So regular readers of the blog may be wondering when I’m going to get around to talking about the Town Hall project. Seems like there’s an article in the paper every week that regurgitates what has been announced at the latest Selectman’s meeting. From that perspective we know:
- The offices will be moved to temporary quarters at the hospital around August 1.
- The architects have completed the preliminary design
- The contractor is going to get started on a time and material basis until a “not to exceed” contract is completed.
I could file a right to know request, wait a week for a response, and pour through a half-ton of emails to find out the same thing, but that’s not the story here. The story is that there is obviously a lot of design and planing going on that I’m sure involves a bunch of people outside of regular town employees. If those people were identified, you might find a sort of de-facto committee that is reviewing the effort, directing the architects, and calling the shots.
In a proper world, such a committee, actively engaged in spending $4 million of the taxpayer’s money, would be named, organized, and subject to the open meeting rules. The public would have the opportunity to attend open meetings to hear and see what is being decided and why. No need for right-to-know requests. Most towns respect their citizen’s enough to do things like this in the open. They don’t have anything to hide.
Reporting on the activities of an unnamed and informally organized subset of the Friends of Town Hall, or rather what they have told the town manager and town planner to do, is hardly open and participatory government. And that’s been my gripe all along.
I’ve been criticized for filing “countless” right-to-know requests (actually there were eleven last year and none yet this year). But the flip side is that town government is not being conducted in public and that is the only way to get any insight into the workings of what has become a black-box government.
The Town Hall project is going to run it’s course. You will not hear about the problems, the eventual cost overruns will be framed as unavoidable consequences. Already the net office space has been further reduced to the point where it will probably be less than 5,000 square feet. The Planning Department and Public Works will never move back in there. The library wing will become open meeting rooms as originally planned in the $6.8 million restoration. It’s not that I have a problem with any of that. It’s just that I know it was the plan all along, and that a new 5,000 sq ft town office building would have only cost a million bucks. We never had an honest public discussion about it.
To me, it’s the lost opportunity. The folks across the street started out with a renovation plan, then went a different way after they had open and honest discussions with all of the stake holders. As you drive past and look from left to right, make up your own mind.
Do you anticipate a public accounting of the private donations by the Friends during this process?
I anticipate that the Friends will follow though on their commitment to donate $750,000 toward the $4 million project. I have no reason to believe that they will default in any significant way, and as far as I can see the only strings that were attached were the requirement to pass the warrant article. I don’t think it’s necessary or proper to ask who finances the Friends. That’s their business. Conversely, I don’t expect that donors to the Friends should expect to be acknowledged individually, only collectively in recognition of the organization’s efforts.