LETTER: Conservation Commissioner Believes Town Can Support CPA and Schools


As I observe and continue to participate in the debate between supporters and opponents of Question 5 (which proposes adoption of the Community Preservation Act by Watertown), I detect at least one salutary outcome. Look at all the publicity we have generated in helping define the public interest!

I support voting YES on Question 5. I admire the heartfelt dedication of its opponents from Watertown Strong Schools (WSS), but wince under their “friendly fire.” I consider it needlessly alarmist for voices within WSS to advocate putting off Community Preservation Act adoption in 2016 – for what, another 11 years? Talk to anyone in the Conservation Commission and you will hear that such adoption is outrageously overdue. How long will it take us to complete Filippello Park? Thirty-four years so far – and counting! How long to attain the required statewide minimum of 10% affordable housing stock? How much longer to watch our archives and memorials crumble into oblivion? Waiting to adopt the Community Preservation Act has cost us at least $15 million in lost opportunities since 2005. Meanwhile, urban development continues to diminish further opportunities to acquire land, and increases the cost of doing so.

The alarmist element of WSS has gone so far as to state that “Schools First is more than just a slogan, it’s a moral obligation and the right thing to do.” I don’t feel particularly well positioned to engage in a “Holier Than Thou” contest on any subject. Rather, the current debate on Question 5 seems to me more one of risk analysis. Those WSS members who plan to vote against Question 5, some no doubt regretfully, fear that if we adopt the Community Preservation Act next month we weaken our incentive to support a tax override for schools improvement in the near future. Question 5 supporters believe that the citizenry will rise to the occasion for both causes. Call it a choice between Fear and Faith – whether our community will take extra steps for the public interest more than once in the same generation of voters. If there’s morality in this choice, it belongs equally to both points of view.

Watertown Strong Schools enjoys one particularly compelling reason to relax its fears of tax-payer revolt when the time comes for it to pass the hat – the forthright support of those who usually oppose new taxes on principle. Back in 2005, it was primarily their opposition that defeated Watertown’s first Community Preservation Act initiative. This group, loosely gathered under the Property Rights/No New Taxes banner, has drawn a clear distinction between what it terms WSS “needs” and CPA “wants.” With the support of this self-appointed fiscal watchdog, Watertown Strong Schools should have little opposition to fear. Consider too, that those who support Community Preservation Act adoption are the natural allies of WSS – and there are many of us out there. As tax-payers they can be counted on to reaffirm their support of the public interest on such an important community concern as its schools, whenever that need arises. We can all afford to vote YES now on Question 5!


Patrick Fairbairn
Watertown Conservation Commission member (since 2005)

16 thoughts on “LETTER: Conservation Commissioner Believes Town Can Support CPA and Schools

  1. Patrick, if you’re going to define our group for us please do so truthfully. Our Mission statement, and our actions, says nothing about being “Anti Tax” ANYTHING and you know it. We are against the CPA TAX because at least 5000 dwellings can’t afford both. (*HUD) We will support a combination of tax/borrow/budget to fix our schools. 35 year for Filippello Park? How about generations of putting Band-Aids on heart attacks for school maintenance alone? Our memorials are crumbling into oblivion? What about our school buildings? ? Your group could start a Gofundme page to augment the budget money for these things with a few clicks-We can’t do that for the schools and you should know that as well. You would rather tax house poor people instead.
    CWHA started out and continues to be an awareness campaign first and foremost. Those pesky facts always seem to get in your way. Have you been to ANY of our open to all meetings??? Have you even read our website? It reads “Concerned Watertown Homeowners Association/Information for the residents of Watertown
    Our group is on record that we will go the extra mile to get the school vote when it comes up and has said so in the most public of ways:

    NOT ONE Pro CPA proponent will come forward and make the same commitment. To the contrary, your friend Bob Shay is telling WSS that CPA Proponents WILL NOT support an override unless they “Take their signs in”. Never ruin good story with the facts Patrick. Which group declined an invitation to participate in a CPA discussion on Watertown Cable News?? Not us. Not Watertown Strong Schools. It certainly appears your group is afraid to debate the facts, instead trying to strong arm the WSS group for being rightfully concerned about this idea wealthy people have of “both”, while we are happy to meet and discuss anywhere, anytime.

    John Labadini
    Concerned Watertown Homeowners Association

  2. John Labadini is the one willing to twist words to ruin his “good story.” To be clear, what I said is that “I urge the leadership of WSS and my friend Elodia to reconsider their ill considered opposition, take down their signs, and join forces to get both these initiatives passed for the good of the whole community.” This is a far cry from saying that unless WSS opponents take down their signs CPA supporters will not support a schools bond issue over ride.

    My full statement on the issue is as follows:

    I’m afraid that this misconceived opposition is based on the mistaken assumption that the reflexive anti-taxers in Watertown will somehow change their stripes and vote for a school bond override if CPA is voted down. I’m sorry to say that the WSS leadership seems to have been snookered by the anti-taxers which puts both the CPA and a bond override in jeopardy as it will make many CPA supporters less inclined to help WSS win a vote for an override. Both are important initiatives for the community and with this artful bit of political skulduggery the anti-taxers will have gotten all they wanted leaving the rest of the town holding a very empty bag. It is classic divide and conquer tactics.

    I urge the leadership of WSS and my friend Elodia to reconsider their ill considered opposition, take down their signs, and join forces to get both these initiatives passed for the good of the whole community.

  3. Bob, I think I did you a favor not posting the whole thing. Let’s let the readers decide. You know what you wrote and you also know what you have said aloud. Skullduggery? Snookered? By who? A Concerned Homeowners Association? Who you have used language to describe that can’t be printed here. Why? Because we happen to agree with them on something as important as schools? God forbid its as simple as parents being concerned about their childrens future. Nope. It just has to be more sinister than that to make sense to you. Proponents lighting up FB and other media accusing WSS of being snookered by some evil doers. Which, if you took the time to ask them, was indeed perceived as as an insult to their intelligence. I have asked you to please don’t go by me, and ask then what that sounded like to their ears. I even gave you some names of a few ladies from WSS, who definitely didn’t appreciate what you implied. So far you haven’t reached out to them to ask if they were offended, or took what you wrote as a threat. Why not? Perhaps you don’t want to know the answer, or worse, you couldn’t care less? It sounded like a not so thinly veiled threat to withhold support when the time comes. The fact that you see absolutely nothing wrong with what you said, or how you said it, speaks volumes.

    So, Bob, where are you going to be if the CPA loses come school override time? I asked you before, and I’ll ask you again, as you burn me in effigy about town. Will you, or will you not, put a lawn sign in your yard that says you support the school override vote and will you come knock on doors too? So far, crickets. This town need doer’s Bob, not talkers. I find it ironic you live at the top of a hill raining down criticism with every keystroke, as its symbolic of what’s not working around here; People knowingly ignoring the clearly struggling citizens in our town. I’m a native by the way, a product of the Watertown School system, and although childless, schools and children are my number one priority. Homeowners and renters alike have flooded us with their concerns, while you and others, go around saying “It’s just a couple of lattes”. Please, for the greater good, explain to me and others why oh why, is this the ONLY way to fund these endeavors. We have given countless examples, and we’ve offered to pitch in and raise money too. Not many on the yes side want to do any heavy lifting? Is that it? It’s easier to tax a whole bunch people, whose finances we know nothing about, other that the fact they are indeed paying a disproportionate amount in rent/mortgage, yet make too much for an exemption. For renters, of which there are thousands, there is no exemption. Your next email should be to the WSS and the authors of the position statement asking them what they thought of your sage and inferred advice.

    • John,

      Talk is cheap. I’ve said that when the time comes for Watertown to pass a debt exclusion override, the Concerned Watertown Homeowners Association (CWHA), of which you are President, will not support it, and that your promises to Watertown Strong Schools to do so have been nothing but a ploy to get them to oppose the Community Preservation Act. Your protestations to the contrary have been vehement, to put it charitably. So here is the deal. I’ll bet you $100 that when the question of a debt exclusion override for the schools is placed on the ballot the CWHA will not support it. To make this real I propose that we each give $100 in cash to either of our friends, Steve Massina or Lenny Holt (you choose who you would prefer) to hold until an override is placed on the ballot. For my part, when I win, I commit to donating the entire $200 to the campaign to pass the override for the schools. And if you win, will you pledge to do the same? If so, it is a win, win for the schools.

      So what do you say John? Are you in, or are you just going to keep talking?

      Bob Shay

      • Hi Bob Shay,
        The Concerned Watertown Home Owners Association has already committed to support a school over-ride. I’ll take your bet my friend.
        Best Regards,
        Len Holt

        • John,
          Just confirm for me that you support an override that is going to be up to $400million dollars. Also, confirm that you support Watertown Strong School’s position of “not waiting” for state matching funds, which alone could cost taxpayers up to $500 per year – just cause we don’t feel like waiting. Please confirm John and Len. I’m a homeowner and want to know that a group “representing me” supports jacking my taxes up to 5 to 10 times higher than the CPA will..

          • H20 Homeowner,
            There are a range of options presented in the Master Plan. The option with the associated cost of $400M is for all new construction of all five schools. The $400M option is unlikely to be the preferred option. Any option chosen will have a variety of potential funding sources, and will not be fully funded through an override. Once the final Master Plan is released, there will be community forums held where you and others can voice your opinions on which option makes the most sense for Watertown.

            Watertown has applied to the MSBA for the high school for the past three years. It is not the position of WSS to “not wait” for MSBA funding. We acknowledge that MSBA funding can take 10 years and that Watertown may choose not to wait. All of these issues will be raised and discussed at community forums. I hope you attend and be part of the discussion.

  4. Bob Shaw wrote a great political statement which was published a few weeks ago. I say “great political statement” because many folks including myself found it to be very much a veiled threat to the WSS. No good politician would outright threaten a fair sized group in the small town of Watertown but in my opinion the words used in his article were as good as an outright threat. You just needed to read between the lines!

  5. Imagine if an Election Commissioners publicly abused their title to advocate for a Candidate. People would rightly be screaming for that person’s resignation.

    Watertown Commissions are charged with adjudicating the matters that rightly come before them, without bias, but in the public interest. If they USE THEIR TITLE to advocate for a political position, then they are implying that it carries the weight of the endorsement of the City Known as the Town of Watertown.

    Mr. Fairbairn has violated the public trust, by using his Municipal Title and should therefore resign or be dismissed. No citizen with a matter that comes before the Conservation Commission, can now have a the least amount of confidence that he will act without bias.

  6. Interesting to see, once again, a CPA supporter (is it appropriate for the Watertown Conservation Commissioner to take a stance publicly on this issue?) posit the “we can have both” argument as if they simply have a higher opinion of their neighbors than opponents of the CPA. Since when is it morally repugnant to not be able to afford something?

    The continued language used to hint at WSS needing to make allies with CPA supporters makes it very clear that the intention of at least some supporters is to not support the schools out of spite. Very disappointing.

    • CPA supporters are progressive enough to know and support the value of good schools. I will be voting yes for both. I will have a sign in my yard for both.

      Those John calles “house poor” who are paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing can qualify for an exemption and not pay the CPA, but will still benefit if it passes so why vote it down? In this day and age, a great many people pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing, given the high rents and real estate prices.

      John’s statement that supporters of CPA are mostly “wealthy” is nonsense. Most of us are middle class people who believe our town deserves our support. The whole argument against CPA is based on speculation about what the voters will do when it comes time to vote for school funding, and CPA voters are just as likely, if not more likely, to support schools as anyone else.

      What evidence is there that Watertonians won’t vote for schools if CPA passes? None. Projecting fear that that will be the case is divisive, mere speculation, and plants baseless fear of spiteful citizens. Wealthy, middle or poor, we are in this town together. I repeat, yet again, something that gets left out in all the arguments about protecting the poor from CPA: those who cannot afford CPA will not be required to pay for it, so passing it will not harm the poor, as Mr. Labidini intimates. But they, like the rest of us, will benefit from improvements it can bring.

      Vote yes on 5, and have faith that Watertonians will do the right thing when it’s time to vote to support our schools.

      • Rena, Sorry, I guess the politically correct term is “housing Cost Burdened” and it’s a very big problem in Watertown, compared to other places. Evidence folks won’t vote for both? It’s all around you. Read some of the posts of people saying exactly that. The only evidence needs is one person saying the wont vote for both. I can show you hundred of emails that say exactly that as well. Renters, of whom there are thousands, are not exempt. Not one. Even if someone has a long term lease, they have an escalation clause that allows the rent to go up at any time when the landlord’s taxes, water, etc go up. Theey can expect an increase the very next month-for at least 5 years.
        Lastly, I think I speak for the many who have reached out to CWHA when I share with you that the complaint we hear most often is this completely presumptuous notion that someone else knows what every else can and can afford. If you want to immediately anger middle class voters, tell them to have one less Latte a week, as some of your brethren have suggested. Fact is you don’t have any idea of the whole towns perusal finances and I can assure you there are many who take umbrage at people who suggest otherwise. Many proponents who support this may indeed be middle class, but they sure sounds like they may well have gotten a degree in how to sound like an elitist. Let these people decide for themselves.

    • Julie, they have right as individuals to take a public stance. They don’t have the right to use their title as a Watertown Official, to advocate for a ballot question or candidate.

      We had an even worse violation by entire Pedestrian and Bicycle committee. They affixed their name to pro-CPA literature.

      These matters has already been referred to some powers that be. We’re looking at contacting both the Attorney General’s Office and the State Ethics Commissions, for for any censure beyond their dismissal from the Committee, which can be handled locally.

      But they all need to be IMMEDIATELY dismissed and PUBLICLY condemned BY NAME for violating state ethics codes. Whether or not they get prosecuted by the A.G. and face fines…. well that’s up the the A.G.

  7. LET’S TALK FACTS ABOUT PROPERTY TAX. Last Friday the Town Counsel Agenda posted that Fiscal 2017 Property Tax Rates are proposed to go up over 5 Percent and IF the Home Owner Occupied Exemption is raised from 20% to 25% then Non-Owner Occupied Property Tax Bills will go up 9.8% BEFORE AN ADDITIONAL 2% CPA TAX (sorry, proponents call it a surcharge.). Am I the only person that thinks a 10-12 percent tax increase is outrageous?
    I’ve talked to several Town Counselors who haven’t seen the proposed property tax increases for Fiscal 2017. I’d suggest some other people CALL YOUR TOWN COUNSELORS TOO BEFORE THEY VOTE ON IT. This projected tax increase comes on top of the $800-$1000 tax increase many two family property owners got last year.

    And by the way, another matter of confusion is with regard to Proposition 2 1/2. Many people think it limits their property tax bill increase to 2.5 percent. Wrong folks. FACT: Proposition 2 1/2 applies to the total Town of Watertown Tax Levy, not your individual property tax bill. Just ask those who’s tax bills went up $800-$1000 last year.

    For the record, I will support a property tax increase, debt over-ride or whatever else you might call it to build a new Watertown High School. However, the CPA Tax is not going to build the new school(s) which we have needed for decades and I therefore do not support it.

  8. Julie, I don’t believe it is appropriate. Mr. Fairbairn, Perhaps you can explain how it’s OK for you to use your official position and title as Conservation Commission Member to lecture the Watertown Strong Schools Group in your official capacity? This is from the State Ethics Commission: It certainly appears you indeed took advantage of your position and signed your letter as Patrick Fairbairn Watertown Conservation Commission member (since 2005) Care to rethink this given the power and perception of your position? I hope so. Interestingly enough, the statute sites a Conservation Commissioner as an example!
    http://www.mass.gov/ethics/ education-and-training- resources/educational- materials/advisories/advisory- 11-1.html (my caps)
    “Similarly, public employees may engage in non-election-related political activity on their own time, without the use of public resources and as PRIVATE CITIZENS. Below are examples of non-election-related political activity that do not raise any issue under the conflict of interest law.
    Example: A member of a town Conservation Commission, acting as a private citizen and WITHOUT USING HIS TITLE or any public resources, may participate in a grass roots group’s efforts to convince local government to build a new public school, provided that he does not act as the group’s agent or representative and is not compensated for his participation. He may attend and speak on his own behalf at meetings concerning political issues; use his own stationery, computer, or wireless account to write letters to the editor or blogs; distribute advocacy literature or hold a political sign; use his own computer, email, or wireless account to send emails or text messages expressing his political views; draft and propose a warrant article for town meeting; attend public hearings concerning the proposal; and vote at town meeting”
    Looks like you took a few liberties you shouldn’t have. Care to respond to the good citizens of Watertown, who are being told how above board and transparent everyone is going to be with the additional 2 million dollars a year tax you want them to agree to?

    John Labadini
    Concerned Watertown Homeowners Association

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