Information Pleas


Call it the calm before the storm.

The fiery debate that raged in Wakefield, MA over the downtown parking garage issue up to the April 1 special election has of late been reduced to glowing embers. But it is beginning to heat up again in anticipation of the May 5 Annual Town Meeting.

The hot items are Articles 1 and 2 on the warrant (and it is called a “warrant” not an “agenda” as I’ve heard some refer to it). Those first two articles will relate to the Assisted vote_countingLiving/garage issue, and some are predicting that it will be like the Wild West, with overflow crowds wanting to debate the issue or just attending for the entertainment.

It was already going to be a historic night, marking the very last Town Meeting ever held in the old Galvin Middle School Auditorium before it is reduced to rubble. It should be a fitting send-off for a venue that has hosted Town Meetings for at least half a century.

I wonder if anyone will bring up the fact that the new Galvin Auditorium will seat only about two-thirds the number of people as the current hall. But that’s a subject for another day.

What’s certain is that there will be lots of people, cajoled into attending by both sides of the garage debate, who have never attended Town Meeting before.

That’s always fun.

bill_carrollI especially look forward to hearing Town Moderator Bill Carroll explain why they can’t discuss the garage under Article 1, which relates only to the Assisted Living Overlay District.

I can hear it now. “We were told this meeting was about the garage!”

But if people don’t understand an issue of importance to the town, it’s not their fault, or so I’m hearing. The town needs to do a better job of getting information about important issues out to citizens because, you know, not everybody gets the newspaper.

According to some, the town should email all public meeting agendas, minutes and details related to important town issues directly to voters. And for those who don’t have computers, the town should print everything out and mail it to them. Or better yet, the town should include packets of information on upcoming issues in every gas and light bill.

Getting all your information directly from the government does sound like a swell idea, but I’m not sure that’s what the Founders had in mind when they stressed the role of a free press.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for transparency and better communication between the town and local citizens. But it’s a two-way street. Citizenship demands more than sitting back and waiting for the town to spoon-feed information to your computer or mailbox.

election_sign040114I even heard comments that the town was to blame for Tuesday’s pathetic Town Election turnout because it failed to send a pre-election email alert to every voter. Apparently, the giant signs posted on Main Street and the flashing red banner displayed across the town’s web site for weeks before every election aren’t enough.

Personally, I’m not convinced that email alerts are the long-sought solution to the age-old problem of voter apathy. Have we really arrived at the point where it’s too much to ask that people pay attention to when elections take place?

The Internet is a wonderful thing, but it has taught people that information should come to them and that anything beyond clicking “Like” on Facebook isn’t their responsibility.

In reality, being an informed citizen still involves some personal effort. Sometimes you have to go out and find independent sources of information – read a newspaper, watch WCAT or even attend meetings and talk to your neighbors.

Not so long ago, such things were considered the very least that an informed citizen could do.

[This column originally appeared in the April 24 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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