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Four months later, Selectmen still struggle with defeat

October 22, 2011

On December 13, 2000, Vice President Al Gore, that year’s Democratic Presidential nominee, addressed the nation live on television. After almost two months of ballot recounts and legal battles, Gore had learned that he would not prevail in the Electoral College against Republican nominee George Bush, and had officially lost the 2000 election.

Noting that he had fought a long struggle to win the presidency all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Gore calmly conceded the election to Bush. But he expressed an interest in making the presidential transition smooth. “I offered to meet with [Bush] as soon as possible so that we can start to heal the divisions of the campaign and the contest through which we’ve just passed,” Gore told the nation.

Admitting you have lost an election is a difficult task that even seasoned politicians dislike doing for obvious reason. But Gore, ever the noble politician, gave an optimistic speech that urged reconciliation and looked forward, rather than backwards after a close election that he probably thought he really won.

The current Walpole Board of Selectmen might learn something from Gore. Selectmen seem to have a hard time accepting the results of the June election that sent their champion Walpole Woodworkers override initiative to a scathing defeat. Selectmen fought for about five months, starting in January, to get voters to support the passage of a tax override to purchase the Walpole Woodworkers property on East Street. Their efforts ultimately failed when 56% of voters opposed the measure on Election Day.

So with the electorate opting not to acquire the land, the Hanover Company, a housing developer, announced during the summer they wanted to purchase the property from Woodworkers to build a large 40B affordable housing complex. It was news that many on the Board had fearfully anticipated. Selectmen had wanted to purchase the land in part to avoid a housing complex that might drain tax dollars (although their concerns appear to be unfounded with this blog post.)

Sure enough, shortly after Hanover’s announcement, Selectman Chairman Eric Kraus appeared in a front page Walpole Times story blasting the override’s opponents. “For those folks who said the land was unbuildable, you were wrong. For those folks who said the land was too wet, you were wrong. And, for those folks who said there wasn’t another buyer, you were very wrong,” he told the Times.

Kraus is correct. There were a lot of people who were inaccurate when they stated that the land was too wet and was unbuildable. They were quite vocal and may have helped push people to vote against it.

But Kraus comes across as being a sore loser, not a cooperative partner to Hanover as the town moves forward in the 40B process. Why would a developer want to work with someone who has that kind of negative attitude?

But in a sign that the rest of the Board still isn’t prepared to accept defeat either, two other Selectmen continued to air their grievances at last week’s Selectmen’s meeting. In a discussion about the proposed 40B, Selectman Mark Gallivan moaned about his continued belief that purchasing the property would have been in the best interest of the town. “From my perspective, I would have preferred to see the town purchase that land,” he said.

That’s nice. So what?

But the Board wasn’t finished complaining. Selectwoman Nancy Mackenzie said a few minutes later, “this Board worked with many groups, many committees in town to get it out there to everybody to know [a 40B] was a possibility,” she said. “Our first choice was to buy the land, and to do that we needed a positive vote from all the people in town, and the people in town did not vote to purchase it,” she said.

Mackenzie, Gallivan, and Kraus evidently have some difficulty letting go.

The override lost. In other words, the Board lost an admirable, well-intentioned effort. But Selectmen should move on.

Instead of complaining about the past, a better use of valuable time during last week’s Selectmen’s meeting would have been to discuss which areas of the budget the town will cut to avoid yet another destined-to-fail override next year. School officials have already begun pushing for an override for the June election, seemingly unaware that only one of the past five consecutive yearly override proposals has passed.

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