Watertown Citizens for Common Sense Government

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The time to start asking tough questions is now

It's June 2005, and the time for municipal elections fast approaches. A few weeks ago, a reader wrote the editor making an excellent point. "We get the kind of local government we deserve." He was right. Our local officials make significant policy that affects our daily lives. Decisions made on Main Street affect us as much, if not more, than edicts coming from Beacon Hill or the D.C. beltway.

Yet there are many citizens who can't name a single councilor. One lifelong resident I recently spoke with thought we still had selectmen! The irony is these are some of the same folks who are quick to complain about everything from taxes to potholes. What do these people expect? If you're going to let other people decide for you, please do the rest of us a favor. Stop whining!

Better yet, get involved. Start voting. Find out where the candidates stand on issues. Vote on their merits, not because the candidate is someone's brother or aunt.

The last election produced a recount. Councilor Susan Falkoff wound up winning by three votes. She ran an admirably effective campaign. She rallied her base and got her vote out. Regardless of her positions, as a political junkie, I've got to tip my hat. That said, would the result have been different if voter turnout had been greater?

Watertown is a centrist town. Our municipal elections are designed to avoid agenda-driven partisan politics. The candidate's political affiliation is not disclosed on the ballot for good reason. We want pragmatic people who are willing to make common-sense policy decisions. However, if most of the mainstream continues to stay at home, we surrender our franchise to activists who may not represent our priorities.

Over the next few weeks, would-be candidates will be out gathering signatures to gain access to the ballot. This is a perfect opportunity to find out where they stand. It might be your neighbor, or the person who walks your co-worker's cousin's pet poodle. Don't sign the paper until they tell you what they believe and what they are going to do for Watertown.

Many issues confront us. Perhaps none more important than the way the people's business is conducted. The most obvious example is the recent site selection process for a police station. Mercifully, a site has finally been chosen. Whether you agree or disagree with the end result, you should be furious that this matter was so poorly handled, on so many levels.

So when Joe or Jane Candidate shows up at your door looking for your signature, ask them: Will they promote honest and transparent government? What will they do to restore checks and balances? Will they finally make department heads and consultants confirmable by the council, as we overwhelmingly voted for in 2001?

Beyond government reform, another serious problem is skyrocketing taxes. Some politicians seem to live just to raise them. A number of candidates support a permanent surcharge of up to 3 percent for the Community Preservation Act in order to fund more green space, historical preservation and affordable housing.

Think about this for minute. The town has already been built. Are we going to start tearing down neighborhoods to create open space? We can't wave a magic wand and suddenly become Weston. We can't buy a couple of hundred acres of woodland from neighboring towns. We need to pay for a badly needed new police headquarters. We don't need a 3 percent surcharge, nor should we be forced to fund something that is unachievable because there is no green space to be had.

Certainly, we can enhance the condition of existing green space. Historical preservation and affordable housing are also worthy causes. But is a burdensome surcharge placed on the taxpayer's back the best way to do this? Wouldn't stimulating economic growth be more effective in generating revenue?

Case in point: I keep hearing "Watertown Square should be a place to drive to, not drive through." OK, fine by me, but what exactly are people supposed to do once they get there? Yes, there are fine eateries, but you can count them on one hand. Aside from that, most of the businesses are geared to daytime commerce. If we want people to "drive to" instead of "drive through," we need to make it a "happening place." We need establishments that stay open later. We need restaurants, gathering places, pubs with entertainment, open-air cafés and ice cream shops. We need a thriving district like Davis Square that will attract people from surrounding towns to come spend money. Such development will mean greater revenue from an expanded commercial tax base. Doesn't that sound better than croaking homeowners with a 3 percent surcharge?

 From the way things look, the ballot may be crowded in November. There are plenty of good people running, some of them already holding office. All of them, incumbents and challengers, bring different talents to the table. The time to start asking tough questions is now. The most important one should be. What is their vision of Watertown and for Watertown?

John DiMascio

Communications Director
Watertown Citizens for Common Sense Government



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