|1||Annual Town Election||Voted||2697 cards cast||28-Mar|
|2||State of the Town||Received||27-Apr|
|3||Reports of Committees||Received||11-May|
|4||Measurer of Wood & Bark||Voted||Voice Vote||27-Apr|
|5||Assistant Town Moderator||Voted||Voice Vote||27-Apr|
|6||Documented Zoning Reviews||No Action||147-45-6||27-Apr|
|7||Posted Event Notices||Voted||171-35-1||4-May|
|8||Limiting Speaking Time||Voted||104-95-6||27-Apr|
|9||Human Rights Commission||No Action||Voice Vote||27-Apr|
|10||Mount Gilboa Historic||Voted||Unanimous||27-Apr|
|11||Community Preservation Committee||Voted||159-48-2||29-Apr|
|12||Revision of 2020 Committee||Voted||178-2-7||4-May|
|13||Disposition of 1207 Mass. Ave.||Voted||184-11-0||4-May|
|14||Disposition of 13-383 Cliffe Ave.||No Action||Voice Vote||4-May|
|15||Home Rule – Assessor Change||Voted||116-76-2||4-May|
|17||Local Option Taxes||No Action||Voice Vote||6-May|
|18||Endorsement of CDBG||Voted||190-14-2||6-May|
|23||Revaluation of Real Property||Voted||Unanimous||11-May|
|25||Rescind Borrowing Authority||Voted||187-2-1||29-Apr|
|30||Appropriation Town Celebrations||Voted||Unanimous||11-May|
|32||Appropriation Public Art||Voted||130-62-3||11-May|
|33||Appropriation Human Rights||Voted||161-24-7||11-May|
|34||Appropriation Water Bodies||Voted||Unanimous||11-May|
|35||Appropriaiton Barber Service||Voted||Unanimous||11-May|
|36||Appropriaiton Scenic Byway||Voted||Voice Vote||11-May|
|37||Appropriation Pension Adjustment||Voted||Unanimous||11-May|
|38||Appropriation OPEB Trust Fund||Voted||Unanimous||11-May|
|39||Acceptance of Survivor Benefits||Voted||Unanimous||11-May|
|40||Appropriation Long Term Stabilization||Voted||Unanimous||11-May|
|41||Appropriation Overlay Reserve||Voted||Unanimous||11-May|
|42||Transfer of Funds – Cemetery||Voted||Voice Vote||11-May|
|43||Use of Free Cash||Voted||Unanimous||11-May|
|44||Appropriation Fiscal Stability||Voted||Unanimous||11-May|
|45||Resolution – TMM Removal||Voted||107-79-5||11-May|
|46||Resolution – Master Plan Endorsement||Voted||136-41-3||11-May|
The breakdown of the T has resulted in many calls for reform. I wrote this piece two years ago, and it seems worthwhile to reintroduce some of these points into the current discussion.
Governor Deval Patrick recently proposed consolidating 240 local housing authorities into six regional agencies. I don’t know what kind of impact will be felt by tenants in public housing, but I doubt it matters if the plumber comes from next door or the next town.
Transit, on the other hand, is another story. Boundaries matter. While people tend to live in one apartment at once, people who travel tend to travel across town lines. They also tend to travel across the boundaries and limits of the MBTA and the 15 regional transit authorities. Yet, in the governor’s plan for improving transportation, there was no proposal to consolidate the RTAs with the MBTA, not to mention all the little suburban bus services that don’t transcend municipal limits.
Shouldn’t we be consolidating transit systems, instead?
Fixed rail is fixed, but those buses can go almost anywhere. When they scrapped the extensive streetcar network, the argument was that buses were far more flexible. Routes could be adjusted to meet demand. Mostly, instead of offering flexibility, they offered an easy, quiet way for our transit infrastructure to disappear.
Private bus lines disappeared, replaced by regional transportation authorities. The biggest is the MBTA, but there are 14 others around the state. Two (Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket) make perfect sense, as an island transportation authority doesn’t have a need for expanding its network into adjacent towns. But the other twelve?
Alewife to Lowell
Let’s look at one example of boundaries defining bus routes. Consider a trip from Alewife Station in Cambridge to the Robert B. Kennedy Bus Transfer Center at the Charles A. Gallagher Transit Terminal (also known as the Lowell MBTA station) in Lowell. You can make the 25 mile drive in about a half hour (except in rush hour). Want to travel by bus? It wil take a bit longer.
MBTA buses will take you from Alewife to Burlington, where you will need to change to a Lowell Regional Transit Authority (LRTA) bus to go the rest of the way. If the bus gods are with you, you can make the trip in 1:28, but it can also take you 2:16. If you get to Alewife later than 6:20 p.m., forget about it, because you won’t make it any farther than Chestnut Street in Burlington.
The fastest trip is the 350 that leaves Alewife at 6:20 a.m. It doesn’t make the loop to the Burlington Mall, instead it proceeds up Cambridge Street to Chestnut Street, where the route ends. This is also the south end of the LRTA Route 13, which runs through Billerica to the Kennedy Center. The 350 is scheduled to reach Chestnut Street at 7:04, and the LRTA 13 leaves at 7:10, a six minute scheduled layover.
Normally, the layover at Chestnut Street is significantly longer. Get on the 6:42 or the 6:58 leaving Alewife, you will have a 44 or 24 minute layover at Chestnut Street before the 8:10 bus leaves for Lowell.
If you leave Alewife at 8:15, the optimal strategy is to get off the bus at the Burlington Mall, where you have a 12 minute wait before LRTA Route 14 is scheduled to leave for Lowell (arriving at 9:45). Continue on to the end of the 350 at Chestnut Street, you have a 51 minute wait for the connection to LRTA Route 13, and you won’t get to Lowell until 10:38.
You get the picture? You need to get off the MBTA bus at the end of the MBTA service area, then board the LRTA bus for the journey through its towns. Oh, and you will pay two fares, though the LTRA will allow you to pay its fares with a Charlie Card.
What happens if we turn two separate lines into one line? The trip that takes from 1:28 to 2:16 is reduced to a trip of 1:06 to 1:17, eliminating layovers of up to 49 minutes. It can’t happen with two agencies with two territories, but a unified system could do it.
How do you get out of Lexington?
Note: On July 1, 2014, Lexington’s LExpress bus service was extended into Arlington Heights, and now connects with the 77 bus at its western terminus.
The Town of Lexington (with partial MBTA funding) operates LExpress, a suburban bus system that revolves around Depot Square in the center of town. The bus service does cross the line to reach the Burlington Mall, but other than that it doesn’t leave Lexington. You can make a connection to MBTA bus routes 62 or 76 in Lexington Center (two lines, both run hourly mid-day, for a 30-minute headway in Lexington Center). The LExpress buses are timed to leave Lexington Center on the hour and half-hour, and 67/76 buses are scheduled to leave for Alewife about three minutes later. Outbound buses tend to arrive in Lexington Center between 10 and 13 minutes before the LExpress buses leave Depot Square.
However, the LExpress does make its way as far east as Massachusetts Avenue and Taft Avenue, about a half-mile from the Arlington Heights terminal of the 77 (Arlington Heights – Harvard Station) and 79 (Arlington Heights – Alewife) bus lines. The LExpress doesn’t cross into Arlington, doesn’t make the connection, and doesn’t provide an option for a rider looking to travel from Arlington Center into Lexington.
Out of sync?
The Red Line runs every 12 minutes between Alewife and Ashmont, and every 12 minutes between Alewife and Briantree, after 6:30 p.m. on weekdays. This means the trains between Alewife and JFK-UMass runs every six minutes.
On Saturdays, the Red Line runs every 14 minutes between Alewife and Ashmont, and every 14 minutes between Alewife and Briantree. This means the trains between Alewife and JFK-UMass runs every seven minutes.
On Sundays, the Red Line runs every 16 minutes between Alewife and Ashmont, and every 16 minutes between Alewife and Briantree. This means the trains between Alewife and JFK-UMass runs every eight minutes.
One of the major Red LIne connections is the 77 bus from Harvard Station to Alewife. Many of the people on the 77 bus connect from the Red Line. Let’s see how it works:
On weekday evenings, when the Red Line is running on six minute intervals, the 77 runs on intervals of 10 minutes, 11 minutes, and 13 minutes.
On Saturdays, when the Red Line is running on seven minute intervals, the 77 runs on 12 and 15 minute intervals.
On Sundays, when the Red Line is running on eight minute intervals, the 77 runs on 20 minute, 17 minute, 14 minute, and 15 minute intervals.
It’s all so close, but it’s all so far away. You can walk off the Red Line train and find good fortune and a 77 bus will come a minute later. However, you can walk off the Red Line and watch the taillights of the bus vanish and face a 10, 13, 15, or 17 minute wait. What sense does that make?
If the Red Line is running on eight minute intervals on Sunday, why not run the buses on 16 minute intervals? Why not set it up so that the bus is timed to arrive just behind every other train, reducing the wait time on the Harvard Station bus platform? How hard is it to run the buses every 16 minutes instead of every 14 minutes or every 17 minutes?
Anyone with a smart phone can download a bus app that lets us know where the buses are. If we have this technology, why can’t the MBTA use this technology to sync trains to connecting buses? Why can’t we reduce unnecessary waits for buses? Why can’t buses be timed to meet commuter rail trains in places like West Medford?
As long as we have all these separate bus systems, separate from the subway trains, separate from commuter rail, intermodal transit becomes slow and inconvenient. If we put it all under one operating agency, we can sync the schedules in one easy to use system. You can have different operating agencies (LRTA can run one set of buses between Lowell and Alewife, MBTA can run another), but all the buses will be the same color, have the same fare structure, and will have unified schedules.
Let’s make it one unified system. Call it MassTransit. Make it easy to get around the state using the existing resources. Make the connections, let’s reform these little agencies and transform them to a statewide transit system.
What do you do in the middle of a series of February snowstorms? Sing, of course.
Oh, What a New England Morning
sung to the tune of Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’
Music by Richard Rodgers, lyric by Paul Schlichtman
There’s now six feet of snow on the meadow,
And ten feet of snow on the sidewalk.,
There’s snowbanks as high as an elephant’s eye,
And it looks like more snow falling down from the sky.
Oh what a New England morning,
Oh what a cold winters day,
French Toast is sending a warning,
More snow is coming our way.
There’s a big crowd of folks in the milk aisle.
There’s a big crowd of folks in the egg aisle.
There isn’t a loaf of fresh bread to be bought,
And the panicky shoppers are all overwrought.
There’s a flight out of Logan to Tampa,
But the flight out of Logan is cancelled.
T’s frozen in ice, and there’s no place to go.
So we’ll stay home and wait for the melt of the snow.
No planes, but lots of trains and automobiles.
That was the theme for our Thanksgiving week trip to and from Florida. Even during one of the busiest travel days of the year, even on a Amtrak train that was sold out from Washington to Boston, all went well. Our travel home, on Sunday November 30, was flawless.
Until we reached Harvard Square.
It was shortly before 8:00 on a Sunday evening when we reached the 77 loading platform at Harvard Square. It was crowded, not a good sign. And we waited. And waited.
Finally, bus 0430 arrives and everyone climbs on board. Standing room only. Fully loaded, we took off up Massachusetts Avenue toward Arlington. Less than one block from Harvard Square, bus 0710 went zipping by. It was a classic case of bus bunching, even though none of the usual causes were present. Traffic on Massachusetts Avenue was minimal. Yes, the Red Line was running no farther than Harvard, with shuttle buses to Alewife. The buses were using the Harvard busway, but that was the only thing unusual on an otherwise quiet Sunday night.
All the way to Arlington Center, our crowded bus was escorted by an almost-empty companion.
I wrote a few weeks ago about the bunches of buses that populated Massachusetts Avenue on a quiet Saturday. Nothing changed, and 77 buses continue to bunch on an even quieter Sunday evening.
Why is this happening? I have no idea, but there is no excuse for such dramatically poor service on this bus line. Every bus rider with a smart phone can monitor MBTA buses, and they know when the buses are bunching.
If we know the buses are bunching on quiet weekends, why doesn’t the MBTA? Or, if they know the buses are bunching, why don’t they do something about it?
I am urging all my friends and neighbors to come out to vote for Martha Coakley, who is the best choice to lead Massachusetts as governor for the next four years.
Those who know me also know of my passion for K-12 education and local governance. The governor has extraordinary influence over cities and towns, particularly with the appointment powers for a powerful state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Much of the governor’s work is in the weeds of regulations and funding formulas, but this work makes a big deal of difference in our ability to deliver quality services at the local level.
Martha Coakley will be a thoughtful and effective partner for local governments and school districts.
Martha has always demonstrated a willingness to listen to multiple points of view and to do her homework. In January, Martha’s views on education were seemed to be good, but they were also quite vague. I told her that I didn’t need to agree with her on everything, but I needed to get a firm sense of understanding and direction pertaining to local governance and K-12 education.
I met with Martha last spring, as she spoke to a gathering of a couple of dozen uncommitted delegates. She spoke with clarity and specificity on issues of concern, particularly those raised by educators and municipal officials in the room. She spoke of the need to eliminate the prohibition of educators from serving on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. She spoke of the need to recalculate the foundation budget. She also reminded me of the partnerships she formed with local schools when she was Middlesex DA.
That’s why I enthusiastically support Martha Coakley for governor.
It seems like my life revolved around Mass. Ave. last Saturday. Between the haircut, the Saturday meeting of the Local Government Luncheon Seminar, the cleaners, and the rest of the errands, I found myself heading up and down the avenue with amazing frequency.
In my car.
If my life revolves around the avenue, and it’s a beautiful day, why am I driving myself up and down the avenue instead of riding a bus that is scheduled to run at no more than a ten minute interval?
Wes Beal and I were heading east along Mass. Ave. near the Alewife Brook Parkway when we spotted two 77 buses heading toward Harvard Square at 12:30 p.m. “No excuses for bus bunching on a Saturday,” I remarked.
Why is this a big deal? Quite simple. If the 77 is running on schedule, a bus will come along every ten minutes. If you ride the bus often, the average wait will be five minutes and the wait will be no more than ten minutes. When they bunch, chances are the first bus is now running 10 minutes late, so the average and maximum wait doubles, and more.
Late buses mean more people waiting at bus stops, more time required to board and disembark from buses, and the bus gets later and later. Meanwhile, the next bus on the schedule zips past empty bus stops and catches the previous bus. When a 10 minute interval becomes a 0 minute interval, it creates 20+ minute gaps as well.
The research literature talks of congestion and very long bus routes as major causes of bunching. The 77 does run on very congested streets during morning and evening rush hours, but this is a Saturday on a 5.25 mile route. It’s a clear and dry Saturday.
Too much ain’t enough
But that’s not all. During the rest of the day, my trips up and down the avenue led to encounters with more bunches of buses. Bunches of people waiting at bus stops. Here’s the other three instances from Saturday, October 25.
Outbound Massachusetts Avenue at Foster Street, Arlington.
Inbound Massachusetts Avenue at Churchill Avenue, Cambridge. 4:51 p.m.
Outbound Massachusetts Avenue at Medford Street, Arlington. 6:35 p.m.
We have bunches of buses and bunches of people delayed by the unreliable service. The chronic unreliability of the buses encourage bigger bunches of folks to avoid the bunching buses, escaping 20+ minute waits at bus stops by driving up and down Mass. Ave.
There’s no excuse for this unreliable bus service.
The MBTA can fix this, and it is imperative that they act. Unreliable buses are the weak link in the region’s transit system, and it doesn’t take too many 20 minute waits at a bus stop for people to give up on the T and drive instead.
This week’s little drama seems to be revolving around the appearance of the Community Preservation Act ballot question on the October 9 School Committee agenda, followed by the removal of the agenda item.
Let’s set the context. On May 7, after a debate that extended over two nights, Arlington Town Meeting voted 128-77 to place acceptance of the Community Preservation Act on the November ballot. Four school committee members (myself included) are Town Meeting Members, and three of us voted to support acceptance of the Community Preservation Act.
- Bill Hayner (Precinct 2) NO
- Jennifer Susse (Precinct 3) YES
- Paul Schlichtman (Precinct 9) YES
- Jeffrey Thielman (Precinct 12) YES
As the election approaches, the three school committee members who are not members of our Representative Town Meeting (Cindy Starks, Judson Pierce, and Kirsi Allison-Ampe) have declared their support for the Community Preservation Act. The YES website now lists six school committee members as supporters, while Mr. Hayner is the chair of the Vote No committee.
It’s no surprise that members of the school committee, who are well informed on town issues, have taken the time to study the issue and have stated public positions on the November ballot question.
When the preliminary agenda for the October 9 school committee meeting was released, Mr. Hayner (as chair of the school committee) called for presentations about the Community Preservation Act. Joe Curro was scheduled to make the presentation for the YES campaign, while Charlie Foskett was scheduled to make the presentation for the NO campaign. Both of these respected gentlemen have already debated the issue on the floor of Town Meeting (see Dan Dunn’s notes for Session 3, Article 22, of the 2014 annual town meeting), and their learned opinions weighed heavily on the individual decisions we made at that time.
The October 9 meeting already had a crowded agenda, and we were coming in a half-hour early for an executive session. Several of my colleagues and I told Mr. Hayner that we didn’t want the Community Preservation Act presentation added to an already packed agenda.
Arlington Town Counsel Douglas Heim wrote that “a School Committee vote to support or oppose adoption of the CPA is permitted, but is in substance an endorsement rather than a decision or policy within the Committee’s jurisdiction to carry out itself or request the Superintendent implement.” With the Community Preservation Act on the agenda, the committee could have taken a vote to endorse a YES or NO vote on the ballot question. Still, I don’t think it’s a very good idea. The task before the school committee is to make decisions about the future of the school system. not to opine about ballot questions where the policy decisions rest with the Board of Selectmen and Town Meeting.
If the school committee as a government body can, but probably shouldn’t, endorse a ballot question with no direct impact on the schools, then why conduct a debate in the middle of our meeting? A televised debate on the topic is a good idea, but it’s not the job of the school committee to stage it in the midst of our meeting. This is something best left to ACMi or the League of Women Voters, although the League has declared its support for adoption of the Community Preservation Act and urges a YES vote in November.
Which brings us back where we started when this little drama came to light. In stating the ground rules, Town Counsel wrote that: “a School Committee Member, like a Selectman or other elected Town official, may take a position on a ballot question as a school committee member in a variety of formats, including being listed as a supporter by a Ballot Question Committee. However, permit me to note that care should be exercised not to conflate a member’s support for the committee’s support as a body or to use any public resources in advocating a position on a ballot question.”
Mr. Hayner is chair of the NO committee, and he has every right to stand in the public square and make his best argument against the ballot question. The other six members have every right to list themselves as supporters of the ballot question, and have a right to be identified as elected officials when they make that individual endorsement. The school committee, as a body, has not taken a vote on a ballot question that has no direct impact on the schools, nor have we been going around the town stating that the school committee supports the ballot question. It has certainly been noted that six individual members of the committee have endorsed the question, but that’s about it.
As for the school committee agenda, the chair has the responsibility to work with the superintendent to present an agenda to the committee before each meeting. The committee members have a right to respond to a proposed agenda, and request that items be added or deleted from the agenda. If the agenda does not reflect the wishes of the majority of the committee, under Robert’s Rules of Order, the committee has a right to vote to remove an agenda item. After hearing from several committee members, the Community Preservation Act was removed from the final agenda.
Even though it seemed to be a bit of a drama, everything worked the way it was supposed to work.
I am voting YES in November because I believe the small property tax surcharge will lead to spending that makes Arlington a more attractive community, a better place to live, and it will enhance my property values far beyond the cost of the surcharge. That’s why I voted to place the question on the ballot as a Town Meeting Member, and that’s why I will vote YES in November.
The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and this is going to be one of the most beautiful days of the year. It’s a wonderful day for enchiladas!
Enchiladas? Don’t the birds normally sing on election day? Well, yes, but in many ways today’s primary election is the whole enchilada. In most of Arlington, the Democratic primary is the election, as there is no Republican candidate on the ballot for our Representative in Congress, (Governor’s) Councillor, Senator in General Court, and District Attorney. Senator Donnelly is unopposed in the primary, but the remaining races will be decided this evening.
Even where there is an opponent, most pundits, birds, and cats all agree that the only really competitive race in November will be the election for governor. That’s why the birds are singing for the voters of Arlington who will be making their choices today.
The birds are also singing for Martha Coakley, a former Arlington resident who has been very responsive to local governments in her role as Middlesex DA and Attorney General. They like her collaborative style and willingness to listen.
They also sing for Katherine Clark, who was recently elected to Congress to fill the unexpired term of Ed Markey. Not many folks are aware she has a primary opponent, but she needs to win the Democratic primary to continue as our representative.
There is a lot to like about both candidates for Attorney General, but the birds sing with pride for Mike Lake (Lt. Gov.), Tom Conroy (Treasurer), Charlie Shapiro (Governor’s Councillor), and Michael Sullivan (District Attorney).
That said, the birds are really singing for Arlington, with the hope that Arlington will once again be one of the top voting municipalites in a primary election. The birds are singing for you if you visit your friendly poll workers and thank them for making democracy work in Arlington.
So get out there and vote! Polls are open until 8:00 p.m.
Kurt Fusaris has his Arlington Avocado making guacamole out of a possible Cambridge annexation of Arlington. His argument for annexation includes the following analysis:
Arlingtonians who otherwise wish they could afford to live in Cambridge would no longer have to live that as a pipe dream – and they could become Cantabrigians without leaving their current home. Also, Arlington, which has long suffered from a lack of commercial and industrial development due to limited space, would become part of a larger city with a large industrial and commercial base, with plenty of opportunities for further development. As one person said, Arlington would suddenly gain a ton of great new bars, too. Those disgusted with small-town politics would now be part of a larger city political structure – for better or for worse. As part of Cambridge, Arlingtonians would have a lot more clout with the state on matters of education policy, etc. Arlington would also gain many more progressive voters if it became part of Cambridge. Gone would be the days of bitter divisions over overrides and petty political scuffles pitting townies against the establishment.
The talk of annexation comes at a time in which I have been engaged in a question about the optimal size of a municipality. (This conversation has been one of the latest topics in the luncheon seminar on municipal governance that I hold with Wes Beal, Nawwaf Kaba, Joy Wrolson, and assorted other civic leaders on Saturdays.) In this conversation, there are two theoretical axes that are important for the delivery of municipal services.
- Efficiency – economy of scale. If you consider the administrative structure of a town or school system, there is a certain amount of work required to run the operation. So, if a town of 10,000 needs a town administrator, police chief, fire chief, and superintendent of schools, and a town of 20,000 needs the same infrastructure, combining two towns of 10,000 into one town of 20,000 reduces the administrative overhead of the municipality. This starts to break down when the municipality grows large enough that you need to add senior staff to manage the operation.
- Accountability – access to municipal leaders. In a small town, it is pretty easy to gain access to and have a meaningful conversation with municipal leaders, elected and appointed. It is relatively easy to influence local elections, either as a candidate or a supporter. The larger the municipality, the more distant the leadership. Consider the difference between the probability of having coffee with an Arlington selectman and the mayor of Boston.
- Arlington 43,000
- Lexington 31,000
- Belmont 25,000
- Winchester 21,000
Of course, we want Lexington, as it has a really nice industrial tax base along Route 2 and 128. Arlington and Lexington combined would be an interesting municipality, and we could theoretically add Belmont or Winchester (if we want them) and not get above the 100,000 maximum of my theoretical sweet spot.
I can’t stop looking at Ferguson through the lens of my own experience in local government.
I understand how things work in my beloved Town of Arlington, a 5.2 square mile New England town with a population of about 43,000. Ferguson is more suburban than Arlington, in that it has 21,000 people living in 6.2 square miles. (Our neighboring town of WInchester, MA also has 21,000 people living in 6.2 square miles.)
Taking a spin through Ferguson on Google Maps Street View, I see lots of well kept single family homes with more lawn than almost any neighborhood in Arlington. Having done lots of political door knocking in Arlington, I see Ferguson as a flat, pleasant place for a good old fashioned political canvas.
Yes, I am looking at this as a political problem. I know of no other way to view the whole situation. How can a police department think it’s okay to hunt down and shoot unarmed jaywalkers? Who is holding the police department accountable for their actions?
The line of accountability is through the political process. The police chief needs to answer to the mayor and city council, and these elected officials are accountable to the voters.
The crisis we are witnessing began with the murder of Michael Brown, but was fueled by the lack of an appropriate response from the police chief and the elected officials of the City of Ferguson.
A sick police culture
News reports describe the area surrounding Ferguson as a patchwork of small municipalities where African Americans complain of being targeted by the local police. The system is designed to produce this result.
The New York Times reports that the City of Ferguson receives a quarter of its revenue from court fees. This creates an incentive for the mayor and council to expect significant revenue from traffic fines, putting pressure on the police to generate revenue instead of acting in the best interests of the public it is sworn to protect.
Ferguson is not alone in this regard, as the Times reports that some surrounding cities generate half of their revenue from court fees.
Allowing a municipality to keep and budget traffic fines is nothing more than an invitation for trouble. Consider the notorious little city of Hampton, Florida, where they incorporated a 1260 foot stretch of US 301 for the purpose of turning it into a cash cow speed trap. In Hampton, it was easy for the police to point their speed guns at out-of-towners. They had no remorse for victimizing “those people” in order to generate barrels of cash for a corrupt little city.
In St. Louis County, “those people” who are the targets for the traffic fine revenue scheme are mostly guilty of Driving While Black. White cops, black motorists, and a white political structure that is happy with the cash flow being generated by strict, racially motivated traffic enforcement. The ground rules poison the political culture, poison the community, and leads to a culture where a police officer thinks its acceptable to fire six shots into a jaywalker who happens to be one of “those people.”
In Massachusetts, cities and towns are not allowed to keep revenue from moving violations. Massachusetts cities and towns cannot balance their budgets and raise revenue through strict traffic enforcement. If Missouri is serious about abolishing the toxic culture that produced this crisis, they will act immediately to eliminate traffic fines as a municipal revenue source.
A political failure
My television has been filled with a stream of really good folks, who reside in Ferguson, who are appalled by the actions of the police, the response by the police chief, and the condoning silence of the mayor and city council. Three layers of failed accountability.
St. Louis County reports that the last election (April 2, 2013) in the City of Ferguson attracted 1,614 out of 13,745 registered voters, an 11.74% turnout. I am not writing this to scold the folks who didn’t vote in the city election (most cities and towns don’t do much better). I am merely pointing out how easy it is for the community to exert greater accountability over this whole mess.
Ferguson elects city council members by ward, and in 2013 the winning candidate in Ward 1 got just 518 votes. The winner in Ward 2 got 497 votes. The Ward 3 candidate ran uncontested and won with 162 votes. This is not a sign of a huge political establishment that has a stranglehold on the city. This is a small city where a half dozen folks willing to put their names on the ballot, a few dozen dedicated volunteers, and about 1800 new voters can make all the difference in the world.
Local elections matter. Local elections define the quality of local services, including police and public schools. I am sure the good folks of Ferguson have come to a very real understanding, and they know what to do when the next election rolls around. I guarantee the days of sleepy, low turnout elections in Ferguson are long gone.
Ferguson will get this right.
What about the rest of us?