Debatable questions

08Apr16

selectmen_debate2016
The recent candidates debates at WCAT once again proved to be a valuable tool in informing the voters about the candidates and issues in advance of the April 26 Town Election. I was happy once again to have had the privilege of serving on the press panel that posed questions, in two separate debates, to those running for the Board of Selectmen and Town Clerk.

I know how much hard work goes into putting televised debates on local cable. I produced and directed dozens of televised debates in the 1980s and early 1990s when the cable studio was on Water Street. It’s a time-consuming, labor-intensive and often thankless job for those involved in providing this invaluable public service, most of whom aren’t getting paid.

All those involved – the candidates, moderator Bill Carroll, producer David Watts, the WCAT staff and crew – pulled off the latest debates without a hitch. Everyone did themselves proud.

Well, almost everyone.

This year, a new wrinkle was added to the format of the debates: questions for the candidates submitted from the public. In theory, it sounds like a perfectly reasonable idea.

Except, who knew that “the public” consisted of one person, who just happens to be the president of the same self-appointed “Wakefield Civic League” that had pressured the producers to change the debate format in the first place and then endlessly and publicly crowed about it?

In each of the two debates, two questions from “the public” were asked. By a remarkable coincidence, all four questions came from that same person!

(WCL wanted its questions to be identified by the moderator as from the Civic League but the producer, to his credit, refused.)

bill_carroll040116b

I was told that about a dozen questions from “the public” were submitted. How many must this one individual from this one organization have submitted for all four of the randomly selected questions to have come from her?

And even if we were to give her the benefit of the doubt (and I don’t know why we would) and assume that she submitted only four questions, what are the odds that all four of the randomly drawn questions would be hers?

On the other hand, if it’s true that very few other people submitted questions, why do you suppose that was? The Civic League certainly encouraged people to submit questions, albeit in their own uniquely self-aggrandizing way. They did it in letters to the Item Forum and they did it on their Facebook page, hailing the decision that they helped bring about as “historic.”

Could it be that, at long last, people are tiring of being told what to do and what to think by this tiny group of self-appointed know-it-alls?

And if WCL’s membership and influence is as great as they are constantly telling us it is, why couldn’t they manage to persuade 12 different members of their own organization to submit questions?

Is it possible, as many have long believed, that WCL is at best four or five people, and at worst – as the debates demonstrated – only one?

Since they managed to kill off the public parking garage but couldn’t stop Brightview from building their mammoth senior living facility anyway, it seems that there is no longer a burning issue for this polarizing group to exploit in their constant effort to divide the citizens of Wakefield.

How very sad for them.

[This column originally appeared in the April 7, 2016 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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