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A response to Mrs. Gallivan

April 25, 2012

In the April 12 edition of The Walpole Times, Walpole School Committee Vice Chair Nancy Gallivan wrote a letter responding to a previous column I wrote headlined “Alternative override plan is to kick out incumbents.”

I have a good working relationship with Mrs. Gallivan and she and I met with the School Superintendent several times this winter to go over the budget numbers and the override situation. She is not an evil person. I think her letter deserves a response since she put her name on it and put it in the local newspaper rather than hiding behind a computer screen and slamming me anonymously on an internet forum, for example.

I was put off by her pointing out my age – in a tone that I found slightly condescending – near the beginning of the letter. “Sam is only 19 years old,” she wrote, also calling my ideas “overly simplistic and wishful” as if to suggest that my age somehow disqualifies me from having a grasp of complex issues like the budget and underfunded mandates.

Mrs. Gallivan currently serves on the School Committee with one of the youngest elected board members in Walpole history, Bill Buckley. When Buckley first won a race for town office as a Town Meeting Representative, he was only slightly older than I currently am.

I don’t recall ever hearing Mrs. Gallivan publicly point out Buckley’s age and calling his ideas “overly simplistic and wishful” to imply that he doesn’t understand the intricacies of the legislative or budgeting processes because of his youth. I wonder whether there’s a double standard being employed.

In her rush to discredit my argument by using my age against me, Mrs. Gallivan left some holes in her arguments rebuffing my column.

There are two core reasons for this year’s town budget crisis: underfunded mandates and rising personnel costs. These two problems will not be fixed by raising taxes and throwing more money into the fire, because we tried that before – at least four times in the last decade, in fact – and we are now back to square one.

Like most taxpayers, I am in favor of a sustainable approach. The way I see it is this can only be accomplished by addressing the core causes. Spending cuts are easy to find in the municipal budget. Underfunded mandates are more difficult to address, but my column suggested that one solution was voting out some of our incumbent legislators to start us down that path.

Our town officials on the other hand continually resort to the same tired argument about how the underfunded mandates and personnel costs are out of their hands and that raising taxes is the only option. This type of defeatist attitude does not solve the problems, it just kicks the can down the road. School officials admit that this override might not be sustainable after five years. That’s why it makes sense to address this in a logical manner by fixing the problems that cause the crisis.

In her letter, Gallivan suggested that I advocated completely eliminating special education mandates, suggesting my idea was “inhumane” and that I would hurt “vulnerable children.” I proposed nothing of the sort. Actually, I proposed funding these mandates, not eliminating them.

Just this past Monday, all four of our state representatives had a chance to match their actions with their rhetoric on underfunded mandates when they voted on an amendment to the proposed FY 2013 House Ways and Means budget that would have increased funding to the circuit breaker special education program and given more money to our cities and towns for special education costs. The circuit breaker program has been significantly underfunded in the last few years with the recession.

Not surprisingly, all three of Walpole’s Democratic legislators voted against the amendment to increase funding for this program, while only Republican Dan Winslow voted in favor of it. It was voted down mostly along party lines.

Yet Mrs. Gallivan insisted in her letter that “we currently need [the] skill and experience [of our legislators]” moving forward. I strongly disagree. It is the same old song and we should not be fooled again. We re-elect our legislators again and again when they tell us how passionate they are about supporting cities and towns and now we are still in the same old rut. After 20 years in the state legislature, Reps. Rogers and Kafka can not point to a single bill that they supported or sponsored that has enacted meaningful mandate relief for Walpole to avert property tax hikes. It is time to vote them out and start anew.

Monday’s vote on the amendment was not the first time and it will not be the last time that Walpole legislators vote against the interests of local communities. Bringing pork to Walpole in the form of prison mitigation money does not count as mandate relief and does not serve as recurring revenue that actually benefits our schools.

Mrs. Gallivan only listed two minimal accomplishments of our legislators when it comes to mandate relief, and then spent most of the rest of the letter rehashing the same talking points about why we need an override.

Considering she called my ideas “overly simplistic and wishful,” I would respond that the only “overly simplistic” claim in this entire override debate is Town Hall’s claim that raising taxes are going to solve our fiscal problems. This town needs serious structural reform. We have mandate problems and we have spending problems. Insisting otherwise is avoiding the reality of the situation. Let’s solve the problems and not kick the can down the road. I look forward to working with Mrs. Gallivan and any other officials on meaningful reforms to improve Walpole’s fiscal situation.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jirair Akopian permalink
    April 25, 2012 1:51 PM

    Very true! It is time to fix the issue and stop patching it with raising taxes!

  2. Jon W. Rockwood permalink
    April 26, 2012 6:41 PM

    Hi Sam, Hope you don’t mind a bit of constructive criticism that is going to sound very old fashioned to you – and it has nothing to do with the content of your post. I would suggest in the future, and you may even want to edit and repost this piece, you should refer to Nancy Gallivan as ‘Mrs.’ when you are not using her first name. Otherwise, it comes across as incredibly disrespectful. If that was what you wanted to convey, you achieved it. I hope you were not though. I never even read the article because seeing just the last name with no title was almost visually offensive. This isn’t a newspaper article where such a convention may be acceptable. Agree with her or not, and even if you felt disrespected by her, Mrs. Gallivan is a senior elected official in town and, in my humble and old fashioned opinion, deserves to be treated (and referred to) with respect in the form of using ‘Mrs.’ in your article. I haven’t noticed if you have done this in articles. If you have, it never struck me like this one did. In any case, this advice would apply to anyone you are writing about, especially your elders or those in authority.

    Feel free to respond: ‘ Hey Rockwood, please mind your own business.’

    But please consider it.

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