Now’s Your Chance!

09Jan16

We’ve arrived at the Put Up or Shut Up Season.

town_hall-entranceMonday, Jan. 4 was the first day that you could pull nomination papers to run in the April 26 Town Election. For those who for the past year have been have been telling anyone who would listen that you could do a better job running the town, now’s your big chance!

This is not to say that everyone who has a gripe should run for office. (God forbid.)

Nor am I saying that unless you stand for election you have no right to complain. There’s plenty of room for citizen activism outside of holding elective or appointed office.

People come to the Board of Selectmen’s meetings and School Committee meetings all the time and make their views known during public participation. Others attend public hearings of the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Planning Board or the Conservation Commission and speak their piece. Still others attend and participate at Town Meetings.

town_meeting050415
I don’t mean those people (well, maybe some of them).

I’m talking about the knights of the keyboard who trash the town and its officials on social media but couldn’t find Town Hall if you spotted them a map and a GPS.

They’re the people who pontificate at great length about municipal planning and then ask on Facebook, “Why doesn’t the town hire a full-time Town Planner?”

reavis2I’m going to guess that the person who posted that comment has never been on the second floor of Town Hall. I’ll also go out on a limb and say she wasn’t in the Galvin School auditorium last November when our full-time Town Planner spent hours presenting the zoning articles he had carefully prepared for Town Meeting.

I’m talking about those rant online against what they were sure was an arbitrary executive decision to move to an automated trash collection system, blissfully unaware that it was discussed at public meetings dating back to 2011 before being voted by the people at Town Meeting a couple of years ago as part of the annual trash collection article.

I’m talking about the people who rail online against town officials as “anti-business” for asking a hot dog vendor to abide by the town’s bylaws related to hawkers and peddlers.

But the worst are those who in the summer boldly declare on Facebook their intention to run in the next election and “straighten this town out,” but by the time January rolls around, they’re nowhere to be found.

It’s easy to think of elected and appointed town officials as nameless, faceless figures who got there by some kind of divine right. The fact is, for better or worse, you put them there. Every town official was either elected by the people or appointed by those elected by the people. Every decision by an elected or appointed board happens at a public meeting that has been posted in advance on the town’s web site and published in the Wakefield Daily Item.

selectmen_kevin_gill
Every bylaw in the town charter was created by elected citizens or by people appointed by citizens that the people elected.

They’re people like you (well, maybe not quite like you).

So rant and rave on social media to your heart’s content. But realize that it won’t change a thing. To do that, you might have to actually leave your house, attend an occasional meeting and possibly even talk to someone.

After you do that, you might decide that you really could do a better job than those calling the shots now. And maybe you could. But do yourself and us a favor. Punch “1 Lafayette St.” into the old Garmin. Show up and see first-hand what’s involved with government by the people. If you still think you could do a better job, by all means, go for it.

Otherwise, you can always run for mayor of Facebook.

[A version of this column originally appeared in the January 7, 2016 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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