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    Nov 2005
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    Default Wayland Voters Network needs to declare its biases

    I have been reading Wayland Voters Network newsletters since they first began. I've read every word, not because I am learning much of anything, but because I know there are others reading it and believing what they read. I have a serious problem with a newsletter purporting to be delivering just news and information, when they are really behaving as a political action group.

    Laughable is the fact they have been making occasional pokes at WaylandeNews trying to discredit us. As Selectman Alan Reiss commented to me: "I think you do a good job in organizing various media links with local opinions. Now even though it is clear that we are on different sides of the override issue this year, I think the waylandenews.com has done a good job in making sure many points of view are expressed and posted."

    We have worked very hard to present the news fairly, and have provided every opportunity for those with opposing views to present them. Wayland Voters Network, on the other hand, has a history of ignoring emails sent to them with opposing views, and provides readers with corrections no outlet to get to subscribers. WVN frequently point outs the past views of members of Wayland's community without ever bothering to point out their own biases/positions taken/views.

    Their last few newsletters have been typically preposterous, and I'd like to make a leisurely review of the most recent here. Below, I reprint in its entirety (with a link to the original source) their most recent newsletter, with commentary interspersed in red.

    Newsletter 168: Behind the Town Center Vote

    Dear Wayland Voter,

    Only the size of the vote for the town center surprised political
    observers.

    What political observers?

    What is behind the record vote, and what lies ahead? Michael
    Short reports.

    MOBILIZATION EFFORTS TRIUMPHED

    An overflow crowd of Special Town Meeting voters
    overwhelmingly approved zoning for a $100-million
    retail/office/housing development on Route 20, the climax of a
    campaign that changed the political face of Wayland.

    If by changing the political face he means that a record number of voters came out to Town Meeting, that sounds like something WVN, which was founded they say to encourage voter participation, should be very pleased to see.

    Why did this campaign succeed, with votes to spare, six months
    after a plan for a larger development failed? Aside from the
    possibility that the smaller size overcame some voters' doubts,
    one obvious factor was the strong and well-coordinated effort of
    advocacy groups and town officials. Another was advocates'
    linking the town center concept with the April 25 tax override vote.
    A third was the implied threat of the alternative, 200
    condominium units.

    Other possibilities would be increased voter education and the support of numerous town boards, including the Planning Board, which had previously led the change against the project

    A record number of voters approved the mixed-use zoning on
    May 3 by a 4 to 1 margin, 1753-431. The turnout was more than
    800 greater than in November 2005. As voters lined up to
    register, officials scrambled to save the meeting from
    postponement for lack of space. The selectmen had designated
    one of the three venues at the High School for families with
    children, but with no way to participate.

    I'm not sure why Mr. Short mentions the third venue here, as it did not interfere with voting in any way; it merely provided the possibility for some with children to attend who otherwise might not have been able to (much as the rides provided by the CoA would provide seniors who might not otherwise be able to attend to make it to Town Meeting).

    The victory was the second in eight days for political groups that
    outspent and outnumbered opponents. At the April 25 annual
    town election a record vote approved a $2.1 million tax override
    and elected candidates favored by the groups.

    I'm quite sure Mr. Short has no any idea how much the various groups might have spent supporting or opposing the Town Center project.

    After failing to gain the required two-thirds majority in November
    for a larger mixed-use proposal, activists launched a campaign
    of mailings, email blasts, leaflets, signs and phone calls aimed
    at getting out the vote for the town center as well as the override.
    They organized more than 40 meetings in residents' homes and
    the town building where officials and other advocates pushed
    the project.

    Though I did attend a neighborhood gathering that was focused on the override, I'm not aware of any such meetings regarding the Town Center.

    The basic idea of the town center appealed to many voters. The
    prospect of added commercial tax revenue seemed to make
    intuitive sense. The Planning Board's majority report predicted
    that at worst the project wouldn't cost the town money. (The
    board endorsed the zoning by a 3-2 vote.) The immediate
    tax benefit of the project is in the neighborhood of $40,000
    annually, though within seven years it could be much more than
    that. For those who liked the idea of new shops and restaurants,
    there didn't seem to be much of a downside except increased
    traffic caused by out-of-towners patronizing large chain stores,
    and the developers said they could handle that.

    I'd add to the benefit list a green, a gazebo, a canoe landing, a skating pond, a spot for a municipal building (perhaps a library?), jogging trails, and at least a part of a bike path

    Wayland Citizens Against Reckless Development was the only
    organized opposition, concentrating largely on traffic and safety.

    I believe Citizens Against Reckless Development employed virtually every tactic listed above for the pro-Town Center group -- they had a website, sent emails, mailings, distributed leaflets, and placed lawn signs. Not that there's anything wrong with doing these things - just odd that he mentions it regarding the pro-Town Center people, but not the anti-Town Center people.

    At meetings and in the press, others continued to say the project
    was too large and out of character for Wayland, inconsistent with
    the Master Plan and harmful to the historic district. Independent
    consultants predicted horrendous weekend traffic and said that
    most towns of Wayland's size do better with a proportionally
    smaller commercial component. (The Planning Board favored
    commercial space about 50,000 square feet smaller than the
    165,000 that the selectmen and the developers ultimately
    agreed on.) (and the Planning Board as well)

    Formidable concerns involving pollution, water and sewage
    were raised by opponents, minimized by proponents. Skeptics
    decried the rushed pace of the process, the lack of a definite
    plan for the development and the selectmens' diminished
    negotiating position in wooing the developers back to the table.

    COORDINATED GROUPS

    This was overwhelmed by the volume of material from project
    supporters. One example is the full-page ad in the Wayland
    Town Crier that reproduced material in leaflets comparing the
    town center with the 40B affordable housing project. The ad
    referred voters to SOSWayland (which championed the override
    as well). It was "paid for by Colleen Sheehan, 16 Springhill
    Road"; OneWayland and Waylanders for Smart Growth were
    listed as sponsors. Since organizations dealing only with a
    Town meeting decision don't have to disclose their finances, it's
    difficult to say what the campaign cost and where the money
    came from. At this point it isn't even clear what Waylanders
    for Smart Growth is. Note that unsaid is that we also have no idea how much CARD spent, or where their money come from.

    The leaflet and ad characterized the all-housing alternative in a
    way that an official of the Massachusetts housing agency
    described as seriously misleading. That's a strong accusation: I think that it would be important to supply a source and to indicate precisely what was misleading. Further, based on my experience with people at SOS, if they believed anything in their material was misleading, they would have changed it. Mr. Short should have alerted them to any issues. Perhaps because WVN ignores such email (and RSVPWayland as well), they perhaps think others ignore such emails - not the case with SOS.Though 150 of the 200 units
    would be sold at luxury prices, some voters at public hearings
    described the development as "low income."

    The advocacy groups urged voters to plan ahead to vote for the
    override on April 25 and then the mixed-use zoning at special
    Town meeting. That would be advocacy groups on both sides of each issue.

    During the May 3 meeting, casual conversations indicated that
    many voters may not have been well acquainted with the details. This is the beauty of Town Meeting, that voters have a chance to hear all the discussion and learn more about issues before voting.
    "What does it look like?" one voter asked another during a break,
    obviously unaware that the decision was not on a specific plan,
    but only limitations on the developer.

    A STRONG POLITICAL BASE

    Much of the effort was directed at, and by, parents of Wayland
    school children. The result may be a lasting political base
    representing less than half of the population but able to swing
    an election. Energizing a political base is nothing new at the
    national and state levels, but Wayland has seen nothing on this
    scale. The items Mr. Short cites were NOT passed by so-called "school parents" but the population at large, including substantial numbers of voters whose children are long gone. WVN does a terrible disservice to the town and insults these people repeatedly by affirmatively neglecting (and implicitly rejecting) the generous contributions that they make. Once again WVN is intellectually dishonest and purposefully divisive. It is not the parents that pass overrides, it's the general population that sees the direct link between our level of services and the well-being of the town.

    A precursor appeared in the spring of 2004 when a new political
    action committee in which Selectman Betsy Connolly was
    involved, Citizens for Wayland's Future, advertised heavily and
    distributed leaflets endorsing a slate of candidates who were
    associated with the existing power structure. The PAC was
    dissolved after state officials ruled that it appeared to be
    inconsistent with state campaign finance law. Connolly dropped
    out of a race for re-election in 2005 and later resurfaced as a
    founder of WaylandeNews.On our website, we list contributors, not founders. To be clear, Ian Hecker and I founded WaylandeNews, then brought in Larry and Betsy to help review material and provide content suggestions.

    In a letter last week in the Town Crier, School Committee Vice
    Chairman Bob Gordon thanked some of the key players in the
    successful 2006 campaign. He named the four co-chairwomen
    of Save Our Services, Superintendent Gary Burton and the entire
    School Committee, the Finance Committee, four of five
    selectmen (omitting Alan Reiss, who advocated a menu override
    vote and showed evidence that some residents struggle to pay
    their taxes), WaylandeNews and its staff, OneWayland, newly
    elected Planning Board member Dan Mesnick (but not other
    board members), High School Building Committee Chair Lea
    Anderson, town center developer Chuck Irving and Betsy
    Connolly. I spoke with Bob about his Thank You as regards WaylandeNews as were not advocates. He said "having a credible distribution vehicle for getting reliable information to the town is huge. You have done our town a truly extraordinary service"

    The town center seems to have won wide support from a variety
    of voters. But elected officials may now feel free to ignore some
    segments of the electorate. Advocacy emails criticized
    Selectmen candidate Mark Santangelo for "anti-school"
    positions. He lost. Before the override vote, four selectmen
    ignored pleas from citizens and Selectman Alan Reiss to
    declare public safety the top priority of local government and
    maintain $300,000 in basic services regardless of the override.
    Because of the prospect of closing the Cochituate fire station at
    certain hours, the issue alarmed residents living nearby, who
    account for two-thirds of emergency calls. The four selectmen
    repeatedly said that all town services would have to be cut
    proportionally if the override failed, in effect equating a file clerk
    with a fireman. Whatever their motive might have been, it
    evidently wasn't fear of the wrath of voters in the southern
    precincts.

    Recent Emails alerted residents to unfinished business:
    rebuilding or replacing the High School. The High School
    Building Committee is talking about asking voters for design
    funds in the fall. Don't be surprised at the next mobilization effort.
    I hope voters will remember that our school is in need of some kind of fix, and that our accreditation is at risk. I am sure that there will be supporters and opponents who will mobilize when this issue arises. And shouldn't they? I am proud to live in a town that cares.
    Last edited by Administrator; 05-11-2006 at 09:12 AM.

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