Here’s a secret that I can now share: I’ve always hated Planet Grafton.
Don’t get me wrong, at times the writing was okay, and it could be cathartic in certain moments to share with all of you my misadventures in local government. And, along the way, I hope that this space did some good in educating and informing readers about how this town works. How it really works.
But I always hated the fact that Planet Grafton was even necessary to begin with. You have to remember, I didn’t start out thinking, “Oh, I know how I can be involved, useful and have lots of people like me – I’ll write an opinion blog about local politics!” Of course not. But with local media having been whittled down to a nub by 2015, there really were not and are not many forums available for constructive public dialogue. And, by 2015, constructive dialogue in this town was needed.
So, here we are, on May 22, 2019, with a new Selectboard in place, and perhaps some hope for a constructive year and a collegial future. Planet Grafton cannot exist in this context. I cannot be both an inside-government leader on the Selectboard while “speaking truth to power” from the outside. Those are two different roles for two different people.
Look, if you see something happen and you know it’s wrong and you don’t say anything, you’re complicit. Over the past five years in this community, I’ve seen quite a few things. This space was created to address those things. In the past two weeks alone, we’ve heard a Town Moderator admonish the opinion-havers of “Facelift” for participating in community discourse and for having thoughts and opinions of their own. At his last meeting, I heard an outgoing Selectboard member caution everyone not to read the untruths contained on the internet. Which is ironic, because I only ever wrote Planet Grafton – but that crowd? They really created it. It’s been here specifically because of them.
And if it’s true that those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it, it’s worthwhile now to briefly take a look back over the past five years on how this space came to be, and perhaps how we might avoid needing it ever again.
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Planet Grafton was born in 2015, shortly before election season. Brook Padgett was running for re-election uncontested when Bob Nault decided to run a sticker campaign against him. I like Bob a lot, and I think he’s a good guy who is committed to improving his community. We’re very different people, what with me being a bleeding heart liberal and him being…well… conservative, but I completely respect what Bob brings to the table. Despite the fact that Bob’s a Grafton lifer, even he would have to admit that the idea of beating Brook Padgett in a sticker campaign was extremely unlikely if not downright silly.
But, instead of taking the challenge in the spirit with which it was intended, Selectman Padgett’s fan club decided to smear Bob on Facelift by suggesting that Bob’s sticker campaign in and of itself spoke to his nefarious intent and his poor character.
This infuriated me. As though a long-time member of a community needs permission from someone to start a harmless sticker campaign against a political machine. Give me a break.
Thus, Planet Grafton was born with its first-ever post entitled “Slow your roll, Padgett Patrol.”
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Around that same time, I was serving as Chairman of the Affordable Housing Trust. The Town was engaged in a lawsuit against a developer who, it had been determined, made too much money off of a “friendly 40B” housing development, and by operation of law, owed millions back to the Town, payable to its Affordable Housing Trust.
The Town settled the lawsuit in December, 2014 for about $1.2 million. I had been told in October of 2014 by the Town Administrator that any litigation proceeds would be “going to affordable housing”. By January, 2015, however, the Trust had only heard second hand that the lawsuit had settled, and we’d received none of the money. So, somewhere out there for a month was our million dollars.
So, what did I do? Yell and scream? Threaten to sue? Write a blog? No. None of that. The Trust wrote a really nice letter to the Board of Selectmen asking for a meeting. That letter was never read at any formal BoS meeting, and we were ignored.
Another month went by. We contacted the Town Administrator and asked that he come to a Trust meeting. He, Brook Padgett and Bruce Spinney did. At that meeting, the Town Administrator told us he had no idea why he was there. No idea! And that, presently, he had no intention of moving the money from the town to the Trust, and that if the Trust wanted the money we would have to present a warrant article at Town Meeting. Oh, and also important to note: weeks prior to this meeting, the Town actually solicited proposals from other groups for how the Town should spend that money.
Interesting side note before we go on: this is not the first time people have tried to misappropriate affordable housing money. In 2013, a prominent Grafton senior presented the Trust with a proposal that we spend affordable housing money on Grafton seniors’ homes who might not have the funds to repair the homes themselves. Certainly a worthwhile charity, but not the province of the Affordable Housing Trust. You can’t spend public money for private benefit. When I said so, I made a lifelong enemy. Sometime later, maybe it was also in 2015, the TA wanted to use Trust money to pay for a new town “master plan” because it somehow related to affordable housing. Again, I said no.
The moral of the story: When you’re the affordable housing trust, you carry your wallet in your front pocket while walking through the municipal center.
Anyway, back to our tale.
I was of the opinion that the Town had violated the law when it put the lawsuit money into one of its accounts. A lawyer that I spoke with on the matter, who is now a judge, by the way, agreed with me. He put that opinion in a letter for me, which I sent to BoS members.
There was a BoS/Trust meeting on the matter on April 7, 2015. Instead of the meeting’s focus being “oh my God, we have royally screwed up with handling $1.2 million dollars,” the focus was that I had received a legal opinion that backed me up. This was bizarre to me then, and it’s bizarre to me now. But by the end of the meeting, the BoS agreed to put a motion on the Town Meeting warrant to move the money to the Trust, so that appeared to be that.
Then, on June 30, 2015 (I know all these dates without having to look them up, by the way), when it came time to renew my term on the Trust, Brook Padgett, Jennifer Thomas and Craig Dauphinais voted against me.
I’ll never forget this for as long as I live: I was working out at my gym after work when I got a phone call from a friend telling me that the Board was discussing me at their meeting. I left the gym, pulled up Grafton TV on my phone and, while pacing through the parking lot on a really nice summer night, watched as Craig Dauphinais told his fellow members that he could not in good conscience vote to renew my term because he had an obligation to the town to make sure that the people serving on our committees had the Town’s best interest at heart, and that I did not.
Now, mind you, this is the same person that feels like publicly criticizing Board members or the TA without talking to them privately first is completely out of bounds. And yet, there he was, publicly impugning my reputation all the same. I never got so much as a phone call. It never even occurred to them to think, “Hey, here’s this bright young guy who is passionate about housing who had a different view on this than we did. Maybe we should sit down and talk about what happened.”
Nope! Instead they thought, “We’ll show him.” An epic, ten-part Planet Grafton series ensued describing the affordable housing ordeal. So, when I say that they created this blog, that’s a pretty good example of what I mean.
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Planet Grafton ebbed and flowed for a while after that, never quite able to go away. When I ran for Selectman in 2016, I used it as a vehicle to talk about my ideas, which was helpful. But after I lost, I openly questioned whether I’d done more harm to myself than good with it, so I killed it. That’s why you won’t find the affordable housing stuff on here.
But after November, 2016, I felt more than ever like there needed to be some rational, fact-based discourse on line, so I re-started it. Soon enough, Planet Grafton was hip deep in analysis of the teacher’s union negotiations which, again, did not make me any friends.
At the time, I was chairing the Finance Committee, so I knew that our long term financial projections were grim. I began to say so in this space, and I was publicly called a liar and an alarmist by certain BoS members. I literally was called a “dick” by a teacher’s union supporter for suggesting that the teacher’s union accept the offer that the school committee presented to them. I was one of the few people who publicly stood up for the school committee during these negotiations. No one asked me to do it. I just did it because it needed to be done. There was so much misinformation out there about schools, how much they cost, and how much money the town has, which I knew was going to be bad for the town in the long term. To this day, it remains to be seen how Grafton will react to another override proposal after having been told the last override was approved specifically for a substantial cost of living adjustment to the union contract.
Around that time, I was made aware by the Town Moderator that he did not appreciate Planet Grafton. He didn’t read it, he was quick to inform me! But he didn’t like it. Let’s leave aside how one would know that one didn’t like an opinion blog without reading it, and let’s concentrate on the fact that I was being told to cool it.
Then, as we approached Town Meeting and I prepared to give the Finance Committee’s State of the Town address, as all FinComm chairs do, the Town Moderator told me that I would not be allowed to give the State of the Town address without it first being approved by the Board of Selectmen and the Town Administrator.
If you don’t understand why this is a big deal, it may help to understand that local government has “separation of powers” just like the big boys in Washington, D.C. do. The BoS is our executive branch and town meeting is our legislative branch. Finance Committee exists to advise the legislative branch of government on executive proposals, much like a House Ways and Means Committee.
So, here you have the executive branch trampling on that separation of powers by insisting that Ways and Means deliver the message that the executive branch wants the people to hear. What did I do about it? I played along of course, what else could I do? I’d already been portrayed as a lunatic all over town, and fighting that fight wasn’t going to help.
A year later, when I ran against Dennis Perron for the BoS, the Town Moderator, who was a supporter of Dennis’s, declared that I could not give the State of the Town Address at all because it would somehow be unfair to Dennis. I had to hand over the reins to someone else, despite the fact that I had done all of the work, and that Finance Committee all had reviewed and approved of the message, as did the BoS.
Interesting coda to this particular story: Kandy Lavallee performed all of her Town Clerk duties at this year’s Town Meeting without any perception that it was unfair to Jen Paluzzi. The board of Selectmen never discussed the State of the Town message drafted by new FinComm chair Sue Robbins. Apparently, these rules applied only to me.
There’s a technical term for what happened right there. I believe it’s called “bullshit.”
These are the same people telling you to ignore the noise on-line.
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Lessons learned? If you don’t like someone’s opinion or the fact that they’re participating, don’t attack them personally. Don’t character assassinate. Don’t denigrate how they participate, or the forum they use. Address their arguments on their merits. Treat people – especially new people – with some respect. Why alienate new blood and dampen enthusiasm? If people are inclined to discuss local issues, organize and vote, these are exceptional people who should be celebrated. If your first inclination is to bash them, you aren’t just part of the problem, you are the problem.
And so, I step away from Planet Grafton, hopeful that the Board can now get some real work done, and spaces like this will be less necessary. This space will remain open for a while, mostly because it’s already paid for.
But I’m not stepping away from writing or informing entirely. It’ll just be in a slightly different context, and at a different location. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you edprisby.com.
You didn’t think you were getting rid of me that easily, did you?