(3/8/07) I think my Select Board recaps are useful. But honestly, I don't know if my blood pressure can take too many more of those meetings.
The discussions around the override have been stultifying. The blatant doubt and suspicion with which the Select Board members regard the Finance Committee's recommendation is trumped in absurdity only by their repeated displays of not understanding either the override proposal or the tax levy. They are trying to stonewall, second-guess and “improve upon” the Finance Committee's recommendation at the same time they are demonstrating that they have little idea what they're talking about.
It is a complex subject, to be sure. But to try to learn about it and impose your will on it at the same time is folly. To plunge headlong into it without considering that you might not understand it is a dangerous combination of ignorance and arrogance.
My observation is that among the Board, some either think or have been recently disabused of the notions:
• That a 3-year, $2.5 million override means raising the levy by $2.5 million this year, plus $2.5 million next year, plus $2.5 million more the following year.
• That a 1-year, $1.5 million dollar override means raising the levy by $1.5 million this year, and then lowering it back to its pre-override amount next year.
• That factoring new growth into the levy increases people's taxes.
• That a multi-year projection is the same as a multi-year plan.
• That the levy is an unknowable bunch of mumbo-jumbo.
• That under Democratic administrations, money might well rain down from the sky.
• That the spending limits in the Finance Committee's 3-year plan are wildly extravagant, plucked out of thin-air, nefarious attempts to deceive, or some combination thereof.
Did I forget any?
So imagine a bunch of people with these misunderstandings taking the attitude that they “know best,” and that it is their responsibility “to lead.” Imagine that their exercise of leadership is to be skeptical and to second-guess. Imagine them being self-indulgent with the power of the office and the microphone. Imagine them being able to spout errors and nonsense without challenge.
Yep, that was Monday night (March 5th) at Town Hall. And some previous Monday nights as well.
Lots of weird and frustrating stuff happens at Select Board meetings. But I have not previously been so chagrined by the conduct of my elected Town officials as I was this time. I was offended on behalf of the Finance Director and the Finance Committee that their hard work and expertise were being treated with such disrespect. I was offended on behalf of the Town Manager that the budget he and Town staff had labored over was being treated as something to pick apart by a bunch of Monday evening quarterbacks. I was offended on behalf of the Finance Director that his projection “scenarios” were being treated with skepticism and distrust at the same time more – still more! – scenarios were being requested to satisfy the personal vanities of the members.
Why weren't the Finance Committee's and Town Manager's endorsements of the three-year, $2.5 million override recommendation given more deference? Is the Select Board trying to guard against some kind of perceived “agenda” on the part of the Finance Committee? Do they think the committee is crooked? Incompetent? Misinformed? Does the Select Board think that its wisdom and judgment is superior to that of all the staff and committees representing the Town, the schools and the libraries that have already collaborated on and supported this proposal? If the answer to all of those questions is “No,” then what are they doing and why?
Maybe I just have a very different view of the role and responsibility of the Select Board and its members. Maybe that role is ambiguous enough to be open to many interpretations. Or maybe this really was rock bottom, which would be a good thing, 'cuz then there's no place to go but up.
-- Stephanie O'Keeffe