This is – no lie – the single most important municipal election of the past ten years, and yet there is zero buzz about it. Let’s change that right now. We’re facing a million dollar deficit next year. Without adding significant additional income, or implementing dramatic expense reductions, you can expect fewer town services, larger class sizes and declining educational programs. We have insufficient affordable housing, which will lead to both insufficient commercial development and 40B developments somewhere near you.
There is an election next month. Let’s spell out the substantive, critical issues facing Grafton voters right now that our three Selectmen candidates must address between now and election day next month.
- Our structural deficit. Three years ago, when I ran against Craig Dauphinais and Sargon Hanna, I talked about our structural deficit and how it would lead us to run out of money between 2016 and 2020. It’s now 2019, and we’re projecting a $1,000,000 gap between what we will have and what we will need to provide our current service levels. What’s your approach to this, candidates? Do you support the passage of the Grafton Sustainability Commission? If not, what is your plan for the coming year? Do you know what a structural deficit is (if not, do you know what Google is)? Do we have one? Are we still in great financial shape, as Grafton voters were promised by several current members of the Board of Selectmen just a year ago?
- Override 2020. Would you support one? Why and why not? Without additional income, Grafton school service levels will decline. Class sizes will become larger. We likely will cut programming. Are you okay with this? What will your approach be to address these issues and to work with the School Committee? Another few Tri-Comm meetings?
- Commercial Development and Affordable Housing. Do the two go hand in hand? Why and why not? Have you read the Dukakis Center’s study on this presented to the Economic Development Committee? How can we develop affordable housing when we have been failing at it for ten years or more? How would you re-zone Grafton to promote developement, and how would you deal with issues that typically come up regardng traffic and neighborhood concerns?
- Capital planning. What is your approach to capital planning? Is our process sufficient right now? Are you happy with our roads? Are you happy with the condition of our schools? What would you change, if anything? When and how? Is $1,000,000 annually sufficient to deal with our capital needs? Do you support reviewing our capital planning process and reforming it?
- Economic Development and Long Range Planning. We provided long range projections counting on large commercial development for revenue. This approach was questioned by some, including me. What’s your position on this? Should we not be providing more accurate figures? Should the Finance Committee be consulted? The School Committee?
- Town Management. I caused somewhat of a broo-haha by posting my evaluation of the Town Administrator. The evaluation itself was, I think, tough but fair. The controlling voting block on the Board is extremely happy with the TA’s performance, and very angry with me for posting that review (one Selectman who shall not be named called me a “little bitch” for posting it. That’s one approach, I suppose). Are performance reviews public record in your view (to say nothing of the view of the law)? If not, why not? Would you support moving to extend the TA’s contract next year? Why or why not?
Not to put too fine a point on it, but everything from a possible override to the TA situation is immense for the town, and the table will be set to address these issues with this election. How anyone can say this is an issue-free, low-stakes election is beyond me. The present, controlling voting block of Dauphinais-Hanna-Thomas would maintain the status quo. Hanna loves the TA. Defazio is rumored to be close to the TA. The preferred North Street ticket is most certainly a vote for the status quo for years to come. On the other hand, change one person and break up that voting block, and things may or may not change.
For me, there is one thing and one thing alone that will dictate who I vote for: In a word, it’s “approach”. No one single candidate for office is going to offer a plan to increase your services while decreasing your costs. What we need now, more than anything, are brave, thoughtful people who are not afraid to get into the weeds on municipal finance and cost drivers while at the same time espousing Grafton’s values of commitment to education, community and each other, while presenting a coherent vision for the future.
Candidates, I don’t want to know that you love your community. You’re running for local office. I’m going to take that as a given. I want to know how you’re going to translate that love for your community into concrete action. I want to know how, given finite resources, you are going to approach our problems. I don’t even need to know who you are going to say “no” to. I need to know how you’re going to go about figuring that out.
Will you be inclusive in approach? Do you see the Board of Selectmen as a leader in solving these problems, or are we a back seat driver to the Town Administrator? Should we reach out to stakeholders and community members now, or wait until they come to us? Will things be fine, as they have been before, without significant investment of time on the Board’s part, or do we need to roll up our sleeves?
This is an enormously important election. Anyone who thinks that they don’t need to work hard, address these issues, and earn your vote has another thing coming. Let’s make sure that they know this and generate some buzz about this election.
I am thus-far underwhelmed. Today, we learned that the League of Women Voters was compelled to cancel the Selectmen portion of its important annual debate this Sunday because Sargon Hanna couldn’t make this weekend and Doreen Defazio couldn’t make May 5. This is unacceptable. Particularly in an important election where the present chair of the Board is seeking re-election during a year in which it is difficult to pin-point the Board’s singular achievment. And other than befriending Craig Dauphinais, no one knows where Defazio stands on anything. And yet we’re prepared to elect or re-elect these people without discussing much of anything?
You candidates need to earn our votes. You don’t just get them by filling out a form and declaring your candidacy. If you can’t even be bothered to tell us where you stand on these issues, I honestly have to wonder why you’re bothering with this at all.