Friday, April 28, 2006
Democracy in action
It is time to participate in one of the purest examples of democracy. At Annual Town Meeting on Monday, May 1, every registered voter in Carlisle has a chance to question, debate and vote on the budget and business for the town. At least 150 residents are needed to form a quorum. There may be a lively discussion for those articles that involve large expenditures, bylaw changes, or new ideas such as the creation of an Affordable Housing Trust (Article 25).
The Articles to be considered include $20 million for the general budget (Article 6), $1,466,000 for new athletic facilities on the Banta-Davis Land, $500,000 for a new fire truck (Article 13) and $200,000 to construct two cisterns (Article 14) for the Fire Department, roughly $350,000 for repairing the Carlisle School boiler system (Article 12), approximately $325,000 for repairs to the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (Article 11), $225,000 in additional capital expenses (Article 10), and an override of about $150,000 to be used for the schools (Article 9).
Requests to spend Community Preservation Act (CPA) monies under Article 26 will not change the tax rate because the funds have already been collected under the town's 2% real estate tax surcharge. The largest CPA requests are $200,000 to fund two additional affordable housing units in the proposed private Coventry Woods development off Concord Street and $90,000 to start an Affordable Accessory Apartment incentive program.
Proposed bylaw changes include a modification to Section 5.9 covering personal wireless communication facilities giving the town greater flexibility in the placement of cell towers. The other bylaw change, to Section 5.6, defines a new class of "affordable accessory apartments" which would be administered by the Carlisle Housing Authority. For more details on the various Warrant Articles, see the Town Meeting reports, starting on page 1.
The Moderator, Tom Raftery, said that if Town Meeting appears to extend to a second night, he will schedule the Articles on the wireless bylaw, override, and CPA fund transfers all in the first night. Annual Town Meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the Carlisle Public School's Corey Auditorium off Church Street. See you there.
Good luck, and good grief
The legendary newsman, Edward R. Murrow, considered by many the father of television journalism, was memorialized in last year's documentary film bearing his signature signoff: "Good Night, and Good Luck." In the movie (as in real life), Murrow worked tirelessly to expose the misperceptions and manipulations that led to the Communist witch hunts of the McCarthy era, but also predicted the influence that ratings and revenues would exert to move network news from information to entertainment.
Sadly, that future appears to have arrived. Edward R. Murrow, say hello to Charlie Brown.
A recent poll of American high school students revealed that more could correctly name the Three Stooges than the three branches of government. Among American adults, far fewer can name three of the five freedoms protected by the First Amendment than can name all five members of the cartoon Simpsons family, or all three American Idol judges.
The contrast to the freedoms protected by the First Amendment is apt, since our Founding Fathers staked their hope for a successful constitutional democracy (the first of its kind) on the role of a free press to ensure an informed citizenry.
It is paradoxical that we have reached this nadir in a time heralded as the age of information. Satellite transmissions and television and Internet outlets provide virtually instantaneous access to events spanning the globe. Routinely, half of the morning newspaper consists of stories I have already read or heard over the latter portion of the preceding day from other sources.
But what are the stories? That an attractive middle class woman should die in a violent attack is tragic. But should that tragedy obscure news of all other matters, from all sources (until the media are drawn to another similar victim)? A three alarm fire in Dorchester is of great consequence to the residents of the structure, its owner, and others in the neighborhood. But it doesn't assist those of us struggling to make sense of the debate over health care reform. And what's all the fuss about the weather? Or traffic? Especially when both are more or less as expected — weather cold in winter, traffic bad in rush hour.
Despite the theoretical availability of more information, in reality we have practical access to relatively superficial treatments of very few stories. The romantic notion that a "free marketplace of ideas" would resolve a "cacophony of voices" in furtherance of higher truths has given way to a free marketplace of commerce, catering to our transient and often frivolous interests.
Traditionally, the institutional press presumed its role as that of intermediary between newsmakers and the public to be informed. The press, in that vision, sorted through the mass of data to discern what was important, what was trustworthy, what was relevant. I believe our mainstream media (the Mosquito excepted) have failed to live up to that model. Instead of an independent corps of journalists, watching over the integrity of those in power, we have a media divided between those chasing the trivial or salacious, and those delivering (or commenting upon) the message issued by those in power.
We all hold responsibility in this dynamic. When we choose to watch the titillating rather than the informative, we suggest a preference to our intermediaries, and their marketing departments will respond. We also hold the ability (enabled by the Internet) to bypass the institutional press and conduct our own investigations into issues about which we care.
In a democracy, we have an obligation to be informed. Good luck! For in this modern age, with competing time demands, accomplishing this mandate can be difficult. Good grief!
Forum staff writers are elected by the board of directors of Carlisle Communications, Inc., publisher of the Mosquito, to provide independent commentary on matters they believe will be of interest to Carlisle citizens.
© 2006 The