Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Response to Jim Moran & Call for Wojcik’s Resignation

Unfortunately, the necessary corrections to Jim Moran’s latest post were too extensive to put them all in comments to his post.

Jim’s effort to question the relevance of my statement regarding the fact that the high school project is a capital budget expense and the library operation is an operating budget expense is wrong headed. Apparently, Jim was fooled by Mr. Wojcik’s rhetorical sleight of hand. Mr. Wojcik conflated the principle and interest payments (which do happen annually) with operating expenses like library operations as if the cost of one would be necessarily pitted against the cost of the other. The fact that there is absolutely no credible evidence to suggest this scenario, and that it is based on cherry picked assumptions, clearly complicates Mr. Wojcik’s efforts to frighten library patrons into cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

Jim also writes, “Mr. Duquette’s approach is similar to many new HS school building advocates who have simply decided that to ignore or discount or discredit mention of the any other financial needs of the town and want to simply move forward and build the new high school. They do not want to discuss the financial ability of Longmeadow’s town residents to support such a project.”

This is particularly disappointing commentary given Jim’s dedication to keeping up with issues in our town. His work in this regard is tremendously valuable. But this analysis is way off the mark. No one has ignored or discredited mentions of other capital needs in town, in fact during the exhaustive process of working toward the new high school virtually every elected official in town solicited opinions about the town’s priorities. Indeed, the elected officials who support the high school project are also the officials most acutely aware of our budgetary and capital needs issues. The arguments of Messrs Wojcik and Nolet have been heard and debated ad nauseum. Their credibility at this stage requires the belief that our elected officials are either incompetent, corrupt, or both, and that is simply beyond the pale.

The idea that supporters have simply rammed through the high school project without regard for the opinions of those who have different priorities is cynical and wrong. Essentially, Mr. Wojcik and company simply lost the priorities debate on the merits, something made blatantly obvious by the desperate nature of their “argument” against it now.

Wojcik tried to argue that we can’t afford a new High School as if we haven’t spend the last year carefully weighing the manner in which we were going to upgrade a high school that presently violates any number of building code requirements and has failed to keep up with the requirements of properly educating our children. He also seems oblivious to the fact that the present project is a hell of a good deal that will never get cheaper. He wants folks to believe that all the other town needs will fall by the weigh side if we build a new high school and yet he has never even presented an alternate vision of the town’s priorities placing something else in front of the high school.

Wojcik and company argued that we could renovate for less. They were proven wrong on that. They cherry picked a claim from an old study that seemed to imply the feasibility of cheaper renovation, ignoring the finding of that same study which strongly recommended building new. At every step of the way these “concerned citizens” had their concerns proven unwarranted and now they are simply throwing every possible argument against the wall and praying that something sticks.

So what was left of Wojcik’s arguments last night? He put some old wine in slightly new bottles, primed the audience's economic anxiety and fear of the unknown, and then tried to slip in his “Hail Mary” pass – that our Select Board and School committees want to commit all of our resources to the schools and close the Storrs library. For Wojcik, its really all about stopping our elected officials from building a Taj mahal for their kids on the backs of Longmeadow’s hard working folks without kids in the school. Incidentally, both pro and anti school factions in our town have parents and empty nesters aplenty. Short sightedness is not an age-related disability. The effort to construct an "us versus them" narrative along generational lines is just a cynical ploy intended to maximize emotional reactions.

Jim Moran is one of our town’s most valuable civic assets and I have tremendous respect for what he does and usually how he does it, but I think he might have gotten too close to some folks on this one and lost his perspective. He thinks that high school supporters like me “do not want to discuss the financial ability of Longmeadow’s town residents to support such a project.” We’ve been discussing that very thing all along. If we use Mr. Wojcik's budgetary assumptions we'd have to conclude that our town can never afford to do anything, which of course is the conclusion his chosen assumptions were designed to encourage.

The fact is that the people who understand that schools are our town’s most valuable asset are the majority of the folks who do all the work and show up to all the meetings and sacrifice massive amounts of their time to run for and serve on town government boards and committees. The proud few like Wojcik, who are very active in town but do not share this view of our priorities are understandably frustrated about their inability to win arguments in our participatory political process, but that’s no excuse for dishonesty and fear mongering. Their efforts to incite the anger of voters who are not engaged in, or knowledgeable about the town's affairs is shameful. Frankly, I cannot understand how anyone can put much stock in Mr. Wojcik’s “budgetary analysis,” which several audience members clearly debunked during the meeting last night, given his shameful efforts to exploit the fears of residents and to smear the good names of public officials that have given him every opportunity to make his case and who have earned the respect and admiration of all of our town’s residents.

I think residents of good will should demand the immediate resignation of Mr. Wojcik from the town’s Finance Committee. His distorted budgetary analysis makes him unqualified for that job and his baseless attacks on the integrity of our elected officials makes him unfit for public office.

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