At some point, perhaps, the irrational becomes so pervasive that it becomes the absurd, but does that mean that it eventually becomes rational? I say no.
On November 9, our local legislators will converge on the Lawrence Memorial Auditorium to conduct the people’s business in the autumn version of our Annual Town Meeting—the town’s precious exercise of representative democracy. The menu always includes small servings of both nonsense and irrationality, and the presence of yet another spate of articles related to the town-owned wind turbines offers a heaping helping of both.
Article 1 on the Special Town Meeting warrant seeks to transfer yet another “sum of money” (local legislative vernacular for hundreds of thousands of dollars) to a financial bottomless pit called the “Energy Receipts Reserved for Appropriation Account” for the ongoing expense of having the turbines stand silently while the town stands loudly and fights with itself and its citizens. This is accompanied by a related article on the Annual Town Meeting warrant (Article 8) seeking a $350,000 mid-year increase to the town’s legal budget, “due to labor, wind turbine, and Conservation Commission expenses,” according to the town’s own document. Combined, these articles seek more than a half-million dollars in funding to support the town’s simple unwillingness to admit it made a mistake.
We have turbines that lose money and a burgeoning legal budget that self-perpetuates with ongoing litigation that includes the town suing itself and its citizens. The town claims that it would, however, be too costly to simply stop the bleeding and dismantle the turbines. I have yet to see an official breakdown of these costs, and since the town still refuses to embrace transparency and actually post a copy of the town’s budget on its website, it is impossible to assess and understand any financial impacts.
Yet another article seeks the legislative branch’s assent on a rewrite of history that is as hurtful as it is haughty. Article 3 on the Special Town Meeting warrant seeks to amend the town’s zoning bylaw—retroactively—to make the turbines exempt from local zoning. By including the phrase “in existence as of the date of this bylaw” in this revision, the turbines would become exempt from the permitting that they are now required to seek as a result of the town’s recent judicial defeat at the state’s highest court.
This comes on the heels of an epic flub where the town intended to file a judicial appeal against its own zoning board of appeals for declaring one of the turbines a nuisance, but missed the filing deadline, effectively ending at least that battle—at least for now. So, in response, the town simply seeks to jump into Marty McFly’s DeLorean and bring us back in time so that they can fix what was broken years ago. The problem with that approach? You may be able to fix what they perceive to be a broken bylaw, but no time machine can fix the broken trust, the broken lives, and broken futures for those impacted by the turbines, not to mention the broken relationships for those in the community torn apart by this divisive issue.
Can you see where the town’s nonsensical and irrational behavior comes in here? It may be hard to pinpoint, as it is pervasive in this sad, spiteful, shotgun approach, which seeks multiple ill-advised solutions to further the town’s immovable and rigid methods. As I’ve said before, I and many others celebrated the erection of the turbines as a triumph of the town’s commitment to renewable energy. I did not foresee the impacts on our town—on my friends and our neighbors. Today, I and many others admit we were wrong. Why can’t our local executives do the same and stop the madness? They can certainly follow the lead of our planning board, which voted unanimously this week to reject the selectmen’s revisionist history and will offer a recommendation of indefinite postponement along with harsh words on Town Meeting floor to this duplicitous attack on our sensibility.
Our Town Meeting members are educated and dedicated. They do their homework. They can see through the town’s intransigence and they’ve surely seen the hurt it has caused, financial and personal. They’ve seen the town defeated in every major legal decision related to these mean machines; this latest legal bungling is simply the most recent chapter in this tragic tome. They hopefully see the recklessness of continued pursuit of a failed public policy.
I urge Town Meeting members to take a stand. I urge Town Meeting members to open the door to the only reasonable resolution—to dismantle the turbines, stop the mounting financial catastrophe, and begin to heal a divided community. That begins with NO votes on Annual Article 8 and Special Articles 1, 2, and 3.
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