anniversary of the most infamous day of this young century has come
and gone. Across the nation cities, towns and hamlets in their own
way commemorated September 11th. At Ground Zero, the parents and grandparents
of victims read the names or their martyred loved ones. Here in Watertown
we have elected to call 9/11 “Patriot Day”.
That is a fitting name given our history. Watertown was the nations fertile
topsoil for self-government and the cradle of American Patriotism.
But what did liberty mean to the Founders and Patriots of our great
Republic? Did they envision a society void of personal accountability?
Did they define liberty as the freedom to feed every self-indulgent compulsion?
Was it their understanding that personal freedom in all circumstances,
in every situation, and no matter the crisis, was to override the overwhelming
public interest? A non-revisionist study of our history can only answer
these questions with a resounding no.
George Washington in his first Inaugural address to the nation said
preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the
republican model of government are justly considered, perhaps, as
deeply, as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands
of the American people."
How did Washington view this experiment? Was Washington a relativist
and libertine? Did he believe that mankind held in its hands alone the
ability to sustain self-government without reliance on commonly held
He answers these questions in his farewell address to the nation.
all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity,
religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that
man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert
these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the
duties of men and citizens."
Washington, like many of the founders believed in “ordered
liberty”. Ordered Liberty is based on the view that all laws don’t
intrinsically diminish liberty. Further in many laws increase our freedom.
Case in point: As civilization evolved, burgeoning societies passed
laws against murder, and theft. Those laws may have restricted the liberty
of the thief and murderer, but they made the society not only safer,
but also freer. Citizens of those societies were freer to enjoy their
life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, knowing that the law provided
deterrents to those who would kill and steal.
Ordered liberty is also based on the notion that there are certain moral
absolutes. Among them, is the belief that murder, theft, infidelity,
and greed are objectively wrong. Conversely, respect for life, family,
society, and authority are objectively right. These are all self-evident;
they require no qualification, no justification. They are immutable truths.
Virtue is the cornerstone of our society and the bulwark of our nation.
It is the prerequisite for our beloved freedom.
I believe America; our system of government, our free market economy,
and our foundation on Godly principles is a beacon of hope and a fortress
of freedom. Although not perfect, our system offers mankind the best
hope for universal liberty, opportunity, and prosperity.
Yet, there are voices in the current day political debate, proclaiming
our system has failed the American people. Interestingly enough, these
same voices seek to purge our public forums from any mention of God.
They actively promote moral relativism over objective moral truth. Indeed,
many have revised our history books, omitting the importance our forefathers
gave to religion and morality.
Children learn what they are taught. If we teach them that right and
wrong are relative concepts, we will produce adults with no moral compass.
In such a society, self-indulgence rather than virtue is bound to dictate
Is it any
wonder, that many executives and employees steal from shareholders
or that many politicians (from both parties) can’t be trusted?
has not failed; the relativists have failed our system. They have subverted
the “great pillars”, and the “firmest
props” on which our freedom relies.
we press on. The American spirit will not be defeated, not by the terrorists,
not by the relativists. For America was built on what Martin Luther
called a “Firm Foundation”.
Ronald Reagan said it like this: “our best effort, and
our willingness to believe in ourselves and to believe in our capacity
to perform great deeds; to believe that together, with God's help, we
can and will resolve the problems which now confront us. And, after all,
why shouldn't we believe that? We are Americans”!
remember the victims of 9/11, let us never forget that our nation is
only as great as it’s moral fiber. The Patriots of our great
nation spilled their blood for ordered liberty. They knew “freedom
was not Americas gift to the world. Freedom is the Almighty God’s
gift to mankind”.
Watertown Citizens for Common Sense Government
residents enjoy a matchless privilege. A leisurely stroll down many
of our thoroughfares affords us the pleasure of imbibing New England
tradition while dining on Yankee folklore. Walk a little further, turn
any given corner and you’ll see a Meeting House, a Church, perhaps
an inconspicuous old dwelling place. All tell a variant tale of our
nation’s birth or early childhood. Surely, such a privilege inevitably
comes with a responsibility to secure this legacy for future generations.
November the Town Council expanded the Historical Commission’s
demolition delay prerogative from six months to one year. Hopefully
this augmented power will enhance the Commissions ability to execute
its charge. If properly used, the delay period should help save genuine
landmarks. In doing so, the Commission will ensure that our history
will not be relegated only to dust-covered tomes or fading photographs.
some have suggested, that preserving our history may not have been
the Council’s motivation. As the theory goes, this ordinance
is a stopgap measure primarily intended to slow the rate of new construction
until the town is re-zoned. If this is the case (and I’m not
saying it is), the Council should rethink this kind of “back
door” approach to public policy making. Even if well intentioned,
it generally does not make for good governance. Don’t get me
wrong; this one-year demolition delay may well prove to be an invaluable
tool. But, the Historical Commissions’ mandate is to safeguard
of our priceless heritage. They should never be asked to serve as politically
us to the “third rail” of most municipal politics, Zoning!
our quality of life has felt the impact of unchecked development. Parking,
traffic, and lack of green space are all major concerns that affect
our community. Certainly, something must be done about leviathan structures
being “shoe-horned” into every available square inch of
real estate. Not to mention the esthetically profane edifices that
now desecrate the architectural character of some neighborhoods.
said that, property owners also have certain rights. A person, who
purchased a home located in a particular zone, did so with reasonable
expectations. Some may have dreamed of someday building an addition
for their children or extended family. Some may have paid a premium
for the potential value inherent to the zoning. Suffice it to say,
inflexible zoning changes will crush the aspirations and devalue the
portfolios of many hardworking taxpayers. Would it be fair or ethical
to change the rules mid-game? Shouldn’t we at least make some
provisions to protect their interests or somehow mitigate their loss?
us forget that private property rights are civil liberties on par with
free speech and the right against self-incrimination. They (property
rights) live and breathe in the 3 rd, 4 th, and 5 th amendments.
Fathers made it abundantly clear; the rights associated with property
are pivotal to freedom’s success. Together with life, liberty
and the pursuit of happiness they form the foundation on which all
other civil liberties rest. James Madison, a principal author of the
Bill of Rights, wrote: “government is no less for the protection
of the property than of the persons of individuals.” (Federalist
Papers # 54) John Adams, a chief architect of the Constitution said: “The
moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred
as the laws of God, …anarchy and tyranny commence. Property
must be sacred or liberty cannot exist”.
have upheld this notion by placing confines on the public regulation
of private property. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes found that “while
property may be regulated to a certain extent, if regulation goes too
far it will be recognized as a taking…” (Pennsylvania
Coal Co. V. Mahon).
To be fair,
the courts have subsequently held reasonable zoning laws don’t
constitute a “taking”. However, they’ve
consistently cited the government’s responsibility to consider “the
economic impact on the property owner and the extent to which the government’s
action interferes with the owner’s reasonable investment-backed
there is a manifest principle behind this judicial admonition. The
courts are telling us “the bundle of rights” that follows
ownership is worthy of evenhanded treatment when it is weighed against
the public interest. Consequently, the town should strive to find a
common sense balance as it proceeds.
voters should also pay particular attention to how certain Councilors
and special interest groups approach this issue. Will they defend private
homeowners’ rights with the same zeal with which they professed
to defend other civil liberties? Or will they continue their “a
la’ Carte” approach to the Constitution?
Mainstream residents, we see the necessity for a new zoning plan. We
can certainly suffer reasonable encumbrances in order to preserve our
heritage, protect the character of neighborhoods and safeguard green
space. But there are effective alternatives to merciless and unbendable
zoning changes. We need not scurrilously assail the hopes, dreams and
portfolios of homeowners. Grandfather clauses, variance requirements,
and linkages, are just some realistic proposals that could strike the
subtle balance between property rights and public interests.
Watertown Citizens for Common Sense Government
Changing the rules mid-game - all players need a say
past, the TAB has run several stories and commentaries regarding housing,
zoning, and the regulation of future growth. These are complex and
potentially volatile subjects that require our citizens participate
in a conversation. Therefore, this month I will further develop my
last commentary ( Balancing Property Rights & Public Interests)
by focusing on two very different hot button issues. Both of which
should be approached using the same guiding principle; mid-game rule
changes require compromise.
is considering a “Smart Growth” proposal under
chapter 40R. As reported, Watertown could be eligible to receive a state
grant if we create a multi-use district. This district must be accessible
to the T, allow for greater residential density, incorporate retail space
and include affordable housing set-asides. This approach to community
development has its appeal and advantages. The grant money is certainly
an enticing carrot. Unfortunately, it is rumored some parties want to
turn this carrot into a stick with the intent of bludgeoning East Watertown
into accepting affordable housing at the Coolidge School.
Neighbors and abutters of the Coolidge School bought their homes knowing
that the parcel was zoned for open space/conservancy. Since that zoning
is still in place today, ordinances (mid-game rule-changes) are required
to clear the way for any alternative use.
have been signed and submitted; well-attended hearings already held,
and the voice of the neighborhood has been heard. The vast majority
of East Watertown residents have made their preference abundantly clear.
Unless the town has an alternative and acceptable municipal use, “East
End Townies” favor the Mitchell Proposal. This would convert the
building into an age-restricted facility for those 55 and older. The
re-use committee voted 5-2 to respect the wishes of the people. After
all, it’s their property values and quality of life that will experience
the greatest impact. The neighborhood already has one affordable housing
complex and several other affordable units. Councilors really should
take their cue from the re-use committee and respect the voice of the
neighborhood. The available grant shouldn’t be the red herring
used to impose a pet project long rejected by the neighborhood.
matter, the Watertown Citizens for Common Sense Government stand shoulder
to shoulder with the East Watertown Betterment Association in supporting
an open process which is sensitive to the neighbors’ aspirations.
By all means let’s explore a Smart Growth District somewhere in
Watertown. But when it’s all said and done, the carrot should never
be transformed into a stick.
The second issue that needs more in depth discussion is the number
of single-family homes being demolished and replaced with massive townhouses;
21 st the TAB ran an article entitled “ Home Sweet
Two-Family Home”. The article gave voice to anxieties
felt by residents who see their neighborhoods changing. Zoning Clerk
Nancy Scott is quoted as saying:
used to be a little ranch may now be a two-story colonial, -- I
think people look out their windows and think, 'How could they possibly
put this house beside me?'"
expressions of frustration are understandable. However, a home is the
largest investment most people make. Don’t home buyers have
a certain responsibility to do some prior research? These neighborhoods
have long been zoned for two-family dwellings. Zoning is a matter of
public record. As a point of law it is presumed that average home buyers
have the wherewithal to inquire of the zoning office. Bluntly put, they
should have known that “little ranch” could someday be replaced
with a “two-story colonial”. If anyone should be crying “bait
and switch” it’s the homeowner whose property usage will
be encumbered, not those who should have done their homework! Sorry,
in such cases the most elementary maxim of commerce; “Caveat Emptor” (Let
the buyer beware) must apply.
Nevertheless, we can surmount this apparent impasse. First we must
acknowledge; homeowners are being asked to cede their investment-backed
property rights. Then we can talk about neighborhood charm and how to
to me the problem is one of aesthetics and dimensions not the number
of units per house. Perhaps new ordinances should be passed further
limiting the size and regulating the sight lines of proposed structures.
This can be done without restricting the zones in question to single-family
dwellings. Modifying some rules mid-game in this case may be necessary.
Changing them altogether is unwarranted, confiscatory, and simply unconscionable.
We need proposals that validate everyone’s interest; solutions
that require each camp give a little. In return we avoid a divisive struggle,
probable litigation, and the political fallout surely to ensue if both
sides remain inflexible.
if self-government is to thrive in Watertown, conversation on this
and other controversial subjects is essential. This is our town – we’re
the folks who work hard, raise our families, attend our churches, and
pay our taxes. How do we envision our future? Do we want our community
governed by common sense, consensus, and equitable compromise? Or shall
we abdicate our franchise to micro-management, social engineering, and
We “townies” have our opinions. I’ve voiced mine.
It’s time for you to weigh in.
Watertown Citizens for Common Sense Government
kind of local government do you want? Now that's the real "No-Brain
If the Watertown Police Dept. has a preference for the Browne school,
then the town should try to accommodate them. After all, from top to
bottom our men and women in blue are the best and they deserve only the
best. But the deal has to make sense and please; please spare us smoke
and mirrors presentations.
President Piantedosi (referring to the Donham & Sweeney
analysis) said: “ you could call it a bias… but it was one
based on facts”. With all due respect, this statement is factual
but incomplete. It lacks three qualifying words prior to the word “facts”,
namely: “selective”, “omitted”, and “misleading”.
Likewise it neglects to mention that the study bases conclusions on tenuous
assumptions and distorted comparisons. The calculations are best described
as “inspired arithmetical engineering”.
breakdown included a potential income comparison between the Browne’s 2-yr lease extended out 50 years and a long-term 50
yr lease for the Coolidge. Here is where the math gets “fuzzy”.
The analysis uses the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to project future revenue.
Further, they assume this number will average 2%. Now, I’ll spare
you a lengthy statistical samba. Suffice it say, that 2% is an unrealistic
long-term projection. Moreover, everyone knows Massachusetts’s
real estate can’t be compared to national averages. While the current
2-yr lease has a clause linking the rent to CPI, the town is not required
to include it in future contracts. All this begs a question. Since the
Atrium has been a loyal tenant for 18-years, why didn’t anyone
approach them regarding 50-year lease? That would have eliminated the “creative
computation” and given us a legitimate comparison. Frankly, It’s
disappointing the administration didn’t seek coherent assessment
of the figures.
think that’s confusing and misleading, let’s talk
about acreage. The plan indicated that the Coolidge School sits on 2.2
acres of land whereas the Browne on sits on 4.9. This is “technically” accurate.
However, in the case of the Browne School, the lot includes the adjacent
park. Whereas the park abutting the Coolidge is divided into 6 parcels
totaling roughly 1.4 acres. Comparing apples to apples, we’re actually
talking about 4.9 acres vs. 3.6 acres. In the scheme of things, this
inane banter about acreage does not amount to a hill of beans. Both locations
easily meet the land requirements. However, a nagging recurrent theme
begins to unfold. It seems someone really wants to make the Coolidge
School option look less appealing and the Cross St. site completely unviable,
while making the Browne look like the greatest thing since sliced bread.
I mentioned the subject of Cross St., the presentation for this site
had a glaring omission. The presentation “featured” three
main problems; parking, visibility, and the fact that a large drain and
water main run underground behind the Police Station. We were shown a
design that essentially eliminates the rear parking lot. It also requires
spending money to protect the underground infrastructure, and still leaves
us with poor visibility. But is this the only possibility? What if we
close Cross St. and build an extension running alongside the Fire Station
to Main St. That would give the station visibility and it would not affect
the existing parking or the waterlines. Sources confirm; Donham & Sweeney
actually put forward such an option. Granted, this proposal still displaces
the police dept. during construction and entails losing a Street. Even
so, it eliminates the “featured” problems. More to the point,
why were townspeople denied this information? Council President Piantedosi
said we’d see all plans involving publicly held property. Isn’t
Cross Street public property?
space is quickly running out, so I can’t enumerate
or elaborate upon all the other questionable aspects of this twisted
chaos. Admittedly, some discrepancies or contradictions can be “technically” explained
away. But when you look at the whole picture, you can’t help but
see a body of evidence that raises reasonable suspicions.
I’m not impugning anyone’s personal integrity. Rather,
the nature of the process begs scrutiny. Zealous advocates overtaken
by “group think” tend to exaggerate arguments and omit salient
facts. Firms who depend on municipal contracts instinctively seek to
gratify the perceived predilections of potential clients. It’s
just a natural by-product of free enterprise. Notwithstanding, there
is a free market remedy that could remove any lingering cloud of doubt.
It will require the Council act swiftly and decisively. Hire three consultants,
each charged with developing plans for only one of the three sites. Such
a competitive process has a built in safeguard that divorces the firms
from any influence, real or perceived. The Watertown Citizens for Common
Sense Government urges voters to contact Councilors. Tell them the people
deserve and demand such an unimpeachable process. While you’re
at it, ask them why we weren’t shown the alternative Cross St.
this matter was kept in executive session far too long. This cloak
and dagger approach exacerbates an emergent public perception that
this process may have been calibrated for a predetermined outcome.
more, the unwarranted and prolonged secrecy forestalled necessary neighborhood
dialogue. Now they seek to appease residents with one meeting. Do they
take us for fools? There’s even talk of a vote in April. Folks,
the manner in which decisions are made really matters. What kind of local
government do you want? Now that’s the real “No-Brain er”!
Watertown Citizens for Common Sense Government
It’s Time for Some Forward-Thinking Change
22 nd the Town Council took the first necessary step in reestablishing
the proper system of checks and balances, grievously lacking in our
municipal affairs. They did this by sanctioning a more comprehensive
feasibility study for a new police station in the Cross St. area. This
act stands alone in sending a message. In addition, a most significant
but little noticed contribution came from Councilor John Portz. He
added a crucial proviso to correct one of the problems with process
to date. Councilors will now be able to communicate directly with the
consultant rather than through the Town Manager. This should provide
needed relief for Manager Driscoll, who justifiably asked for specific
this new study. Rightly or wrongly (most likely a little of both), Driscoll
has been getting some heat during this upheaval. Admittedly, I’ve
been one to point a small blowtorch in his general vicinity. So I can’t
say as I blame the man for seeking explicit guidelines. He doesn’t
want anymore flack. Neither would I, were I in his shoes.
the upshot. Councilors must actively participate in this process. Once
this study is done, a decision must be made in short order. If there
are lingering issues, then perhaps the entire process needs to be scrutinized
separately. We can’t hold the rank and file police officers hostage,
while we determine who were the Keystone Cops responsible for this slapstick
In the mean time, we should begin to consider the systemic deficiencies
that facilitated the current conundrum and how can we fix them.
6 th 2001, the townspeople voted in favor of two non-binding referendum
questions. These referenda instructed the Council to pass ordinances
allowing them to confirm department heads and consultants. The vote
wasn’t even close. Question 1 which dealt with consultants,
received roughly 72% of the votes cast. Question 3 dealt with department
heads and received roughly 64% of the votes cast. Those are both landslide
margins, indicating massive popular support.
that Council decided to turn a deaf ear towards the loud and clear “vox
populi.” Perhaps some thought it was
a slight to the Town Manager. Perhaps others felt that this process would
be too cumbersome. Whatever the rationale, the present controversy proves
their decision to ignore the people was ill advised. Had these changes
been implemented the Council would have had more control of this process
and maybe, just maybe, we wouldn’t find ourselves in this quandary.
Having a confirmation process for department heads (excluding civil
service i.e. Police and Fire) only makes common sense. Although the Town
Manager heads the executive branch of our municipal government, he is
an un-elected employee. Even the President of the United States must
submit cabinet and some sub-cabinet nominees to the Senate for confirmation.
It only stands to reason that our elected officials should confirm the
nominees of a hired Town Manager.
The same holds true for consultants. The Council should approve their
hiring and have the option of communicating directly with them. Furthermore,
in certain instances, the Council should be able to require the Manager
to submit a list of several firms from which the Council can choose.
current system, the Manager can arbitrarily hire consultants unbeknownst
to the Council, funding a study from a discretionary budget. In other
instances, the Council may order and fund a study but the Manager hires
the consultant of his choosing. As the situation stands, the Council
only has two remedies if they don’t like a consultant. They can
zero out the appropriation for the study they ordered. Or if they are
dissatisfied with contractors the manager hires on his own, they can
dismiss the Manager. Both of these extreme options require a proverbial
sledgehammer, when under a different system a fly swatter would do.
line is this. The voters overwhelmingly called upon their elected officials
to take more control and responsibility for the people’s
business. For whatever reason, they chose not to. But the current melee
proves it is high time they revisit that decision.
be any misunderstanding, this is purely a policy matter and none of
this is meant to indict the current Town Manager, department heads,
or consultants. No matter who is in charge of the administration now
or in the future, he or she will be a hired employee. If the people
don’t like the decisions the Town Manager makes, our only recourse
is to elect a different Council in the hopes that different Councilors
will make a change. If our elected officials are going to feel the wrath
of the people because of an employee’s decisions, then the officials
should have more control over those decisions. Conversely, under the
present system, the Town Manager is too easy to scapegoat. If something
goes wrong, Councilors can point the finger. If things go right, they
can take the credit on to the campaign trail. In short, it’s time
for some forward-thinking change!
Watertown Citizens for Common Sense Government