Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mommie State Dearest

Ken O'Brien

Unlike the "nanny state" that many conservative critics claim that American liberals are making of our country, Southbridge has become a mommy state.

However, in contrast to the altruistic motives that underlie any conception of the "nanny state", Southbridge's mommy state is more aptly characterized as a "mommie dearest state" as exemplified by the iconic book and movie Mommie Dearest.

While both employ an element of the proverbial stick, there are clearly distinguishable matters of motive, degree and the absence of any carrot.

Southbridge's "mommie state" has devolved from any uses of incentives to one based entirely upon intimidation and penalties.

The most recent and clearest example of this is in connection with the town's recycling program.

Initially, the primary inducement to recycle was embodied in the town's participation in the Recyclebank Program. As has been pointed out on another local blog, the town withdrew from this program on the basis of a purely administrative decision founded upon a questionable set of statistics.

In place of this voluntary, rewards based system, the town has turned to a program that focuses entirely upon enforcement using nothing short of draconian means.

This has been accompanied by an ever expanding bureaucracy to administer the jackbooted tactics. We now have a landfill monitor, a recycling coordinator, a trash cop and we're about to add a consultant whose focus will be "enforcement". In all these cases we are told, "Don't worry, Casella is paying for them".  Well, true as that may be, none of them would have any authority if they had been hired by Casella. We are using the authority of the town to create a Casella servicing version of Blackwater.

The state of affairs surrounding the recycling program is not an isolated example.

There are proposed changes to the Town Charter that would prohibit anyone running for office who owed taxes, to allow the town manager to remove members of quasi-judicial boards virtually at will and to further enhance the power of the town manager by making it more difficult to remove him.

Then there is the behavior of the council chair in dealing with the public and fellow councilors at council meetings. That behavior is perhaps best characterized by an incident in the book Mommie Dearest where Joan Crawford says to the members of the Pepsi board of directors, "Don't f**k with me fellas. This ain't my first time at the rodeo."

So much for "Let the people speak".

Then there's the relentless attack on local blogs. These are the voices of negativity, the true source of all of what is wrong with Southbridge. Never mind that the "Make Southbridge Home" campaign was suggested by and appropriated from one of these local bloggers. Never mind that carefully thought out and researched critiques are dismissed out of hand as being "wrong" because the author is "not a lawyer" and that the research is based upon "archaic" laws. What, pray tell, is "archaic" about Massachusetts General Laws and the current town bylaws? Never mind that numerous suggestions of a positive nature made on these blogs have been totally ignored.

How about the callous dismissal of the manager of the local public access channels only months before his retirement for his coverage of events and people unpopular with the ruling political establishment. One of the principle complaints in his dismissal was that he showed the local council chair helping clear trees damaged by the June tornado from the property of local residents. However, the same administration sees no hypocrisy in showing a lengthy local cable broadcast of current council leaders preparing Christmas decorations.

And don't even get me started on the relentless attacks upon a member of the Board of Health or a prominent local family that has donated tirelessly in time, effort and material to the town.

Please feel free to add to this list with your comments.

The real quandary is "What will it take to get an apathetic public to vote for a change next June?"


  1. Perhaps it's the soporific Christmas music, or the fact that it's on (for local Charter subscribers) Channel 13. But, as opposed to the attack on Paul Zotos for showing Steve Lazo helping local residents recover from tornado damage, this is nothing more than the equivalent of a late night "infomercial" promoting local politicians. If you think that I am exaggerating, go to the Public Channel 13, (not Government or Education) schedule ( and watch what is called Holiday Decorations of Southbridge 2011. This is the local version of "Tokyo Rose" taking over our town-owned airwaves.

  2. aka Jester

    Quote Quencher

    "Being in power is like being a lady.
    If you have to tell people you are, you aren't."

  3. Mail your unneeded wire clothes hangers to town hall, Southbridge, MA, 01550.

  4. Pheonix writes:

    Spot on Ken!!! As usual. The interesting thing is that at the time of the tornado, Steve Lazo as the head of government was shown being the legitimate leader of the town. The town manager tried to turn that into "campaigning". what a hypocrite. He has a double standard on many fronts, this only being one of them.

    Thank you for the intellectual work that you do for the town.

  5. aka Jester

    I too found the following most disturbing:

    "There are proposed changes to the Town Charter that would * prohibit anyone running for office who owed taxes,* "

    I submit the following fundamentally sound quoted text via Wikipedia:

    "Political rights include natural justice (procedural fairness) in law, such as the rights of the accused, including the right to a fair trial; due process; the right to seek redress or a legal remedy; and rights of participation in civil society and * politics such as freedom of association,* the right to assemble, the right to petition, the right of self-defense as supported by the Bill of Rights, and the right to vote."

    As I recall this proposed Town Charter Change was recommended by the Town Council's Co-Chair. What's wrong with this picture......Let’s not let this one slip through the Cracks.

  6. Thank you Jester.
    I made these very points at the Town Council meeting of October 3 where this was adopted. (See (Part three)). You might also look at

  7. In regard to the latter post, I know that our town mangler is fond of pointing out that I am not a lawyer. The article I referenced, however, was written by Christina Kohn, an attorney with the Goldwater Institute (

  8. The article referenced was related to Arizona, but I believe the same legal principles apply.

    For those not inclined to look up the article by Ms. Kohn, the relevant portions are as follows:

    " The Town of Quartzsite, Ariz., recently used unlawful restrictions to limit the choices of voters in a town council recall election. Quartzsite Ordinance 09-15 prohibits otherwise qualified candidates from running for council if they owe the town money....

    This is why limitations on who may run for local office are set at the state level. Allowing current politicians to limit their potential competition is the proverbial fox guarding the henhouse....

    State courts have recognized that towns cannot set qualifications beyond those established by [state] statute."

  9. aka Jester

    Simply Addressing your ?:

    (The real quandary is "What will it take to get an apathetic public to vote for a change next June?)

    Perhaps, the answer lies with:

    "Professor Emeritus Albert Bartlett - Physics at University of Colorado ... The Exponential Function."

    It's well worth the look - It has something of value to offer!


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