I feel the need to share thoughts on Article 18: Lease to MWRA that was left in an ambiguous condition at last night’s Special Town Meeting.
I was at the School Committee meeting in January at which the Superintendent brought forward the idea of using part of the 35 acres of the High School property for construction staging during the MWRA water line replacement project. The concept was that in payment for the staging area, MWRA would replace the aging and failing parking and driveway areas of the High School. Knowing that a primary duty of the School Committee is to provide needed school facilities for students, knowing that Superintendent and Town Administrator felt it might work well, knowing that public authorities engaged in construction can have advantageous manhour and material pricing, knowing that it might save Stoneham taxpayers from having to pay for the needed work, it made sense to at least consider the idea. As an audience member, I saw the Chair say that night that the idea was worth exploring. I agreed.
Throughout the winter, spring and summer that followed, it seemed there was no interest on the side of the Board of Selectmen in exploring the idea further. After I was elected to the School Committee, whenever I asked questions about the process that the MWRA negotiations were following, the responses suggested to me that there was no process.
One of the virtues of a good process is that it gives predictability. You know when you’ll get to speak your piece and argue for your concerns. There are moments when you can affect decisions and outcomes. It empowers a decisionmaker with the facts that only people at the grassroots level can provide.
I do not have a position on whether the High School is a suitable site for MWRA staging. Nothing beyond an initial concept was ever shared with me. I do have a strong believe that we need processes – including mitigation negotiation processes – that are understandable, predictable, and include opportunities for sincere exchange of ideas with the public.
A moment arose late last night, when, in an attempt to pivot and deflect attention from the lack of a good process, it was suggested that the School Committee would only support a staging site that allowed it to directly control any payments received for such a site. In other words, that School Committee members make decisions narrowly and in their own self interest only. I feel the need to seize the opportunity presented by that thought:
If your elected leaders are making decisions in such a way, they should not be your elected leaders. The job of an elected leader is to make the best decisions they can muster, that best protect the interests of their department, balanced fairly and interwoven with the interests of the community as a whole.
As a flawed human being, of course there are moments just before a vote when it occurs to me that I’m entering into controversy, that I could placate some specific group by voting as they would wish. But, time and again, I have striven to recognize the cravenness of that thought and shut it down immediately. I vote using my own best understanding of the issues, what is at stake, and what my own moral compass tells me is the right thing to do.
I cannot guarantee any outcomes to anyone, but I believe that good processes often yield great outcomes. My sincere hope and intention is that over the coming years, we will realize the processes we need to move forward together as a community, on mitigation and in a host of other areas.
Living here and being part of this community is a privilege that I do not take lightly. Thank you for the ongoing opportunity to serve and work toward our shared goals.