Recent Letters Remind Me Our Town Government Doesn’t Always Work for Us

The recent back and forth between residents Bob Stein and Mark Kablack highlights how our town government doesn't always work for us.

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.

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sudburycitizentoo November 29, 2012 at 12:16 PM
Here comes the pitbulls!LOL
ron darden November 29, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Kirsten, I think references to kids are out of line I think references to one's business or livelihood are out of line, except in cases of real or apparent conflict of interest But, even if I dont like the general innuendo, I see no specific mention of any particular business and your reaction in a court of law might be admissable as 'consciousness of guilt'
Sudburytoo November 29, 2012 at 02:38 PM
sudburycitizentoo, "Here comes the pitbulls!" Sounds like something the British regulars would say when the Patriots were coming after them. The people of Sudbury have had enough of the few governing for the few.
sudburycitizentoo November 29, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Get a leash.
truth hurts November 29, 2012 at 05:08 PM
I think a muzzle may be required....for sudburycitizentoo. Perhaps a distemper shot too!!
Eric Poch November 29, 2012 at 05:17 PM
pmotw - Could you please give specific examples of how or where CPA funds were diverted from the original appropriation classification to another, of different classificaiton or especially unrelated one?
Eric Poch November 29, 2012 at 05:19 PM
I'd have to agree, that TM seems to fully support open discourse well, but does Town residents a disservice in terms of both efficiency and effectivenets of the actual voting and providing for fair representation in the ballot. I fear Representative TM makes the waters all the more muddy, however.
sudburycitizentoo November 29, 2012 at 05:19 PM
Truth hurts doesn't it!!
Eric Poch November 29, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Thanks, Bryan, I'll check it out.
Eric Poch November 29, 2012 at 05:23 PM
COMPLETELY agree - all politics are local, but party affiliation as very little to do with how they impact things in a Town environment - as opposed to a City form of government.
truth hurts November 29, 2012 at 05:23 PM
I think you have some very serious anger issues- Have you thought about seeing a Dr? Its very sad you feel you need to be so rude and insulting to everyone who posts here- I truly feel sorry for you-
kyle mccarthy November 29, 2012 at 06:22 PM
truth hurts you should actually feel sorry for sudburycitizentoo's family (if he or she even has one), because THEY have to live with him or her...imagine what that would be like EVERYDAY.
pmotw November 29, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Part 1: This is a complicate subject and will require more than one posting…… Here are some CPA projects I question; Artificial turf for LS and Cuttings Field Town hall architectural and design study Install a fire suppression system at the Hosmer House Restore timbers and wooden gate at the Town Pound Survey no less than 10 Old Homes as directed by the Massachusetts Historical Commission* Town center landscaping restoration Sudbury housing trust 10% allocation Sudbury housing authority unit buy-down Asphalt sidewalks and construction of stone walls Preservation of old documents Restoration of cemeteries, town owned buildings and other properties Funding for an asphalt bike path study Numerous Preservation Restrictions** Housing Salaries (administrative and operational expenses of the CPC) Many of the above maintenance and other project should fall under the responsibility of the town budget. Not surcharged tax dollars intended for saving open land.
pmotw November 29, 2012 at 08:40 PM
Part 2: *Who gave the Massachusetts Historical Commission authority on how our surcharged tax dollars are spent? **The Preservation Restriction projects costs millions to prevent property owners from developing their own land such as farms. The town doesn’t own it, but legally is blocking development of the property in most cases. To me this is one of the biggest financial scams going on in town. Property owners threaten to develop land, the town gives them millions to leave it (or have limited development) and the owners still own the land. I’m not sure they pay taxes, but I do know local farmers are using these fields for profit. It’s unknown if the town receives any revenue for allowing farmers use these preserved and purchased properties. The CPA has very little accountability, if any. It’s obvious based on the projects they have run away with. Matching funds by the State are not what was promised. Every year the percentage drops. Some of the open space such has Landham Road and the Johnson Farm has been or is slated to be developed with dense residential housing. How ironic is this? This is the land we should be saving. We are surcharged a tax to preserve open space, the CPA failed with these two properties and now builders are adding homes that will demand an increase in town services (schools) and our normal taxes will increase. Talk about abusing tax dollars.
pmotw November 29, 2012 at 08:41 PM
Part 3: The sad thing is most taxpayers trust the CPA and have no clue what their tax dollars are paying for. These are mostly all wonderful things, but these funds were not originally intended for most of them. Some of these nice to do things used to get done with donations from people who could afford to help out. Now they are being done with surcharge taxes forced on every resident. I wish I had access to the wording of the original ballot question. I’m pretty sure it did not include so many projects other than preserving open space. Put the CPA tax Surcharge on the ballot again and let the PEOPLE decide. If there is so much confidence the CPA is worth the extra tax and has the support from the majority of the town, then there is nothing to fear by putting it on the ballot again.
Eric Poch November 29, 2012 at 11:30 PM
pmotw - With all due respect, it seems you're generally opposed to the CPA, which you are certainly entitled to be, but I was under the impression that you had specific reference to a misappropriation of funds. However, there is no particular example. It also appears that you might be unclear that the CPA is NOT soley for the purpose of preserving Open Space. In fact, the act has is intended to meet FOUR distinct purposeS, using the appropriated and state matched CPA funds: [The CPC shall make recommendations to TM for 1-the acquisition, creation, and preservation of open space; 2-the acquisition and preservation of historic resources; 3-the acquisition creation, and preservation of land for recreational use; 4-the creation, preservation, and support of community housing; and for rehabilitation or restoration of same, as provided in MGL Chapter 44B.]. As for farms and the towns right to first refusal relative to tax exemption, that is covered under MGL 61A. And without mixing too many apples and oranges, Conservation Restrictions do make very sound economic sense - longer term. If the avg. single family house has 2.5 kids at a cost of $15k/yr each to educate ($37.5k), but only generates $15k in taxes, we could spend $100K/acre to by land and it's paid back in 5 years, vesus loosing $22.5k/year in cost versus taxes.
Sudbury Citizen November 29, 2012 at 11:44 PM
Eric, now I know why people think less of you.
SueChap November 30, 2012 at 02:18 AM
CPA funds were used to build retainer walls on route 117 for town planner friend on the corner of pantry and 117. These rock walls were retaining 2 inches of sidewalk. In addition to the sidewalks on 117 which the project was approved (for sidewalks), CPA funds were used to fund corresponding rock walls and fences along route 117 that could also questioned. If the residents complain, Bill Place builds! Continuing with the 117 project, CPA funds were used to pay a resident to build a wall on his own property!! I was once told that the business the property owner submitted his invoice wasn't a registered business with the state (defaulted) and the invoice was only submitted after someone asked for it. I'm also told that NONE of the 117 project items were bid, rather various invoices submitted on the same or various days for different amounts which at face value appear to be within state procurement regulations. I know who looked at all this and can see if they can be passed to the Patch for coverage. Then others can decide whether or not to continue to defend this cookie jar fund. The CPA has a good purpose and if used in a balanced way could bring all the good it was intended. It has, however, become a slush fund to gain easy funding approval via town meeting which is easily stacked by our local liberal establishment. Why can't CPA funds be used to fund the Fairbanks restoration, including roof?
SueChap November 30, 2012 at 02:22 AM
btw, I am perplexed why we have to continue referring to our neighbors and their rancorous behavior. Can we just agree to ban the word!!!
pmotw November 30, 2012 at 03:18 AM
Mr. Poch, Years ago we were asked frequently to approve overrides for the town to purchase priorities to “preserve” them. I’m all for that and understand the development implications to town services as I had mentioned. After several overrides, the CPA appeared to be a better solution to purchase these properties to avoid permanent tax increase every time a parcel became available and I voted for the CPA. I was not alone in believing these funds would be utilized only to purchase “open space” as it was presented. Since then the rules, sate contributions and practices have changed. What the CPA does now is not what I voted for. Having farmers use this land is an excellent idea. However, it should not be for free and the towns’ stockholders deserve a return on their investment if these properties are used for the profit of others. Sudbury should not be in the business of subsidizing private businesses as it appears it is. The accountability of these millions is limited. I’d like to see the CPA question on the ballot every year. It would be one way to implement more accountability. If it is an effective method of Community Preservation, it will pass.
pmotw November 30, 2012 at 03:23 AM
Great Post SueChap! I would like to use CPA funds to build a in-ground swimming pool. Does it matter if I already have sidewalks?
Eric Poch November 30, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Interesting teaser, "Sudbury Citizen", I'll bite - why?
Let's Open our eyes November 30, 2012 at 03:52 PM
I'm not an engineer and don't play one on tv so while I don't feel qualified to judge the validity of retaining walls, they are often necessary when sidewalks go in because the topography and runoff characteristics of a property are changed. If there's abuse and patronage being supported by the CPA it should be routed out. @pmotw - Poch's right on the CPA and CRs. We don't subsidize farmers by allowing them to continue their by right use of the land, but we do avoid significant increase in cost of services by not having develpments built. Who cares about a few hundred bucks we could get for charging them to harvest hay when we stave off loosing $20-25k per house on school costs versus taxes paid to the town.
Sudbury Citizen November 30, 2012 at 04:00 PM
Poch is NEVER right on. You are correct on the first part though.
Let's Open our eyes November 30, 2012 at 08:17 PM
Wow- that's kinda harsh. I'm not interested in promoting any baseless accusations SC - keep me out of your pettiness. I've been in this town for quite a while now and follow event pretty closely. I'd certainly put him in the category of most reasonable town leaders. Most of what I've seen has been well spoken and more importantly, well reasoned and done in public. Unlike a lot of the trash talking that goes on in these news blogs.
Sudbury Citizen November 30, 2012 at 08:25 PM
You don't know him like I do. We've been on the same committee.
pmotw December 01, 2012 at 12:10 AM
re: "Lets Open our eyes". Are you eyes open inside or outside the bubble? Guess they were not open when you read my posts. Please explain where I'm wrong. Farmers are using land the town owns or has paid millions to "preserve". Which section of MGL 61A states its fair for taxpayers to support (subsidize) farmers by allowing them to use town own/preserved property at no cost? If this is how it works, I'd like a few acres to grow crops for profit without paying for the use of the land. I will say it again, I'm all for them using the land, but we deserve some revenue in return. I'd be okay with them taking over the burden of financing the CPA.
sudburycitizentoo December 01, 2012 at 01:59 AM
SC--theres a sale at Petco for leashes.
kyle mccarthy December 01, 2012 at 12:58 PM
Sudburycitizentoo-be sure to get one for yourself!
pmotw May 23, 2013 at 02:29 PM
re: SueChap Was there any further findings on the CPA funding of stone walls that appeared to be unnecessary?


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