Kiosk chaos

19Jul18

This whole business of letting a group of citizens work their butts off for months or years on some worthy project only to have others swoop in at the eleventh hour and scuttle all that effort is getting a little old.

We saw it with the Public Safety Building. And now we’re seeing it with the kiosk proposed near the corner of Church Street and Lake Avenue. And those are just examples from the last few weeks.

The rowdy mob that showed up at Monday’s Town Council meeting to rail against a kiosk didn’t do their cause any favors. In fairness, those who spoke during public participation Monday did so respectfully.

The same cannot be said of the ones who spoke out of turn, screamed at the board and rudely disrupted Monday night’s meeting.

Back on June 11, Julie Scott and Meg Michaels spoke eloquently against the kiosk at the Town Council meeting. I left that meeting feeling like they had a point. But by the end of this past Monday’s unruly meeting, I was leaning the other way. A lot of people watching reacted the same way. Sometimes presentation is everything.

To claim that the process wasn’t “transparent” enough is just an excuse and a way to blame the people who do all the work. Just ask the Permanent Building Committee and the Main Streets board.

In truth, the Town Council didn’t even need to entertain that crowd Monday night. They had already voted, unanimously, on May 31 to approve the kiosk location. After they allowed people to speak Monday night at the proper time, during public participation, the Town Council would have been perfectly justified in saying, “Thank you for your input, but you’re a day late and a dollar short. We already voted. Next time, pay better attention and get involved earlier. You’re too late on this one.”

Of course, they would never say that. But I can.

Let’s disregard all the previous public meetings at which the kiosk idea was discussed and start the calendar at May 31, 2018 when the Town Council voted 7-0 to approve the kiosks and their locations. From that time until July 15 – six weeks – Bob Mailhoit, the president of the Main Streets group that has worked on this project for many months, received not a single call from a citizen asking to discuss it. That’s how “concerned” they were.

It’s not like people didn’t know about it. It was on the front page of the Item. People were all over Facebook hurling insults at town officials over it.

But they’re not really interested in getting involved. It’s much more fun to carry pitchforks and torches.

Where’s their outrage over a scene just a few feet away from where this kiosk would be placed? For years, right on the corner of our “pristine” Common, there’s been a decrepit double utility pole held together with boards and wire sitting next to a beat up old Verizon pay phone – probably the last one east of the Mississippi.

So, I guess its OK for giant out-of-town communications corporations to defile the Common with this crap, but a group of local volunteers must be tarred and feathered for proposing a tasteful informational kiosk that would be enhanced by landscaping at no cost to the town.

We allowed a private business to erect a shack on the Common to rent boats. We let the Farmer’s Market leave a big metal storage container on the shores of Lake Quannapowitt year-round.

But if a local non-profit group wants to promote the downtown by putting one informational kiosk on the edge of the Common it’s a crime against humanity.

As Main Streets president Mailhoit said Monday night, if the Town Council caves after already voting 7-0 to approve this kiosk location, it would set a horrible precedent.

He’s right. We already know that Town meeting votes are meaningless. If the Town Council does anything short of going forward with the original plan, it would send a message that decisions of the Town Council can be vetoed by angry mobs showing up and being rude and disrespectful.

And what kind of message would backing down send to the Main Streets volunteers? What incentive would they have to devote their time and energy to any other project, knowing that mob rule could undo all their work at the last minute?

And guess what? This isn’t even the last minute. The last minute was over six weeks ago on May 31. We’re into Monday morning quarterback territory now.

The people elected the Town Council to decide things like this.

Their decision – and the kiosk – should stand.

[This column originally appeared in the July 19, 2018 Wakefield Daily Item.]



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