Let’s be clear
To paraphrase the late, great Dan Hicks, “How can we miss them when they won’t go away?”
Just when you thought it was safe to go to the Post Office on Saturday morning, they’re back like a bad penny – or three or four of them. The Wakefield Civic League, those guardians of our local democracy, have returned to lecture us on the true meaning of government transparency.
What outrageous scandal has prompted their latest sermon?
Well apparently, at the end of the Board of Selectmen’s Aug. 8 meeting agenda, listed under “correspondence” there were three letters. At the meeting, acting chairman Paul DiNocco referenced each of the letters, but – are you sitting down? – the board did not read them aloud or discuss them!
Somebody alert the Globe Spotlight Team.
I have been covering the Board of Selectmen for since 2005. Off the top of my head, I can’t recall any meeting where the board has read aloud or discussed routine correspondence.
But suddenly, in August of 2016, it’s Lettergate.
What were the three letters that were so shocking that the Board of Selectmen decided to cloak them behind this veil of secrecy?
One was from the Massachusetts State Lottery Commission notifying the board that it will be giving an existing KENO agent a new display monitor.
Another letter was not even addressed to the board but rather was sent to legislative leaders (cc’d to the selectmen) from State Reps Donald Wong and Paul Brodeur calling for an override of Gov. Baker’s veto of funding for the Albion Cultural Center.
Oh my God! No wonder the selectmen were trying to keep this letter under wraps!
Finally, we get to the last letter and the real reason that the Civic League is upset.
Again, this letter was not even addressed to the Board of Selectmen. They were merely cc’d on the correspondence.
The letter, dated July 11, 2016, was from Jean Nicholson to the Zoning Board of Appeals. It called the ZBA’s attention to a petition signed by 200 residents objecting to planned blasting in connection with the construction of Hallmark Health’s new medical office building in Greenwood.
This letter was so top secret that it was read into the record at a public hearing of the town board to which it was addressed – the Zoning Board of Appeals. It was discussed at length at that ZBA meeting. The subject of the letter, blasting at the Greenwood site, was discussed at a number of ZBA hearings over a period of months, including one hearing at which it was the sole topic of discussion. The letter, the petition and those discussions were all reported in this newspaper.
If the town fathers were trying to keep this letter secret, they failed miserably.
Furthermore, as of the Selectmen’s Aug. 8 meeting, the ZBA had rendered its decision on the Hallmark case. The letter was already moot.
(The Civic League had been trying to ingratiate itself with the Greenwood anti-blasting activists. Word of advice to local citizen groups who want something from the town: if the Civic League offers their help, run away as fast as you can!)
As previously noted, at the end of the selectmen’s Aug. 8 meeting, the chairman announced all three letters on the agenda and who they were from. It doesn’t take a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain these letters. Simply contact the Board of Selectmen’s office by phone or email and they will promptly supply you with copies of these riveting missives.
But that would require actually taking some individual responsibility.
“Placing an item on an agenda is not enough to constitute transparency,” the Civic League scolds. So, unless town government is spoon-feeding them the information, the town isn’t being “transparent.”
Sadly, are rapidly becoming a society where less and less is expected of the individual citizen and more and more is demanded from government at all levels. We now even automatically register high school seniors to vote.
God forbid they actually learn where Town Hall is.
But then, why would they ever need to go to Town Hall? Under the prevailing definition of “transparency,” no one should even have to click on a web site or dial a phone to obtain information. They should expect it to just flow to them automatically. Then when it doesn’t, they can complain ad nauseum on social media.
Town Hall – what’s that?
[The column originally appeared in the August 25, 2016 Wakefield Daily Item.]
Board of Selectmen photo by Chris Carino (Carino Media)
Filed under: Columns & Essays, Humor, News, Opinion, Politics, Wakefield | 1 Comment
Tags: Albion Cultural Exchange, Board of Selectmen, Boston Globe Spotlight Team, correspondence, Dan Hicks, Gov. Charlie Baker, government, Hallmark Health, Humor, information, Jean Nicholson, KENO, letters, Massachusetts, Massachusetts Lottery Commission, News, Opinion, Paul DiNocco, Politics, post office, Rep. Donald Wong, Rep. Paul Brodeur, town hall, Town of Wakefield, transparency, Wakefield Civic League, Zoning Board of Appeals