Social and Political Commentary

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The phantoms of the Override

... Override Forum format provided no opportunity for an exchange of views
on this important issue.

by Joe Sullivan

What would have happened if Michael Horn had said he would participate in
a meeting with a congressional committee provided any  questions  would be
limited to those coming from his own organization? There would be no
provision for questions to be directed to him from the congressmen who
were attending the meeting. The meeting would be over when he was
finished  answering what he said were the pertinent questions.

That would be an extraordinary set of conditions for Mister Horn to expect
considering the issue that  he had been called to discuss. Michael Horn is the
chief of Volkswagen Group of America. The issue was his company’s
software which enabled it’s diesel cars to cheat on emissions testing . The
diesels ran clean during the test but not later when the car owners were
driving them.

The congressional committee was providing Volkswagen’s Michael Horn a
forum to discuss the deception. The House committee members had some
penetrating questions which  would not have been asked if they were there
only to listen to CEO Horn. For better or worse the congressional committee
was a forum. It involved a condition that is necessary to any forum…an
exchange of views.

The dictionary says…

A forum according to the Oxford Dictionary is “a place, meeting, or medium
where ideas and views on a particular issue can be exchanged.”

That condition would be hard to find in the design of the so-called forum to
examine the proposed $2.25 million Override. This meeting was held in the
auditorium of Veterans Memorial  Middle School on Wednesday October 14.
It drew a sparse crowd that occupied less than half the seats in the

The format of the meeting was puzzling. The attendees were there only to watch,
there would be no audience participation. Previously the Mayor’s office had
asked for questions about the override to be sent to his office.

These questions were compiled by Brigid Alverson who handles the city’s
press relations. She would ask, one by one, the questions which had been
submitted to the Mayor’s office. The questions were directed to a group who
had been assembled to answer them. The group, standing on stage, each
with a podium included Mayor Dolan, Chief of Police Michael Lyle, Chief
Financial Officer Patrick Della Russo, and Superintendent of Schools  Cyndy

Brigid would identify by name the person who had asked the question while  
directing it to the group. The appropriate official would respond referring to
prepared data on his rostrum. For sure this was not the first time the
respondent had heard  or seen the question.

The responses gave the impression that they had been rehearsed especially
in a rapid fire back-and- forth session between the Mayor and the CFO.

Where the questions came from

In a phone call to Brigid Alverson to get some clarity as to how the questions
were determined she said the questions were collected from the responses
to a request by the Mayor asking for questions about the override. The
request for questions appeared on two different days in each of the city’s  
two weekly newspapers. The request for questions also appeared in the
Mayor’s Blog. A number of Twitter reminders were sent.

The question format called for a total of twenty questions. They were
selected, according to Brigid,  on a first-come first-served basis. Brigid said
she compiled the list of questions and some people included more than one
question in his or her submission. This could mean that fewer than 20 people
were involved in the question submissions based on a first-come, first-
serve, more-than-one-to-a-customer basis.

All twenty questions weren’t  asked because the camera operator who was
recording the session had a medical emergency. It stopped the session
completely. It was a 911 issue with police cars and ambulance request with
Police Chief Mike Lyle administering to the patient until the responders

The Mayor closes the program.

Cohesion of the session was gone and Mayor Dolan terminated the
assembly, which had started at 7, shortly after 8. Meeting attendees
emerged walking through the pulsating blue lights of the emergency vehicles
that had responded to the emergency.

Of the 20 questions scheduled to be asked only 13 had been addressed
before the meeting was called off.

The so-called-forum had to be a disappointment  to people who were
hoping for some clarity on the override issue. The override question has
seemed to come down people who favor it and those who oppose it because  
so much of the money will be spent on expanding school programs.

The “for” group lists teachers  for more sophisticated education programs
that the city does not have now. The “against” group said those programs
and teachers needed to implement them are frills and do not justify the
increase in taxes needed to support them. This argument involved specifics
coming from each side in attempt to refute each others positions.

A significant exclusion from the discussion.

This argument didn't included two items which account for almost half of
the $2.25 million override. Part of the Override included “Budget stabilization
“ requiring $750,000 and another of $285,000 for “employee benefits.”
These two items total $1.035 million and account for 46% of the entire
override and no one is coming forward to validate them. If someone wanted
the $1.215 million that the education programs would require he had better be
ready to pay an additional $1.035 million to get them.

With so little attention devoted to them these issues were the phantoms of the

J.D LaRock, a candidate for Alderman at Large, was the only candidate
who has addressed this $750,000 item. He said in his views on the Override
issue in the October 30 issue of the Melrose Weekly New that this money is
already in the city coffers.

In the same Weekly News issue asking for positions on the override, long-time Alderman at Large, Don Conn, who was running for reelection said that no new teaching positions are being created by the Override.

One of the strongest reasons proposed for the Override was that it insulated the
city from future adverse economic hits. This Override is not to create a
“rainy-day” fund that will only be spent in times of  financial adversity. All of
the money from the override is to be spent immediately on the items it was
created for.

The forum failed because it did not allow ideas and views like those that
candidate LaRock  and Alderman Conn expressed. That can’t happen when
no one but members of the city Administration is allowed to talk.

The format for the so-called Forum of the Override could be considered to
be very much like the emission software for the Volkswagen diesel engine.
They both keep you from knowing something.   


 November 6, 2015  

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