Democracy in action

Anyone who has lived in Massachusetts for more than 24 hours knows the phrase well: “All politics is local,” an observation uttered by the late House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill and embraced as a fundamental truth.

That, however, does not mean all politics is participatory or transparent. All one needs to do is look at Beacon Hill, where the budget is hammered out behind closed doors and funding amendments are presented to the Ways and Means chairs who give them the thumbs up or down and then all accepted amendments are bundled together and voted on as one. You want input? Run for office and wait your turn to ascend to a position of strength.

But there still exists in the Bay State a forum that allows full-throated democratic (with a small “d”) participation. Behold the Town Meeting, the season of which is beginning to bloom. Though their numbers may be dwindling, many towns still cling to the quaint notion that voters should have the final say on how their tax money is spent as well as issues that impact their daily lives.

In Arlington, you can still sit in your car and have your gas pumped for you after Town Meeting rejected a proposal to allow self-service gas stations, preserving its status as just one of four communities in Massachusetts that prohibit self-service stations. What are the chances that a mayor or city council would keep such a ban in place?

Town meeting is also where pocketbook issues are most prominent. While some see the O’Neill observation as a paean to retail politics, O’Neill and others always defined it as acknowledging that citizens vote those issues that most affect their daily lives, not to “send a message” to Washington or Boston. In Milford, voters in Tuesday’s election gave the nod to 12 members of a casino opposition group for seats in the representative Town Meeting. That will surely make the slog for the developer even harder than it has been.

A number of towns have bans on single-use plastic bags and bottles on their warrants. The most infamous ban came last year when Concord Town Meeting voted to bar the sale of water in plastic bottles. An attempt to repeal the ban was on the Town Meeting warrant this year but was beaten back. It is the fourth year in a row Concord voters will be dealing with the issue, showing that democracy is open-ended.

While at the national level, as well as the state level, taxes are a much despised topic, Proposition 2½ overrides abound on town meeting agendas. The success rate is far better than what lawmakers accomplish, perhaps showing taxpayers are not averse to paying more when they can see the results. In Framingham, Town Meeting voted by a 149-1 vote to approve $8.6 million for a new library branch to be named after town native Christa McAuliffe, the astronaut-teacher who died in the 1986 Challenger disaster. In 2005, town meeting rejected a similar proposal.

Perhaps no town in Massachusetts exemplifies the town meeting process more than the tiny town of Windsor, with a population of about 900 just north of Pittsfield. When voters tramp to Town Hall on Monday, they will have a full plate, including whether to approve creation of a local utility that is required in order for the town to be wired for broadband service and a line-by-line vote on the $1.9 million annual budget, literally making recommendations on K-through-death: In addition to school appropriations, voters will be asked to approve a 54 percent increase in funding for cemetery expenses. Town Meeting has you coming and going.

                                                                                                                                                                                    –JACK SULLIVAN


Federal investigators arrest three UMass Dartmouth classmates of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Two are charged with removing a backpack and laptop from Tsarnaev’s dorm room, and throwing the items in the trash; the third is charged with making false statements to FBI agents. A UMass student tells the Herald Tsarnaev’s friends liked joyriding around campus. WBUR offers a story and the actual complaints.  The Globe examines the friendship between Tsarnaev and the two Kazakh suspects he went to UMass Dartmouth with. One of the suspects has been suspended by UMass Dartmouth pending the outcome of the charges. The other had already withdrawn.

How texting doomed the surviving suspect’s two friends.

A MetroWest Daily News editorial offers some thoughtfulness on the Department of Transitional Assistance decision to release information about the Tsarnaev family’s welfare record.

A New Hampshire state representative suggests that the bombing isn’t all that it’s made out to be.

Time explores the struggle between liberty and security in America in the face of terrorism.

A MassINC Polling Group survey released earlier this week indicated most Massachusetts residents favored more security over liberty.

An 18-year-old student at Methuen High School is arrested for communicating a terrorist threat via Facebook, the Eagle-Tribune reports.


The Boston Red Sox are trying to lock in a low-cost lease deal with the city for the use of Yawkey Way and the air rights over Lansdowne Street, add-ons that generate millions of dollars for the team but put little in city coffers in return.

Heightened security concerns at schools, especially in the wake of the Newtown massacres, are raising concerns about using schools as polling places during elections.


States are linking welfare and housing assistance to combat homelessness, Governing reports.


Margery Eagan listens to Ed Markey and Gabriel Gomez insist that their Senate showdown is nothing like Brown-Coakley or Warren-Brown, even as each candidate grasps for their party’s last winning Senate race strategy. Joan Vennochi is on to much the same theme. Gomez is really enjoying running against a guy who was in Congress when the cavemen discovered fire. The Washington Post parachutes in for a look-see on the race. The National Review is one of many conservative outlets that gleefully point out the similarities to 2010.

The first debate item of the Senate race: The “people’s pledge.”  Markey would take it; Gomez won’t.

Latinos applaud Gomez’s victory, but some are torn about whether to vote for him, the Lynn Item reports.

Yvonne Abraham spins out the story of Marty Walsh, candidate for mayor of Boston — and recovering alcoholic.

Jim O’Sullivan profiles new mayoral race entrant Charlotte Richie.

Gail Collins is really enjoying this whole Mark Sanford comeback thing.


MGM’s president comes to Springfield after his company is backed by the mayor to open a casino in the city, NECN reports.


The embattled New Bedford school system, already struggling with performance issues, may be forced to lay teachers off in the coming year because of budget restraints.

State education secretary Matthew Malone praises the O’Maley Innovation Middle School in Gloucester and says he would like to replicate it around the state, the Gloucester Times reports.


Heroin overdoses hit record levels in Lynn, the Item reports.

Steward Health Care, the large for-profit hospital chain, sues Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, alleging that the insurer blocked Steward’s attempted purchase of a Rhode Island hospital by refusing to negotiate reasonable payment rates.


Gov. Deval Patrick sets an ambitious new goal for solar power development, but aides say they are also working to rein in subsidies, CommonWealth reports. The Globe reports on Dartmouth and other communities that are jumping into solar and making money doing it. The story never explains, however, how subsidies being paid by electricity ratepayers make solar profits possible.

Cape officials discuss how to handle shark tourism.


A Lowell woman denies a video of her with a monk shows the two of them having sex, prompting laughter in a courtroom, the Sun reports.


Haverhill, a Gateway City without a newspaper, is getting close to launching a news co-op, Dan Kennedy reports for the Nieman Journalism Lab.