Troy's Take: Steamship Authority Needs a Uniter, Not a Divider
By: Troy Clarkson, December 24, 2013
I’ve often used the image of a mosaic to portray the value—and importance—of the diversity in our community. Just as a mosaic has tiles of various colors, shapes, brilliance and purpose, our town is a community because of our varied and diverse citizenry, each citizen providing their own tile to the Falmouth community mosaic.
To be sure, some tiles shine more brightly than others. When I was cutting my teeth in politics and local government two decades ago, Bob Marshall was a brightly shining tile in the complex and fascinating montage known as Falmouth’s political scene.
Today, he still is.
Back then, as the chairman of the finance committee, which in the early post-charter years still wielded significant influence in town (that impact was sustained under Bill Smith and re-emerged under Gary Anderson’s determined direction years later), and later as the town moderator, Bob brought a tireless volunteer work ethic coupled with a thoughtful, reasoned approach to problem solving. His pleasant and sociable temperament allowed him to approach some thorny problems—and people—with the right mix of humor and persistence; many solutions were forged via Bob’s ability to welcome detractors into the discussion and forge a compromise.
The 70 percent vote of the island members means Falmouth’s interests are protected through cooperation, not condemnation.
I remember a discussion at a Town Meeting in the early 1990s on a resolution introduced by community activist Richard Hugus that sought to take a decidedly firm stand on a continued military presence at Otis Air National Guard Base. The vote actually ended in a very rare tie, and Bob cast the deciding vote as moderator, but not before he paid tribute and gave kudos to those on both sides of this intense and emotional debate for keeping their cool and respecting one another. I admired and sought to emulate his dignified and deferential approach. I still do.
Bob brought that same approach to his years as a member of the Steamship Authority (SSA) board. Particularly in recent years, when Falmouth’s weighted vote plummeted from a full one-third representation to a scant 10 percent minority vote, Bob was still able to strongly represent Falmouth’s interests by building relationships with the island representatives, who carry a 70 percent vote, while remaining firm on Falmouth’s interests. He represented us well. He represented us with conviction. He represented us with class. Bob continued to work indefatigably for a reduction of freight traffic through Woods Hole, and appeared before the selectmen each year, seeking guidance and providing detailed updates on his work on behalf of the town.
Disrespect Being Shown
The silence since Bob’s resignation after more than three decades of service to this community screams out a chorus of timidity and a roar of disrespect. Let me say, on behalf of a grateful community, what others should have and did not. Thank you, Bob, for your service, your dedication, and mostly, for demonstrating to generations of Falmouthites the definition of public service and love of community. Your tile will shine brightly for generations to come.
I’m thinking that some of that silence—some of the hushed voices that should be shouting thanks and praise—is due to the poor behavior that was exhibited by others—by some not so brightly shining tiles of Falmouth’s mosaic—at Bob’s last meeting representing Falmouth to the SSA, and the cloud they have cast over the SSA’s discussion of a new terminal in Woods Hole.
Chief among the critics of the SSA’s laudable plan to reach out and seek public input—and of Bob himself—is former one-term selectman Catherine Bumpus. Rather than revel in the reverberations of her own cacophony of complaints, Catherine would do well to pause, listen, and take a page from Bob’s proven playbook of conciliation and compromise. Her approach is the diametrical opposite of Bob’s.
The same “criticize first and ask questions later” approach to governing that led the voters to dismiss Catherine after one term of her decidedly village-centric approach has emerged yet again in her approach to the SSA. The recent meeting where Catherine and others obscured the discussion of a new terminal with complaints on a wide variety of issues, ended in discord and disappointment for all in attendance. Let’s hope this is not a harbinger of things to come in a post-Marshall SSA.
Whether you support or oppose the SSA’s current plans to replace the fatigued edifice near the corner of our peninsula, progress will be best made with dialogue, not dissension. The selectmen need to carefully consider the cast of candidates to carry on Bob’s positive legacy and appoint a uniter, not a divider. After all, the SSA does not need the public’s—or Falmouth’s—input. The 70 percent vote of the island members means Falmouth’s interests are protected through cooperation, not condemnation.
Yes, indeed. Some tiles shine more brightly than others in our local mosaic. Let’s hope the selectmen have an eye for art and appoint a shiner, not a stinker, to replace Bob.
Mr. Clarkson may be contacted at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @TroyClarkson59.