Name: margalit
Location: Massachusetts, United States Professional writer, educational advocate, opinionated ultra liberal mother of 18 year old twins, living life in the slow lane due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

email: margalitc at yahoo dot com

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Local politics are better than television around here

It's been quite a week here in our fair city. I don't even think I can capture the insanity of it all, but I'll try to give you a bit of a peek into what happens when an entire city divides over money. You know, the root of all evil? Money, where some of the people have way more than enough, and some of the people have a lot less than they need. Money, which divides our city geographically, with the North being the less well endowed (monetarily, at least) and the South being where much of the Big Money resides. But not all of it. It's all an impression, anyhow.

So let's see what's been happening this week.

First, we have an override campaign in full swing. What's an override campaign? Oh goodness me, it goes way back to the 1980's when a certain bitch from Marblehead decided that she paid too many taxes and brought forth a law called Proposition 2.5, very similar to California's Proposition 13. The law states that the cities and towns cannot raise property taxes by more than 2.5% per year without an override vote. This vote means the entire town has to come out to approve any tax increase over the 2.5% raise per year. Since inflation alone gobbles up more than the 2.5% per year, cities and towns in MA have been slowly but surely cutting services they can no longer afford. Service for veterans, children, the handicapped, the poor, the elderly, the roads, the buildings, the entire state infrastructure. You name it, we can no longer afford it.

In our city the fire stations and falling apart. They are in horrid disrepair. Plus the firefighters are at war with the Mayor over a stupid mayoral policy about sick days, and so the Mayor has effectively reduced the fire department to an unsafe size. We've gotten rid of a lot of the po-po (no great loss as far as I'm concerned), our bridges are falling down, our school buildings are in such serious need of repair that we are in trouble with state inspectors. Our city hall itself is in pretty poor shape with a leaky roof and peeling plaster.

Needless to say, our city desperately needs an override. The money the Mayor is asking for, $12 million, is designated mostly for upgrading the schools. They need it, everyone in the city agrees that some schools are literally bursting at the seams from overcrowding while the school bathrooms are falling apart, the ceilings contain asbestos and lord only knows what else, and the roofs are leaking. We need to repair these buildings.

BUT... the city, in it's ultimate bizarro decision, also voted to rebuild one of our two high schools. Not only did they decide to rebuild, they hired architect Graham Gund, who is a famous residential/commercial architect who has never designed a school building. Yes, his buildings are gorgeous. No argument here. But he designed a building for our new high school that is literally an homage to a VERY unpopular Mayor, with glass walls and a big zig zag design that will be very difficult to heat and air condition. A design many people (myself included) thought was way over the top and way too expensive.

The city was so divided over the rebuilding of the high school that we held a vote just a year ago, and the people (not me) voted to use Gund's site plan and design. Sigh. So we're building the most expensive high school in Massachusetts at a whopping $197 million, but not by ANY means the most expensive high school in the country, despite what claims are made by the folks against any tax override/hike.

OK, with me so far?

So we have two sides, the people that are rabid Mayor haters and see a conspiracy behind every door. And the rest of us who aren't happy with the Mayor but believe that improvements to the city's infrastructure are desperately needed.

Back to the override campaign. Again, the city is divided. The No voters, the people who would rather pull out their own teeth rather than to pay one more cent in taxes, are totally up in arms about allowing the Mayor another $12 million to "mismanage." The Yes voters believe that the Board of Alderman (BOA) along with the Mayor will use this money to fix the damn schools and fire stations.

Meanwhile, the city is getting major bad press in the Globe and the Herald and the whole state is laughing at us because we're seen as this richy-rich suburb that doesn't want to fix anything, while the Mayor is being portrayed as a total buffoon. Pretty accurately, IMO.

This week, the Mayor, in what can be seen as the worst case of bad timing ever, decides that he's going to increase his salary along with the salaries of many other city employees. OMG, you cannot believe the fallout. This got NATIONAL attention. Now there is background to this. In 2005 the Mayor was granted a salary increase by the BOA, which he declined. And declined again every year. He's only paid $87K to manage over 3000 employees in a city of ~90K residents. He's not only not near the top of the highest paid city employees, he's really poorly paid compared to other Mayors in comparable towns. So he decided that he would take the increase this week.

And the shit hit the fan!

Now, in all fairness to our Mayor, I believe that he should be making more. And the deal is, his pension is based upon the last three years of employment, so raising his salary for the last 2 years of his gig makes total sense for his pension protection.

But try and tell that the the malcontents.

Then they Mayor backed down and said he would NOT take the pay raise.

Hysteria ensued.

The local paper challenged the Mayor to say he would not run for another term (he has a year left) in order to get the override passed.

Then we all sat and waited.

State employees also asked the Mayor to step aside. As did members of the BOA.

This morning the Mayor held a press conference and said that he would not run for re-election.

Following this statement, the malcontents started on the city blog, saying that it was a 'trick' and that voting No on the override is the only way to get a message through to the Mayor. They don't seen to understand that we're not talking about the Mayor suffering, we're talking about the city workers, the children in schools, the firefighters.

Yes, it has been a very busy week in town. Every citizen I know is talking about our local politics much more than the national election. It's been so exciting and crazy here, we just about forgot there even IS a national election. We're all for Obama anyhow! Except the malcontents. They're Republicans. What a shock, eh?

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Blogger Daisy said...

All politics, ultimately, are local.

10/5/08 2:36 PM  
Blogger mrsmogul said...

I am in the minority and want Hillary ( I still have hope!) But good political coverage in your post!

12/5/08 9:22 PM  

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