Troy's Take: Apposition On Public Position
By: Troy Clarkson, January 27, 2014
It was an interesting juxtaposition—and a good lesson on how (and how not) to get things done.
Of the petition articles submitted for the Annual Town Meeting in May, two of them stand out for their contrast in approach, their apposition on a public position.
The first seeks to make positive change using the energy, experience, and goodwill of an ad hoc group of citizens who have coalesced into a formal group called the Community Athletic Complex Building Committee. Their objective is to garner support and funding for the construction of a new turf field and sports complex at Falmouth High School on Gifford Street, replacing the traditional but tired facility at Guv Fuller Field on Main Street.
Since its inception, the group has made a strong and convincing—and positive—case for making the investment in a state-of-the-art athletic complex at the high school, one that would be available for school activities, youth sports, and even adult events. They have garnered the support of other organizations, having received both conceptual and financial support for their endeavors. The Falmouth Road Race is on board, having committed $500,000 to the effort, and the Community Preservation Committee has joined the journey toward approval with a pledge of $250,000. Several local companies have committed in-kind donations of services, making this a true community effort.
Committee chairman Karen Bissonnette, whose boundless energy and enthusiasm have been a driving force on this project, has worked tirelessly alongside a group of dedicated citizen volunteers to build local political and financial support for this effort.
Their efforts are to be lauded and supported, not just because the relocation of our major playing venue and creation of an updated sports complex is an idea whose time has come, but because the supporters of this effort have proceeded the right way—making their case to the citizens through a thoughtful and constructive process, one day and one voter at a time.
This grassroots effort is in stark contrast to another petition article on the warrant, which continues the blame game and finger-pointing over the long-ago completed renovations to the high school. In the tired refrain of a Putnam-esque quest to solve a mystery that has already been solved and for answers that have already been answered, a petition article has been filed seeking $25,000 for another review of the ill-fated but now completed project.
Petitioner Margaret Finnell explained that the request for funds is necessary “because we don’t have the answers yet to why there was such a problem with it.” But we do. The simple if unpleasant realty of this project, which required an additional debt exclusion of $18 million to supplement the original $68 million, is that an architect without significant school renovation experience was hired, then fired. The original design left many unanswered questions, caused delays, and necessitated many redesigns that cost significant time and money. The dismissed architect sued the town and won a settlement of $2 million that came out of the second appropriation.
When local contractors and guardian angels Pat Callahan and John Scanlan stepped in to bring their expertise to the project, things got back on track and the project was completed. We continue to owe these fellas a huge debt of gratitude for their selfless efforts in taking this sometimes frustrating project to completion. While that is a bit of an oversimplification, it is in essence what happened over the span of many years and many millions of dollars.
Since the completion of the project, the Mass School Building Authority, which doles out hundreds of millions to support and share the cost of projects across the commonwealth, has changed the way it does business as well, in part due to the challenges with the Falmouth project. Positive change has resulted from a difficult experience. The lessons of Falmouth have been learned and the community—and the commonwealth—have moved forward.
To look backward now, in a transparent and unproductive attempt to wag a finger at the bogeyman responsible for the problems with this project, would serve no one except those who seek to say, “I told you so.” There is enough strife, difficulty and disagreement in our community today. We don’t need more.
(Mr. Clarkson may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @TroyClarkson59.)