Alan Chartock | I Publius: 'Best small town' doesn't need bigger government


GREAT BARRINGTON >> There are many things that need to be fixed in our small towns and cities. It isn't easy being the person responsible for ensuring that things operate effectively.

In Great Barrington, "The best small town in America," the town is moving between a time when volunteers ran the show and one when a professional class takes over. For example, we got a town manager years ago who replaced the sometimes disgraceful antics of some of the elected Selectmen.

It seemed to me at the time that this was a very good move. The latest town manager, Jennifer Tabakin, comes to us from the New York City Mayor's office. To put it mildly, Great Barrington is not New York City.

The problem is that at some point in a town's maturation process when the professionals take over, the joy of hard work on the part of the citizen class fades and the people inevitably want hire someone else to do what may have been done in the past by the good people of the town.

Line in the sand

So, the town in its wisdom hired a professional planner who turns out to be quite good at his job. Now there are some in town who have decided that the town needs an assistant manager to take on some more of the work.

To put it mildly, this doesn't sit well with many of the people in town who already think that the taxes are too damn high. I am not one of the people who turned out in force to stymie our kids' education by voting against an up to date high school. Of course, those folks ought to be ashamed of themselves.

But this time, the people who think that taxes are too high and want to draw a line in the sand are right. The problem with maturing governmental organizations is that sooner or later, the people who are supposed to do the work start to see themselves as supervisors who will assign the work to others.

I'm certainly not bragging but I get to work at 4 in the morning and leave 12 or 13 hours later. I'm not complaining. Grant writing, which will apparently be part of the job of the assistant town manager, really ought to be done by the manager or the planner.

It's just a matter of flexing one's work muscles. New York City has 8 million people to pay the taxes. In Great Barrington, there are far, far fewer.

Look, the work isn't easy. If the town manager is not up to the job, the cry should go up, "Next!" Right now, Great Barrington has to decide what will happen to its pristine jewel, beautiful Lake Mansfield.

Taking on traffic

Christine Ward and the Lake Mansfield Alliance know that our town lake is in danger. The road that goes around the lake is in real danger of falling into the lake. It really isn't a matter of whether but when. Not only that, there is a class of foolish drivers who ignore the posted speed limit of 20 mph and act as if their man or womanhood depends on their ability to take foolish risks and threaten lives.

If you don't believe me, take a walk up there yourself and observe the speed demons tearing around the curves, threatening you and your children.

Christine Ward is one of those people who really walks the walk as a citizen. She has led the drive to create a real park and nature trails at Lake Mansfield. One way or the other, she wants to stop potentially killer traffic.

Her opponents say that the existing road is needed to allow ambulances through for medical emergencies. Of course, the people who live in the newly built housing developments would rather not take the longer way around.

Obviously compromise is possible — let's have an access road for pedestrians to get to beach and allow the ambulances a chance if there is a life threatening emergency.

God bless Christine Ward and the others like her who bring a common sense citizen approach to the town. Keep your eye on the advancing bureaucratic monster.

Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.


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