Friday, April 13, 2007
What's the plan from here?
Setting spending priorities as recommended by the Special Committee for Long-term Financial Planning will be a tough task. How can the town weigh the many worthy capital spending projects — schools, a community center, affordable housing, open space preservation, recreation fields, or preservation of the Highland Building? One way to begin might be to review past community planning.
The town has had many excellent long-range planning efforts over the years. Some of the best have included the participation of a large cross-section of townspeople. For instance, In 1974 roughly 100 residents attended a session held by the former Master Planning Committee. In 1986, 733 people responded to a town-wide survey by the same committee, which found the most valued characteristic of the town at that time was "rural atmosphere and open land."
In 1992 and 1993, the Planning Board sponsored Community Planning Days to develop a prioritized list of long-range goals. These were accepted at Town Meeting in 1993, and were the basis for "A Study Plan for the Town of Carlisle," written by the board in 1995. In this document, the goals were grouped under the four values: rural aesthetic, community, education and safety. The plan, approved by Town Meeting, included a series of recommendations for how to shape future development consistent with the town's values and goals.
Public input was sought again at a planning event held in 2001 by the former Municipal Land Committee, and at another Planning Day in 2003 sponsored jointly by the Planning Board and the League of Women Voters. The last meeting created a list of likes and dislikes, but did not generate goals. [Final reports were never written for the 2001 or 2003 events.] Most recently, in March, two or three dozen residents attended each of two informal meetings hosted by A Livable Carlisle Community (LCC).
It may be time for the Selectmen or Planning Board to lead the town in a new large-scale public planning process to reaffirm our values and update our goals. While it has been over ten years, the ranked list of goals the town adopted in 1993 may be a worthwhile starting point:
1. Preserve the natural/rural look and vistas.
2. Preserve and enhance the excellence and high quality of the schools.
3. Encourage a population which reflects the cultural, intellectual, age, and racial diversity; values consensus and community, and includes long-time residents, children of town residents, and people of moderate means.
4. Support a regional transportation plan.
5. Encourage small-scale higher density projects while maintaining overall two-acre zoning (which protects water supply.)
6. Foster a community with minimum centralization and maximum volunteer participation.
7. Protect land for wildlife.
8. Promote social and multicultural events.
9. Provide economic vitality with cottage industry: home occupations which preserve the off-site perception of residential usage and are environmentally non-invasive.
10. Build bike trails.
11. Encourage agriculture and farms.
12. Preserve and make publicly accessible large blocks of land around town for passive recreation.
13. Preserve a traditional town center focused on Town Hall and Green, with commercial services and sufficient parking to provide a sense of place for town events, and beautify the town center.
14. Maintain low density.
15. Encourage elderly housing.
16. Encourage private recreational facilities.
17. Use town buildings to achieve goals where appropriate.
18. Engender a community of self-reliant people who call for minimum government and public services, support private town-wide activities, and personally protect the environment.
19. Emphasize trails.
20. Contain taxes.
Once we reach consensus on our current goals, it will be easier to focus the town's financial resources to achieve them.
Sources: A Study Plan for the Town of Carlisle, Generated by the Citizens of Carlisle and the Carlisle Planning Board, 1995; Town of Carlisle Open Space and Recreation Plan 2005, OS&R Plan Committee, June 2006; Carlisle, As The Mosquito Saw It, Carlisle Communications, Inc., 2005.
Getting personal about crime
The Restorative Justice Circle has been a well-kept secret in Concord and Carlisle for years now. Secrecy wasn't the intention; it's just that what goes on in a circle must be confidential. That doesn't lend itself to a lot of press coverage or rave reviews.
Often, when the criminal justice system grinds into gear, the victims are effectively abandoned. They get some sympathy but little explanation that might lead to healing. Offenders are punished and humiliated; they are not literally called to account.
Restorative justice stems from the desire to make the response to crime more personal and meaningful. Restorative justice helps victims come to terms with what has happened to them and enables offenders to face their victims and understand the harm they have done.
In our towns, the police may refer cases to a circle of trained volunteers. To date, all of our cases have involved teenagers. A facilitator is assigned to help the victim and another is paired with an offender and his or her parents. All parties come together in a circle. The idea is that all in the circle are equal and will have a voice; all will listen.
What ensues is always emotional. The victim tells what the incident, say the damage of property, has meant to them. Maybe it's dismay, maybe fear, deep anger, or all of these. Usually, the victim wants to know "why me?" Then the offender, who has already admitted to the crime, relates what happened, what he was thinking. He responds to the questions and statements offered by the victim and others in the circle.
Young offenders may be defensive or contrite. Some are articulate about their feelings; often they're not sure why they did what they did. Parent emotions run the gamut, from defiant protectiveness to profound disappointment.
During the course of this meeting, victims seem to relax a little. If they've been angry, they soften as they listen to the offender. Some even joke with the offender, as if to signal, "It's okay. I don't want to see you harmed." Offenders and their parents relax, too. Offenders express regrets; most are eager to make amends.
All participants then brainstorm ideas about how to do that. The victim may have something specific in mind, like a chore or other compensating act. The restorative justice volunteers usually suggest some kind of reflection about decision making, like an essay or a journal. They also try to suggest community service they believe will engage the teen. So often kids get into trouble because they are not involved in anything that motivates them positively.
The teen then has a specific amount of time to complete the acts all circle members have agreed to, after which the circle is convened again for a closing, a kind of review and usually a celebration.
Kids and adults make mistakes, usually more than one per lifetime. Restorative justice takes that into account; the power of the process is the window into the consequence of the mistake. Recently, circles have been held for "victimless" crimes, such as marijuana and alcohol violations. Ours is just one model. Similar programs exist elsewhere in Massachusetts and Vermont. Some Native American peoples use peace circles to address violations in their societies. Some countries employ restorative justice for serious crimes, murder even. I'm not sure we're ready for that here, but I hope our homegrown approach to justice will someday be embraced more broadly. When the response to crime is more personal, the result is more truly just.
© 2007 The