Friday, March 18, 2005
"Your call is important to us..."
Ring. Ring. Ring. R-r-r-ring.
"This is the office of the Carlisle Town Clerk. Please make your selection from the following menu:"
"For voter registration, press 1."
"For nomination petition papers, press 2."
"For information on Town Meeting and Town Election, press 3."
"For copies of vital records, including birth certificates, marriage licenses, and death certificates, press 4."
"For dog licenses, press 5."
"For hunting, sporting, or fishing licenses, press 6."
"For maps and street listings, press 7."
"For cemetery deeds, press 8."
"To leave a message for the Town Clerk, press 9."
No, this is not what you will get if you call the Town Clerk today, but it may be tomorrow. The Town Clerk position is defined as a 20-hour-per-week part-time job, but Town Clerk Charlene Hinton says it takes a lot more hours to get the job done. She is working 40-45 hours and not getting paid for the overtime.
Currently the office of the Town Clerk is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday (20 hours per week). Hinton says that townspeople frequently become irate when they find that the Town Hall is open until 4 p.m., but the Clerk's office closes at 1. In addition, she says, constant questions, phone calls, and interruptions prevent her from completing the 400 tasks on the state's list of Town Clerk duties while the office is open, or even when it is closed and people spot her at her desk. In addition, in the past few years the state has increased reporting requirements and increased the complexity of many required tasks.
Hinton has asked the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen to increase her hours from 20 to 35 per week for FY06, at an additional cost of $26K. This would allow her to keep the office open from 9 to 3 four days a week, and until 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. one evening per week. There would also be additional time to complete paperwork. The Personnel Board supports her request.
The FinCom sees this as an increase in services, at a time when "level service" stretches the budget. The committee has asked the Selectmen to place a separate Article in the Warrant for the Spring Town Meeting and let "the people" decide whether the additional Town Clerk hours and services are worth it.
It has been some time since the Town Clerk's job could be gracefully discharged in 20 hours per week. Recently, when the late Sarah Andreassen held the combined positions of Town Clerk and Town Accountant, she kept the Clerk's office open all day, far longer than the 20 hours per week.
We have been running on the generous willingness of our Town Clerks to serve the public beyond their required and remunerated hours. It is time for the salary and job description to catch up to the reality of the job.
Either that, or let's get Verizon to install a really fine automated clerk for us. "Your call is important to us."
The good, the bad, and the ugly
In this, the winter of our discontent, when snowstorm after snowstorm adds to the growing piles of grimy slush, one longs for any small hint of the summer to come. And what could be more representative of summer than a fresh, tangy-sweet tomato? Throughout most of my life the tomatoes one could get in winter hardly deserved to be called tomatoes. Having been picked green and turned red through artificial exposure to ethylene oxide, they looked all right but tasted like cardboard. All that changed a few years ago when I discovered UglyRipe® tomatoes, billed on their little stickers as "the tomato that tastes like a tomato." And they do — a real treat in winter.
UglyRipes, in case you are unfamiliar with them, have been available in local markets for the past five or so years. They are not especially ugly, but they do have a lot of furrows in the skin on the top where the stem attaches and they are often not very round. They are somewhat more expensive than other varieties, but no more so than organic tomatoes. But their overriding and desirable feature is their taste — almost as good as a vine-ripened tomato freshly picked in August. For this one can overlook a misshapen appearance and a dollar or two of extra expense.
But for reasons previously unknown to me they all but disappeared this year. However, a quick search on the Internet has shone light into this unimportant but intriguing corner of modern existence. It turns out that UglyRipes are marketed by a produce concern in Philadelphia called Procacci Brothers Sales Corporation, which developed them through conventional plant breeding (another arcane subject that, if explored, would take us too far afield from the matter at hand). Like most of our winter tomatoes, UglyRipes are grown in Florida, where there are now said to be 700 acres devoted to growing them, up from just 10 acres in 1999.
But there is a villain in the piece, to wit, the Florida Tomato Committee, whose sinister machinations are responsible for the absence of UglyRipes in the markets this winter. The FTC (not to be confused with the Federal Trade Commission) was set up by federal order in 1955 to regulate shipment of tomatoes from Florida during the winter months. (Just why it was felt necessary to regulate an activity that market forces would certainly regulate quite satisfactorily is beyond me, but of course I was not consulted.) For some reason the Committee's purview has been limited only to Florida round tomatoes, a class of tomatoes prized for their appearance, not their taste. UglyRipes, as well as cherry tomatoes, which are too small, and Italian tomatoes, which are too pear-shaped, were not subject to the Committee's guidance. That is, not until this year, when the Committee decided that UglyRipes were sufficiently round to come under its jurisdiction but for the most part insufficiently round to pass their tests for acceptability.
And there matters stand. It seems transparently obvious that the Florida Tomato Committee is just using a regulatory tactic to limit competition. Lovers of UglyRipes are being urged to write to the Committee and to their Congresspeople, and a bill to exempt UglyRipes from the Committee's wisdom has been introduced in the Senate. Isn't it wonderful that our government can concern itself with matters of such pith and moment?
© 2005 The