Saturday, June 8, 2013

Time For Change by Alex Grant

             In the past few months, I have spoken to many Longmeadow town residents with differing political philosophies, people with differing views about the role of government, about the appropriate level of taxation, and about how to prioritize the needs of today and the needs of tomorrow.  Many of these people would seldom agree on matters of town politics, or even of state or national politics.  But these same people have consistently said that Longmeadow needs change on the Select Board.

            Over the past year, town residents have seen a town manager search that started too slowly and took too long; the result was that it took 18 months to replace Robin Crosbie after she gave her notice.  The vacancy for the director of Adult Center was not posted for five months, and that position went unfilled for most of the year.  The Maple Road paving project started too late, it took too long, and the result was a big mess and wasted tax dollars.  And the year culminated with the overwhelming rejection of the Select Board's budget at Town Meeting.

            If that track record counts as success, then town residents would hate to see failure.  The current lineup on the Select Board is out of step with what the people of Longmeadow want to see in their town government.  The dysfunction on the Select Board can be traced to the disconnect that exists between the voters and the board. 

            A symptom of that disconnect is the overwhelming percentage of men–80%–on our appointed boards.  The Finance Committee has no female members, and it hasn't included a woman since 2009.  We are clearly not utilizing all of the talent that exists in Longmeadow.  If elected, I will have no higher priority than to reach out to talented people who have not served before to fill the vacancies that exist on our appointed boards.

            Keeping the same group in power in times of good performance and bad means that we keep having the same conversations over and over.  The same issues repeat.  Politicians try to divide residents over town vs. school.  We hear clarion calls of crisis over the state of the town's infrastructure by the same politicians who presided over the making of that crisis.  We hear startling figures of $140 million and $180 million for capital spending, and there is no long term capital plan, and apparently, no desire to produce one.

            It is said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  If we return the same group on the Select Board, if we maintain the status quo, we can expect the same conversations during the next year, and we can expect the same results.

            Some of the dysfunction on the Select Board can be traced simply to rigidity.  What sense did it make to only make appointments once per year when there were both qualified and interested applicants and vacancies at other times of the year?  What sense did it make for the Select Board to meet this year on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a step strongly discouraged by the Attorney General in her guidance on the state's open meeting laws?  What sense did it make to not televise many of the meetings?

            In my professional life, I have worked at a corporate law firm in Boston, and I have been a federal prosecutor for nearly 15 years both here and in Washington, DC.  I can recognize when government is working well and when it is not.  I also understand the meaning of public service.  A member of the Select Board, above all, serves the public.  Questions, comments, and concerns from town residents are not impediments to getting things done on the Select Board.  The input of town residents is not an annoyance.  That interaction is an essential part of the job, and indeed, the most important part of the job.

            The Select Board cannot, under our Town Charter, go it alone.  Our form of direct democracy requires engagement with voters because they have the final say.  The Select Board also needs to work collaboratively with the School Committee and our other boards, just as our interim town manager suggested we should do in coming up with a capital plan. 

            The genius of our form of government is its capacity for change.  We are not doomed to stagnation because the opportunity for new ideas and fresh perspectives exists so long as we have elections and people are willing to serve.  I am willing to serve, and I am ready to listen and to communicate with voters in a way that no Select Board member has done in the recent past.  Together we can make a change on June 11.

My email address is

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