The recent back and forth between residents Bob Stein and Mark Kablack highlights how our town government doesn't always work for us.
Three weeks ago, resident Bob Stein wrote a letter to the editor describing how he was perplexed at many of the workings of town government. Specifically, he wrote how he was “perplexed as to why ….. our town planner, is allowed to use her office and town resources to create and distribute pro-40B campaign propaganda during business hours while being paid as our town planner. “
Mr. Kablack responded in the Town Crier. His letter highlights, in my opinion, just show our town government does not always work in the interests of Sudbury citizens.
First some background.
Mr. Stein’s comments, I believe, relate to actions taken by our town planning department during a 2010 ballot initiative to repeal 40B statewide. 40B is the state’s pro-developer, high density housing law that overrides local zoning laws and robs property owners of their rights as long as just 25% of the units in a development are affordable. Others might describe it differently.
In the November 2010 statewide election, opponents of 40B had collected sufficient citizen signatures to get a repeal initiative on the ballot. Many of us in town worked to try to repeal 40B by supporting this ballot initiative. We succeeded in Sudbury, where the measure to repeal passed by 51 to 49%. Unfortunately statewide, the measure did not pass.
State politics are tough. Opposition to repealing 40B was expected from deep pocketed developers, real estate interests and the politicians whose campaigns they supported. But during the campaign to repeal 40B, I discovered that my own town government and employees were using town resources and town time to defeat the repeal of 40B.
Specifically, the town’s email system was being used by a town employee to send flyers for a pro-40B “information session” sponsored by the League of Women voters. The League was hardly a disinterested third party in this case, as they had actively taken a pro-40B position and their “information session” was a collection of speeches by pro-40B proponents.
In addition to the town planning department, the Sudbury Housing Trust which works with our planning department and which has a selectman on the board, had also taken a very public position against the repeal of 40B. The Sudbury Housing Trust (SHT) is a quasi-government agency supported by our CPA funds. Other town citizens objected to SHT getting involved in the ballot initiative and appealed to our Board of Selectmen for assistance without success.
Had we succeeded in repealing 40B in 2010, Johnson Farm would not have been possible.
Now back to Mr. Kablack’s letter. Apparently, Mr. Kablack feels that Mr. Stein was misleading the town since “he should have qualified that the material distributed (by town employees) was a meeting notice from the Wayland League of Women Voters. “
This is exactly the same position that Selectmen Drobinski took with me when I confronted the Board of Selectmen (BOS) with this issue two years ago.
So in our town, according to the BOS, as long as political activity is connected to the League of Women voters, then it is OK for town employees during business hours to use town resources to promote these events.
The Massachusetts league of women voters has public positions on reproductive rights, anti-casino gambling and access to public defenders among many other position statements. Does Mr. Kablack and the BOS really believe town employees can advocate for these positions with town resources?
Our town government needs to work for us and not outside interests. Our town employees are hard working and dedicated to the town. But when their management chain up to the Board of Selectmen allows them to advocate for political positions, this is not only inappropriate, but a failure of the town’s leadership to curb such activity.
In this particular instance, political activity also corrodes the trust between the town and its citizens. It is a difficult to believe on one hand that the town did everything it could to prevent Johnson Farm, when on the other hand, we see town departments advocating for the very law that enabled 40Bs like Johnson Farm to be built.
Far from being an extremist birther as Mr. Kablack suggests, Mr. Steins’ comments were right on track. We should all be perplexed when we see town employees engaging in political activity using town resources during working hours. It is time our local government works for us, all the time.