Friday, January 04, 2008

President Younger's Inaugural Speech

I attended Wednesday night's inauguration of town officials at the Commander's Mansion. It was a small, tasteful affair with some good food and of course all of the usual suspects one would expect to see. Returning council President Clyde Younger gave the inaugural address, which you can see on tape at the TAB's blog. Here's the text of the speech as delivered:

Two years ago, the thirteenth town council session began with six new councilors, which constituted a 2/3rds turnover of the committee in one election. That included my going back on to the council. We were immediately thrust into getting to know one another's idiosyncrasies, learning how to work as a team and also negotiating a new contract with the town manager.

I'm acutely aware that all of the happenings surrounding the council these past two years gave the public the appearance that little town business was being accomplished. However, I wish to dispel any question in your mind of the effectiveness of the 13th council. It was one of the hardest working councils that I have been associated with in my prior six years on the council. In the past two years, the council has met innumerable meetings per week in the town council and in subcommittee. Outside of the work on the manager's contract, most of the work accomplished was in subcommittee,
which allowed for considerable dialogue, discussion and input from interested parties that resulted in establishing a consistent policy direction for the council.

These achievements were due to the fact that we had individual councilors who were not afraid to ask hard questions on behalf of their constituents. We approved very important programs ranging from coalition bargaining with all town employees that has the potential to save the community a considerable sum of money in health care costs. We increased moneys for sidewalk and street reconstruction. We approved quarterly water/sewer billing, provided additional capital funds for our schools and town buildings, and also we approved the lease of the Coolidge school that is designed to bring in an additional $355,000 in the first year and thereafter $55,000 in fees per annum for fifty years which should result in $2 million in revenue to the council and the community.

Of special importance, the council established a new subcommittee, namely the Budget and Fiscal Oversight committee. This Committee is charged with the responsibility through the Council to provide policy direction to the town manager on fiscal matters.

Despite the accomplishments at the end of the term of the 13th council, we were marred by multiple situations where questions were raised regarding the election process and the actions taken by the town manager. Although it is apparent that the manager had the authority to initiate a court review of the election, bypassing the Council was inexcusable.

I look forward to working with the 14th council on such issues as the following: improving the town's overall infrastructure, both above-ground and underneath; and in view of the fact that Watertown is one of the most densely populated cities in the Commonwealth, we need to look for opportunities to support and improve upon our commitment to open space. We also need to resurrect the bicycle/walk path plan that has become dusty on the shelf. We also need to investigate the town's electoral process, and this examination will cover all activities before, during, and after the election, including the manager's preemptive bid to take the matter to the Superior Court if the candidate had not taken action.

In addition it is imperative that we examine our charter, in order to make some substantive changes to it. It has become quite evident that changes are in order. One question that quickly comes to mind is whether the president of the council should be chosen by the council rather than the general public and also whether any other form of government would be closer and more representative of the people. There has existed for some time an imbalance between the legislative and executive branch that must be addressed.

In closing, in reflecting back over the past two years, could we have presented ourselves better on camera -- certainly so. My personal goal for the next two years is to officiate over a more mundane, hard-working council. I am asking for the cooperation of each and every councilor to assist me in this endeavor. Thank you for your attention this evening.
A couple of things stand out. First, I think it's interesting that Younger wants a more "mundane" council, but he peppered his speech with barbs directed at the town manager, Mike Driscoll. Twice he chastises Driscoll for threatening to go to court to determine what went wrong with the town's election, and after that he implies that Driscoll's abuse of power is sufficient enough to change the town charter over. Never mind that Younger admits that Driscoll had the authority initiate a court review of the election. I will say that it seemed strange to me that Driscoll would want to take the town he manages to court, but it's even stranger still that he would need to ask permission from the very council whose election was the one that was suspect.

Younger appeared defensive, bringing up that everyone thought the last council didn't do anything. Then his examples of the things they accomplished were that they held a lot of meetings. Now, don't get me wrong, I know that the town councilors work very hard for very little compensation. Still, it seems to me that it would have been a better speech had Younger decided to talk more about his plans for the next two years than trying to defend any perceived inaction.

I hate to bring up George Lakoff in a discussion of town politics, but if someone tells me not to think of an elephant, my head is going to involuntarily fill with pachyderms. Similarly, if the president of the town council tells me that the last session wasn't as ineffective as everyone says, I'm immediately going to think the opposite.