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Let's At Least Get the Facts Straight

September 2005

It’s election time again and this year the mayor’s job is up for grabs. Leading up to the September primary and November election, the rhetoric has been flying and some have played fast and loose with the facts. This seems particularly true of facts that relate to the Community Preservation Act and acquisition of Kesseler Woods and Angino Farm. It’s not clear whether this is because individuals have not taken the time to learn the truth or because they have deliberately ignored the truth to serve their political purposes.

Political debate is at the heart of our democracy and a necessary tool as the electorate decides who should lead the city for the next four years. But its value is diminished when candidates misstate the facts. I’m not referring to “spin,” which candidates legitimately use to place their arguments in the best possible light. It’s one thing to shift emphasis away from or toward certain facts or to call someone’s judgment into question; it’s quite another to repeatedly get the facts wrong.

The misstatement that has most consistently shown up in campaign literature, The TAB and other sources is that funds used to acquire open space were diverted from filling potholes and providing other municipal services. Of course, these funds were drawn from the CPA account, which is dedicated to four limited purposes: acquisition of open space, creation of affordable or community housing, preservation of historic resources, and creation of recreation facilities. By law, CPA funds cannot be diverted for other purposes and if not spent in one fiscal year, must be held for spending on those four purposes in a subsequent fiscal year.

It is misleading, at best, to suggest that the city had a choice between acquiring Kesseler Woods or Angino Farm and providing any city service. The only choice the city had with respect with these funds was to acquire these properties or to spend the money on housing or another CPA purpose.

If the intent of the argument is to suggest that CPA should be rescinded, then the point should be made directly. Of course, that can’t be done for at least another year and would require a vote of the Board of Aldermen to put the matter on the ballot. And, if passed by the voters, rescission would result in loss not only of the roughly $2 million a year that is dedicated to the fund, but the $2 million in state matching dollars that would then go to other communities. If voters wanted to add back those funds for other city services, a Proposition 2½ override would be required, and we all know the passion that accompanies that process.

Most tragic would be the loss of opportunity to continue to preserve and build our community through projects like the ones that have been funded by CPA over the past four years. In addition to acquisitions at Kesseler Woods and Angino Farm, which have topped the Open Space Plan for many years, we have added significant parcels to Dolan Pond and Webster Conservation Areas. Nearly 100 units of community housing have been added with the help of CPA funds and numerous other projects have been funded as well. Without CPA, projects like these would all go away.

If the intent behind misstatements of fact is to criticize the governor or legislature for drastically cutting local aid in the face of the state’s fiscal crisis, than they should be the targets. If the intent is to question decisions of the mayor or board of aldermen regarding what services have been funded and which have not as budgets have continued to tighten, then that should be the point. We have a right to expect and should insist that those running for elective office speak directly and truthfully in taking positions, making arguments and conveying campaign messages.

As a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, the Newton Conservators are prohibited from endorsing candidates. But we are not prohibited from holding, in fact we see it as our obligation to hold candidates accountable for their rhetoric and insist that they get the facts straight!

Doug Dickson


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