Why Bother?

29Jun18

It’s a question that lots of people have to be asking themselves in the wake of Tuesday’s election results.

Anyone who attended Annual Town Meeting and sat through a two-and-a-half hour presentation and debate and then voted with the overwhelming majority in favor of the Public Safety Building project could hardly be blamed for wondering why they even bothered.

And those were the people who had the least invested in it.

How must the Permanent Building Committee be feeling? They had more than two years invested in this project. Two years of long meetings listening to alternately dizzying and mind-numbing amounts of information and possible solutions.

Why did they bother?

All of those meetings over that two-year period – meetings of the Permanent Building Committee, the Board of Selectmen, the Finance Committee, etc. were posted open public meetings. I was at many of them. There was rarely anyone there from the public.

Where was the opposition before the last couple of months?

In the spring of 2016, Annual Town Meeting voted $100,000 to do a needs assessment of the Public Safety Building. The Permanent Building Committee hired a highly-respected architectural firm to conduct the study. They spent 10 months and produced a comprehensive report.

How many people who voted “No” on Tuesday read even one page of the report? The voters who attended Town Meeting did – or they at least listened as Police Chief Rick Smith walked them through the highlights. After they weighed the information and listened to all the counterarguments, they voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Public Safety Building project.

You could say that the Town Meeting vote was a small sample of the electorate, but it was an informed sample. The vote was 168-41 in favor of the Public Safety Building project. A 4-1, 127-vote margin. That’s about as close to a mandate as you get without packing Town Meeting.

The margin on Tuesday that reversed Town Meeting’s vote was considerably smaller – 76 votes.

Sure, more voters participate in an election. But where were all those people when the Town Meeting vote took place? Where were half of those people, or even a quarter of them when Town Meeting was hearing about and debating this project? Maybe if they had attended and listened to both sides, they would have come to the same conclusion as those who did attend.

I would love to go through the 204 certified signatures on the petition for the Special Election and see how many of those who signed also attended Town Meeting. But why bother? I already know the answer, and so do you.

And now, we have officially entered the excuse-making and blame-shifting phase of the process.

People on social media are saying they didn’t know about the election. They never saw the extensive coverage in the Daily Item. They missed the endless discussions on Facebook. They never looked at the Town’s web site. The conventional and electronic signs posted around town escaped their notice..

It’s probably just as well. Anyone that blissfully unaware wasn’t going to be an informed voter anyway.

The Wakefield Police Department is too professional to allow this to affect how they do their jobs. But they’re human, and this can’t be good for morale.

And if you voted “No” out of spite, because the town “should have done it right the first time,” I hope you’re happy with your vote.

Town Meeting attendance is abysmal as it is – unless some special interest packs the meeting. The police could have done that but they didn’t. They prevailed the old-fashioned way. They made their best case to the dedicated and informed couple of hundred people who usually attend Town Meeting.

Now, even those 200 or so people who faithfully show up for every Town Meeting must be wondering why they even bother.

If you voted in Tuesday’s election, you probably were given on of those “My Vote Counts” stickers.

Now you know why they don’t give them out at Town Meeting.

[This column originally appeared in the June 28, 2018 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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3 Responses to “Why Bother?”

  1. 1 Anthony Antetomado

    Mark:
    As I’ve said before; the problem with Wakefield is that nobody who lives here actually gives a shit about the Town. They worry about their property values and their tax rates. Period. As for the police and firemen? Just shut up and do your damn jobs and be quiet about it. This town – what we townies once knew as ‘“Wakefield” is dying. Is being strangled by the inwash of outsiders with loads of cash and no love.

    • 2 Mark Sardella

      I think you’re on to something. It’s why there’s always plenty of money for the schools. People who move here for the schools can somehow always find a way to get to Town Meeting for that. But when it’s for the police or anything else, their excuse is that they can’t get out because they have kids.

  2. 3 Rada

    I’m wondering if the town is allowed by law to do the reverse call to inform about voting. The Civic group had a revers call to ask “VoteNO” Why the town can use the reverse call to inform about date and time and remind people to get out and vote? So frustrating!!!


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