time to start asking tough questions is now
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
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
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
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?
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 Citizens for Common Sense Government