Friday, March 04, 2011

Local politics: in which we prune a new library branch before it buds (or something)

Our town's week-to-week governing body, the Board of Selectmen, consists of seven elected volunteers with various, largely non-governmental backgrounds. The ultimate, twice-a-year governing body is Town Meeting, which potentially consists of all registered voters in town.  It is cumbersome, unwieldy, and sometimes frustrating, but it's pure democracy. You're a registered voter + you show up = you get to vote on the warrant articles at Town Meeting. Your vote will be disproportionately powerful, too, because not all eligible citizens are registered voters, and further, only a small subset of registered voters actually attend.

It has been amusing to see, over the years, how many candidates for public office have had virtually no history of attending Town Meeting or voting in town elections. I think that takes a special kind of arrogance. But I digress.

Like everywhere else, our town has no extra money these days. Budgets are being cut, cut, cut. It appears we can't afford to maintain, let alone construct, the buildings we need. (Actually, we can't afford not to maintain them, but that ship appears to have sailed. After all, it's so much easier not to spend money, look like a hero, and let the folks elected after you inherit a bigger problem. Anyone who served on previous boards and running for election again now should maybe be asked about this strategy.) 

Yet... yet. Sometimes opportunity knocks.  There is grant money available from the state to fund part of the construction cost of a new library in our town. The Library Trustees have been working on the plan for quite some time. They have the land. They have the architect.  They have the plans. They have this grant opportunity. To be eligible for the grant, they need a vote by Town Meeting to agree to accept the money, should it be offered. To get a Town Meeting vote, the issue has to be on the Town Meeting warrant.  To get on the warrant, they had to go through the Board of Selectmen.

And that's where the project died last night. Our Board of Selectmen voted not to allow the presentation of the library idea to Town Meeting, saying a new library is not a priority, and we can't afford one, and the proposed building is "over the top" in any case.

All that may be true. I just don't get why we couldn't have voted on it at Town Meeting, where the idea would pass or fail on its merits after having been considered by more of us who'd be paying for it if it went forward.

Frankly, it would have been a hard sell. Town Meeting is chock full of naysayers to expenditures of any kind. I have serious questions about the project myself, and I consider a robust public library to be a primary indicator of a healthy community. Clearly the Library Trustees faced an uphill battle to get their building project approved by the voters. Why not let them fight it? Why do the proponents not get a say in front of us all? The Selectmen wouldn't have been endorsing the project by allowing that much, and could in fact have spoken against it as private citizens, if they wanted to. They said that it would send the wrong message to approve the Trustees' request for a Town Meeting vote, but what 's wrong with the message, "let the voters choose"? 


  1. You might just get a situation where the people vote for it and then what happens. I wonder how it came to be that we squandered all of our prosperity. I frequently ask myself , how did this happen. What forensic accountant is ferreting out the facts.
    Was it our constant state of war, was it our profligate welfare mentality, was it public employee unions. Was it corruption and waste.
    What happened?

  2. I think the war in Iraq has been a huge drain on our economy. All the more bitter to swallow because of its being unnecessary.

    Public employee unions seem like kind of small fish.