As I watch this town struggle with intense development pressures, what I see is a town government wholly incapable of dealing with the momentous decisions being made daily.
Basically, we have nine elected officials, who get paid practically nothing, have little expertise in most of the matters before them, less time to learn, yet are pressured to attend meeting after meeting every night where they have to decide on big issues. They are stymied by the Open Meeting laws to the point where they don’t even seem to be able to discuss anything.
I see a Town Manager who is buried in spreadsheets, who keeps us in the black, but provides no leadership. I see a Head Planner who was made Assistant Town Manager, which seems to be a conflict to me and should never have been approved. I see a Town Planning Dept. that is overwhelmed and does not have the expertise or the vision, or the mandate since they are not elected, to make decisions. And yet they are advising all the volunteer boards, as well as the Town Council, and I see most of the Council in lockstep. I see volunteer boards that do not seem to have the expertise or time needed to consider many of these issues, so they fall back on the Planning Dept. which cannot provide real leadership. This is a kind of a vicious circle that serves no one well.
I feel that this town has been very badly managed over the last 5 years. A good manager would have seen this development pressure coming and been prepared. A good manager would be able to change gears and be creative if he/she sees a need unmet. For instance, I think it’s ridiculous that we don’t have a traffic manager, a position open for almost a year. We need this expertise badly. Witness the mess at Arsenal and Louise. If we can’t find one person to do this, we should change gears and hire a firm to help. That would be good management.
We have been continually unprepared, and easy fodder for developers to run all over us. I hope that when the charter comes up for review, that we will have the guts to change to a better, more democratic and responsive government model. It will be too late for the Watertown in which many of us originally chose to live; we will be dealing with the consequences of current bad management, poor planning and hasty decision-making for years to come. But at least we might be able to have a government that can help clean up the mess.