Local New England Government

I live in a small Massachusetts community with a Board of Selectmen and the usual small town governmental structure…planning, conservation, health and safety, etc. It has been a rural community with significant small farmland, but in the past 20 years has seen a lot of development. As with many small towns in New England, there are a few key residential developers…and these few often are on town committees.

Last night my wife and I watched two hours of a conservation committee meeting where one of these key developers needed a special permit on a retention pond that was build BEFORE he had permission….in a subdivision that was built BEFORE it was fully permitted. It was perhaps the most painful two hours of television I have ever watched.

Our town government is dysfunctional. We have a Chairman of Selectmen who is combative…and abrasive. He is also a poor communicator. Some folks tried to recall him, but the recall was defeated…so now we have bitter factions. The conservation committee was constantly tangled in procedural issues…eventually one woman member stomped out mid-sentence. One of our friends on the committee is a local respected attorney… and even he was frustrated to the point of nervously shuffling papers.

The developer kept running up to the microphone to make impassioned appeals and objections, his small and obedient lawyer right at his side each time. His primary adversary was the Chairman of Selectmen…and they are archrivals. Mr. Selectman also kept running up to the microphone to make impassioned objections.

The committee has spent $40,000 getting expert counsel…all of which has been paid by the developer (do not shed tears for the developer…his little operation probably bought the land for less than $500k and will make about $1M…even with the $40k). None of the expert counsel seemed to provide all that much light on the issue.

It was a zoo! By the end of two hours both my wife and I had indigestion.