Chris Perry Column: Sausages And Laws
Chris Perry •
“The new phone book is here…”
“The new phone book is here…”
In the good old days when the new phone book arrived, it created quite a stir in everyone’s household. I can remember my grandparents tearing through the new phone book like it was the Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalogue. Entire neighborhoods would anxiously await its arrival like Miranda Priestly and Nigel Kipling poised to review an unedited edition of Runway Magazine in The Devil Wears Prada.
Likewise, one would think on Nantucket when the full Town Warrant was made available to the public outlining how we might potentially spend tens of millions of our tax dollars including approximately $106 million on Article 8 - the general fund budget - you’d think there would be a similar reaction around Town.
Instead, it has been crickets...
Outside of a small percentage of island voters and some concerned citizens such as those who diligently participated in the review process, the reaction by the general public to the various warrant articles has been received about as well as a fart in church. Frankly, that would probably make more noise. Even with a few highly controversial articles on tap, it’s hard to think that any real islandwide energy will spark a stampede of voter interest over the next five weeks resulting in a significant spike in attendance.
This is nothing new. Public participation in the whole process has waned significantly over the years. Meaningful participation from beginning to end just isn’t there. While there have been measures proposed to change Nantucket’s Town Charter and Town Meeting, I suspect that this May we will see more of the same. Unless you have a dog in the fight, it will be those who rally their troops for a specific article or two who will control Town Meeting. After that, it’s time to go home.
I worry about the head of a ”typical” Nantucket household with 2.3 kids and a dog. He or she is trying to make ends meet, find suitable housing and attend Little League practice. Do you think he / she is going on Saturday, May 6th?
I am not worried about the attorneys. Frequently, they are getting paid by several different clients - often at the same time - to participate and speak on their behalf.
They’ll make it.
The store owner, waitress, bartender, landscaper, construction worker, taxi driver, painter, hospital worker and so many others who can’t afford to give up their time on a hectic Saturday morning three weeks before Memorial Day Weekend… Do you think they are going to go?
I am not worried about the real estate agents. They’ll make it... on day 2 for the zoning articles.
So, who do you blame for the present situation? Is it the “haves” who do make the effort and should be lauded for their participation or the “have nots” who simply don’t have the time and flexibility to attend?
Clearly, it is impossible for Nantucket’s Town Meeting to accurately reflect the true feelings of the majority of eligible adult voters. While one could argue that no system can measure that number, on Nantucket there must be a better way at a better time and under better circumstances because our present system is just not working. Despite its “quaintness," historical precedence and rule of law, when the most talked about warrant article was a measure to make all beaches topless on Nantucket versus $35 million for our school department, something is wrong.
Now that the warrant articles and the associated recommendations are available online, the battle between fact and fiction begins. Between now and when the warrant with motions are mailed out to voters on April 14th, the campaign to get as much accurate and relevant information out to the general public takes place. Following that mailing and its inevitable bump in Town Meeting interest, the disinformation phase will begin. Typically, that lasts right up through Town Meeting. It is utterly exhausting and because of that, voters get turned off.
If you do secure a copy of the warrant, you’ll immediately realize that it’s a tough read. With over 100 articles, it rivals War & Peace. Nevertheless, after a quick review, several things came to my mind:
- Why don’t we pay our bills on time? If we owe Amy Manning $2,017.50 from last fiscal year, pay the girl.
- One of the very few items that did not go up from last year was the Town Clock expense holding steady at $4,700.
- If I were an “Election Worker” at $17/hour, I would be extra nice and go for a 29% pay increase and become an “Election Warden" at $22/hour.
- I don’t know how much of the $2,580,000 we are spending on “professional services for design work for Town Pier repairs at 34 Washington Street”, but I bet Bobby DeCosta would do it for free.
- Why spend $4 million on Article 16 to dredge Miacomet Pond when Steve “The Human Shovel” Scannell used to do it overnight for free?
- Article 25: I am voting in favor of the $806,669 for the Ambulance Reserve Fund. I am getting up there and I want to make sure that vehicle starts up when my wife calls.
- In Article 26, we should take all the money collected in the “Ferry Embarkation Fee” and buy some new TV’s that work for the SSA.
- There’s way too many “accounts & funds” for me to follow. My head is spinning. In fact, some even “revolve." And if you look closely, it is amazing how many organizations have their hand(s) out. But a “stabilization fund” seems like an oxymoron to me.
- Article 39: Is a “Recreational Outdoor Water Feature” similar to an A.F.R.?
- All the zoning, special permits, tertiary lots, R-10, LUG-3, second dwellings… it is overwhelming. Do you really think the average person living on Pleasant Street is capable of understanding the true ramifications of spot zoning on Arrowhead Drive? I’ll admit it - I don’t and I don’t live on Pleasant Street. Unless you have a dog in the fight, it is truly unfair to the voters. Maybe “Underground Tom” was right all along.
- Article 50: “Private Intrusion Alarm Device…..” Police and Fire should consider a sliding scale. The larger the house - the larger the fine.
- Article 75: Lighting (Holiday Lighting): Can’t wait to see this one enforced come Christmas. Over 30 pages of the Warrant dedicated to lighting including the role of “The Lighting Enforcement Officer." I kid you not.
Am I feeling cynical today? Yes…me and about 8,500 of the approximate 9,500 registered voters on Nantucket are feeling a tad overwhelmed right now. Clearly, there is a lot to digest but where does one start? Knowing that an incredibly small number of registered voters on Nantucket over a two or three day period could potentially chart the future of Nantucket should keep most people up at night.
Undoubtedly, I will not be able to resist the urge to comment on some of the more pressing articles as we get closer to Town Meeting. Honestly, I need to dive a little deeper to better educate myself. But in moments like this, I can’t help but to think back to my time on the Nantucket School Committee where I can hear Dr. Tim Lepore routinely advising his fellow School Committee members:
“No one wants to know how sausages and laws are made….”
He probably wasn't talking about Town Meeting but the Doc might be right. If passed at Town Meeting, many of these articles will become law. If that’s the case, Lepore hit the nail right on the head because most people don’t want to know.