates. This program allows the department to be a “drug dealer in reverse,” said our affable sheriff, noting his personal commitment to helping people, some of whom he’s known for decades, get a second, or third chance at life. “I see people with a name I recognize and think they’re too old to be coming back here; then I realize that it’s a son or grandson of someone I know,” he noted, highlighting the generational, and genetic, challenges of substance abuse.

The sheriff’s Vivitrol program has gained recognition nationwide. He just returned from a national conference in Florida discussing his efforts.

He also actively supports a program that provides a defined curriculum and rigid guidelines for inmates interested in comprehensive treatment. Called RSAT (residential substance abuse treatment) this program has seen amazing success, reducing recidivism by more than 40 percent for its participants, and has been recognized by the Department of Justice. The program, coupled with pathways to health insurance, jobs, and post-incarceration counseling and support, is producing appreciable—and amazing—results. A video has been posted on the sheriff’s website, www.bsheriff.net, that powerfully demonstrates the value of this important initiative.

Of course, the naysayers, particularly in today’s society where respectful public discourse is becoming rarer by the tweet, blog, and post, scoff at the costs of providing this level of treatment to prisoners. The sheriff rightfully points out that the cost to house an inmate for a year is about $50,000, so funds dedicated to reducing return visits is money well spent.

Jim Cummings has room for nearly 600 prisoners. Today’s population hovers just over 400. A little more than 100 of them are involved in the Vivitrol program, and 70 are enrolled in RSAT. Jim Cummings, the sheriff, is working hard on the front lines of the battle against addiction to bring victory for his inmates. Jim Cummings, the Falmouth resident and member of the human race, is fighting hard to bring victory for us all. We owe him a debt of gratitude for both

The Warmth of A Community on A Frigid Day

With temperatures hovering recently in the single digits, anything that is 43 degrees sounds like a wonderful warm-up. Tell that, however, to the dozens of Falmouthites and visitors who took a dip in the not-so-balmy 43-degree waters of Buzzards Bay on New Year’s Day to support the Cape Cod Center for Women (CCCW). The problem, of course, was not getting in the water—it was in getting out. With the air temps at least 10 degrees colder than the water, the shivering, shrinking, and shrieking were in plentiful supply. Those outcomes, however, did not dampen the enthusiasm for those gathered to support the critically important work of the CCCW.
As I stood on the beach behind the Sea Crest Beach Hotel, which offered its facility, its warmth, its support, and even its hot clam chowder to participants and supporters, I chatted as others chattered, and marveled at the commitment of these polar plungers, all in the name of supporting an organization which, in its own words, dedicates its time and resources to “building the foundation for a better life for clients to ensure that they do not return to a home life threatened by violence.”
Event organizer, CCCW supporter, and all-around good guy Dr. Greg Parkinson and I stood at the entrance to the Sea Crest, as the aroma of bacon from a sumptuous New Year’s brunch wafted out the door and greeted runners as they completed their races, a five- or 10-kilometer jog, the first leg of the day’s “Run ‘N Dunk” festivities. As runners completed that first leg, rather than revel in their fitness feat to kick off 2015, they instead prepared to disrobe and dive into the frigid waters on Old Silver Beach. “It’s cold outside, but I’m warm inside,” noted the good doc, who has coordinated this event for many years, which raises thousands each year to support the center’s shelter, a safe haven for mothers and their children impacted by domestic violence. The center, however, provides so much more than just a free, 24-hour safe house. It provides a crisis hotline, transportation for its clients, counseling and coaching, child care, and even clothing and toys for children. The money raised by the New Year’s icy bathers helps provide a pathway to new hope and opportunities for families. It helps save lives and change futures. More information is available at www.capeshelter.org.

Attendees understood the warmth felt by Greg. As I chatted on the beach with David Schneider, longtime manager of the Coonamessett Inn, we both chuckled as I wrote in my notebook, my jacket zipped up tight to my chin, a pen clutched in my gloved hand, while he stood on the beach in sockless sneakers, a beach towel wrapped around his shirtless chest. “I’m giving back,” he noted, having learned his focus on philanthropy from one Cape Cod’s most philanthropic businessmen, his boss and our mutual friend, Bill Zammer. David looked intensely at the mighty sea in front of us, the whitecaps seemingly taunting the slowly and deliberately disrobing dedicated dunkers. We watched, as people took selfies and shared smiles on the sand, slowly removing hats, gloves, and other gear, getting ready for the frigid but worthwhile task before them. As I pledged to join him next year, David smiled and quipped that I should because the CCCW is a great organization and Falmouth is a great community. I agreed on both counts.

Sea Crest manager Clark Guinn agreed as well. “Falmouth is a special little town,” he said, smiling broadly as dunkers passed by on their way to the beach. “We live here and we believe in the community,” he continued, as a nervous-looking reveler passed by in a bathrobe. Clark and I shared a knowing glance—that unspoken acknowledgment that we were in the presence of some pretty wonderful—if perhaps a tad crazy—people.

As Greg reminded dunkers that towels were for sale (of course, to raise money for the center), he admonished participants to keep their clothes on until they descended onto the beach. Laughing out loud at the irony of a respected physician telling people to keep their clothes on before getting half-naked on a beach in freezing weather before diving in the ocean, I was filled with warmth myself—not for the warm winter coat that covered me—but for the glowing love of community that enveloped me.

Then, amidst screams, gasps, and yelps, more than 50 supporters took a New Year’s dip in water almost cold enough to freeze, to benefit people they would probably never meet. Some darted in and out, others lingered for a bit, somehow savoring their frigid adventure. All emerged from the ocean with smiles bursting through their chattering teeth, knowing the good work they had done.

The last to leave the frosty water was Rick Kelly, a Falmouth resident who told me that he finds the event “refreshing.” His nearby friend clarified. “He’s a retired Mass state trooper, a Marine, and he’s nuts,” was his warmly clad buddie’s assessment. Rick’s retort encapsulated the day for all in attendance, I’m sure for a grateful organization, and certainly for a grateful community. This dedicated public servant, who spent a lifetime serving others and still does so in retirement, offered words of simple wisdom. “We love Falmouth. This is a nice event for a great cause,” he said, standing on the beach in his bathing suit, sharing the warmth of his generosity.

Well, Rick, Dr. Greg, and the Cape Cod Center for Women, Falmouth loves you back