, Gloucester, MA

December 24, 2012

Editorial: Council must top mayor's veto, seek Fuller, school votes

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — It’s no surprise that Mayor Carolyn Kirk took less than a week to veto the City Council’s call for what would be a non-binding referendum vote on the future of the Fuller school building.

Indeed, let’s not forget that the mayor and other school officials have their hearts and your pocketbooks set on proceeding with plans for what could be up to a $30 million new West Parish school without bothering to gain any sense of the community’s wishes through a renferendum question, either.

But while the mayor ostensibly vetoed the council’s referendum call because at least one of the choices — essentially carrying out the work necessary to reopen Fuller as a school — “inappropriate,” there is something in play here that’s far more inappropriate than any of the referendum’s potential Fuller options.

That’s the mayor’s and other school officials’ commitment to plow forward with determining their own favorite Fuller use and school construction plans without ever making a true effort to reach out and find whether any such projects have the support of a wide number of Gloucester residents.

Yes, the mayor has carried out an online survey regarding Fuller’s use – though the idea fo reusing it as a school wasn’t part of that equation either. But Ward 5 Councilor Greg Verga is right to note that the survey’s 807 respondents — including 46 who apparently do not live in Gloucester – hardly represents the kind of sampling an all-day referendum would bring.

And when it comes to the West Parish School construction, the only realistic opinion sampling case through the School Committee, which posed questions regarding a new school project and the makeup of the city school district to members of “the school community.” Needless to say, any notion of consolidating at least two of the city’s current schools into either a larger, new West Parish facility, or into a renovated Fuller building, never got off the table.

But taxpayers deserve a chance to weigh in on both of these issues — and not merely through hearings at which residents can voice their views, and have them ignored by agenda-driven officials. In that vein, the council should not only override the mayor’s veto of the Fuller referendum, but call for voters’ sentiment regarding their support or opposition to a new West Parish School construction as well.

As we’ve noted previously, government by referendum is far from an ideal system, and the wording of questions can pose all sorts of issues – like the questions now stirring over how to implement the statewide binding referendum on the medical marijuana use and distribution. But decisions regarding the future use of Fuller School, and the potential replacement of a single elementary school in a project that does not address other schools’ or the district’s long-term needs, will affect Gloucester for decades to come.

They are questions that deserve the maximum level of resident input — the kind best achieved through putting both on the ballot for non-binding referendum votes.

Let’s hope the council stands up to the mayor’s Fulller veto, and continues to pursue that course.