March 1, 2022 was a busy night in town politics. FIVE boards scheduled meetings at 7:00 on the same night as a war time State of the Union Address. This kind of logjam tends to stifle community involvement. Was that the point?
The most attended meeting was the one and only public comment meeting scheduled by the BOH to talk about finally finishing the project started seven years ago. Just to recap a bit of the history, the project was started in 2015 after voters approved an override for capping and beginning construction on a new dump. A second, expected infusion of cash followed. We were promised this would bring the project to fruition. It didn’t. A third request was made and approved. This too fell short. Since 2018, the project has remained unfinished and unmentioned.
— Until a couple of citizens started nosing around. They dug into financial records and found that literally millions of dollars were missing. Questions as to where the money went were either ignored or side-stepped.
Years rolled by as town employees had only the comforts afforded by a small, leased trailer that was meant to be in place only a matter of months. During that time, the floors rotted and rats moved in. The admin wiped rat feces from her keyboard every morning.
Outside, giant sheets of sharp metal blew off the stack housing the pit. Steep stairs and exposed rebar presented hazards. MMEU officials repeatedly complained to Andrew Petty, director of health for Marblehead. Their concerns went unanswered. Consider for a moment the terrible irony of the department charged with protecting our health willfully imperiling that of its employees.
The Department of Labor inspected the dump and found a multitude of serious issues including exposed high voltage wires that could kill on contact. Within days of their inspection, the project that had languished for seven years was suddenly back on the table.
Two months later, the BOH put on a public comment meeting. The public might have missed it if not for an eagle-eyed PowerUP team member reading the fine print of a meeting agenda and making like the pony express to get the word out.
The meeting was clearly intended to be a tightly controlled, maximally choreographed endeavor. There was yet another presentation by the architect. There were poll questions that took forever and yielded nothing of worth. And there were ground rules — lots of ground rules. Despite financial misadventures, a law suit and the project being both incomplete and over budget, Andrew Petty laid down the law that no one could mention past errors, financial mismanagement or law suits.
Jim Zisson pointed out that given the history of the project, it will be a mess at town meeting if the BOH does not allow conversation about what happened and how the BOH will do better with another bite at the apple. He made five suggestions:
1. Have at least one more opportunity for public comment prior to town meeting.
2. Explain what happened to the money as well as why the town incurred 4 million in legal fees.
3. The BOH should obtain comparative estimates so that we are better able to estimate actual cost of the project rather than simply what the lowest bid was.
4. To insulate town residents, establish a contingency fund, especially since the $1.67 million option is likely to be an under-estimation of actual cost.
5. Finally, create a building committee to oversee the project.
Jerry Smith, the owners’ agent responsible for the dump debacle thus far was quick to challenge the need for a building committee. Doesn’t want it. Doesn’t need it. He went on to detail how the engineer for the past project was inept and the contractor was a %$&*% (insert antisemitic slur). Just to make sure we all heard the slur, he repeated it what felt like dozens of times over a 20 minute period. Only when PowerUP member Jeanne Lambkin pointed out how deeply offensive the term is did the BOH notice the slur.
This is how the little tendrils of town goings-on eventually intertwine. We ignore antisemitic graffiti around town and hire a consultant who spouts antisemitic slurs at public meetings. Our bigotries have become codified into board meetings, schools, playgrounds and policies. They are ubiquitous. A dentist, an ADL representative, Director of Health, realtor, elected official, a pharmaceutical professional, a project manager and one hundred residents missed the opportunity to call out the antisemitism. It has been normalized.
But we should get back to the people who brought all of this to a head — town employees were being subjected to unsafe working conditions. Terri Tauro, the union president asked where town employees might retreat for warmth or to treat an injury during construction. It seems the six year old, rat-infested trailer with the rotting floor will not be replaced. Employees will just have to make due.
Want to do something about it?
Be informed. The BOH made their final decisions at their meeting on April 5: https://vimeo.com/696685778
Reimagine the meaning of community, attend Town Meeting on May 2nd (review warrant) and VOTE for new leaders in June.
PowerUP! for our children, our children's children...
Review full meeting discussed in Blog: https://vimeo.com/683981996