, Gloucester, MA

May 3, 2013

Letter: lection won't change Rockport's status quo

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

The Town of Rockport will tend to its local election next Tuesday.

What do we know about this election? Not much. A look at the official sample ballot shows a number of elective vacancies open, with only the office of a seat on the board of selectman offering voters a choice; a choice concerning which of the two will best function as representatives of the entire community.

We have published statements from each candidate speaking of individual accomplishments in the private sector. Their individual views concerning what each hopes to bring to the community don’t provide the voter with much more than window dressing.

This is the first voting cycle where only one public debate has been produced, and that, via local television without audience participation. This production was promoted by the Cape Ann League of Women Voters. Specifically, this sponsor represents “Cape Ann,” not Rockport.

How could the debate provide genuine insight to the candidates, and provide voters with basis for choice? It doesn’t. Questions were lobbed up like softball pitches, and, without drama, were driven out of the park. Why?

Why don’t we have a grocery store? At its reorganization meeting in August 2011, the out going chair of the Economic Development bluntly stated that such a market, and a revived Blacksmith Shop, would be operational by year-end. It was a positive, absolute statement. The following year, the then chair gave same assurance (I have the minutes.)

Two years later, we have an occasional farmers market on the premises of our last grocery store site, a continuing foreboding that Shaw’s may yet close, and nothing has been done to support a Rockport Market. Yeah, it was necessary for the legislature to approve home rule to allow a market to sell beer and wine. That action was a given. What has been done to obtain a food market? Nothing.

With all the time in the world, the subject lies idle, providing fodder for the local underachievers to blame a property owner for failure to obtain a basic town need. And we granted the Economic Development Committee $50,000 in 2112 to investigate how to market Rockport. This resulted in the presentation of the development of a master’s degree in marketing, utilizing our high school, that, to this point, has proved nothing.

The School System: On the retirement of the previous School Superintendent, the school faculty union members received a letter announcing a possible layoff at the close of the 2112 school year. Funds would be in short supply.

For a complete picture of this condition, I refer readers to the 2112 minutes of the Finance Committee. In essence, the questions were: With declining population thereby resulting in declining school enrollment, could the town maintain a viable local school system? Using available free cash to ease the school budget was discussed; the potential for an “override” was on the table. Detailed graphics, understood only by a physicist appeared.

What happened? For 2113, this department achieved budget approval; a tax increase was generated and where are we? With a current enrollment of just over 800 students from Rockport, a single tax rate, and no evidence of a mass move of middle class parents purchasing unaffordable homes, an infusion of local students is entirely unlikely.

Let’s look at tax-exempt pillars of downtown; The Yacht club, the Art Association, Shalin Liu — treasures all, but, let’s look at genuine “in lieu of tax” programs with the funds going to one, clear final evaluation in how to handle parking. T-Wharf cannot be considered the private parking fief of the Yacht Club.

Economy of scale needs examination. Staffing at Town Hall is hard to accept or understand. This town administrator has more staff assists than at anytime in recent history; the School Department, with the biggest piece of the budget pie, muddles through and makes do with what it has.

The small towns of my past still adhere to the premise that, if called to service, and if chosen or elected, salary, stipend, insurance appears nowhere in town government. A person came forward looking for the privilege of serving the town; not by wanting to “give back,” and then take advantage of stipends or insurance. But, also consider this; state law forbids the members of the School Committee from receiving any form of public remuneration.

I consider voting in next week’s election as futile. One person elected will bring no change. And not, until the residents of Rockport come to grips with political will, no change will ever come about.

Only through a move such as that, the “status quo” will remain immutable.