Friday, March 14, 2014

Easy To Be Hard

As I was watching the early part of the Southbridge Town Council Meeting last Monday night I was genuinely excited.

There were two reasons for this.

First, and perhaps foremost, was that I was finally going to be able to say something positive about our town’s Economic Development and Planning Department. Followers of The O’Zone know that I have been a relentless critic of this office and its Director. But, really, they make it so easy to be hard. Most recently I pointed out their failure to have the Southbridge Technology and Environment Park mentioned in a web-site devoted to promoting business-ready sites in Massachusetts.

The reason for such anticipated praise was the presentation by Ted Carman of Concord Square  Development on a final report on “Sparking Private Investment in Downtown Southbridge”.

Listening to Mr. Carman’s presentation, and viewing it through the lens of my own experience as a consultant, I was impressed with both the scope and complexity it appeared to entail. I was especially impressed by his invocation of “the big idea”.

This latter concept involved no small amount of courage. Consultants generally travel a well-trodden path avoiding the controversial and difficult.  As a consequence I felt that this was a presentation, and report, that merited more than the usual yawn accorded such grant-funded studies.

I decided, however, that prior to writing about the report I would review its contents. After all, Director Acly guaranteed that it would be available on the town’s web-site the next day.

On a number of occasions on Tuesday I returned to the Town of Southbridge web-site looking for the report.

I repeated the effort on Wednesday morning. No luck.

Finally I called the office of the Department of Economic Planning and Development. Perhaps, I thought, given the abominable nature of the web-site, I wasn’t looking in the right place.

After being put on hold (I suspect because whoever answered didn’t know what I was talking about) I was told that the report wasn’t on the site yet. Another request would be made to the company hosting the web-site - I was told.

Well, it’s Friday. Even the Southbridge News got around to reporting on the presentation today. But, despite my best efforts, I still can’t find the report on the town’s web-site.

They make it so easy to be hard on them.

All of this brings me around to the second reason why I was looking forward to reporting on this.

Those who have bothered to watch the above video probably recall Mr. Carman’s references to the success of a similar project in Greenfield. I made reference to this fact when Concord Square Development first presented its planned efforts to Southbridge’s Economic Development Commission two years ago.

The second reason why I looked forward to emphasizing this report has to do with the current debate swirling around the structure of Southbridge government.

For fifteen years I have been putting forward the idea that Southbridge needs to adopt a mayor/council form of government if it is going to break the downward spiral in which it is caught. Recent developments have potentially obviated the complications that I previously foresaw to undertaking such a change.

This is relevant in the context of the report by Mr. Carman because his chief example of success, Greenfield, is the most recent community in the commonwealth to adopt a mayor/council form of government.

The kind of complex, integrated agenda necessary to successfully undertake such a project cannot be run by a committee. It does not serve the personal agenda of an outsider serving as town manager or administrator who views their position as temporary.

This kind of change requires a champion whose success or failure is cast in terms of local politics. It requires a champion whose future is based in the community he or she serves. And it requires a champion whose legitimacy is underscored by the popular vote of the local citizenry.

Such a champion can only be established in a system of government that empowers a single, unitary executive – a mayor.

Town meetings, town councils, a board of selectmen cannot do this. They are, by their very nature, committees. And there was never any truer analogy than the observation that a camel is a horse designed by a committee.

All of those camels are spitting (as camels are wont to do) on the plans being advanced by those who think that a return to a town meeting is going to provide Southbridge with salvation. It will only perpetuate stagnation!

As regards the current system, it can’t even get this report on the town’s web-site almost a week after it was promised.

The sponsors of the current petition are masquerading their regressive agenda under the logo “We The People”.

They are not offering a choice. They are exploiting a bad situation to validate one person’s vision that will give rise to a worse situation.

If you are sincere about making things better, give people a real choice.

Have your petition offer the three basic alternatives:

·         Board of Selectmen/Administrator
·         Council/Manager
·         Council/Mayor

I have provided a model for option three, so there is no reason to say that it is undefined.

Of course I don’t expect the missionaries currently proselytizing the public to turn back the clock to a town meeting form of government to give any other option a fair chance.

But, assuming the petition survives the Star Chamber proceedings that will evaluate the legitimacy of its signatures, I hope that the town council will amend it or offer the alternative options on the ballot.

 Then, We The People, can have a debate that may even border on the intelligent.


  1. The title of this post is very misleading. I thought that it would be a cheap and easy alternative to Viagra. Screw You O'Brien.

  2. COST ?
    You are being too kind
    But when I read the part
    That explains greenfield
    Got a mayor and was
    Accountable and why
    I understood your points
    And agree
    Thanks for the info!


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