Friday, June 25, 1999
Short-Circuiting Process Short-Changes Citizens
It is unfortunate that a small group of finance committee members and selectmen chose to rehash the problems that plagued this year's Town Meeting financial preparations in a clandestine group rather than a public forum.
This spring, residents may have had an inkling of problems with financial planning from a couple of news articles indicating difficulties in preparations. Then, a March 19 Mosquito editorial suggested the need for at least a part-time financial coordinator based on the difficulties with the process and the growth of the town. However, it was at the May 4 Annual Town Meeting that the problems became apparent to hundreds of voters as they saw budget numbers changing before their eyes and tried to follow piles of last-minute information. While the problems came clearly into focus, the reasons remained unclear. From our vantage point, the difficulties were not the fault of any one person or one committee, but rather the symptoms of a system cracking under the weight of a job that lacked the watchful eye of a dedicated paid professional, a job that had grown beyond what should be asked of a volunteer, and a flawed process tangled in communication and managerial issues. But what was the perspective of the public officials closely involved?
Selectmen had planned a joint meeting with the finance committee on June 8 to discuss the problems. This could have been an opportunity to inform the public, to answer questions and hear recommendations. Unfortunately, the very abbreviated group met in private. While we commend them for compiling a list of resolutions, since the public never heard the diagnoses, it is impossible to know if this is the right dose of medicine and therefore, whether to support their proposed treatment plan.
Not only does it seem that the public should have been invited to this meeting, it seemed peculiar that neither the chair of the selectmen nor the town treasurer nor the assessors were present at a key meeting designed to right the course of the financial planning process.
We appreciate the sensitivity that the small group showed in trying not to "air dirty laundry" in public, but after a spectacle like Town Meeting, the public deserved a fuller explanation. With a town budget approaching $14 million, taxpayers should feel confident in the financial planning process and information. By short-circuiting what should have been a public analysis and informational discourse, voters were short-changed.
No Water and Navy Showers
The Oklahoma prairie fire raced across the dry grass as I stood by our back fence, hose in hand, ready to protect our property. My parents rounded the corner in our 1938 Pontiac, scooped me up and carried me to the house as the fire engines appeared and slick-coated men hopped out to stop the wall of flame. "You're a brave fourth-grader," said Dad, "but there's no water." Slowly the enormity of the words "no water" flooded my mind.
Years later, while hiking in a canyon near Los Angeles, I spied flecks of black and wisps of ominous gray cloud as we climbed up the switchbacks. As the sky darkened we carried the children with us at the fastest pace we could manage, topping the ridge and running to the car as fire marshals closed the road and directed water-carrying helicopters to hotspots. We watched from the barriers for a while. Creosote bushes exploded in puffs of black smoke and the fire skipped across the canyon ridges. "What would we have done if we had been trapped in a canyon?" I asked. "Bury yourselves in the wet sand at the bottom and pray the fire will jump over you and not take all the oxygen away while it does," they advised. I recalled that there was no water in the bottom.
Last week there was no water in Chelmsford. They have six water towers, almost empty when water they purchased from Lowell arrived. Fitchburg, which also has abundant water, is selling it to surrounding towns. Each autumn I drop the water level in our pool two feet for the winter snows and rains to refill by spring. This year it was still two feet down! The drought we are experiencing is much deeper than just a three-week lack of rain. The soil is dry. During droughts, park rangers recommend cutting grass higher than usual and leaving the clippings on the lawn for shade and nutrition rather than bagging them. If you mow, a dust mask should be used.
Trees and shrubs seldom indicate they are dehydrating, and have a variety of mechanisms to protect themselves. Fortunately, many woody plants can go into dormancy to survive. You may notice the leaves of some plants drooping in the afternoon. The deflection of leaves downward is a protective mechanism. Versatile species, red maples and many "weeds," exhibit this mechanism markedly and hence have the ability to colonize both dry exposed sites and shaded habitats. (Incidentally, red maples were recently classified as an invasive species.)
Willow trees, which seek unlimited water supplies, can transpire as much as 10,000 gallons in a growing season. Trivial Pursuit fans will know willows belong to the class phreatophytes, which derive their moisture supply from ground water and are independent of rainfall. Native mountain laurel and rhododendron are also phreatophytes, hence recently planted domestic hybrids need dedicated watering to survive and certainly to grow.
Conserving water this whole season is important, as a few rainy days will not dampen several feet of dry soil. Which brings us to the Navy Shower recipe. Fill a two quart pitcher with warm water. Stand in the tub. Pour a very small amount on your head, add shampoo and lather well. Then lather the body. Rinse carefully with the two quarts of water. Dry. You've done it!
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito