Friday, September 21, 2001
Goodbye to a gathering spot
Recently, the board of directors of the Carlisle Elderly Housing Association made two decisions regarding the Sleeper Room, a room on the property of the elderly housing complex on Church Street, which has, until now, been available for community use. The first decision, to close the use of the Sleeper Room's kitchen to the public, is an understandable one, given the board of health's stringent regulations and the question of costly insurance coverage. The second decision, not to allow further use of the room by "groups not associated with the residents, such as the Boy Scouts and recreation commission," to quote from a letter sent by the board of directors to the council on aging, may be understandable, but it is also regrettable.
The first decision has put an end to the COA's Drop Inn lunches and men's breakfasts at that site but, as the letter goes on to point out, "with other facilities available in Carlisle, the board's decision may be inconvenient, but it should not impose a hardship." Closing the room to all outside groups, however, may have the unfortunate consequence of closing the elderly housing out of the consciousness of the majority of the town. Just over a decade ago, after a major override defeat, it was at a Carlisle School Association meeting in the Sleeper Room that parents began to discuss the need for communication among the generations in Carlisle. From that realization sprang invitations to the residents at the elderly housing to attend cultural enrichment events at the school; groups such as the Scouts came to make wreaths with the residents. Over the years, when the good people of the elderly housing association graciously opened the doors of the Sleeper Room to various town groups, the elderly housing complex and its residents remained a vital and generous place in the minds of those who normally would have little awareness of the complex.
Speaking to a friend who is fairly new to town about this subject, I saw his brow furrow before he asked, "Where's the Sleeper Room?" Describing it as part of the elderly housing complex, I heard him ask the inevitable next question, "Where is that?" This reaction, I fear, will become even more prevalent in the future an understandable reaction, but a regrettable one.
Of demigods and local governance
I am not sure if it was reading David McCullough's excellent biography of John Adams or the recent antics of certain state legislators, but this summer something has made me appreciate the manner in which we govern ourselves in Carlisle.
In his book, McCullough details the ideals Adams incorporated into the constitution for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Working under the principles that the people of Massachusetts should have the sole and exclusive right of governing themselves and that the Commonwealth should be run by laws and not by men, Adams first introduced the concept of the separation of powers.
Despite Adams' best efforts, recent events indicate that occasionally elected individuals gain control of a political process while ignoring the will of the electorate. Speaker of the Massachusetts House Thomas M. Finneran, D-Boston, working with local representative Corey Atkins, D-Concord, recently attempted to ram through a redistricting proposal eliminating the 5th Massachusetts Congressional District. The 5th, incorporating Carlisle, Concord, Lowell and most of the Merrimack Valley, has been represented by Marty Meehan since the early 1990s when he defeated Ms. Atkins' husband in a contested primary election. During his tenure in Congress, Mr. Meehan has been a true friend of Carlisle. He played a key role in obtaining the $2 million in federal funding necessary to purchase the 126-acre O'Rourke Farm. Congressman Meehan works effectively for us because he is local and understands the needs of this region. The elimination of the 5th District would remove local representation in the U.S. Congress for Carlisle and the entire Merrimack Valley. We need to ask ourselves how a politician elected by 8,000 Bostonians exerts power to remove a region's overwhelming choice (over 200,000 votes) for representation in the U.S. Congress. Mr. Finneran's redistricting proposal appears to be based more on political retribution than on the best interests of this district or the Commonwealth.
Mr. Finneran and his counterpart in the Senate, Thomas Birmingham, D-Chelsea, like their predecessors, have proven that power and control so finely concentrated in one individual runs counter to Adams' principles. In Carlisle we operate a government that is described as the purest form of democracy the Town Meeting. We elect policy makers and managers who, under the direction of Town Meeting, carry out the business of the town. Every year we convene to openly discuss, debate and decide the future of our community. We elect a Moderator to preside over the debate. The Moderator neither sets the agenda nor hands out political favors in exchange for votes. The Moderator guides the debate, allowing all individuals the opportunity to speak on any issue. The absence of backroom political maneuvering and the doling out of political favors allows for free and open access to the political process.
Let me suggest that the time may have come to shake things up on Beacon Hill. Let us think about eliminating the positions of House Speaker and Senate President. We might replace these positions by instituting a statewide election for two Moderators. Answering directly to the electorate, these Moderators would preside over the workings of the Great and General Court. The absence of high-level political favoritism and cronyism would refocus the Great and General Court to the will of the electorate, away from any one individual's political agenda.
I understand that I have broken the cardinal rule of politics by speaking ill of my own political party. But keeping Adams' principles in mind, the need to operate a government that is driven by the governed and not by the elected should always supersede the body politic.
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