Sunday, June 10, 2012

Reason to Care About Select Board Election

The article below entitled Reason to Care About Select Board Election written by Alex Grant appeared in a recent edition of the Longmeadow News and is reprinted here with permisssion of the author and thanks to the Longmeadow News.  

Mr. Grant's article provides some additional commentary about Tuesday's annual town election and Mark Barowsky's support for a change in Longmeadow's form of government.

The May 15, 2012 special election to fill Christine Swanson's vacated seat on the Select Board gave voters not just a choice, but a strange paradox.  Mark Barowsky and Richard Foster, both vying to complete the one year remaining on Swanson's seat, will also be on the ballot, along with incumbent Paul Santaniello, at the June 12, 2012 regular election for two three year seats on the Select Board.  Both Foster and Barowsky said before the special election that they preferred the one year seat and would encourage voters to pick the loser of the special election for the three year seat.

Got that?  The candidate who, having been rejected by the voters for a one year trial run, would be placed on the Select Board for a three year term, essentially by default.  Of course, when there are three candidates for three seats, somebody is going to be elected by default.  But it is a little strange that the preferred candidate would serve less time than the losing candidate.  It is stranger still that the winning candidate would prefer that outcome.

As it turned out, Barowsky carried a healthy majority of the three percent of the electorate who turned out to vote.  Barowsky had pledged to support Foster in the regular election if he won round one.  Assuming Barowsky sticks to his pledge, it will be up to the voters to decide whether to heed his desire to elect his opponent.

Which brings us to the second paradox.  If Barowsky and Santaniello win the most votes on June 12, thus giving Barowsky two seats, one of which he must vacate, then there will need to be another special election.  The result could be three elections to decide how to fill three seats when there were just three candidates running.  Children playing musical chairs usually have no problems when the number of kids and the number of chairs match.  Not so this year in Longmeadow town politics.

It is unfortunate that virtually all of the attention in this year's Select Board race is devoted to the procedural mechanics of holding a town election.  Barowsky, if his pre-election LCTV interview with Arlene Miller is any guide, could prove to be more than a status quo candidate.  Most candidates running for Select Board and School Committee keep it real general when stating their cases.  They will tout their experience, tell you how much they love working collaboratively, and how nothing gives them greater pleasure than listening thoughtfully while other people speak.  They will assure the voters that they want to look at the budget holistically, set priorities, and then, well, take it from there.

Of course, when big issues force their way onto the agenda, like the new high school, it is hard to avoid taking a stand.  Putting controversies like that aside, however, we have in recent years mostly seen status quo candidates and status quo policies from the Select Board.  Perhaps that is a sign that Longmeadow is doing pretty well, and that shaking things up is neither necessary nor wise.

Barowsky has advanced some significant ideas that would change Longmeadow.  One is his support for a mayoral form of government.  That would alter our quaint, Puritan-era form of direct democracy.  Presently, power in Longmeadow town government is diffused to a great, great extent.  Voters at Town Meeting are nominally the legislative (law-making) body under our charter with the greatest power, but practically speaking, they approve the budget and spending put forward by the Town Manager, Select Board, and the School Committee.  The Select Board, elected officials with the greatest mandate from the people, are nominally the executive body of the town, i.e., performing a managerial role.  But that managerial role is largely performed on a day-to-day basis by a professional Town Manager.  On the other hand, the Town Manager is weakened by the fact that she has no electoral mandate, and the fact that her job depends on the support of the Select Board.

A mayor would reign supreme, assuming day-to-day administration of town government, armed with an electoral mandate, and not dependent on the Select Board for his or her job.  The Select Board would essentially become a city council like we see in larger cities in western Massachusetts that makes laws, raises taxes, and passes budgets.  A mayor with majority support from the Select Board could re-make the status quo every few years.  And Town Meeting would be a dead letter.

Barowsky has obviously thought about this issue, and perhaps he has support for it from other elected town officials who back his candidacy.  If he is ready to push for a mayoral form of government, then we should be ready for one of the most significant debates in our town's history.  If he uses his position on the Select Board to place this item on the agenda, his term could be consequential indeed.

by Alex Grant

Longmeadow's Town Government is not working!

Longmeadow's form of government (Select Board/ Town Manager/ Town Meeting) appears to be broken or in desperate need of repair.

For the past two years we have had town elections for both Select Board and School Committee in which there were no voter choices. Voter turnout at these elections was very low with the Special Election on May 15 having the lowest turnout in recent history with less than 3% (344 out of ~ 11,900 registered voters) showing up to the polls. Only 535 voters turned out at the June 2011 town elections.

The upcoming annual town election on Tuesday again presents a slate of unopposed candidates with voter turnout likely to be less than 4% (or ~ 400 voters- my prediction).

June 2011 ATE: 535 (4.5%)
June 2010 ATE: 6522 (54.8%)
June 2009 ATE: 2165 (18.2%)
June 2008 ATE: 1576 (13.2%)

The June 2010 ATE included the new HS override + a contested SB race. The June 2009 ATE had contested elections for both SB and SC.

Recent town meetings have even less voter participation. Here are some recent turnouts...

May 2011 (ATM) 107
June 2011 (STM) 67
Sept 2011 (STM) 70
May 2012 (ATM) 147

During the past year two vacancies on the School Committee were filled by candidates through a difficult School Committee/ Select Board interview/selection process. It is good to see that two of the three appointees are on the election slate for Tuesday.

The fact still remains that after Tuesday only three members of the Select Board and School Committee (Gold/ Barowsky/ Jester) have been elected in a contested race.

In effect Longmeadow has a self appointed form of government.

With such a lack of participation in town government, Longmeadow should consider a new form of town government...

The Select Board should consider formation of a new charter commission to study our alternatives. Perhaps, a mayor/ town council structure would be a more effective way to manage our town.

Election Day Alternative

At first glance it would appear that there is no real choice for Select Board in Tuesday’s annual town election.  Paul Santaniello and Richard Foster will be elected.  This is why another look is warranted.  

During his recent LCTV interview Mr. Foster stated that he was primarily interested in the one year seat.  However, he didn’t post his election campaign signs around town until after the May 15 special election which was for the one year seat.

Mark Barowsky won the one year seat in the May 15 election.  His name is on the ballot again for the three year seat.  Mr. Barowsky has stated that he will be at the polls on Tuesday telling people not to vote for him.  That could result in Mr. Foster being elected.

I urge town voters to consider carefully about electing Mr. Foster who stated in his LCTV interview that he wants to improve everything from schools to streets while identifying no real priorities or revenue sources other than reduction/ elimination of town services.  His performance as chairman of the Capital Planning Committee was not very good.  Over the past two years the Capital Planning process appeared to be broken because of his lack of leadership.

There is an alternative to voting for Mr. Foster.


Yes, there will be a need for another special election but it can probably be conducted during the September primary election at no additional cost to the town.  By then, perhaps a more qualified individual will come forward.

As many town residents, including myself, have stated Longmeadow has deep fiscal problems.  We will be paying for the new high school for the next 30 years.  We have an additional $2.5 million debt that needs to be paid off thanks to Mother Nature.  Our property taxes are by far the highest in Western Massachusetts (see Longmeadow Buzz post- Longmeadow Property Taxes Since 1990) while home sales prices are plummeting and foreclosures are increasing (see Real Estate Buzz post- 2012 Shows Disappointing Home Sales So Far).  Our streets, storm sewers and the DPW facility are in desperate need of repair.

We need capable Select Board members who are going to lead our town through this financial mess. I believe that Mr. Foster is not the person to do this. 

I urge you to vote on Tuesday for SANTANIELLO and BAROWSKY for the two- 3 year Select Board seats.