Friday, June 01, 2007

Debate and debase

I think I would choose a night of foreign policy articles over the human services funding.

The low point of my evening: when a respected member of multiple major town committees came up behind me – I was sitting in the back row – as I was handing in my “No” tally vote card on the first amended amount. She leaned over and said “How long before you’re poor?”

That’s what these kinds of issues do to people.

First of all, Huh? That’s not a discussion – that’s a taunt. Just what we need more of in Town Meeting.

Secondly, and most disturbing, is the idea of voting on something simply as it relates to each of us individually. Does she really mean to suggest that I oppose that funding because I happen to be fortunate enough to not need the services of these agencies? Does that mean that is the basis on which she and others make their votes? If that is true, it does not bode well for Town Meeting.

But going along with that theory sure would simplify my life.

Let’s see. I don’t have any kids, so forget those big bucks for the schools. Police and Fire – well, better safe than sorry. Cherry Hill – yeah, right. LSSE – I have paid for that pottery class many times over. Pools – I don’t think so. Farmland preservation – as long as it’s just for raising vegetables, but not for animals that will be eaten. DPW – what have you done for me lately? Public transportation – I walk. Libraries – I do like those…

That would be a frighteningly negligent way to make decisions. I’ll assume – or hope – that the great majority of the body doesn’t determine its votes like that. But when people allow themselves to get so emotional about the concept of the funding instead of the practicality, the feasibility and the details, then you get this kind of blinding pathos. We see this over and over, where a topic becomes a line in the sand – if you oppose funding a low-ridership bus route, then you don’t support public transportation. If you opposed the override, then you don’t support the schools. If you don’t support funding the human service agencies, then you are cold and heartless. Et cetera. It’s either/or.

During a tally vote, I overheard one member say to another “We need to educate these people. There are a lot of yuppies here.”

More interesting points to ponder. Are you allowed to be classist in one direction but not the other? Imagine the opposite of that sentiment. Would that be OK? And why does anyone think a No vote is disrespecting the agencies or denying the need in our community? Did a single person say anything remotely like that in opposition to the amendments? Of course not.

It’s tiresome really. We are dealing with an issue on which reasonable people can disagree – there is no right or wrong answer. Different people draw their priority lines differently – and often, just barely so. When such specifics are abandoned for moralizing and platitudes, intelligent discussion is lost.

But I guess that only matters if intelligent discussion had been a goal in the first place.

I supported the Finance Committee’s recommendation on the human services funding and I opposed all the amendments. Isaac BenEzra’s amendment to increase the Finance Committee’s $25,000 recommendation by $117,387 failed in a tally vote of 70 to 110. The Community Development Committee’s amendment to add $88,873 to the FinCom amount failed in a tally vote of 75 to 102. The Select Board’s recommendation to add $41,000 passed in a tally vote of 114 to 63.

More happened at this meeting, but I’ll deal with it in another post. Had to work through this annoyance tonight so that my weary brain could sleep.

4 comments:

Eva Schiffer said...

Bravo (oops-- BRAVA), Stephanie.

By the way, there was a memo on this item by Bryan Harvey on the back table that not everyone may have had a chance to read before the debate. It is well worth reading and hanging on to; this issue is not going away.
Eva

Chris Hoffmann said...

I can sympathize with the emotions expressed during the night, especially if you yourself will be impacted by the cuts. I really wish there was some way we could have given more.

But the fact remains that I don't recall anyone proposing where this extra $117,000 could possibly have come from, except perhaps that magical, forever full, pot of gold called "the reserves".

Fortunately TM has pretty much swatted down the ad hoc amendments and stuck to changes that were presented as part of an overall (balanced) plan right from the start of the session. Could this be called common sense?

Carol S. said...

Stephanie,

I'm sorry you had to be the brunt of some ignorant person's taunt. I can't quite imagine ever saying something like that to anyone in TM - friend or foe, about their vote.

I had a similar experience a couple of sessions ago, when I suggested to an oft outspoken member that it was OK that Harrison had allowed the finance committee some extra time to explain their budget, because flexibility in the rules is sometimes required to help us understand things. She basically said that that was the kind of thing George Bush would say.

I'm sure these folks think they are scoring some kind of points when they say these things, but really, they are just making themselves look mean, and irrational.

And lest we forget - these are the folks that WANT the TM form of government.

Sheesh.

Dolly Jolly said...

Stephanie I am sorry you had to suffer insults at Town Meeting. The lack of civility aimed at the Moderator is equally unwelcome.

Following the bouncing 100,000…annoying, frustrating? You bet. What is so confounding to me--as we follow the bouncing $100,000--is it will be the same old same old next year. Heck! why not invest some of the $100,000 into an economic development staff position? (I know its for Human Services and War Memorial Pool—I will vote for both).
Economic development is not a magic bullet for sure; however, thoughtful economic development consistent with our Master Plan will help to ameliorate the pressure placed on residential property taxes. What’s wrong with that? And as we continue to bicker over relatively small amounts of money by cutting basic programs to kids i.e. War memorial Pool and essential human services agencies which our town has supported for many years—well that’s just plain sad. If War Memorial Pool is closed this year will it open again next year? Hard to tell. Amherst needs money for town services that makes Amherst the town that it is.
It’s time to try something new. I endorsed the SB recommendation for Human Service agencies hoping our Town Manager will heed that vote. I chose not to support the two additional amendments wanting to save the money for War Memorial Pool (hoping the Town Manager will honor the vote of Town meeting). Bryan Harvey stated at Town Meeting the SB solution is an imperfect solution and he is right. Where will the money come from next year? Without a better plan it will all come to a screeching halt. The new Town Manager supports economic development (indeed it seems to be part of his expertise) so when will we begin? Soon I hope.