By the numbers, 1600 yes votes from last year did not vote yes this year:
- 500 of them chose to vote no.
- Just over 1000 stayed home and chose not to vote at all.
I think there are a number of reasons.
Apathy is always a factor - "My vote won't make a difference." On a national scale, the individual vote does not count for a whole lot. On the local scale, one vote is ONE vote.
Town priorities - The school budget is always a town matter. The School Department and Superintendent are properly advocates for what they need. The Finance Committee provides some oversight and validation but the ultimate responsibility lies with the Town Council. So while this year (and last) the School Committee brought forth what they needed to maintain the level of education that they were providing, the Town Council chose to follow the beat of their own drummer. Last year the Town planned for the override in advance and included town operations in the override amount. This year, the Town set the schools up on their own and only allowed an override when forced by the School Committee and the presence of growing support within the community. Alas, the support was not enough to carry all the way through.
Mis-information - The hearsay, mis-information and inaccuracies were prevalent in the community discussions. Trying to get the proper information out to the folks was like swimming against the riptide. The Milford Daily News closed out anonymous comments the day after the vote but the damage was done. The constant naysayers were abusive and out in force. Heaven forbid, you try to get a word in edgewise. The key point on this is the difference between a capital expense and an operational expense. Clearly, the majority of Franklin voters don't understand or appreciate the difference.
The 5 Year Plan - This is another aspect of the Town priorities but an important one. This item was brought up several times during the healthy discussion during the Override of 2007. Everyone agreed it was a good thing to do. During the ensuing year, the Town Council did nothing. They instead chose to sit on the school budget problem and hid it from the voters during the November election. That was more important. Some of the councilors chose to break their own by-laws and put up their election signs for the November election in advance of when they were supposed to. That was more important. Some of those councilors chose to make take pot shots at the School Administration and School Superintendent. Sound bites travel well especially when they are unfounded. Finally, the Town Council appointed a committee to develop a long range plan the week before this years override. Too little too late.
State money - The Town has gotten too used to the largess of the commonwealth and the ability of our local representatives to tap the coffers to fill the Franklin revenue needs. The decade plus time of increasing state aid is likely behind us. Other towns are recognizing what we have benefited from and getting jealous. We could make a case for the increases with a growing enrollment. The enrollment growth is tapering off and so will the state funds. The unwillingness of the Franklin tax payer to dip into their own pocket got proved again. Only one operational override has successfully passed. Don't ask a Franklinite to take money out of their pocket for something they should pay for. If the state won't pay for it, Franklin certainly won't.
I believe the Franklin voters who did not cast their ballots will come to regret their decision. The days of Franklin being selected in Top 10 or Top 100 are over. Digging out of this hole will be the hardest thing to do.
The task of the Five Year Plan Committee will be immense. We, the voters, will have a chance of getting a decent plan. There are two "normal, everyday citizens" on the committee along with the elected and appointed officials. We will have to monitor the committee to ensure that they are open and doing something productive. We can not let the Town Council let this opportunity sit idle.
What can we learn from the failure?
Personally, letting others direct the conversation, reporting the facts, hoping for the best doesn't work.
Action will be required. The level of engagement in the town meetings (especially the Town Council) needs to increase.
You, yes you! Don't sit at home and let the talking heads babble on. Make the effort. Go to the Council Chambers. Show them that there are real live people for whom they should care about what they do. Hold them accountable.
Conversation about what is happening needs to maintain some focus on the real issues. Don't let the agenda hide some items. Ask where is it? Ask what is happening? Ask why?
Together we can come out of the hole. Or separately, we can see our home values decline, or students fall behind, our future dim.
This is our choice.
What choice will you make?
How much does Franklin matter to you?