I didn’t sleep much last night, but finally for a good reason. I spent Monday evening in my town meeting where Mashpee voters acted unanimously to authorize the expenditure of $54 million to begin implementing the Mashpee Clean Water Plan. There is a lot there to unpack but let me focus on the unanimous part with you for just a few sentences. Getting majority voter support for large public works projects is hard. Getting the 2/3rds vote needed to authorize borrowing for public works projects is even harder. There are many failed projects that received majority support but failed to reach the 2/3rd threshold that prove the point. But unanimous support, not one single no vote was cast, would have been unthinkable to me had I not seen it with my own eyes.
What kicked my mind into gear in the wee hours today was thinking about why the night played out as it did and what lessons to carry forward. First and foremost, people want clean water. It seems obvious but often the price tag forces people to make choices that on the surface cover up that underlying fact. The Mashpee Clean Water Plan succeeded because the town took advantage of, as Orleans had already done, a suite of new financing tools, promoted by APCC and others, to shift projects costs away from sole reliance on property taxes. By doing so, the cost of clean water was lowered and that allowed people to follow their instinctual desire to live in a cleaner environment. One such occurrence (Orleans) could have been an aberration. With Mashpee moving forward, we have a trend and a path for other towns to similarly move forward on a broadly based clean-up of our surface waters. As advocates for environmental improvement, there is a clear, positive lesson here and shame on us if we don’t follow it. We have made an enormously important transition from the region-wide paralysis on this issue just a few years ago. This progress needs to be nurtured.
The other thing that has me feeling good is the exhilaration that comes from having participated in a process that enables a community to come together to tackle a complex, expensive, and often divisive issue. The contention, division and negativity in society feels like it permeates every aspect of life today. It seems Americans can barely agree that the Earth is round. And yet, Monday night, almost 500 people trudged out to a tent-covered football field on a cold and blustery evening with a common purpose in mind. People showed up trusting the science, trusting the foundation of the financing plan and trusting both the integrity of, and representations made by, their elected officials. Questions were asked but they were legitimate inquiries seeking clarification and were not gotcha questions or opposition statements masquerading as questions. I was able to watch people believe in the work of their elected officials and play an active role in their own self-governance. It was a reminder, a much-needed reminder, that we can still function as a society, behave civilly, find solutions and act in our collective best interest.
It was a good night.