Earlier this week, the reopening of the playground at Buzzards Bay Park was imminent, with the gates scheduled to be unlocked as early as this morning.
Then word came that a number of signs planned for the playground might be delayed, requiring a possible delay in the reopening.
Suffice it to say that the playground, closed in the wake of an accident soon after the facility opened last July, will soon welcome children to its cheerful environs.
That’s all the young families of Bourne need to hear. They likely enjoyed the playground in its brief manifestation last summer, missed it since it closed, and are glad to hear they’ll be able to go there again.
For them, the long battle by newspapers and a resident or two to unearth the details about what went wrong, why, and what steps the town has taken to fix the playground is probably seen as what some would call inside baseball.
In the long run, as Mick Jagger asks in “Respectable,” “What does it matter?”
In truth, it may matter—but we’ll have to see whether the cloak that came down over playground information is a one-time blip, or the start of a longer, deeper and potentially troubling trend in Bourne town government.
To recap: the town shut down the playground after an accident on a slide there ended up costing a little girl one of her toes.
Following the accident, a report was commissioned to assess the safety of the playground and determine what steps needed to be taken to improve its safety—an obvious, straightforward response to what happened.
Except that the murk already was starting to descend behind the scenes.
In an executive session, the board of selectmen voted, upon advice of town counsel, to keep the contents of the safety report under wraps.
Apparently the concern was possible or pending litigation stemming from the accident: legal action against the town, on behalf of the town, or both.
In that light, shielding part of the report from public disclosure arguably was reasonable. And civic and professional observers of Bourne town government wouldn’t begrudge a legitimate shielding under the Massachusetts Public Records Law.
But the selectmen, on advice of counsel, wouldn’t reveal any of the report. Or talk about it at all.
That prompted a least a few observers to wonder: “What’s in there?”
Public records requests were filed. And then it turns out that the report wasn’t a public document at all, but had been commissioned and was under the control of the attorney who holds the town counsel contract with Bourne, Robert S. Troy.
This came to light following an odd circular sequence in which the location and custody of the document proved maddeningly elusive.
Finally, another executive session was held. The selectmen, who somehow had obtained the report, voted to release the document to the public.
And the most serious findings in the released report, the ones that needed to be immediately addressed? That the playground was near a busy road (Main Street) and steps needed to be taken to protect playground users from the traffic. No mention of inherently dangerous slides or swings, or hazardous rock walls.
To call the report underwhelming would be an overstatement. Yet the board, town counsel and the town manager stonewalled on the report and related matters every inch of the way.
For example, in an extended exchange with a voter speaking from Town Meeting floor, town counsel and the town manager repeatedly declined to specify whether a particular $22,000 sum sought from Bourne taxpayers was sought in connection with the safety report. This is tossing aside the whole concept of informed consent.
The entire saga, from executive sessions to claiming public record exemptions to refusing to answer questions at Town Meeting, may have been a one-time, high-profile episode in not telling residents what’s happening in their town.
Let’s hope so. To paraphrase a well-known phrase about American government, cloak information here and cloak information there, and pretty soon you’re talking real secrecy.