Among other orders of business, Gloucester’s City Council is expected to firm up tonight the wording for a November nonbinding referendum regarding the future use of Fuller School.
And the working proposal at this point, suggested by Ward 1 Councilor Paul McGeary, who is unopposed for re-election in November, calls for offering residents three options from which to choose when they go to the polls:
Relocate some or all city offices to the Fuller site.
Develop the property as a commercial site.
Develop the site for a mix of uses including governmental, non-profit and for-profit uses or some subset of those uses.
But while the ballot question would specify that all options offer the potential use of the fields surrounding the school building as a combined police and fire safety building — an idea favored by Mayor Carolyn Kirk and others — there remains one conspicuous absence.
Unless something changes tonight — and, by all means, it should — residents will not even be asked, even for a nonbinding consensus, whether they think the former Fuller School property should once again be used as a school, likely a consolidated school facility that could combined at least some of the existing schools and serve as an alternative plan to rebuild or renovate one school at a time, beginning with West Parish.
It’s entirely possible, of course, that voters would not choose a school as Fuller’s best future use. That would be fine. But city and school officials aren’t even willing to give voters the chance to do that; indeed, many seem so fearful of a public vote on a school option that they’re not willing to even give them the chance to say so — just as they’ve steered the potential $30 million West Parish school project around any referendum as well.
Look, government by referendum can get awfully inefficient, and yes, we do elect leaders to make important decisions. But we’d also like to think they will make those decisions based on the will of city voters. And it’s an insult to the voters to deny even the chance to be heard on such a landmark, city-changing issues such as this.
Indeed, when councilors cast the final wording during tonight’s meeting — initially planned for the Lanesville Community Center, but relocated Monday to City Hall’s Kyrouz Auditorium — residents should note which of their elected officials don’t seem to think voters deserve that choice.
That would be worth remembering when heading to the polls to vote on the Fuller question, and for city offices alike.