The news last week that founder of the hate-mongering Westboro Baptist Church Fred Phelps passed away stirred many emotions in many people. Phelps and his followers, whose protests at military funerals and other public venues could be construed in no other way than spreading an intolerant, detestable message of animosity and revulsion, came to symbolize the division in our nation on a variety of issues, including race, gay rights, and even military intervention in the Middle East. Phelps’ protests also galvanized supporters of various groups preaching a much more moderate message of love, tolerance and acceptance.
Whatever the ultimate message of his misguided and unfortunately odious life, the issues highlighted in news coverage of the Westboro Baptist Church were largely considered “over the bridge” issues, as save for a couple of uneventful visits by the Westboro believers to Cape Cod over the years, the machinations of Phelps’s followers were generally news items of national interest, but not of local significance, as our savant sandbar wouldn’t tolerate or promulgate that sort of behavior.
If only that were true.
A story emerged here locally around the same time and tells a similar unfortunate and sinister tale, and demonstrates that hatred is indeed in our midst, and that our sandbar, as savant as it may be, can still propagate hate.
The Mashpee Enterprise reported recently that Kyle Hunt, a 2002 graduate and student standout at Mashpee High School, is now a leader of a “white only” movement that provides an eye-opening and chilling reminder that we are not immune to Westboro-esque abhorrence here on the Cape. While a student and engaged citizen in Mashpee, Hunt was, according to the Enterprise account, in the Mashpee High School Class of 2002 yearbook, named “Most Likely to Succeed” and one of two students having the “Most School Spirit.” He was the class valedictorian, co-chairman of the school council, and the student representative to the Mashpee School Committee. He also played on the football, lacrosse, and track and field teams. By all accounts, he was the kind of kid that becomes a leader, a doer, a ‘go-to’ guy.
Today, Hunt hosts a radio show on an internet radio station fittingly called ‘Renegade Broadcasting,’ where his show, “The Blitzkrieg Broadcast” shares his “pro-white message,” as he noted to the Enterprise. Hunt acknowledges that he did not espouse any of his extremist views during his formative years in Mashpee, but his stature as a leader of a pro-white (read intolerant) movement demonstrates that no region, no community is immune to distasteful and offensive behavior. Hunt is organizing a “White Man March,” an event that, in his own words, will demonstrate how “white people are united in their love for their race and their opposition to its destruction.”
Kyle, in case you read this, and just so you know, I’m united in love with all people, and am opposed to the destruction of humanity through myopic and dangerous views like yours. I don’t get along with everyone, and I certainly have my detractors, as I offer opinions on our community and our society that are designed to get people to think. But my opinions are designed to stimulate respectful and meaningful debate. I’m struggling to find respect and meaning in your message.
Our collective solution is to counter the darkness with light.
I’m attending the wedding of a dear friend this summer. In fact, I’ll have the honor of officiating and helping him unite in marriage with his soul mate. It’s his third wedding; his first two produced four beautiful sons. Those first two were to women. This one is to a man. I will stand with them and have the gift to perform the ceremony and share in their proclamation of love and devotion. That’s the kind of “united in love” that we should celebrate. If the Westboro Baptist Church or the Blitzkreig Broadcast have a problem with that, it’s weighing on their souls, not mine.
Kyle Hunt’s problem is hate. My solution is love.
Amanda Ravens is not a runner. Just ask her. In fact, you can read her blog.
Amanda, however, now runs for a purpose. She runs for those who can’t.
Also known in our environs as the daughter of Falmouth Community Television executive director Deb Rogers, Amanda (on the right) has inspired many with her courageous foray into running as a way to pay tribute to those impacted by the Boston Marathon bombing nearly a year ago. Here are some of her thoughts:
“On April 15, 2013, my life changed forever. I’m not going to sit here and recount the horrific events of that day or say that I had it worse or not as bad as the next person. All you need to know is that my colleagues, friends, husband and I were at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel when the second bomb went off directly across the street.
A few days after the bombing I went for a run to claim my car, which had been held under the Mandarin as part of the extensive investigation. At the time I was living in Boston and could have easily taken a cab, the T or even hitched a ride with a friend. I’m not sure what made me decide to strap on my shoes and run the 2+ miles to the hotel, but something deep inside made me do it. As I started to run I found myself tired, out of breath and disappointed in how out of shape I was; after all, I’m not a runner.
"However, I just kept running. I ran past the Science Museum, the Liberty Hotel, Massachusetts General Hospital, down Charles Street, through Boston Common, past Newbury Street and started to head down Boylston Street, which at the time was still mostly closed. I found myself stopped at what was the makeshift memorial and edge of the bombing crime scene. As I walked slowly to the memorial I silently pushed my way through the crowd of strangers until I couldn’t go any farther. I immediately knelt down and cried. I suddenly realized why I had been running: For those who no longer could.”
So now Amanda runs. And runs. And runs some more. As part of her personal tribute to those impacted by last year’s terrorism, Amanda received an invitational entry into next month’s Boston Marathon. What is sure to be an emotional day will be heightened by people like Amanda, who are using this tragedy, which united a city and unified a nation, to raise both awareness and funds. Amanda’s goal is to raise $5,000 for Spaulding Rehab’s “Race for Rehab” team. Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital treated, inspired, and cared for many of the marathon victims. Amanda works there and is running for those who can’t.
I chatted with Amanda’s mom, who has dedicated her career to the betterment of our community through open and transparent access to public television, at the Falmouth Education Foundation’s recent fundraiser at Bill Zammer’s Coonamessett Inn. Deb’s face was glowing with pride as she described her daughter’s efforts to make a difference through her running.
This is just one Falmouth connection to the day that changed us; there are many more. Amanda’s run for rehab can be supported by donating at this link.
As of last Saturday, Amanda’s training has her almost to her goal. She posted recently that, “There is no better feeling than pushing your body to limits that you never thought were possible. Today I successfully ran 18 miles from Hopkinton to Newton.”
What a story of personal success. What a story of pushing her own limits solely for the benefit of others. Thanks, Amanda, for your selfless actions and for once again proving that we are a people who rise, not cower, in the face of terror.
As much as any local eatery, The Town House Restaurant defined Main Street and Falmouth Village in the 1970s and ’80s. For decades, really, this downtown fixture, a family business and comfort food haven was run lovingly by a tightknit family. Today, Liam and Deb Maguire and their family carry on that tradition in the same locale. That edifice is a Main Street tradition of family and friends gathering together to eat and make memories.
Herb and Phyllis Riley were at the center of that Town House family. They ran the Town House like it was an extension of that family—their Falmouth family. Their kids, Judy and Peter, worked at the restaurant and managed the business in later years. When son and brother David died tragically in a car accident, members of the Falmouth family pitched in and helped out, manning shifts and providing comfort, just because that’s what family did.
My mom, Donna Stone, and her friend Paula Kapulka were a couple of those Falmouthites who pitched in. Mom had gotten to know Phyllis through the Junior Women’s Club, and Judy lived with her kids, Timmy, Greg and Heather, down the street in Fisherman’s Cove. When I chatted with her this week about those days, Mom recalled the “family helping family” atmosphere, noting that Timmy was also a part of the effort. She recalled Phyllis’s kindness and Herb’s abiding love for his grandchildren. For generations, the Riley family was a story of love. Love for each other and love for Falmouth. I still see Judy and Peter around town sometimes, and each encounter takes me back to my youth, their warm Irish smiles greeting me like I was a 10-year-old carefree kid again. You can’t manufacture that kind of warmth and affection.
I wonder if anyone at the Genesis HealthCare corporate office in Pennsylvania knows that story. I wonder if any of them cares. I wonder if they have enough interest in the human beings living in their home to ask or to get to know Phyllis, as she and her lifetime of Falmouth memories now reside at its nursing facility on Jones Road. The news abruptly announced this week that the facility will close in May, less than two months away, means that dozens of stories like that of Phyllis Riley, and dozens, perhaps hundreds, of family members like Judy, who visits her mother there regularly, will have their lives turned upside down in the name of corporate profits.
The flimsy, noncommittal answer from Genesis, when queried on the closing of the facility next to the Morse Pond School that has operated as a nursing home for more than 30 years, was that the competitive health care market has caused them to shutter their doors, and that the decision to close the Falmouth facility was a “strategic business decision,” according to a prepared statement. Eighty-five full-time employees, and more than two dozen per diem employees will lose their jobs with just a few weeks’ notice, and Genesis offers a prepared, impersonal statement from a faraway corporate ivory tower. The whispers that this closing comes directly as a result of the recent vote by nurses to unionize makes Genesis’s actions even more suspect.
More than 30 percent of Falmouth’s population is over 65. Atria has recently invested millions in a beautiful new skilled nursing facility just steps from the Genesis one, yet Genesis, the largest skilled nursing operator in the United States, expects us to believe that they can’t make money.
Falmouth still stands by its Falmouth family. Like my mom and Paula did so many years ago, it’s my time to stand up for the Riley family in their time of need, as well as the 75 other families and 85 employees having their lives devastated by greed. Shame on you, Genesis, for making profits more important than people.
When it was first built, the nursing home set to be shut was called the Center for Optimum Care. It’s good that Genesis changed the name, because their behavior is far from optimum. In fact, it’s repugnant.
Tony Camerio wanted some order and substance to dog hearings in Falmouth. There’s nothing wrong with that. He felt wronged at the hands of the selectmen and decided to run to make a difference. There’s a lot right with that. Rather than complain from the sidelines, he chose to be part of the solution and put himself in the public spotlight. Tony’s race for the town’s top elected office was a crowded one. That year, there were seven candidates, including two incumbents, running for the board of selectmen.
Tony, despite his sometimes outrageous and inflammatory statements (are you listening, Bertha Manson?), garnered a fair amount of support from his Maravista base and made a respectable showing on Election Day. That race, however, was in the early post-charter years, and the voters chose two change agents coming from far different worlds to join the experienced trio of Eddie Marks, Virginia Valiela, and Nate Ellis on the board of selectmen. One of them, a nurse administrator and successful local businesswoman, brought decades of administrative experience and a stint on the personnel board. The other, a political newcomer, was a 24-year-old federal employee writing press releases out at Otis for Ernie Keating and Don Quenneville and simply offered youthful enthusiasm as his major qualification to run a government. The voters agreed on both counts, and Pat Flynn and I joined the board.
Wood Lumber Co. - Since 1912
The other candidates presented a group of colorful tiles in the local mosaic. In addition to Tony Camerio, whose crusade for more transparent dog hearings made for some interesting and entertaining debates, the slate of candidates included incumbents Ray Labossiere and John Elliot. Ray was winding down an honorable career as a colorful leader in Falmouth and left his mark as a no-nonsense and dedicated public servant. John, who made the successful leap from the then-elected board of public works to the chief executive board of the town, is still involved today, more than 20 years later, working as a tireless volunteer in the areas of solid waste and public health.
Also on the ballot that day were Jude Wilber, whose bright yellow van was emblazoned with his name. Jude also continued (and continues) his dedication to public service, having served for many years on the planning board; he is still a fixture (and sometimes candidate for the Badge of Bombast) at Town Meeting. Rounding out the names in that May of 1993 was Bob Suitor, who was then the owner of the old AT&T building on Main Street, which today houses Eight Cousins. Bob ran on a platform of improving Main Street and encouraging economic development (he was a bit of a soothsayer, I suppose). He would later volunteer time as a contributor to the Main Street Revitalization Committee.
This bunch of assorted personalities might as well have been characters in a Hollywood sitcom or a cast on “Survivor”; you couldn’t find a more diverse group of people to run for public office. The one constant, though, was a love of community and a commitment to make it better. In some way, all of them left their mark on the civic success of our community.
Today, more than two decades have passed, but that cast of characters’ impact on our community is still very much felt, through simple civic commitment and love of community. That 1993 All-Star Team made its mark on Falmouth. Today, an equally diverse and interesting group promises to make the 2014 election season another year to remember. So far, six candidates, including one colorful incumbent, have noted their interest in competing for a seat in the corner conference room, offering backgrounds, interests, and platforms as interesting and diverse as the Dream Team of ’93.
Incumbent Kevin Murphy has asked for another shot at the title, while five challengers vie for the seat to be left vacant by departing selectman Brent Putnam.
From a Camerio-esque complaint lobbed by candidate Bertha Manson, who noted that the selectmen are spending like “drunken sailors,” to the thoughtful and respected veteran of the school committee Sam Patterson, this crop of contenders will make for some lively and engaging debates and public discussions.
And that’s what it’s all about. Our town is already a better place for the simple presence of an engaged and sincere debate about our collective futures. The candidates have already made a difference. All six, and any others who join them, deserve our respect and gratitude for loving this community enough to step forward. Like the 1993 Dream Team before them, the 2014 team is ready to compete. Good for them for even giving it a shot.
The U.S. Women’s Hockey Team may have shed a tear as they received their silver medals, but their success in being second best on the planet still represents a memorable and laudable Olympic effort. For them to train, practice, play, and succeed at the Olympic level is an amazing feat for which they as athletes – and we as Americans - should be proud.
I witnessed a similar team effort – both on and off the ice - last week for which the Falmouth community should be equally delighted. I had a day off, so my pal Jeff Stouffer suggested I join him at the Falmouth Ice Arena to catch the last ice hockey game of the season for the Lady Clippers of FHS. I did, and what I encountered at the wonderful house that Falmouth Youth Hockey Built was far more than a hockey game. It was an unforgettable parade of community spirit.
As Jeff and I stood high in the back of the stands and cheered the efforts of his daughter Kendall, a stalwart presence on the team’s defense, I realized that I was in attendance at more than a hockey game. Families, friends, and Falmouthites turned out to cheer on the successes of our lady skaters, once again demonstrating that our name makes us a town, but our people make us a community.
After watching the first period with Jeff, I noticed another old pal watching the puck exchange intently and made my way over to pay him a visit. Town Clerk Michael Palmer was proudly watching his daughters Margaret and Elizabeth, twins in life and teammates on the ice. Michael and I both remarked at the strong showing of community support. “That’s just what Falmouth does,” quipped our Chief Election Officer matter-of-factly. Yes, indeed, Michael. Falmouth supports its own and this day was no different.
I shared a smile and a story with uber-citizen and former corner conference room colleague Eddie Marks, whose dedication to Falmouth is legendary. Eddie was in the bleachers, like he has been for thousands of FHS athletic events, with his maroon ball cap proudly emblazoned with a big white “F”. Of course, he was there with his devoted wife Rosie. They were on hand supporting their granddaughter; forward Olivia Hough, whose parents Steve and Michelle were also offering cheerful support. As Steve blurted out his displeasure with a call from the referee, I made my way across the arena and shared a happy hello with former boss and current confidant Don Quenneville, who was in the stands with his perpetually lovely wife Maggie, supporting their granddaughter, freshman forward Ericka Meissner.
Our ladies skated with ease and aplomb, giving the higher-ranked Wellesley all they could handle. As the minutes ticked by, the pace of the game picked up, and the Falmouth cheering section exploded with encouragement. No stranger to high-stakes hockey himself, former FHS standout Bob Bowman, known on this day simply as deft defenseman Brooke Bowman’s Dad, shouted both instructions and encouragement to the squad of hockey mavens and the audience of Clipper enthusiasts. He was backed up by barrister Brett Sanidas, whose encouragement for his high-performing daughter Emily enhanced the cheering section at the top step of the bleachers. I even caught a quick hello from former Davisville neighbor Stephen Kapulka, who can’t claim a kid on the team, but can sure claim Falmouth as his hometown, and was there to show how much that means.
As the game heated up to a fever pitch in the fast-paced third period, net minder and team Captain Madison Scavotto swatted shots like Tukka, while dad John Scavotto looked on intently, his nose pressed firmly on the rink’s plexiglass. Tim and Jackie Callahan, who have supported a legion of successful FHS athletes, were once again on hand to support their daughter Hanna.
The list goes on of Falmouth folks who spent time supporting their kids and their community. Our local hockey heroines skated to a 2-2 tie, and head into the playoffs knowing that they have the energy and enthusiasm of a grateful community behind them. Like Michael said, that’s just what we do.
Like the Zakim Bridge is to Boston, like the Kennedy Compound is to Hyannisport, and like the bridges are to Bourne, the lighthouse and nearby cape-style home at Nobska create an image that is an enduring symbol of Falmouth.
Although others come close: The Village Green, a packed Road Race finish line at Falmouth Heights Beach (which of course runs by Nobska), and our thriving Falmouth Village and Main Street all provide easily recognizable and enjoyable images of this great community, but the go-to image is clearly and unequivocally the lighthouse on the hill. It acts as a beacon of light for vessels in Vineyard Sound, but as a beacon of community spirit for us all.
The recent news that the U.S. Coast Guard, the owner and caretaker of this local landmark, is looking to divest itself of the responsibility for care and maintenance has understandably sparked some interest. The Woods Hole Community Association is providing a public service by sponsoring a community discussion on the issue to try and gather ideas and input. This is indeed an issue of significance to our entire community and deserves – perhaps demands – our collective input and creativity.
Many models exist for this impending transition. The Scituate Light House, which stands as a similar beacon and symbol for our maritime cousin to the North, has been managed for more than 40 years by the Scituate Historical Society. They award residence to a caretaker and keep the property well maintained and viable for visitors. Our Historical Society and Museums on the Green have proven that they are able caretakers of our rich history; their stewardship of Nobska would be a great continuance of that local legacy. Other regional landmarks, like the Custom House Tower in Boston, are privately owned and managed, but in a way that is both respectful and reverent of the rich history.
The key to implementing any of these options is to secure the property and its future. That is why the first step should be acquisition by the Town. Much like we did when we stepped in to prevent Highfield Hall from certain destruction, the legal clout, financial viability, and political practicability of the Town of Falmouth taking the lead on this not only makes sense, it is the most sensible option. Once the property is secure and restored, then a discussion on how best to preserve and protect it for generations can responsibly occur. Again, Highfield presents a model for us to follow. When Pat Flynn, Peter Boyer and I participated in intense and sometimes contentious negotiations with the owners of the property, we held firm to the notion that the loss of this landmark would be a blow to the soul of our community. We succeeded and saved that landmark and some amazing Falmouthites took it from there and created a community jewel. Today’s effort is even more significant. The loss of Nobska would alter our community forever.
Two articles in Tuesday’s paper presented a perfect juxtaposition and a clear path for proceeding. On one side of the front page, the news of a community forum sponsored by the Woods Hole Community Association on this topic was provided. On the other, an article discussing the thoughtful and responsible planning of the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) for spending their allocation of the public’s money was described. Both were well written and present the opportunity for a positive project and purpose for these diverse groups.
There can be no more important expense of community preservation funds that the restoration of this historic and cherished landmark. I hope that the CPC is also invited to the table for this all-important forum and that the town itself is a major player, because the town can work directly with the U.S. Coast Guard for direct acquisition of the property. It can then be leased to a community group, a private interest, or even and educational institution, but its preservation will be assured.
So many of our local challenges do not have clear solutions. This one does. I challenge the Town to make it happen. Now.
I try each day to focus on the solutions. I am most certainly a “glass half full” kind of guy. This approach to living each day pays great dividends in my work and interpersonal relationships, and enables me to look at the world through lens of possibilities, not problems.
Anthony J. D ‘Angelo, author of “Chicken Soup for the College Soul,” has a similar viewpoint. “Focus 90% of your time on solutions and only 10% of your time on problems,” he noted to millions of our nation’s youth, espousing a philosophy of active optimism.
We’ve got a problem that needs the 90%. I’m struggling with optimism and solutions on this one.
Tuesday’s paper reported of a sharp increase in break-ins in Falmouth, an increase of more than thirty percent from last year. At the same time, reports of a sharp spike in heroin overdoses are being widely reported throughout the Eastern United States. These two seemingly unrelated snippets of bad news are actually inextricably linked as part of the violent and virulent vortex that is opiate abuse in our society – and in our town. The drugs are widely available, they are lethal, and they are doing their sinister and deadly job. The problem is getting worse. People are dying – right here in our community.
So, what’s the solution?
This is one that requires a network of solutions like no other. This is a public health crisis, a political conundrum, a financial challenge, and a community calamity. The solution needs to be just as all-encompassing. As the solution-based problem solver that I try to be, here are some suggestions:
Our public health officials – our local doctors and nurses - must be educated that those suffering from the disease of addiction and in the throes of the self-destructive behavior that is one of its particularly horrible symptoms are not second-class citizens. I was told a first-hand account of a person who was admitted to Falmouth Hospital damn near death from an overdose. He was allowed to sleep it off, then told to leave the hospital by the ER physician because the bed was needed for sick people. No referral to treatment was made. No follow up, just a not-so-gentle shove out the door. That needs to stop. Addiction is a disease according to the American Medical Association. People are dying according to Chapman Cole & Gleason. Our primary caregivers need to see the connection and engage in this battle for survival.
Our community can soak in all of the education it can about the impact of addiction with its borders – and on this peninsula. Recovering Falmouthite and neophyte film maker Sam Tarplin is to be commended for having the courage to tell his story and the untold story of dozens of our neighbors who have suffered silently – some suffering literally to death – at the hands of this monster. The educational and public information efforts of people like Sam need to be supported and repeated. Let’s fill our airwaves and TVs, let’s bombard YouTube and Vimeo, let’s post prolifically on Facebook and Twitter. Information is power; Sam’s untold story needs to be Falmouth’s rallying cry for action.
Our public safety officials, who are already valiantly fighting on the front lines of this war for our future, can step up their approach even more. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has recently called for Narcan, an opiate blocker antidote that the MA Department of Public Health has noted has stopped more than 2,000 overdoses since 2007, to be supplied in police cruisers. That courage and vision is to be commended. It is time for that important initiative in Falmouth.
Our local government – both elected and appointed officials – can fully engage in this battle and have their voice heard. In the early 90’s when an spike in cancer rates caused alarm, the town spoke with a untied and powerful voice in urging our state and federal officials to act. The time has again come for our local leaders to speak together emphatically in a community call for action.
These are but a few solutions, but they are a start. We’ve got to start somewhere to reverse the violent and virulent vortex in our community.
Tevye was right. The accidentally wise milkman in the classic Broadway show “Fiddler on the Roof,” in moderating a debate on an edict from the authorities and the heavy hand of government in his small but tight-knit community, noted that Perchik, the visiting student from Kiev, was right in his assertion that the villagers should engage themselves in debate on the issues of the day. When another villager opined that they should only be concerned with issues at home, Tevye noted that he was also right. Yet another villager questioned Tevye’s logic and noted that they couldn’t both be right. The astute and thoughtful dairy farmer-protagonist noted that he, too, was right.
In this brief but salient moment in one of Broadway’s greatest tales, an important life lesson was provided to us all that has value and relevance in today’s society—and today’s Falmouth.
It’s entirely possible that well-meaning and intelligent people can espouse and cling to opposite positions on an important issue, and both hold a kernel of truth in their beliefs.
The current debate in town over school funding and a potential override is no different. I’ve seen and heard opinions all over the philosophical spectrum on this important issue—and many of them are right. Those who insist that the town should keep education as a top funding priority are most certainly right. Others who insist that a conservative approach to spending our tax dollars should be on the forefront of budgeting and financial planning are also right. In a Tevye-esque analysis of our current local debate, those who have lamented on the tenor of the debate on this issue and raised an eyebrow at some of the nastiness and bad manners are indeed also right.
Perceived spending priorities in a community are as varied as the people served by a local government. There are a few, however, that none will deny are at the top of the significance list, with education, public safety and public works undeniably among them. In light of the school committee’s budget discussions, the tepid response to their plight by the selectmen, and the subsequent grassroots effort to bring a request for an override to the voters in May, the debate on this issue locally will carry on from Main Street to the main office at the high school for the next few months. As always, this local newspaper and social media will play a large role in the tone and content of this debate, but those media, as useful and important as they are, do not allow the public and participants in the decisions to actually communicate with one another face to face. Posting thoughts on a Facebook thread is good. Having a dialogue in person, where questions can be asked, sincerity can be assessed, and consensus can (maybe) be reached, is even better.
That may be what’s missing from this current issue. The school department has made a compelling case for the encumbrances of special education and the need for more funding to address this budget buster. The finance committee has properly lamented the apparent lack of long-range planning and discussion of priorities and pressures. The town manager and selectmen have the weighty responsibility to fulfill their charge to provide a budget that gives a proper nod to all departments and to begin to satisfy the public’s insatiable appetite for services. They have each discussed the issue—in their own words, on their own turf and on their own terms.
What we need is a community get-together. A good, old-fashioned meeting where people bake brownies and cookies and leave them at the entrance, and join in a true dialogue—which means talking and listening—and develop a sense on the best way to move forward on this most important of issues. My guest list would include members of the school committee, board of selectmen, finance committee, Town Meeting members, parent organizations, and, of course, citizens and voters, all who have a stake in our collective future.
All opinions have a seat at the table in a meeting like this. Everyone is welcome as long as they leave personalities and bad manners at the door. I’ll gladly be Tevye and tell everyone that they’re right. After all, if they take the time to attend, they are.
Think for a minute.
Try to think of someone you know – better yet someone you know and love – whose life has been touched by addiction. I bet it didn’t take long.
Some estimates suggest that as many as 25 million Americans suffer from ravages of the disease of addiction. If you estimate a moderate number of loved ones affected at three or four, that simple and powerful math points to over 100 million people impacted each day by the abuse of drugs and alcohol.
Falmouth is no different. In every neighborhood, at every school, and from the corridors of Town Hall to the halls of justice at the Falmouth District Court, the impacts – economic, societal, and to the communities’ psyche - are felt daily. The news this week that a particularly virulent strain of heroin resulting in the tragic death of at least one Falmouthite is pursuing a sinister path throughout our community brings a particularly realistic and painful backdrop to the authenticity of the presence of this scourge in our community.
Falmouth’s Kevin Mikolazyk understands this better than most. As President of the Herren Project, a non-profit corporation dedicated to assisting families touched by addiction, he has seen and sees first-hand how addiction can tear a family apart – and how recovery can bring it back together.
Sober himself for nearly ten years, Kevin has built a successful future on the foundation of recovery and now brings his experience, strength and hope to others. His work with the Herren Project is based in his near lifelong friendship with the project’s namesake, Chris Herren, a former college basketball and NBA star who himself fell to his knees at the hands of the disease and found a pathway to recovery. Kevin and Chris spent many days together in the throes of addiction – Kevin even moved to Fresno to be with Chris during his playing days at Fresno State – and their paths both led to the gut-wrenching loneliness and despair of an endpoint, a “bottom” as it is called in the recovery community. Each found their way to Falmouth and to the resources of the Gosnold Treatment Center and its support facilities. Each found their way out of the horrific suffering and pain of a daily battle with the monster inside. And now the each dedicate their time to helping others – and the families that care for them – find their way. Falmouth is a huge part of that. Kevin and Chris both began their journey in sobriety and slowly rebuilt their lives here. Kevin continues to live here with his wife and daughter. “Falmouth has raised me,” said the grateful professional, who now, in addition to his work with the Herren Project, owns his own real estate company.
The Herren Project and Chris Herren himself are spreading a message of recovery nationwide through “Project Purple,” an effort to create a sober culture in our nation’s youth and spread a message that it’s ok to live a life free of drugs and alcohol. “We’re helping kids band together. Chris tells them that they are perfect just the way they are,” noted Kevin to me as we shared a coffee at the Daily Brew this week, a proud gleam in his eye clearly indicating the passion and conviction he holds for this important work. The name developed in 2011, when Chris noticed a group of students in the front row wearing purple at a school assembly where he was speaking on his journey. To the snickering of other students, the kids in purple identified themselves as kids living sober lives. Chris was inspired by their courage, and Project Purple was born.
Project Purple is now more than 300 schools nationwide, with a vision to triple that in the near future. More than 300,000 people nationwide are wearing purple this week to show support for the project. I’ve never been so proud to wear a purple tie to work.
Kevin and Chris will be running in the Boston Marathon in April to raise both funds and awareness for the project. They are seeking support and publicity. More information is available on the project’s website at: http://goprojectpurple.com/the-herren-project/ .
Think of someone you know – better yet someone you know and love – whose life has been touched by addiction. Then think of the good work of Kevin Mikolazyk and Chris Herren. Then be grateful and say thanks.
The public administration scholars speak of the public’s “insatiable appetite for services.” In today’s information-overloaded society, where citizens can make their approval (and more often their displeasure) known to decision makers at breakneck speeds, the ability of government to multi-task and respond is ever more important – and ever more challenging. The scope of the government’s responsibility to provide a wide range of activities, from technology to recreation, from education to public health, is constantly expanding and changing.
Despite these varying responsibilities and challenges, the paramount responsibility of government, at any level and in its simplest terms, is to protect the people it serves. Government exists to serve by protecting the people. Plain and simple. Government leaders, both elected and appointed, in carrying out their weighty responsibilities, face the sometimes daunting challenge of determining what constitutes the fulfillment of their mandate to serve and protect. When ideology, politics, personal relationships, and pressure from outside sources is factored in, that ability to discern what constitutes an important governmental priority can get obscured.
I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt to our local leaders – both the elected and appointed ones – and assert that it has to be a combination of those elements and factors that has led us to the horrifically divisive state of affairs related to the town’s wind turbines, because one thing is for sure: the citizens impacted by the turbines are not being protected by their government.
No matter if you are the most enthusiastic supporter of Wind I and Wind II or the most vehement critic of these town-owned and operated machines, there is no denying that their presence in our community has caused great harm – to the neighbors who are impacted, to the tenor of discussion and debate in our town, and to the town’s image as a tranquil and well-run locale.
The recent decision by the Board of Selectmen to sue the Zoning Board of Appeals – for a second time – is just adding an expensive insult to this ongoing and perhaps irreparable injury. This issue has become about far more than real or perceived impact of sound and flicker. It has graduated from a policy disagreement to a crisis of public trust.
The filing of an appeal by the town against itself – a rebuke of the ZBA’s decision declaring the turbines a nuisance - would itself be a nuisance if it wasn’t far more. It is injurious to the public trust and confidence. It is injurious to the credibility of those who opted to pursue it. And most importantly, it is injurious to the citizens who just want their government to protect them. This appeal is not about the varying opinions on the impact of sound and flicker on individual citizens.
That is a very personalized and individual experience – like nails on a chalkboard. What can be a debilitating aggravation to one person can simply be a, well, nuisance to another. This issue is about the myrmidonic tendencies of our decision makers who are simply acting in an unemotional and rote response to a legal action. They will tell us that they filed the appeal to protect the town and its interests. They will tell us that they are doing this with the town’s best interest in mind. They will tell us they know what’s best. I don’t dispute that they believe that, but I certainly dispute that it’s true and accurate.
Citizens in town – our friends and neighbors – have had their lives and their futures altered by an action of the government. That’s the core issue. This stopped being about renewable energy and money a long time ago. It’s time the dialogue got back to that. I support wind energy, and frankly, I supported the turbines at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. I have come to believe I was wrong. In a recent ballot vote, the voters opposed an initiative that would have appropriate money to remove the turbines. Some have used this vote as an endorsement of the turbines. Not so.
The voters of this town voted not to spend money to tear down the turbines. They didn’t vote to ignore the pain and misery of citizens.
The voters of this town voted not to spend millions for a bailout plan. They didn’t vote to plunge our friends and neighbors deeper into a government-imposed morass of suffering.
The voters of this town voted not to dismantle the turbines. They didn’t vote to dismantle peoples’ lives.
No more mediators. No more facilitators. No more lawyers. The Selectmen need to sit down with the neighbors – with their neighbors – and find a solution. Face to face, person to person, parent to parent, human being to human being. This dialogue needs to return to what it’s really about – protecting the people. And filing a lawsuit against the volunteer ZBA is not protecting anyone.