Marya Caristi

Has the climate of national politics affected how boards conduct themselves in Sandwich? Or has voter apathy resulted in some indolent practices and self-indulgence?

In these early weeks of autumn, there has been an Open Meeting Law violation ruling against the Board of Selectmen, the Historic District Committee chairman stepped down, and three key members of the Sandwich Economic Initiative Corporation resigned. Just last week a school committee meeting was cancelled and this week, the finance committee used a vote to send a message of displeasure.

The news that the Attorney General charged the BOS with an Open Meeting Law violation caused quite a stir. Not because of the ruling, but because the infraction was reported by Cape Cod Commissioner Ron Beaty. His involvement sparked more indignation and discussion than both that finding and the advisement from the AG that the board was not timely in its review and release of executive session minutes.

It was important that the applications and review of the new incarnation of the Adventure Park be totally transparent. The last go-round was a costly lesson. And coming on the heels of the siding material debacle for the Newcomb Tavern, the Historic District Committee needed to regain confidence within the community. But in a complaint with the State Ethics Board, it was disclosed by an opponent of the project that the chairman of the board’s company was designing the new park. 

It’s probably bigger news to some that the SEIC was still an active board than the revelation that three key members were stepping down. In their wake, they are leaving zero economic development and a lot of debt.

After a truncated summer schedule, the school committee was slated to hold its third meeting of the new school year on October 2. It had to be cancelled because they were unable to muster a quorum.

The most recent finance committee meeting was a head-scratcher. Newer members required a crash course to get up to speed about the proposed Center for Active Living and library renovations that comprise Article 1. The dialogue turned to process. Senior members took exception to their committee’s lack of input. They objected to the two spending items being bundled as one article, lack of voter choices for alternative funding mechanisms and the fact that the decision would be made by Town Meeting and not a ballot vote. It was suggested that the fincom vote no with the intention of sending a “strong, loud and clear message,” that while the projects had merit, the process was flawed. They did. Despite the facts that process is not in its purview, the committee advises Town Meeting on warrant articles, not other boards, and the charter does not require a ballot vote. It will be presented to Town Meeting as a 6-1 decision to not fund Article 1.

If these events occurred over the course of several months or a year, they wouldn’t be worthy of concern. But looking at these situations in sum total in such a short time span, there is reason for consternation and analysis.

These boards are charged with advising and/or representing the people. But if the majority of stakeholders aren’t engaged, how can they do that? Public perception is that some decisions are made with limited input and one-sided arguments. But whose fault is that? Interesting that public sentiment is sometimes to shoot the messenger and, other times, blame the recipients for using the message to render a decision. All are dependent on which side they are on.

Isn’t that the crux of these problems, though? Sides.

Residents have the responsibility to provide checks and balances by holding government accountable. Unfortunately, that seems to be an arbitrary practice based on loyalties to individuals and parties rather than right or wrong.

If constituents do their part, put aside personal agenda and advocate for what is good for the community at large, they should expect fair and balanced governance. And if they don’t, they might just get what they give. Local board members are, after all, just volunteers, not career politicians. They are prone to the same foibles as the rest of us. It’s not fair to hold them to higher standards than we are willing to hold ourselves to.

Ms. Caristi is a small-business owner and empty nester. She, her husband, Jason, and spoiled rotten yellow Lab, Moo, live in East Sandwich.

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