WARNING: The following was written while angry and despite being accurate, it flatly contradicts sound political advice dispensed by the author (i.e. me) in an earlier LongmeadowBuzz post. The author, and only the author, is responsible for the content and tone of this analysis.
Tuesday night, I attended a “public forum” conducted by a group of Longmeadow residents calling themselves “Concerned Citizens of Longmeadow.” The purpose of this group is to oppose the construction of a new high school, a question that will be decided by the voters this spring. While there is an argument to be made about whether or not the high school is our highest and most urgent priority, these “concerned citizens,” represented by town elder Roger Wojcik, have decided not to make such an argument.
Apparently, unwilling to admit that his group considers our schools to be lower on the priority list of town services than such things as reserve funds and infrastructure repairs, Wojcik used his “public forum” to paint pessimistic pictures of the town’s budget and the funding of future employee benefits obligations, both based on dubious interpretations of available data. While these arguments were weak, at least they were debatable. As the meeting progressed, however, it became clear that the primer on public finance (which sadly would have earned Mr. Wojcik a poor grade in my public budgeting course) was mere prelude to the group’s real purpose, which was to generate opposition to the new high school project by convincing voters that it is much too expensive and, more importantly, that it’s also a pet project of town elected officials engaged in a conspiracy to improve the schools at the expense of other town services.
I briefly wondered if Wojcik was going to claim that these selfish pro-schoolers intended to ration services to the town’s elderly in order to pay for their wasteful give-aways to the town’s school children. No ambulance service to folks over 80! If you “fall and can’t get up” don’t bother calling 911 grandma because the selfish pro-schoolers took away the money to respond to your distress call! But I digress…
What support did Mr. Wojcik have for this attack on the integrity of our elected officials? I kid you not, he actually attempted to validate his conspiracy theory by claiming that “rumor has it” some of the members of the Select Board want to close Storrs Library. Note to aspiring demagogues: when you try to scare voters away from proposals you can’t discredit legitimately don’t use accusations that are INCREDIBLY COUNTER-INTUITIVE, like that one of the elected supporters of the new high school project has publicly stated that he “has no use for the library.”
There are two reasons why this scare tactic via personal attack is silly. First, the Select Board member so accused is a university professor. The annual convention of university professors willing to close public libraries could be held under a tent made from a single pair of Rush Limbaugh’s pants. Second, the library is an operating expense, while the new high school is a capital expense. Closing the library doesn’t do anything to advance the high school project.
Essentially, Wojcik wants voters to believe that these evil former School Committee members on the Select Board have skillfully duped voters into electing them so they can siphon funds from non-school town services and build an unnecessarily expensive new high school... and a couple of them may have been born in Kenya. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist) At the very same time, inexplicably, he also expects us to believe that these folks are dumb enough to seriously advocate closing the Storrs Library. What these “concerned citizens” apparently hoped was that fearful library patrons (apparently without a penchant for logic or common sense) would be inclined to oppose the new high school just to spoil those anti-library former school committee members’dastardly plans.
I’m telling you, this guy was starting to make Glenn Beck look clever by comparison. He tried to put forth a sort of principled objection, though not to the new high school. Instead, he tried to bolster his School Committee takeover of the town conspiracy theory with a plea for voters to apply a form of “checks and balances” in the voting booth this spring by rejecting the Select Board candidacy of present School Committee women Christine Swanson. In addition to further reducing his intellectual credibility by badly misconstruing the notion of "checks and balances" in his efforts to justify a baseless smear of a highly capable member of our town's elected leadership, Wojcik managed to put the last nail in the coffin of his integrity as well, thanks to an audience member who served with Wojcik on the town’s last Charter Commission who essentially hoisted him on his own petard by recalling for the audience that Mr. Wojcik had explicitly endorsed the usefulness of joint membership on the Select Board and the School Committee during the recent Charter Review process, and asking point blank why he has reversed himself on that point. His failure to offer an audible response was deafening.
Bottom-line: These “concerned citizens,” having exhausted their legitimate, though relatively weak, arguments against the new high school, took a page right out of the Karl Rove playbook and are mounting a distract and confuse campaign featuring personal attacks on the integrity of the elected officials who are supporting the new high school project. The fact that the project resulted from a very comprehensive, transparent, and deliberative decision making process is something these “concerned citizens” must downplay as much as possible if they are going to have any chance of getting voters to oppose the project. The hope of such tactics is to generate fear and loathing enough to trick low information voters and provide a handy rationalization for a vote against the high school project by their fellow flat earthers and anti-tax zealots.
Personally, I like to refer to these perennial opponents of the schools as the “I appreciate the value of education as much as anyone, but…” crowd. My advice to voters; ignore the soap opera, conspiracy theories, and the competition for who can be most offended, and ask yourself if schools are an important enough priority for our town to invest in a new high school right now. If, like me, you believe that high quality public schools are an irreplaceable component of a high value town, and that opportunities to undertake such improvements don't come along very often or with as much state funding assistance as this project has attracted, then a vote for the new high school is something to strongly consider.