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Observations from this week’s Walpole Times

September 9, 2010

This post has been edited since being originally published.

Here are my observations from reading this week’s issue of The Walpole Times:

1. It is indeed a very sad state of affairs in this town and this country when a front page headline that announces “State Primary election to be held Tuesday” is followed just underneath by a sub headline that says “Town Clerk Ron Fucile expects low voter turnout.” It is really a shame that a majority of our town’s voters, like in dozens of elections before this year, have no interest in going to the polls on Election Day, whether it be a general election or a primary election. This year’s primary election, in particular, is significant in that there are a number of highly competitive races – an unusual situation. Democratic voters, for example, will be deciding between incumbent Congressman Stephen Lynch and his strong challenger Mac D’Alessandro, who is backed by unions and is harping on Lynch’s moderate voting record. The race for District Attorney is highly competitive, as the seat is wide open for the first time in years. There are highly competitive races for State Auditor and State Treasurer, too, also both highly unusual. This is the year, if any year, for people to get out and vote. It is a shame that few will, if Mr. Fucile’s predictions are correct.

2. I was pleased to see Selectman Mike Berry’s schedule of office hours for the next few months. I will most certainly be joining him for at least one of them. I hope that a lot of people take advantage of this opportunity to talk with Selectman Berry. It is disappointing, however, that even though this is now the second time that Selectman Berry has held scheduled office hours, not one of his colleagues on the Board of Selectmen has held their own office hours. No one else on the Board understands yet that one of the biggest problems the Board has is its apparent inability to communicate directly with residents. Selectman Berry is the ONLY member of the town’s highest officers to hold office hours with the citizens, and not one colleague of his has done the same.

I understand that a few of the members of the Board have full-time jobs, and may not have the time to hold office hours. But office hours can easily be scheduled for evenings or weekends when they are not working, and it should be the duty of the entire Board to maintain solid communication with residents. Going into what could be an issues-driven winter in Walpole, with biotech and perhaps other controversial issues expected to come up, it is absolutely essential that the Board of Selectmen and our Town Administrator start the conversation going between residents and Town Hall NOW.

Selectman Berry deserves a lot of credit for improving communication between the Board and the citizens during the three months he has served. It is disappointing that we have not seen the same from Selectman Eric Kraus, elected along with Mr. Berry in the June 5 election. Mr. Kraus’ involvement in a meeting about Longview Farm that excluded Lincoln Road residents, for example, continues to be disconcerting.

3. Former Selectman Sue Maguire has now rebranded herself as a conspiracy theorist in her latest Letter to the Editor. “Watch for an attempt to change the town charter with a call for a town council to replace Town Meeting,” Ms. Maguire warns in her letter, suggesting that Town Moderator Jon Rockwood and Town Administrator Michael Boynton are secretly plotting a takeover of Walpole’s current form of government. Ms. Maguire’s letter had some strong points, although her conspiracy theory is almost certainly incorrect, unless she has some inside information that few others know about. I predict Town Meeting will be here for years to come.

4. With the Board of Health now out with new biotech regulations, it is likely that the town will begin the lengthy process of re-examining the biotech issue as we move closer to Fall Town Meeting. 180 will have continuing coverage of the issue, only a few months after it never even made it to the floor of Spring Town Meeting. It will be interesting to see how the issue develops, and if town officials will try to ram it through quietly like they did last time, or whether there will be more openness and conversation about it.

5. Two more Finance Committee members have resigned, leaving Moderator Jon Rockwood two more vacancies to fill. If either of these members resigned because they were upset with the Moderator’s decision not to re-appoint the infamous “FinCom Five” during the summer, then these two made the wrong move. Giving Mr. Rockwood even more leeway to put more of his own appointees on the Committee is not a good way to spite him. We should all hope, for the sake of this community, that no one else will resign, and that the four members who resigned outside of the “FinCom Five” were leaving because they felt ready to go.

6. No matter how hard I looked, I could not find any announcement in the Times that the town website is being renovated. There was no press release, no ad, nothing. Town Hall likes to do even the good things it does very quietly, it seems. The town website would be ideal if it was made based on input from residents and designed with the volunteer help of local residents. Neither volunteers nor suggestions will come in unless a call for input is published in the Times for all to see.

For those who didn’t know, the town website has been undergoing some small aesthetic changes in the past few days. It is assumed that the changes are connected to the Board of Selectmen’s decision to redo the town website with an in-house staff (as exclusively reported here on 180.) Unfortunately, no citizen input has been encouraged as of yet, and I doubt very many people know that the website is even supposed to be redone. Furthermore, there is no “Under Construction” notice on the town website right now, so during the last two days, nearly every town web page has a font size that is too small to read.

 

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