Friday, April 27, 2007
The Excuse Lady and Town Meeting
One Halloween night a few years ago, I played in a Scrabble tournament. Players dressed in amazingly creative costumes, and the most ingenious of all was the Excuse Lady. She was short, rotund, with a kindly face, dressed in a sheet-like affair. Pinned to her costume were brightly colored Post-Its, listing various excuses for losing at Scrabble.
"My tiles were terrible." "My opponent talked all through the game." "I couldn't use the Q." "The room was too hot/too cold." The Excuse Lady had a bag full of excuses which she generously distributed among us.
Our Town Meeting has an Excuse Lady, too. She appears, unseen, just before each Town Meeting with her bag brimming with excuses for missing the meeting. "I can't get a babysitter." "I get home too late." "Monday nights I watch 'Dancing with the Stars,'" "Monday night is my bridge night" or "I can't miss the Red Sox game." (Actually, they don't play on April 30!)
These excuses are as flat as the Cranberry Bog. Child-care for pre-school and school-age children is available this time to enable parents to attend Town Meeting (see page 20). Town Meeting should be important enough for residents to leave the office earlier, set the TiVo or VCR to record favorite TV programs, and skip your regular Monday evening commitment for one week.
Town Meeting is the purest form of democracy. While we may feel helpless about the dangerous and deteriorating world condition and believe we cannot make a difference, on the local level, at least, each of us can make a difference on April 30. We, and not our representatives, participate directly in how Carlisle raises and appropriates tax revenues. Each of us decides on expenditures ranging from a DPW dump truck to upgrades to the Carlisle School's telephone and security systems.
In order to vote intelligently, we inform ourselves by reading the Town Warrant, the peach-colored booklet sent to residents last week. We read the Mosquito, go to Town Meeting, listen to the presentations, weigh our neighbors' comments, and raise our hands to vote.
What happens if you buy into one of the Excuse Lady's justifications for skipping Town Meeting? Then other Carlisleans will decide for you the direction of the town's future growth and spending. Decisions made here are reflected in our tax bills and impact every resident's wallet. If you decide to sidestep Town Meeting and the voters pass overrides that you do not support, you should not complain about your tax bill.
Participating in Town Meeting is the right and responsibility of every citizen.
New developments in Carlisle
In the fall of 1979, when I had just arrived in the Concord area, I took a bike ride out Lowell Road. Overhanging tree limbs shaded the road. I took a left turn on a likely road into deeper woods. After a half mile the road diverged in a yellow wood. I felt miles from my new home, with miles to go before I slept. No car, no human, no animal broke the whispering silence of the trees. I eventually turned around and retraced my path home.
I have since located the spot where I turned back on my first adventure into Carlisle: the junction of South and Cross Streets, just off of Concord Street. A quarter of a century ago, Carlisle felt isolated, remote, wild. That characterization would make someone who had experienced Carlisle in 1954 or 1929 smile.
Now, I take Cross Street to Concord each morning, and return each afternoon. In the past 25 years, half a dozen homes have been built along the nearly mile stretch of the road, mostly at the upper end where it joins Route 225.
This past fall, work on a new development at the lower end of the street began in earnest. Logging trucks cut swathes into dense woods to the east of the street. Big rigs removed ledge and rock. All winter great piles of topsoil and gravel loomed above the site of a small brick house owned for years by an older couple that tended the lawn and the flowers around the base of a dogwood in the front yard. After the spring thaw, roadbeds of crushed rock have pushed into the trees, and huge trucks continue to empty their loads in the heart of the woods. Cement trucks will pour the new foundations. Framing crews will appear. Then finish carpenters, plumbers, landscapers, and finally the new residents.
This scene was repeated, of course, every time each of our own houses was built. When we first moved to Carlisle in 1985, a neighbor on Curve Street told me, memorably, "We cursed when your house went in." We weren't the original owners, and we shared the neighbor's general distaste for new development; so we didn't take offense (and we are friends to this day).
And the scene will be repeated for the foreseeable future. More apartment complexes are coming to Carlisle, as well as a massive development off Westford Street opposite the entrance to Cross Street.
My guess is that the current decrease in school-age children in Carlisle is temporary. People who buy large houses generally have one or more children. If the current population does not expand in and of itself, newcomers will swell our numbers. And of course taxes on the new houses will not be able to cover the school expenses for the additional children. Taxes in Carlisle are not going down any time soon.
Will Carlisle residents in a hundred years look back on our day as a golden era in the history of the town? It wouldn't surprise me in the least. They will learn that, in 2007, sweet corn grew in vast fields, a cranberry bog yielded tons of berries each fall, and the last milking cows east of Springfield grazed in open pastures. People could walk trails through the town forest without a passport. The quaint school building was heated by oil, and the town library actually stored books on shelves. Horses and pets weren't taxed, and people could buy ice cream at Bates Farm without written permission from their doctors. And taxes on an average house were — astonishingly — below $10,000. Paradise.
© 2007 The