Friday, April 21, 2006

What Is This Campaign About? Follow the Money!

When John Michael Shields submitted papers to run for Selectman on the final day for filing, many people were surprised. In the immediate aftermath Mr. Shields stated his reasons for running as a concern for the direction the town was heading in.

The campaign is now winding down and frankly, it has been difficult to discern just what candidate Shields means by wrong direction. He’s mentioned taxes, but his opponent has a track record of helping avoid tax increases to fund our operating budgets. He’s called for a small override while proclaiming, “every child should have the best education available.” These two things are not compatible.

Then there is the issue of development. His campaign literature treats this in general terms. He’s “concerned” about some plans for development around town. He’s for “Smart Growth”, a concept not violated by any of the proposals under discussion. And he engages in considerable political hyperbole by claiming to be an “urban planner” based on working for a developer for a couple of years. In the Milton Speaks debate he expressed his view that Central Avenue Business district plans were “too dense” and he criticized the RFP for the DPW Yard, indicating he would limit development to residential.

Could this be the wrong direction Mr. Shields is really talking about? This past Tuesday the candidates were required to release preliminary information on campaign contributions. Mr. Shields' information was notable for two reasons. First, the amount of money he was able to raise in a short time, approximately $20,000. More striking was the concentration and source of the money. Approximately half of all the funds raised came from 18 contributions of the maximum amount allowable under law --$500. All 18 of these contributions came from well-known opponents of any consideration of commercial development at the DPW Yard. Additional contributions of between $50-$500 came from 10 other opponents, meaning that more than 50% of all the money raised to date by Mr. Shields comes from this special interest group.

Why would this group give so generously to Mr. Shields? Let’s remember their agenda. They don’t just oppose the possibility of commercial development at the DPW Yard. They oppose the town even having the opportunity to look at commercial ideas and decide, as a whole, what would be best for Milton. In Mr. Shields they have a willing partner. He’s already declared that he would not vote to issue an RFP that includes commercial development. He apparently considers it perfectly fine to decide, along with one other selectman, what should be on the table for the town’s consideration on this very important issue.

If Mr. Shields thinks pursuing commercial development at the DPW Yard is wrong, that’s fine. If he thinks such development would be going in the wrong direction and that he wants to be the standard bearer for that position to the citizens of Milton, that’s fine. But what is not fine is to limit, with the help of his financial backers, the choices that should be examined by all of us before we make a decision that should take into account the needs of the entire town.

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On another front, this week’s Milton Times contained a letter from Richard Shea. Mr. Shea is one of the leaders of the opponents to commercial development at the DPW Yard. The Shea family contributed $2000 to Mr. Shields, 10% of total contributions. In his letter to the editor he makes the following comment:

“Second, during Mr. McCarthy’s tenure as Selectman, the cost of the original school rebuilding projected(sic) has mushroomed from $100 million in 2001 to $150 million in 2006. While I don’t lay the whole blame for the $50 million increase at the feet of the incumbent Selectman, I am struggling to understand how this budgeting disaster is a step forward for Milton.”

This statement contains not only misstatement of fact, but demonstrates a lack of understanding of both the school building issue and the Board of Selectmen’s responsibilities.

Mr. Shea's purported $50 million cost increase includes $17 million of private donations to fund various enhancements to the schools.

During the period of construction, the entire construction industry was hit by a surge in inflation, one that was made worse by Hurricane Katrina. School building projects all across the state were impacted. This fact, and the fact that the state had stopped making inflationary adjustments to the per square foot reimbursement, was part of the reason we were recently able to add money to the project without a proposition 2 ½ override.

Finally, the Board of Selectmen has neither responsibility nor authority for the School Building Program.

Mr. Shea is running for Town Meeting Member in Precinct 9. Precinct 9 residents might wonder why Mr. Shea would make such irresponsible remarks without taking the time to study the issue.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Caroline de Bourbon said...

Mr. Matthews,

Your/our town has overwhelmingly spoken: the direction Milton was being lead was threatening to its character and future.

I am hopeful now with the election of John Shields and the new town meeting members that reasonable and intelligent discussions can begin about ways to bring revenue into Milton without destroying it's character.

Caroline de Bourbon
295 Reedsdale Road

2:43 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

I can't figure out the mysterious "direction our town was being lead" angle that keeps popping up, and I think it's a major disconnect in intra-Milton dialogue... my assumption, which may be ill-founded, was that much of this talk has been driven by opponents to development of the Town Yard, and most of that by those near or abutting the area. That's not a big enough body to explain the election results, however.

I do think our new Selectman have a responsibility to improve the quality and level of the conversation, and discourage the mis-characterization of the issues that has been prevalent over the past year -- but then again, that's politics, I guess...

12:29 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

Ms. de bourbon:

Your claim about what the town vote says, while providing comfort for your views, has little to do with the election.

The issue of taxes and an overide were the dominant issues in the campaign.

Reasonable and intelligent discussion are hardly likely from those who have done neither on the issue of development. What you label reasonable and intelligent is simply agreement with your NIMBY attitudes. It is neither reasonable nor intelligent for two selectmen to limit what the town can consider as being in the best interests of the town.

10:02 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

Robert,

"Wrong direction" was simply a catch phrase which attempted to join concerns about taxes with concerns about development.

We should be concerned about both. But this election dealt with both mindlessly. Heavily funded by those who would deprive the town from deciding what is best for the town as a whole, the citizens were frightened by talk of an override, talk which was completely without context.

As I note in my latest post, taxpayers are not just payers of taxes, but also consumers of the services those taxes fund. You can't expect people to make intelligent choices without a complete picture of both costs and services.

I did find it amusing, however, to see DPW Yard abutters focus on taxes in their campaign literature, after so many of them claimed at one time that residents would be happy to pay higher taxes to keep the town the beautiful place it is.

10:21 PM  
Anonymous Caroline de Bourbon said...

Mr. Mathews,

Two selctmans DID in fact "run" this town for far too long. I applaud the open process that will finally begin about, again, how to bring more revenue into Milton. My son will be entering kindergarten in 2 years and I want the best schools possible for him. But I also want a good quality of life for him -- large scale shopping mall lights would have glared in my son's window all night. Of course I did not want a Mall in my back yard. Who would? NIMBY away, I agree wholeheartedly with you. Have you, Mr. Mathews had a chance or attempted to talk to the new Selectman? Maybe you should before you write your "prose." I began to read your site when I first moved here but have found it bitter and full of untruths which is why I will not longer log on. But I do welcome a discussion with you as we are neighbors living right down the street from eachother.

5:44 PM  
Blogger Philip Mathews said...

Ms. de Bourbon,

No, two Selectmen did not run this town, at any time. The process that has been employed on development has been completely open, and I note that you are unable to offer any evidence to the contrary.

Your complaints about a "large shopping Mall" are red herrings, since no such proposal has been received by the Town, and any such proposal could only come to fruition by passing the many, normal safeguards this community possesses.

Your claim that my blog is filled with untruths is a blatant falsehood, one which readers will note you are unable to support.

5:52 PM  

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