In the January 29 edition of the Mashpee Enterprise, Ryan Spencer wrote a very nice article which highlighted Richard Halpern’s various contributions made as an active member of the town’s governmental organization as well as personally. He had a very positive outlook, was very generous with his time and his money and wasn’t one seeking recognition for all that he did over many years. Even in his later years when he wasn’t feeling well, I always remember him having a smile.
But there was one contribution not included in Mr. Ryan’s article, for which Richard should be recognized. I know when I pass on to the heavenly municipality in the sky, I hope there is one activity included in my obituary, and that is as an elected commissioner of the Mashpee Charter Study Commission. Richard was one of those commissioners.
What is a charter? A charter is to a town what bylaws are to a committee and a constitution is to a state or the U.S. of A. It establishes the governmental structure, the operational methods, responsibilities and procedures for the various elements of government and the reporting requirements of the government to its residents.
By way of background, when it came time to think about retiring, after I had worked some 30 years in appointed administrative municipal positions in two New Jersey towns, I as a Rhode Island boy, and my wife as a Winchester girl, decided to retire to Cape Cod so we could be in New England when the Red Sox finally won a World Series. Gulp! We bought our home in Mashpee in June 2000, but we didn’t move in permanently until March 2002.
In the interim period we subscribed to the Mashpee Enterprise so we could get to know our new community. It was during that period that Dr. Elizabeth Petti was doing the homework and the legwork to obtain the signature of enough registered Mashpee voters to put the question of creating a Mashpee charter study commission on the ballot and to elect nine commissioners to perform the study. She did obtain the required signatures, and the matter was included as part of the May 2002 town elections.
And then I did something I never did in my 30 years in municipal government—I pulled papers to run for one of the nine study commission members. Twelve residents ran for the nine positions. The person with the 9th most votes turned out to be me, but the person with the 8th most votes was RICHARD HALPERN. Dr. Petti became the commission chair, but soon after, she became terminally sick and passed away, and Edward Larkin became chairman.
When I first met Richard and he told me he was a businessman, I thought, OK, he will be looking out for the business interests as the charter is put together, but, as I quickly learned, that was the furthest from his mind—he wanted a charter that would benefit the residents of Mashpee. I believe that was genuine then, and it has been confirmed many times since.
After 18 months of work which included over 50 meetings, the charter commission submitted its proposed charter to the town for its approval. It was approved in May 2004. After the charter had been approved and the commission was about to disband, who gathered the members and their spouses for a picnic at his home? Richard.
After 10 years a charter review was required. Four of the original charter members were appointed to the review committee: Ed Larkin, Ruth Maney, me, and, of course, the always faithful Richard. The review was rather quickly completed with only some minor tweaks.
I was very proud of the charter commission’s work product. It has in it a couple of provisions that I would bet are in no other charter in the state. As might be expected, there was a little pushback in the first couple of years, but I would say particularly in the last five years, the leadership of the town manager and the school superintendent, when combined with the appointed department heads of both organizations, has been incomparable. I’m not around the town hall or the schools as much as I was at one time, but my sense is that everyone right now is on the same team. There are no “Manny Being Manny” personalities that I am aware of. And Mashpee is the beneficiary of that.
As Selectwoman Carol Sherman said in the article about Richard, “He was on these committees for a reason—he wanted to help the people in Mashpee, and he did.” Ms. Sherman concluded, ”He will be missed by a lot of people.”
Rest in peace, Richard. Thank you for being Richard.
Charles E. Gasior