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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Weighty Matters

Why do we follow the majority? Is it because they have more reason? No, because they have more power.
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

I have read today in the Cape Cod Times that Thomas Bernardo, Speaker of the Assembly of Delegates, is afraid of too much power being given to the Executive Branch of the County Government, a.k.a. the County Commissioners. It is rather the rest of us in the county who should be afraid, as it is only the Executive which shall save us from the Assembly.

At the end of this essay are posted the ‘weights’ given to each town in the Assembly of Delegates. These weights are based upon population, and give single representatives from more populated areas the ability to override the concerns of less populated towns. For instance, the sum total vote of all towns east of the Bass River, including Dennis with the largest vote, is 29.30%. The Town of Barnstable alone has a vote of 21.52%, meaning if it can get a single upper Cape town to vote with it, it can nullify the vote of nine of the Cape’s fifteen towns. At least with Bill Doherty of Harwich, we have 33% representation in the Executive.

These weights are often used in unexpected ways. For instance, this summer we were to have had a Flex Route bus service for the towns on the outer Cape. The busses were donated for the route by the Federal government through the National Seashore. All that was needed for the route to go on line was the acceptance of a final bid for a new storage and maintenance facility to be built in Dennis. At the June meeting of the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority, the towns of Barnstable, Falmouth and Yarmouth were able to outvote the assembled lower Cape towns, and there will be no Flex Route bus this summer. The Transit Authority uses the same weighted vote as the Assembly of Delegates, which is why it is dedicated to minority rule. Of course, it didn’t help that Dennis, with the most sizeable vote among the towns affected, didn’t bother to show up or vote and had not done so for over a year. By the way, the issue over which the upper Cape towns sunk the bid for the storage facility for the free busses is whether or not one portion should or should not have garage doors – pressing concern, that. The Assembly of Delegates was not party to this vote, but the weighting system allowing upper Cape towns to negate projects of no personal benefit to them was, and that is what is unfair.

Mr. Bernardo is often seen now on public access television, explaining how the Assembly is close to finalizing is Regional Wastewater Agreement (Did you know this? They had three public hearings – how could you have missed them?). The fact that his proposal was hooted out of town by more than one currently sovereign municipality isn’t really relevant – you see, Barnstable is on board for a way out of its chronic mismanagement by tapping lower Cape towns (which do not have the same taxaholic mentality) for their sewer financial problems; so naturally, Barnstable and the upper Cape will be able to outvote the lower Cape, probably 9 to 6. The fact that towns like Dennis (which does not even have a town water department, but has a separate water district with its own town meeting and moderators) and Wellfleet (which does not yet have town water, let alone sewers) want no part of a county-wide MWRA-like system is irrelevant – as is their combined 8.43% of the vote, exactly as much as the town of Bourne alone.

This whole weighted vote scam suffers from one serious flaw. It is modeled on Congressional representation, giving a greater say to more populous areas, but there is no corresponding Executive representation based on town entities. The five outer Cape towns do not have a Commissioner, and the mid-Cape has only Bill Doherty. Before he was elected, ALL the commissioners came from Barnstable or points west for a very long time. It is wrong that Commissioners are elected by an at-large vote giving towns with greater population a grater advantage in voting, and the Assembly has a weighted vote giving more populated areas unlimited opportunity to trample over the nine outer Cape towns. Two advantages out of two! Instead, why not have an Upper Cape Commissioner (Bourne, Sandwich, Falmouth, Mashpee and Barnstable), a Mid-Cape Commissioner (Yarmouth, Dennis, Harwich, Brewster and Chatham) and an Outer Cape Commissioner (Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown)? That would give the majority in the Executive to the ten lower Cape towns? Why is that more unfair than allowing a single 21.52% elephant in the Assembly of Delegates to dictate to the rest of Cape Cod?

A while ago, I suggested that the outer Cape towns secede and form their own Pamet County (see April 17, 'A Pamet Divorce' in Archives). Perhaps insisting that the moribund County Charter bill, first filed in 2001 based on a vote taken in 2000 before the Assembly had really gotten underway (refiled every other year with no subsequent vote by the residents of Barnstable County – and I wonder how that vote would go if it were taken again today?), and never passed by the Legislature, should be amended to at least allow for regional Commissioners as a protection for us on the outer Cape. It would be especially desirable if the Executive could also be given a line item veto as well. The Assembly would sill be able to override a veto for something genuinely desired by the entire County instead of a single overweight town.

There is too much power in the County government already, largely beneath the radar of newer residents who have come from other parts of the state where vestigial counties were long ago abolished entirely. Giving them the ability to press their weight upon us must be resisted. Bullies may be big, but they aren’t often right.

Check Below to see how YOUR town stacks up (Statistics are from the web site – any comments about inaccuracies may be directed there).

Barnstable – 21.52%
Bourne – 08.43%
Brewster – 04.54%
Chatham – 02.98%
Dennis – 07.19%
Eastham – 02.45%
Falmouth – 14.70%
Harwich – 05.57%
Mashpee – 05.83%
Orleans - 02.85%
Provincetown 01.54%
Sandwich - 09.06%
Truro - 00.94%
Wellfleet - 01.24%
Yarmouth - 11.16%


Blogger Bugsy said...

How is it that all these oddly construcuted "bodies" came to rule our lives?

Barnstable has the strangest of town governments with no executive, no at-large representatives, and only a kabal of councilors.

How did this come to past?

4:06 PM  
Blogger Peter Porcupine said...

Barnstable is suffering from a Jekyll and Hyde syndrome - it wanted to do away with post and buggy town meeting (a mistake,in my opinion), but didn't want anything with a 'city' feel to it. They created a form of government unique in the Commonwealth, and are surprised when it doesn't work properly.

'Hank from the Bank' is speaking to the percieved truth of the town government - people in West Barnstable and Cummaquid and Santuit don't even THINK of themselves as living in the same town as Hyannis - hence, the proliferation of water and fire departments for each of them.

We should probably be thankful they at least allow law enforcemnt to operate in a uniform fashion, instead of having some modern version of the Bow Street Runners called the Osterville Enforcers!

8:43 PM  
Blogger Bugsy said...

Ella said this after her first trip to Bsrnstable Village

Barnstable Village is a far from Hyannis as Washington is from Baghdad.

It is true. These little villageds live in a different world. Now that world is collapsing. At least it makes for interesting blogging.

3:29 PM  

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