Open discussion thread: Ask questions, share opinions

by susan on September 12, 2011

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Above: On the Sudbury Reservoir this weekend

Time for another open thread. For those of you new to the blog, the open discussion thread is your place to ask questions, sound off on town issues, or share information with other readers. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Ask questions about programs in town or the town itself
  • Post a note about things that you’re selling or giving away, or things that you want
  • Share notices about upcoming events (Southborough or otherwise)
  • Register your thoughts on town issues or news stories
  • Point out interesting or helpful resources

You can add comments to the thread throughout the week. Check back often to see new comments. (If you read the blog via email or RSS, you might want to check the site from time to time for new comments.)

To view past open discussion threads, click here.

1 Donna McDaniel September 12, 2011 at 8:05 PM

Especially after reading some of the comments about the article on the Woodland Rd. project, I have to wonder why it is that we should want to read comments by people who don’t want to sign their own name. I’m sure there are plenty of great quotations in our history about democracy giving everyone an opportunity to participate but we have to wonder if that means anonymous people are encouraged to make comments, perhaps true, perhaps not, perhaps useful to the rest of us, perhaps not, but then take no responsibility for what they’ve said, If you know what you are saying is true or represents your well-thought out opinion, why would you not want to identify yourself? I would be very interested to know how others feel about this and what the justification is for allowing anonymity. .

2 susan September 12, 2011 at 11:47 PM

This is a discussion we’ve had many times on the blog, but it’s worth revisiting. It was a conscious decision on my part to allow anonymous commenting, but I’d like to hear what you think. Should people be required to use their real names when commenting here? Would it change the nature of the discussion on this blog if they were? For those of you who choose anonymity, why? Would you continue to contribute if real names were required? When someone comments anonymously, do you place less value in what they have to say?

3 Deb Moore September 13, 2011 at 4:21 PM

I try not to say anything here I wouldn’t say anywhere else, so I have no problem using my full name. I respect others who choose a pseudonym and post under that name only. I do not respect others who may post under any old name they thought up that day, never to be seen again, because their online personality has no history and they may very well be shilling for their own opinions under another name. However, I accept their right to do so under Susan’s rules.

4 SouthboroDave September 13, 2011 at 8:25 AM

Personally, I don’t use my full name because I consider anything that is written online, written in stone. I want to retain some semblance of privacy on the internet. If you post on the internet often people could begin to get to know you, and I’m not comfortable with any stranger with Google getting to know me. If this was a private blog that would be different, but it’s wide open for all to see including any future recruiters that might be trying to profile me for a future job opportunity. I’m not sure how ethical it is, but I’m sure recruiters do research on their candidates and I don’t want to allow them access to my opinions before I personally provide them. I simply do not want to be tied to my opinion forever. I want the ability to change my opinion over the years. For example: I might be against a new park this year, but 5 years from now when I have a child I might be all for spending tax money on a new playground. And coincidentally I’m applying for a manager job at a commercial playground corporation. The internet and my full name just don’t jive. I wouldn’t contribute nearly as often if I had to use my real name. For better or worse…;)

5 Curious September 13, 2011 at 9:38 AM

I am with SouthboroughDave and not to mention that if you work for the town or schools they will practically prosecute you if they know you are posting. Those who do have to be careful in order to protect their jobs but may have vaulable information to share. I don’t think that it is a problem for anonymous postings, I think it opens the field up to more opinions and information

6 Pam September 13, 2011 at 6:29 AM

I chose to use my first name only. Some people might be able to figure out who I am, maybe not. I don’t feel that it should be “mandatory” for a person to use their full name or even a part of their name. It’s a choice and if they feel better being anonymous, so be it. Some people are shy, others might feel that they would be criticized for their comments and not even post them unless under anonymity. Is this a problem? I don’t think so. Just my two cents.

7 Mark Ford September 13, 2011 at 7:26 AM

I’m a “full name” kinda guy, and I believe I should either stand by my opinion or keep it to myself… I’ve had discussions with others who firmly defend anonymous posting. I don’t care much, though I do respect attributed comments more.

8 SouthboroDave September 13, 2011 at 8:05 AM

Question: Why are many mailboxes in Southborough situated on the opposite side of the road from the owners actual house? I’ve had numerous guests comment on how difficult it can be to figure out where each address is located. Especially when many homes don’t have the address in a visible location near the front entrance. I see mailboxes on both sides of the street, so why not just let each house have their mailbox at the end of driveway?

9 Yiwei September 13, 2011 at 11:59 AM

I think it is because this way will cut the mail delivery’s miles in half so they don’t have to drive on the same road twice. Our house’s mailbox is on the oppisite side as well so we actually have an arrow pointing at house right on the mailbox.

10 FormerSB-Resident September 13, 2011 at 12:24 PM

It makes it easier and faster for the mail to be delivered. The mail truck just has to drive down the street once, not twice. It’s fairly common on narrow roads. This is also the case for other towns, like Northborough, for instance.

Keeping it anonymous… :)

11 Kelly Roney September 19, 2011 at 4:59 PM

Not only that, but numbers on opposite sides of the road may be significantly offset. If you expect #45 to be right across from #44, especially on older roads, you’ll be disappointed. Google Maps has a hard time dealing with that.

12 Anita Reeder September 13, 2011 at 8:21 AM

I do have a question that I hope someone can answer. When we moved to Southborough 20 years ago, we had a small fire station on the corner of Harrington and Southville. A few years later we were told at town meeting that it was unhealthy (mold issues, as I recall) and needed to be condemned because it would cost too much to repair. So, close it they did. A year later it was housing a DPW annex! I never heard why it suddenly was ok to have town employees there after being told it was harmful to human life. As a person who lives on the south side, there was a feeling of security having firemen and EMTs so close by. Now with everyone housed together on Main Street, it takes a heck of a lot longer to get to us, especially going over the reservoir during rush hour times. I also recall hearing lamenting that our fire department personnel should all be together in one place and few agreed with that for a number of years. Then, suddenly, the mold story….I am a trusting soul, but it seems extremely coincidental that when it wasn’t flying to gather all personnel on Main Street, we had a mold problem….and then to make it a DPW annex within a short amount of time….well, something smells fishy here. Does anyone recall what exactly the story was on this? I have been curious about this for a long time…facts, please, just the facts :-)

13 Brett September 13, 2011 at 8:25 AM

I can see the need for anonymity. As was stated above, some people are shy or nervous about posting, and might not post otherwise. I could certainly see situations where you might have friends/family in town who are on another side of an issue, and posting anonymously would let you add your thoughts to the discussion without causing any strife in your personal relationships.

14 Pat Q September 13, 2011 at 9:17 AM

I think I may put a bit more credibility into posts signed with a name (full or not) but I
certainly don’t ignore or dismiss comments made by people who wish to remain

There are many reasons someone may choose to post anonymously (local job, public employee, etc) and I don’t think the main objective is to disperse false information. I do think anonymous posters deserve a chance to participate and perhaps give us an insiders perscpective on certain hot topics in this town.

There are certainly the posters who are anonymous and just choose to rant or get ugly but that’s what you get when you choose to partcipate in a public blog. The world is certainly a colorful place whether for good or for bad.

I believe everyone should have a voice regardless if they are shy or brazenly outspoken. If, say, a teacher or a public employee wants to add their opinions to the mix but want to remain anonymous because of their job, I am supportive of that. It doesn’t mean they are any less passionate about a topic and it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be heard.

I think this (or any) blog takes the risk of being overrun with the same people posting the same predictable comments if we silence the anonymous.

15 I'm just sayin'.... September 13, 2011 at 9:38 AM

Sometimes I use my real name, other times this moniker. Not because I have anything to hide, but like SouthboroDave, I don’t want my name all over the internet. Also, I have lived in small New England towns for most of my life and been involved in town issues that have turned ugly. I just don’t want that negativity around me or my family anymore. If you could have an opinion about something and not get attacked for it, then perhaps more people would be willing to use their real names. Probably why we don’t go to town meeting anymore, either. Voting is not private and we have been seriously threatened by voting against things (or for things!) that others were not in favor of. In fact, my husband lost his business because of that in one town we lived in. Ridiculous, I know, but unfortunately there are very vindictive people out there and I just don’t want that type of stress in my life anymore. I can remember one incident with a neighbor over whether to have a separate high school that reduced me to tears because he was being so malicious and hurtful. And it wasn’t me being oversensitive, as others who overheard the conversation were appalled. I guess I am just not very thick-skinned, but I also feel that I have the right to say what I think without getting attacked for it…..

16 Pam September 13, 2011 at 9:56 AM

As I started to read “I’m just sayin'” comment, I thought about how good it was that this blog WAS NOT around during the high school issue. I was also ostracized because of my views regarding the separate high school issue. Being a former ARHS student, you can probably figure out which side of the fence I sat on. That being said, ALL of my neighbors were on the opposite side. It made life difficult and I can only imagine what the fallout would have been had this blog been around then and you had to use your full name. OR there would have been a few people who definitely would have kept their thoughts to themselves.

17 SB Resident September 13, 2011 at 10:32 AM

The anonymity issue seems to have been covered, but to add something new, I actually put less value on the comments that aren’t anonymous. I generally think that if you are signing your name that you want to be identified and thus have something to prove or some other motivation behind what you are saying. Thoughts are thoughts, who has them is rather irrelevant, I read the comments because I want to know what others are thinking and why they think it when I don’t agree. It is nice that people post under the same moniker though.

While on the topic I wish Susan would get rid of the email requirement to post. Email addresses are free and infinite, so its irrelevant anyway, but I think that little requirement inhibits people from posting and I’d like to see more volume and other opinions other than the same 20 or so people who generally do all the posting.

18 Mark Ford September 13, 2011 at 10:48 AM

Wow, interesting perspective, not that you value this comment…

19 Yiwei September 13, 2011 at 12:32 PM

Wow from me too. I use my real name because I am not good at picking a good nick name:-) There is no hidden motivation or agenda on my side. In fact, I don’t mind my future employers “spy” on me to find out who I am or what I believe in because I have nothing to hide. They will find out anyway through reference. I have hired many people throughout my career and I only care if the candidates can do the job:-) His approval/disapproval opinions for the town’s playground is irrelevant.

20 PrivacyMatters September 13, 2011 at 2:07 PM

This comment prompted me to make my first-ever comment on this blog. I believe privacy has a very important and prominent place in our society even when you have nothing to hide. Here is a link to a very well thought out argument in favor of privacy and why it matters. This scratches below the surface. I recommend everyone read it.
The phrase “nothing to hide” just makes me cringe and shudder and I live a very mundane, typical suburban existence.

21 Yiwei September 13, 2011 at 4:38 PM

Hi PrivacyMatters,
I am not disagreeing with you about privacy at all. If my comments offended you then I appoligize. I simpily felt strange to some comments about using real names = hidden agenda and motivation. I value ALL opinions themselves rather than names, real or not. My “have nothing to hide” simplily mean I don’t have any conflicting viewpoints anywhere online and offline no matter where people look for them rather than implying anything on anybody. It is a very straightforward talking. If this becomes a blunt and shocking phrase in this community then I would take it back in a heartbeat and I will be more careful in chossing words.

22 Rachel September 13, 2011 at 11:39 AM

Is there difficulty with the town’s official site? I’ve tried getting onto it for the past two days and have had no luck.

Also, I believe that being anonymous online is for everyone’s benefit. For instance, I once read a comment posted that I strongly disagreed with it. Do you really want the whole town to snicker behind your back every time you pass just because you have different views?

23 John Butler September 15, 2011 at 12:22 AM

There are a few points about anonymity I’d like to make.
First, although, since this is a private blog, Susan can decide whatever she wants for this site, there is a well established right to anonymity in US political speech and that is important for the occasions when it is needed. For this blog there are rare occasions when anonymity is justified by real risk to a writer, but more often it generates problems.
The two problems with anonymity that I see are:
1. It encourages more vitriolic speech, more emotion and harshness, than would occur if people were identified with their views. Since there are always some real publicly identified people who may feel they are the object of criticism in some way, whether they are a Town employee or a volunteer, that asymetry is often unfair. If you want to say harsh things about the Police Chief or the Board of Selectmen, there is something unfair about doing so while hiding yourself. If it is too harsh to carry your name, maybe it is too harsh to someone else. (I agree you have a legal right to do so. I just think it isn’t nice.) Furthermore, the overall tone of discussion when most are posting anonymously often degrades to a level that would be avoided if people had to be identifed with what they write.
2. Real action, changing something in the real world that you think needs to be changed, requires that you step out from behind shadows. Not much in our Town, or our society at large, gets done by secret ballot alone. To get something done you need to have enough courage to show up at meetings, and speak up publicly. If you write publicly and speak publicly your views are connected with your own public actions and that is healthy for a democracy. By contrast a discussion dominated by anonymous speech often wallows in its own ambiance of disenfranchisement, in which the writers assume they can’t change that which they rant against. In this Town, nothing could be further from the truth. You can change anything, but trying requries that you be visible.
So, I’m with Donna McDaniels on this one. I commend to you: frank, plain, speech, signed, polite and unemotional as you can make it, followed by public action when you think the issue is important. You will not be harmed by it, and we will all be better for it.

24 Frank Crowell September 15, 2011 at 7:05 PM

With respect to anonymity on this board, this link says it all for me.

25 Pat Q. September 15, 2011 at 8:41 PM

Quite frankly, if I had to read nothing but “frank, plain speech, signed polite and unemotional as you can make it” on a town’s blog I would die of boredom. Usually when someone is moved to change something, which does take courage, passion and emotion are usually involved…..the fire in your belly, so to speak. It’s what makes community dialogue exciting. A blog does not take place in a stuffy conference room but invites all of us in the comfort of our homes to have a voice…..whether signed or anonymous. Hopefully, people can remain fair and act like adults but I don’t ever want to take the emotion out of our posts if we so choose to be emotional or passionate or angry or thrilled. This freedom allowed on a blog will sometimes bring about nasty, small minded people but that just comes with the territory and most people know to just not reply or read ahead.

26 Rob Stevenson September 16, 2011 at 11:09 AM

Does anyone know the rules for clearing trees knocked down by Irene that are near the street? The landscaper that started to remove a tree where I live was presumably informed by a DPW representative that he should not be clearing the tree. Does that mean the DPW will be clearing it? Do I need to inform the DPW of the tree? What is the distance from the street for this to be the case?

27 John Rooney September 25, 2011 at 4:51 PM

As the leaves begin to change and we head into another season of budget debate, the importance of residential participation in the deliberative process is more critical than ever.

Open town meeting is often referred to as the “purest form of democracy,” ensuring that all policy decisions are made by the residents, with no intermediaries between the voters and their decisions. This “purest form of democracy” can be somewhat less idyllic. Low attendance means that the decisions at town meeting are really being made by a small percentage of our residents. In essence, most of the residents default their decision-making authority to the small group of residents who attend the meeting. As a result, the meeting may go in a direction that does not reflect the wishes of the vast majority of the residents because the majority has chosen not to attend. Presently at town meeting, a small group represent the interests of all citizens, although no one has elected them to do so, and they are accountable to no one.

Lest we forget, the U.S. Constitution established America as a republic rather than a democracy. In a republican form of government, the citizens delegate the task of governing to elected representatives. Direct democracy, on the other hand, patterned after the Athenian democracy, is a form of government in which citizens govern themselves. This system of government was one which the Founders regarded as unstable. The Founders believed that representative, republican democracy provided an appropriate balance between popular control and deliberative decision-making.

Deliberation is an essential ingredient to democracy. Deliberation helps ensure that decisions are made only after thoughtful consideration of opposing views, pertinent facts and potential consequences. The participatory apathy evident at low residential turnout at town meeting will result in decisions being made by few that impact many. This is anything but the “purest form of democracy.”

As municipal resources become less available, critical decisions about maintaining town services are upon us. Increased residential participation will become more important as municipal services are either curtailed or eliminated all together. One option I have suggested, an option which is personal in nature and not endorsed by the BOS, is to explore the viability of allowing residents to “participate” in town meeting remotely.

Certainly, today’s technology allows town meeting to be live webcast. This would afford those who either could not attend or chose not to attend to view the deliberative process as if present. The question then becomes, of course, whether there is any appetite, assuming affirmative legislative sanction, to engage in remote residential voting. Direct democracy is feasible, though with attendant risks, given the advent of Internet voting. While I understand the argument that people should make the effort to clear their schedule and attend in person, the reality is that people do not. If we are truly joined with the common bond of commitment to direct democracy, shouldn’t we also be bound by the objective of increased residential participation?

If direct democracy and open town meeting is to survive the inertia toward a representative form of government in this ever changing world, it will only be done by increasing residential participation. Moving town meeting to a Saturday or changing the date will not measurably increase participation; however, redefining what “present” means for purposes of participating in the deliberative process may actually allow direct democracy to survive and flourish. The alternative results in exactly the instability and lack of transparency that caused the Founders to soundly reject it.

28 SB Resident September 26, 2011 at 12:10 PM

I doubt that having town meeting on a live webcast will increase participation significantly. The problem is time and the value of it. Many of the issues deliberated on just aren’t significant enough to warrant my time to attend. Yeah it sucks that the transfer station fee went up, but for the time required to fight it versus the cost increase, I’d rather spend that time with my kids.

I think most people would want their opinion to count, but are like me and just don’t want to waste the time required to have it count. While I agree that deliberation can be important, for better or worse I don’t think too many minds are changed during the deliberation process at town meeting. People have their opinions and that is that.

My suggestion would be that all the issues that are voted on at town meeting be voted on as ballet questions. This could be done 2-4 times a year. I can’t come up with any downsides to governing at the local level in this manner. Would be glad to hear what someone against this would say though.

29 Brett September 27, 2011 at 8:43 AM

I think this has been discussed before, but the reason we can’t do ballot measures is that it doesn’t take into account any amendments. Each issue at the town meeting can be amended during the meeting, and then those amendments are voted on as they come up. Ballot measures would take away peoples ability to propose amendments/updates to items, since we could only vote on items that were already locked down.

30 Pat Q September 26, 2011 at 7:59 PM

No matter how much of a privilage it is in this country to be able to voice your
opinion at Town Meeting (both by having the chance to speak into an open mic and then to stand up and vote) the reality of it all is quite startling. “Last year only 6% of registered voters attended Town Meeting” …..that boggles the mind when you consider last years agenda was not exactly lacking in hot topics.

6% of registered voters should not be making the decisions for an entire town. “Get up off your butt, show up and vote!” you say…., but, it just isn’t happening, There are a zillion reasons why people don’t make the time to go…some good, some not so good. The plain and simple fact is that people DON”T. The current system is no longer working they way it was meant to and that is what is important here.

Tell me this doesn’t happen to you…………you shown up at Town Meeting and find yourself A) feeling disappointed that there are so many empty seats, B) noticing the same people show up year after year, and C) sitting there pretty much knowing what the outcome is going to be despite the fact that you showed up to vote.

It’s time to change the way we vote and have voter outcomes more representative of the town as a whole and not a tiny percentage who show up at Town Meeting. I agree with Mr. Rooney.

31 Wondering September 27, 2011 at 9:35 AM

What is up with the water at the causeway? For the past week or so, it started out looking digusting and then yesterday I noticed a foul smell coming from it as I was passing by. Does anyone know what is going on with that? Isn’t this our drinking water for the town?

32 susan September 27, 2011 at 9:41 AM

It does stink, doesn’t it? The color and odor are the result of an algae bloom. Check out this post from last year with more info and some photos:

The reservoir is only a backup water supply for the region and I’m not sure the MWRA has ever had to resort to using it (anyone?), so you don’t have to worry about your tap water.

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