The "Four Freedoms" prints, including the town-meeting scene that
illuminates his "Freedom of Speech," are hanging on my wall in a
framed celebration of the Norman Rockwell Centennial.
I once surprised my
mother with a visit to his museum in Stockbridge — a happy
Rockwell wrote that he
got the idea for his painting when he recalled a local man standing
up at town meeting and saying something that everyone else disagreed
"But they let him have
his say," the artist noted. "No one had shouted him down."
True, I've seen
citizens booed and hissed, but not shouted down; moderators don't
I've never been one of
those people that "everyone else disagreed with." Take Monday night
at Marblehead Town Meeting: Nine people voted with me against the
first proposed Proposition 2½ override — a debt exclusion for
updating the town drainage system — while only 576 people voted for
Yes, we all know that
the town must fix the drains so that streets don't flood during
storms. I, however, am tired of playing the government
infrastructure game, at both the state and local levels.
The game begins with an
understanding that one of the primary reasons we have government is
for infrastructure, which individuals cannot build and maintain by
themselves. Then the government fully funds everything except the
infrastructure, allowing roads and bridges to crumble and drains to
overflow, secure in the knowledge that when problems get bad enough,
citizens will cough up whatever is needed to fix them — on top of
what they already pay for other functions of government, some
During my Norman
Rockwell, free-speech moment, I recalled a former town engineer
presenting an ongoing drain project that was supposed to address the
various town flooding problems. I'd thought that this settled
things, yet have seen with astonishment over the ensuing years
photos of streets flooded, people wading hip-deep and cars floating
when there's a major rainstorm.
Incredibly, in response
to my "What happened to the plan?" query, someone responded that "in
the '80s the drainage department was eliminated when there were
fiscal problems." What?! And during the booming '90s, it wasn't put
back to work?
Guess keeping the town
above water has become a priority again this year. Hence the request
for a $5 million override.
Coincidentally, this is
roughly the amount that the town spent without proper authorization
recent Village School repair project, after the school was
allowed to deteriorate because nobody prioritized maintenance.
Though the approved
project was to fix the boilers, money was spent for other
nonessential items that were ruled outside the scope and not subject
to state funding assistance. Just think, we could have paid for town
drains instead of school landscaping, matching doors and a new
Moving right along to
the other important reason we have government — public safety — and
the new ladder/pumper truck for the Fire Department.
When I think about
funding essential services, firemen come immediately to mind, along
with the firetrucks they ride in on. I recall an equipment
replacement project that began when I was on the Finance Committee
in 1978 to '81. Town departments were to work with us on a
replacement schedule for all vehicles, so the expense could be
anticipated and budgeted.
The proposal at Town
Meeting included the phrase, "we are working to place our fleet on a
replacement schedule." Great idea, just like the old one.
Once again, I asked,
"What happened to the long-ago plan?" The town manager responded
inadequately, but one doesn't get to argue. So, there goes another
$1.1 million on the ballot.
Could have bought a
firetruck with what was wasted on Village School. Too bad the
selectmen weren't setting priorities.
The third override is
for what taxpayer activists call "an over and over and override."
Town Meeting keeps placing a proposal for improvements to the Old
Town House on the ballot, where the voters defeat it while approving
other items they consider more important. This time I ask, "What
part of 'no' doesn't Town Meeting understand?"
I recall one year when
the architects' plan had an elevator on the outside of the
circa-1727 building; lots of mixed opposition to that one. Now the
proposed elevator is inside, too tiny to quickly evacuate the
handicapped tourists selectmen hope will ride it to the third floor.
Maybe we have to do the
drains, and buy the firetruck; we don't have to make this little
building inadequately handicapped-accessible so we can use it for
things like art exhibits, meetings and voting, that have moved on to
other, easily accessible venues.
The fourth override
shows what the Prop. 2½ override provision was designed for — the
unanticipated expense. Marblehead and Salem want to jointly purchase
open space on Salem Harbor that has suddenly come on the market.
Because I'm thankful that Marblehead has not accepted the state's
tax-eating, often abused Community Preservation Act, I'm voting for
this $1.5 million to acquire open space.
Look, Mother! I'm
writing this column about Marblehead Town Meeting ... I could be in
another Norman Rockwell painting, celebrating freedom of the press.