LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Town Meeting Reps are Not Robots
A letter to the editor from Sam Chase.
To The Editor:
In a recent Better Not Bigger broadcast, Roland Van Liew adds 60% of the Chelmsford Town Meeting body (about 97 people) to his list of “hopelessly corrupt” town volunteers. He says that he is “appalled” that Town Meeting voted to, as he suggests, “Give a chunk of (Oak Hill) land away for development.” His inaccurate characterization of what actually occurred at the Fall Town Meeting is a disservice to Chelmsford residents and an affront to the many who thoughtfully and dutifully serve the town in the important volunteer capacity of Town Meeting Representative.
In October 2011,Town Meeting Representatives voted to conduct a study concerning the potential uses of 66 acres of town owned land (Oak Hill). They did not vote to “give away” any land for development. A vote to “give away” or otherwise dispose of any portion of that land at that time was not even possible under state law, and to suggest that such a thing happened is misleading at best and disingenuous at worst.
Sixty-six acres is a lot of land, and most feel a responsibility to understand the potential of such a large parcel before any vote is taken on its disposition. As one Town Meeting Representative put it, “If this had been a proposal to lock away 5 or 10 acres into Conservation, that vote would have been a slam dunk. We’ve done that many times. But 66 acres is a lot of land to vote to turn over to any person or group without understanding the possibilities. I want to understand something about this 66 acres before I vote to take any action on it.” hat he cites. The so-called “state funded report” itself recommends further study by town officials.
Mr. Van Liew asserts that Town Meeting Reps don’t do their homework, fail to think for themselves, and routinely “vote in favor of special interests as they are instructed by the BOS and Town Manager.” Can Mr. Van Liew offer any evidence that instructions to vote a certain way are given to Town Meeting Representatives? Mr. Van Liew quotes the Mass Housing Study to support his contention that further study of Oak Hill is a waste of time and money. Is that the whole picture, or does he just selectively quote those passages that support his agenda while ignoring those that don’t? It is true that Mr. Van Liew sent Town Meeting Representatives “information about the synopsis” of the Mass Housing Study. He did not, however, bother to tell his audience that the study itself recommends that local town officials conduct their own feasibility study of the land. Town Meeting, myself included, voted to follow the recommendation of the state-sponsored study, nothing more, nothing less.
Mr. Van Liew states that town meeting representatives “…vote in the interest …of a handful of real estate lawyers and developers. At this time about 60% of Town Meeting is drinking the pro-development, pro-special interest Kool-Aid.” Can Mr. Van LIew support that outrageous claim with any evidence? On the contrary, I’d say that a vote taken to ensure that we understand what we are doing before we do it is the thoughtful, responsible action. It certainly is not the mindless action of a bunch of robotic, dumbed-down town meeting members, as he suggests.
Mr. Van Liew appeals to Chelmsford residents to run for the office of Town Meeting Representative. That is a good thing. However, he suggests that electing 2 of his endorsed candidates in each precinct will balance Town Meeting so that decisions can be made that will support his point of view.
There are 162 Town Meeting Representatives, elected from 9 precincts. It is doubtful that 18 Van Liew hand-picked candidates could sway Town Meeting to a particular agenda. Even if Mr. Van Liew could succeed in getting many of his candidates elected, if history is any indicator, I’m willing to bet that most, over time, would see that his one-dimensional view does not accurately reflect reality in Chelmsford. Most who run for office approach the effort thoughtfully and with the best intentions. After a learning curve, they generally act in what they perceive to be the best interests of the community based on all the facts before them vs. following a rigid preordained agenda.
In one of the very few accurate statements he has ever made concerning town affairs, Mr. Van Liew informs his readers that Town Meeting Representative candidates must “…obtain 25 signatures from their precinct. Nomination papers can be pulled at the Town Clerk’s office any time after January 3 and must be returned by February 14. It is not difficult to run. There is no requirement to run a sophisticated campaign, it’s just important to have bona fide challengers on the ballot.”
I wholeheartedly support and encourage all who want to participate to follow through on that advice. Democracy is at its best when more people are informed and participate.
Mr. Van Liew finally opines on “The requirements for a successful office holder….” which, in his view are “common sense, intelligence, love of community, and good intentions.” While that is certainly true, he fails to inform his audience concerning the whole commitment that is required and expected from a Town Meeting Representative. He leaves that part out because the facts don’t support his assertion that, as he has said previously, “Town Meeting Rep is an ‘easy gig.’”
According to Chelmsford’s Town Charter, Town Meeting Representatives must invest a significant amount of time and effort to become and stay informed. That means attending/watching Selectmen, School Committee, Planning Board, Finance Committee, and Zoning Board meetings, as well as understanding what the town is required to do under Federal, State, and local law. Residents, and by extension, their representatives in Town Meeting, are not free simply to say “No thank you” to Federal/State mandates and requirements that they may not like, nor can they fail to support the moral imperative of providing an acceptable level of services to all residents. Conscientious Town Meeting members devote considerable time and energy to understanding the issues that impact the town, and have proven to be quite even-handed in balancing opposing points of view in coming to their conclusions. I am grateful for that, and hopefully we can continue to act that way.
I encourage all who are conscientious, open, fair-minded, and predisposed to hard work to seek office as a Town Meeting Representative. Become part of the process, and contribute your efforts to the management of town affairs in a positive way.
Chelmsford Town Meeting Representative, Pct 1
5 Rivermeadow Dr
Chelmsford MA 01824