I cannot imagine a more
beautiful town in the spring than Marblehead. I am surrounded by
forsythia, cherry trees, pear trees, lilacs about to bloom.
I must write a poem about
Ode to the Town Meeting
Oh “nay” speak he,
on “tax and spend”
See town officials’ rage
How dare the common citizen
Question those more sage!
OK, so I was watching
Marblehead Town Meeting from my living room recliner last week,
instead of being there to support Jack Buba, “the last of the
annoying common citizens,” a group to which I once belonged.
After some 30 years, I’d
stopped attending, except when something caught my attention, like a
recent vote to tear down someone’s house because of a neighborhood
dispute. As I waited to vote not to tear down the house, I noticed
the last annoying citizen Jack Buba rise to demand accountability
from the School Committee for $3 million unaccounted for during the
repairs to the Village School. I was taken by the defensive outrage
from various town officials at his question, which they couldn’t
So after looking into it
(turns out it was $5 million, not $3 million), and arguing against
the next school override (and losing), I was asked to serve on the
new Glover School Building Committee to try to prevent more lost
funds. Jack Buba drafted some oversight reforms that I presented to
the Glover Committee; with the support of Chairman Dick Nohelty,
they were unanimously accepted and so far have kept the project on
budget and the money totally accounted for.
However, this has been a
long commitment of my time, so has become another reason I avoid
Town Meeting, where I get caught up in things that need reform.
Still, I might have been
tempted to answer the call of the town moderator, who struggled to
get a quorum (300 voters) for over an hour, but I had a foot injury
that made walking difficult and I was working all evening on an
income tax reduction memo for the State House Revenue Committee
meeting the next morning.
Still I was sorry not to
be present for discussion of the three debt exclusion overrides on
the Town Meeting agenda that, if passed by voters, will increase our
property taxes another $8 million on top of the millions that voters
had earlier agreed to pay to cap the town dump.
This is an ongoing town
project that began in 2010, when a $22 million dump override was
soundly defeated, partly because town officials had added a new
transfer station that was quickly dubbed the Dump Majal by
A year later, override
proponents scaled it back to $15.2 million by significantly reducing
the transfer station costs, and town voters approved it.
Fast forward to today.
After another override for $1.1 million to remove unexpected toxic
waste in 2013, they are back again asking for another $8 million,
bringing the grand total to $23.7 million — almost $2 million more
than the originally rejected override — and who knows if this is the
So, there on my television
screen was Jack Buba, with an amendment asking Town Meeting to
approve an oversight committee of unpaid citizens to let us
taxpayers know if/as costs continue to rise.
Such indignation! Citizen
Jay Michaud argued that “it doesn’t make sense to add another layer
of oversight,” and prevailed. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to
argue, how can it hurt to have more oversight, especially when it
costs nothing, has no authority to delay the project, but simply
adds some citizens who could have more expertise about dumps than
the Board of Selectmen?
But the Board of Health
had the standard charge to citizens who say there hasn’t been enough
transparency about something: Why didn’t you, annoying citizen,
attend all the town department meetings over the past few years?
This was funnier than
usual when one knows that Jack Buba would have been privy to all
spending information from his post on the town Finance Committee if
he hadn’t been removed from it years ago for being too annoying.
Must include in my ode the
late great Jim Hourihan, who, in his long-ago role as chairman of
the Finance Committee, won several major reforms at Town Meeting. He
eventually was not reappointed by the Board of Selectmen because he
annoyed the School Committee.
Marblehead citizens are
very active with good works and support for the arts and local
sports, but it’s often been hard to get 300 of the town’s almost
15,000 voters to make a quorum at Town Meeting. This used to seem
strange to me but I’ve come to understand that many people just
don’t relate to politics even at the town level.
I think it’s gotten harder
as those citizens willing to stand up, question, and debate are
disrespected then vanish from the scene. It’s probably easier to
just let the elected/appointed town officials make all the decisions
instead of pretending that ordinary citizens have a voice, except of
course for override elections.
I recall a few years ago
when there were 10 overrides on the ballot. At Town Meeting Jack
Buba asked this question of the selectmen: “What would you say to
the town resident who cannot afford all 10 overrides; which of the
10 items would the selectmen consider the most important to the
town?” Asking for priorities: so annoying. He received no answer.
Voters will probably
support the three overrides this year. The dump must be properly
closed, no matter how much it costs in the end, or the state
Department of Environmental Protection will fine us. The only
alternative is to fit the project into the existing town budget with
its existing bonding authority, which would be very difficult;
though this might make another oversight committee a lot more
attractive to town officials!
Barbara Anderson of
Marblehead is president of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a Salem