Following the event’s of last Wednesday’s Finance Committee meeting, I feel compelled to express how appalled I am by the continued patronizing behavior of planning board chair Steve Johnson. For those unaware, Mr. Johnson has been fighting tooth and nail to defeat a special town meeting article put forward by Tewksbury residents to change the planning board term from 5 years to 3 years. This article can only move our town forward, bringing the planning board in line with nearly all other elected bodies in the community and offering more opportunity, more often for residents to consider serving their community.
Throughout the months that this article has been put before the community for discussion, Mr. Johnson has belittled the more than 500 residents who have put their support behind the proposed change, offending their intelligence by suggesting that no one has conducted enough research on the issue or thought it through all the way before submitting it to town meeting. I promise that I have given the proposal a great deal of thought, and I find it to be a forward-thinking article that will modernize our local government structure in a positive way. This is not a zoning article. The planning board has no business offering any commentary within their official positions and board meetings or demanding special treatment beyond what any other resident would receive. Proponents of the article have gone outside the state’s prescribed democratic process to cater to the board’s fragile egos as no proponents of a citizen article have ever had to do before.
This brings me to the myriad reasons that Mr. Johnson claims the article should not pass. When he’s not complaining about how little he gets paid ($1,080 a year of taxpayer money to serve as board chair), Mr. Johnson is whining about how unfair it is that, should he choose to run again, he will only be granted a three year term. Mr. Johnson seems to believe that he is the only person who has the skill and knowledge to serve on the board. In a town of 31,342, I find it difficult to believe that least some residents possess relevant planning experience or knowledge; yet even if there are not, a passion and interest in the future of our community is all that’s needed to serve. Everything else can be supplemented with staff assistance, state-run trainings, and some well-asked questions.
Mr. Johnson also seems to believe that, as an incumbent, he is entitled to a lifetime appointment to the board. In a country that democratically elects its leaders, Mr. Johnson is obligated, should he so choose, to go through the same electoral process as every other candidate. He is not entitled to a clear path to victory, and he is not entitled to special government. The seat he occupies on the board is not his in perpetuity — it belongs to the people, and its occupant will be determined by the people. If the people decide to elect their planning board officials at an interval of three years instead of five, Mr. Johnson can either choose to run or not. That is the limit of his personal say in the matter.
As Mr. Johnson is so adept at ascribing intent to other people’s words, I will take a turn at ascribing intent to his words: Mr. Johnson is not concerned with the integrity of the operations of the board, delayed projects, or the so-called steep “learning curve” of new members. Mr. Johnson only cares about his own political interest, and it seems he is willing to say or do anything to keep his seat.
This is not American democracy. This is not patriotic. I urge my neighbors to join me at special town meeting on October 5 to vote YES on Article 17.