Open Forum: A resident wonders

Posted: October 8, 2012

City Council’s blatant disregard of citizen input in the vote to close Millwood Avenue raises broader questions about the governing body’s decision-making process — and the decision-makers.

Council President Jeffrey Buettner’s stated attitude is that council knows what is best for the city and cannot allow public opinion to stand in the way of its progress. Minutes of work sessions leading up to the vote make no mention of citizen opposition concerning congestion, inconvenience, lost time, public safety issues at peak times when all westbound lanes will be backed up — all issues completely disregarded.

Instead minutes refer only to improvements. Here are the improvements interpreted by City Council:

 Close down the present Millwood free-flowing lane that allows two ways for westbound traffic to cross town and divert it into one way.

 Create a new free-flowing lane that is not needed at a cost of $2 million.

 Add a light at the end of the unneeded lane.

 Increase travel time for motorists to the Pleasant Valley intersection.

 Block public safety transport to the hospital or fire/rescue when all lanes are backed up.

 Add some nice signs, trees, and flowers around the new area of congestion.

Unfortunately, these are improvements only for the university’s private development. Residents are clearly losers, and council has clearly cast a vote against residents. Is it time for residents to elect public officials who will respect the democratic process of representing constituents in decision-making? A council member in each ward is up for re-election in November, but all are running unopposed.

Our longest-serving councilor (save for Mayor Minor) was elected in 1998. Since that time, property taxes have increased dramatically. There has been an unusually high turnover of long-serving, well-respected city government employees. We have now had three city managers since Ed Daley’s departure in 2007. We lost a high-level city administrator (the first woman to be admitted to Rotary) and, most recently, the OTDB director also leaving under pressure.

Channel 3 reported in 2009 that recruiting a new city manager was not anticipated in the “already cash-strapped city budget.” Mr. Buettner said we needed to hire a recruiting agency to “have somebody with no ties to Winchester, no long-term aspirations in Winchester to give us an evaluation.”

As to recruiting costs, Mr. Buettner was vague: “We’re questioning if it’s going to be around $20,000, but that figure is in flux.”

A resident has to wonder: Why cannot highly qualified, experienced, respected public employees carry out their jobs under this governing body? Why don’t we want people who know our city’s unique identity to have aspirations for it? Are the opportunities for economic development creating a local government where only “yes” men and women qualify to participate?

What is going on at City Hall? Is it time for a job approval rating of City Council?

Paulette Jennis is a resident of Winchester.