You may recognize the title of this letter from the cult classic “The Blues Brothers.” In the movie one of the main characters, Elroy, asks the audience, “Have you ever had a wish sandwich?” When he is asked what is a wish sandwich, he replies, “It’s two pieces of bread and you wish you had some meat to go between them, Bau Bau Bau.”
After reading the recent letter in the Enterprise regarding one man’s view on the decade-long citizen effort to bring sensible economic development policies and practices to the town of Sandwich it struck me as a perfect example of why Sandwich is stuck in the past and most of us feel like Elroy.
In the letter printed last week, the question was asked, “What have we learned?” I can only offer you my opinion but it seems clear that we learned what we already knew. Our BOS and management team are unqualified and unprepared to put any meat into the Sandwich. The reason the voters of Sandwich voted for, and our governor enthusiastically approved, the SEIC was because it was clear we needed to change the course the town was on and it was consistent with the effort the State House was embracing to promote sound economic policies across the commonwealth.
The system we had in place to manage and maintain our assets and plan for future needs was broken and the people we have entrusted to do the job have proven to be incapable of managing it. The idea of an SEIC is not a new or unique concept; it is used by towns and cities all over the world to bring public and private entities together to establish working relationships that help produce revenue and resources that address the simple need of building and maintaining modern infrastructure while preserving what infrastructure already exist. This has been going on since the Pilgrims landed in 1620. There is no silver bullet and it requires cooperation just like the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags did centuries ago.
For anyone to suggest, as was suggested in last week’s letter, that the people of Sandwich shouldn’t be expected to invest in their own future is simply ignorant. The reason recent efforts have not produced any results has less to do with the virtues of the SEIC and more to do with the lack of confidence, conviction and skill of some of our elected officials and the town manager and his team to get the job done.
This was very clear early on in the creation of the SEIC and the meetings that followed. At every turn the process was undermined by most members of the BOS and consistently by our town manager, assistant town manager, their staff and town counsel. One can only speculate as to the reason why. When Mr. Pierce joined the BOS, it only got worse—remember you get what you vote for. Please keep that in mind as we move into another election cycle. Some people just don’t know when to quit, you have to tell them with your vote.
After many years of consistently trying to educate and motivate the reluctant members of the BOS and the town manager and his staff, four members of the SEIC declined to sign up for more abuse by not renewing their terms on the board. Can you blame them? It was a vote of no confidence in the management team and the commitment of the BOS to actually follow through on the directives given them by the members of Town Meeting and the governor of our state.
The anemic voter turnout in recent years is a direct result of the apathy residents feel for their ability to be heard and change the status quo and they feel they have been disenfranchised from the process. In a word, the manager and his staff, along with key members of the BOS, have been disingenuous at best and more times than not contemptuous for the residents of this community and the votes taken at Town Meeting.
Keep in mind that all SEIC members are citizen volunteers who donated countless hours of their time as well as provided grants and other resources to cover expenses and overhead costs including insurance for their board. The members also consisted of many accomplished professionals ranging from a dean of a prestigious business college to a former mayor of one of Massachusetts’s largest cities.
The board also had seasoned administrators, lawyers, and several real estate and financial experts. We are not talking about novice business people or retirees with nothing better to do with their time but throw stones from the sidelines. In all cases, there was no professional incentive to volunteer their time and experience other than to unselfishly serve the community they live in.
Which brings me to some of the main points that were made in the recent letter regarding the SEIC and the town. It was very clear that in spite of the best efforts of these citizens and some staff of the town, including Nate Jones the new town planner, many of the voters of Sandwich still don’t really understand economic development and or don’t want it. They further don’t understand the connection between what they do want or need and how to get it. This was clear when at the most recent annual Town Meeting after the vote that approved funds for the repair of the swimming pool the majority of voters walked out of the meeting before the vote on zoning changes had even been debated.
The same thing was demonstrated the first time the meals tax was considered. Both articles had the potential to create new tax revenue that could pay for those very repairs and other pressing needs. The same holds true for our public safety building, roads, the redevelopment of our school district and other neglected capital expenditures.
All these infrastructure needs require funding and if the voters of Sandwich don’t want to fully engage in the process of bringing in a team of selectmen, managers and other qualified professionals who know how to do sensible economic development and get tangible measurable results, then they will have to endure increased taxes and business as usual.
If, as we have seen, they don’t want increased taxes (and who does?), then they have to be content with what they do have: deteriorating infrastructure, an unqualified and ineffective BOS who continue to maintain the services of a town manager and assistant town manager who are woefully out of their league and who are content to waste our time and money doing the same thing day after day, producing the same results but expecting something different, which by the way, is one definition of insanity!
When as we have seen in recent years citizens petitions become the main articles on the town warrant that pass overwhelmingly and the articles presented by the BOS and the town manager fail overwhelmingly, one has to ask: Why do we even need a BOS and should we be looking to change our management team?
Is it time to reorganize our system of managing our town? And what on earth are we getting for the hundreds of thousands of dollars we pay each year to the people who work for us in town hall? Don’t let the same old tired voices of the past continue to determine your future and the future of this great town. Let’s finally add some meat to the wish Sandwich!
Timothy B. Cooney
(Mr. Cooney is a former president of the SEIC.)