To the editor:
A badge resembling an old campaign button lies on my desk with all the detritus accumulated there, and no matter how often the surfaces is cleared, the badge or button remains. It speaks to “Why Not US?,” and continues with a discussion about “331/3%,” alluding to an intended salary increase of 33.3% for a generally unpopular town official. The badge, or campaign button, was the creation of the employees of the Department of Public Works. Memory doesn’t allow for recall concerning whether or not this department was in any contract negotiation at the time, but most reasonable residents were alarmed by the fact that such an incredible salary increase would be proposed for an individual universally disliked and who had failed to gain the respect of the town.
The sitting board of selectmen aggressively pushed this outlandish salary increase for the then-town administrator. And while there was general outrage at the concept, it was the DPW that had the guts to give voice to how ridiculous this proposal was. Whatever the motivation for the quiet demonstration, it generated a compulsion to write a letter to the newspaper asking the question, “How can this be?” It was a cold, very snowy morning on the day the letter was published and someone struggled up our back step and knocked at the door. Opening the door, there stood a young man in rugged work clothes holding out the aforementioned “why not” badge. He offered the comment that I had earned the right to wear it, pushed it in my hand, struggled back down the steps, climbed behind the wheel of his snow plow and went on, clearing town streets. It was a touching situation; perhaps today it would be called a teaching moment. And I wore the pin until the issue was resolved through simple common sense.
The young man at the time is now a well-seasoned employee of the DPW, perhaps contemplating retirement, and I am pleased to know him and respect him and his contemporaries. These are men who work in the field every day, signing in at a building that can only be defined as squalid; and at the end of the day, they return to the same quarters lacking any capacity for clean up following a day of gritty work. Hygiene here is a matter of pure conjecture, with privacy nonexistent. For the past 10 years, the DPW commissioners have sought funding to upgrade the Upper Main Street facility; and for years there has always been another project in the ascendant, leaving the commissioners empty handed. When last proposed, the fuss over the funding resulted in sound defeat. Why? Because the preparation and public outcry over the dollar figure proposed was too much to swallow. And after all the time that’s passed, it wonders me if the DPW and it’s anti-“33%” campaign lingers in the minds of officials who view gentrification over practicality.
No more! If the human element involved isn’t to the liking of the voter, consider the expensive equipment exposed to the elements for all to see when driving past the DPW facility. Further, if that view isn’t sufficient, read the departmental mission statement posted to the DPW town website. This statement illustrates every kind of hard, miserable work, work that must be done; dirty work under all conditions. Find a beached dead whale? Call the DPW. Drive past unpleasant road kill, call the DPW. Have a toxic spill of any sort, Call the DPW. Sewage problems? Of course, Call the DPW. Pot holes? The damn DPW just can’t get it done. And trash disposal from the public areas left behind by the cosseted day trippers? The DPW will get around to it. Heat, humidity, cold, snow, rain, the departmental mission statement is clear. It requires its employees to show up every working day, and if that’s not enough, be available 24/7 and get the job done. We mock them, cuss them, dismiss them out-of-hand. Who the hell wants to do that job? And we never once consider the danger, the rank unpleasantness, the ongoing risks these guys face every day.
It’s time! No sane person welcomes increases of any kind to a tax bill. Call it a debt exclusion, call it an override, it’s a tax increase, and in a town with a single revenue source we have to step up when the need arises. And that’s why it’s imperative to approve the funding to be considered at the special election on Oct. 15. Because the DPW has waited long enough; it has endured the unwanted stepchild status long enough. The town is the town’s largest employer, and it has a duty to recognize the needs of these particular employees. It’s their turn, and it’s fair to say that they are owed our favorable consideration. That’s why on Oct. 15, I think I may try to vote “yes” in all three precincts.