LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission Established

Wednesday night, Arlington Town Meeting voted 189-12-3 to establish a LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission.  Dan Dunn has a brief report of the debate, because the debate was brief. No big deal.

One of my first votes in Town Meeting was to establish our Human Rights Commission. Back in 1993 this was a contentious vote, with lots of ugliness entwined in hours of rhetoric. Opponents tried to gut the commission by offering an amendment to remove its subpoena powers. On the other side, proponents described several instances of some very ugly hate incidents that a Human Rights Commission could address.

I remember chatting with a Town Meeting Member from Precinct 1, who had a LGBTQ son at Arlington High School, and his son was being bullied mercilessly. It was both heartbreaking and difficult to listen to what was happening, and I was seriously wondering if I made a serious mistake when I moved to Arlington.

The commission was approved, and the subpoena powers remained intact. I stayed in Arlington, and I stayed in Town Meeting.

Fast forward to 2017. About a month ago, I was sitting on the bench at Za, waiting for my Friday night takeout, chatting with a couple waiting for a table. The weather was unusually cold and nasty for a late March evening. I was asked if I could live anywhere, where would I live. I thought for a few seconds, thought about places with better weather, and came back home. “Arlington, Massachusetts,” I replied.

This evening, I was speaking to a continuing education class, when I was asked about the significant changes to Arlington that made the town the place it is today. I went down my usual list. I talked about our move away from being a dry (moist, or humid) town and the restaurants that arrived when they could get liquor licenses. I talked about the rebuilding of our elementary schools and the Boston Globe declaration that the Brackett School was the best in the state. I mentioned the Bay Windows article that declared Arlington to be lesbian-friendly.

Here’s where I got a bunch of blank stares, and I couldn’t quite articulate why the Bay Windows article was so important. Folks who lived in Arlington in the 1990s understand what I am saying, but the view from 2017 is very different. Even the view from 2004, when marriage equality became the law, was very different. Arlington was toward the top of the list of communities issuing licenses on the first possible day. Why would the Bay Windows article matter?

What I didn’t say explicitly was that Bay Windows wrote the first article declaring Arlington as a welcoming community. In a town that had a reputation for being closed and insular, had a reputation for killing the Red Line extension to prevent “those people” from riding the train into town, this one article was transformative.

Folks who moved to Arlington based on the article, and our changing reputation, added to our diversity; new residents embraced this welcoming spirit, and Arlington’s reputation as a great place to live blossomed. Welcoming became the norm (though not truly universal) to the point where our 189-12-3 vote to establish a LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission is unremarkable.

Oh, What a New England Morning

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.

Chorus:
Oh what a New England morning,
Oh what a cold winters day,
French Toast is sending a warning,
More snow is coming our way.

Repeat chorus

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.

Repeat chorus

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.

Repeat chorus

Snow covered mailbox
Mailbox. Capitol Square, Arlington.

Let the annexation games begin

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.
I think we are in a sweet spot in the accountability axis, but we are smaller than the optimal size for efficiency. How much larger can a municipality get before the greater efficiency results in a significant cost to accountability?
I grew up in a municipality with a population of about 200,000, and local elections are expensive. You don’t have a connection to town leadership that you have in Arlington.
Where’s the sweet spot? My theory is that the theoretical optimal size for a municipal entity is between 80,000 and 100,000. Think Newton. At about 85,000, it is large enough to be efficient but small enough to be reasonably accountable.
So, being annexed by Cambridge would place us in a city with a population of 150,000, considerably above my theoretical “sweet spot.” Maybe I am wrong, but if my estimate is spot on, think about who we should be annexing.
  • 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.

So, in a nod to Kurt Fusaris, I would love to have a Cambridge parking permit, but if we want to play the annexation game, we should look to our smaller neighbors. Who should we target?