The fairways and traps of Plymouth’s 18-precinct course.
By Frank Mand, Candidate for the Select Board
It’s not easy: though I am running to replace one of the town’s long-standing Select Board members, I have to admit that no matter who sits on the Board Plymouth is – to follow through with my golf metaphor – a challenging course.
Each of its 18 holes (precincts) is unique and must be approached differently.
Some are decidedly residential (9), some rural and forested (12), a few are classic New England beach communities (6, 7) that – at least originally – were filled with summer residents and emptied out in the winter.
Some have nary a ‘Dunkies’ in sight, while others are crowded with bars and boutiques.
So, a big part of the challenge of leading this town is making sure that each precinct receives an equal amount of attention, services, and amenities – specific to their needs.
I’m not sure that’s been happening.
I look at ‘downtown’ Cedarville and have to wonder how that tangle of roads, parking lots and strip malls could have been allowed to happen.
When I lived down that way, I would often get takeout from Asian Essence and leaving there and trying to get back on State Road – facing traffic coming from the highway to the south, cars exiting the Dunkin Donuts across the street, cars coming south on State from Shaws and from the terminus of Hedges Pond Road – I had to close my eyes and hope for the best.
Cedarville also has a closed landfill and a mysterious ‘Cedarville Conservation Area’ that was approved but never recorded?
Is Cedarville the land that Russell Street forgot? Maybe. By what about West Plymouth Village? By the way, where is West Plymouth Village?
There are thousands of lovely homes in West Plymouth, but they largely exist on islands of residential land, cut off from each other by new, old and closed supermarkets, two malls, hundreds of acres of parking lots, an industrial park and a sand and gravel operation. And all that in an area that used to provide the town with most of its water.
By the way, did you hear that they have run out of drinking water in West Plymouth? That’s not really a surprise, considering how much construction has been going on there for the last decade.
But are you starting see what I mean about the need for different approaches for different precincts, or areas of Plymouth?
Part of the need for different approaches, is to fulfill the promises the town made to residents – and business owner – when they first came to town.
When they first moved in every resident of this town was promised a high quality of life. That’s really all we have to offer, and what everybody wants.
The people in the sand of White Horse Beach. The newcomers snapping up the homes at Redbrook. The Six-Ponders. The people of the ‘Villes’ – Cedar, Valor, Ellis. The Manometians.
Even the people in the Pinehills and around Great Island have the same expectation.
Is that too much to ask?
There are those that offer the excuse that because we are a large town - we have more land than Boston – that we must necessarily end up as crowded and congested as other urban centers.
That’s just not true.
Let’s talk Chiltonville: why aren’t there more cluster developments, strip malls, and 40B ‘s there?
That area of town is one of the few successes of our last Master Plan, which noted the unique qualities of Chiltonville and advocated for its preservation.
That Master Plan also took note that Plymouth is at the heart of a globally rare ecoregion. But when was the last time you took a hike in Myles Standish State Forest?
We tend to take this 15,000-acre woodland reserve for granted when it should be part of a comprehensive eco-tourism strategy that could bring thousands of new tourists to town for extended stays.
Can you imagine if Orlando wanted nothing to do with Disney World?
The same goes for our working waterfront. We need to have a specific strategy for supporting our waterfront and the dozens of entrepreneurs who work there.
It’s a complex, challenging environment. Which is perhaps why some members of the Select Board offer cookie-cutter solutions like, ‘remove red tape,’ or a ‘horse track and casino,’ or say the answer is simply more commercial development.
Just a few years back the Town Hall was on Lincoln Street, and over on Russell there was a deteriorating 1820 Courthouse and a series of ramshackle brick buildings that together served as the County Courthouse.
There were dozens of meetings, over several years, with the goal of saving the historic courthouse and re-purposing the land off Russell and in the end the CPC paid for the restoration of the Courthouse and a local meals tax (75 cents on every $100 restaurant bill) paid for a brand-new Town Hall that spearheaded a dramatic renaissance of the downtown.
We can do this. We can maintain our quality of life, conserve our resources, attract the best businesses… without selling off everything we moved here for in the first place.
It’s really a bit silly of me to use a golf metaphor to describe the challenges we face, especially because I’m a horrible golfer.
But even I know that you need a different golf club for every shot.
Plymouth may be famous for its history, but the reality is that every one of our 18 precincts is unique and deserves to be treated that way.
Feel the same? Then remember my name:
Frank Mand for Select Board
For more information visit Http://www.ElectFrankMand.com
Tree Hugger, re-defined.
I honestly think it silly to consider me, or call me, a “tree hugger.”
It’s really an outdated word, from a different era – an era when there were a lot of words being thrown about to stereotype people.
But let’s consider that those calling me ‘tree hugger’ have the best of intentions, that they are saying that…
- Because I am the Vice President of a conservation organization. I am too focused on trees in our community.
That would be oversimplifying the goals of that organization.
There may be some conservation efforts that are focused on a particular species of tree, or a particular forest, but the group I belong to is about an ecoregion -a complex, organic entity whose vitality is key to our own well-being.
- Or maybe they are worried I am biased; that my salary and other benefits I receive as leader of the SEMass Pine Barrens Alliance prevent me from giving developers a fair review.
I do not, nor have I ever, received a salary or personal benefits as part of this group. After 10 years I have volunteered 10,000 hours or more, for free.
In that time I have written grants that have brought in close to a million dollars to the town and region, and given that money to others.
In that time I have helped produce hundreds of events and activities, at the high schools, at our Center, made presentations to many local organizations, and so on.
At the same time, I co-manage a local small business and am an elected member of the Planning Board and the Charter Commission.
I have a BA from Boston College in English Literature, an MBA in International Business from Northeastern, and A Certificate in Professional Publishing from Stanford and, to make ends meet, my partner and I run a 3-suite Airbnb in downtown Plymouth.
It’s amazing that I have any time left over to hug trees?!
Part of the reason for the consistently low turnout at our local elections is that, in large part, the town is comprised of people who, on a daily basis, have very little to do with the town.
They live here, yes, but don’t spend much time here.
They’re more interested in which team selects their 9-year-old for Little League Baseball, than who is on the Selectboard, and I don’t blame them.
In fact, I used to be one of them.
I worked in Charlestown, an almost 90-minute commute every day.
I didn’t really know my neighbors, hardly saw them, unless their nine-year-old was on the same baseball or hockey, or soccer team.
So year after year I let someone else decide who represented me. I let someone else decide where my tax dollars were spent.
Local government was, for me, only good for blaming when things went wrong.
But then I began working for the local paper and writing about the good and the bad of Plymouth.
You know what I discovered? There are about 500 people who make all the decisions.
They do pretty well. Most really care about the community. But it’s the same people, and that’s a shame.
First of all, no matter how well-intentioned those 500 are, you really shouldn’t have the same people making all the decisions.
They’re great for keeping things going along like it always has, but when things change it’s a challenge.
That’s where we are at right now. We need a new vision and the people in charge just can’t adapt.
Instead, they offer more of the same.
That’s what the horse track is: it’s bigger more of the same.
It’s a hundred strip malls rolled into one, with a little glitter added.
Honestly, if you don’t care who’s running the town I know you’ll still have plenty to do.
If you want more of the same you don’t have to do anything extra.
If you want change. Well, that’s going to take a little more effort.
I am hoping that at the very least you take the time to check off my name on May 20.
In the meantime, get in touch.
One of my political pet peeves is the often-stated idea that the best way to support and attract business to town, is to cut regulations.
All of our regulations, our supposed reputation for red tape, are driving businesses away – we are told.
It seems businesses are indifferent to our beautiful beaches, our historic legacy, our 450 ponds and and well-educated residents.
Or it could it be something else? Say, perhaps, lack of long-range planning?
I’ll give you a good example of how that kind of planning can have a positive effect…
For decades Plymouth had a just a few aquaculture businesses, beginning I think with mussels a few decades back, then clams.
Then, seeing the success of Skip Bennett of Island Creek Oysters in Duxbury, there was a sudden interest in oyster farming.
The usual process would have required that each individual oyster ‘farmer’ apply to various state and federal bureaucracies for review and approval of their locations, with each application taking perhaps years to process.
Instead the town – through Harbormaster Chad Hunter – took on much of that bureaucracy themselves, getting the necessary approval for a dedicated aquaculture area and then giving out permits themselves.
Essentially the town, as it should, provided the infrastructure needed.
And today we have approximately 3-dozen farmers working the flats in our harbor.
Why haven’t we done the same for other, attractive industries in town?
I attended the recent ‘blue economy’ convention at Hotel 1620 and, though the real success story at that gathering was the aquaculture industry in town, the most important story of that convention was that we have the potential to attract other, ocean-based, high-tech companies to our harbor.
Businesses like Promare’s Mayflower Autonomous Ship, which successfully navigated from the harbor of Plymouth UK, to a berth in our harbor, without a human on board.
Asked what the town could do to attract more businesses like his to Plymouth, the autonomous ship’s co-founder Brad Phaneuf said – at first - that we already had what it takes.
Then he reconsidered…
Off the top of his head he suggested that a plan that would allow experimental ships like his, the hundreds of recreational boats already there, and our commercial fisherman and shellfish farmers to share the harbor safely, would be a big help.
It would also be nice to have a pier dedicated to experimental ships - or at least a few berths, Phaneuf continued.
We need to plan and provide infrastructure now, to attract the kinds of businesses we want, tomorrow.
Given our leadership in conservation those businesses should definitely include high-tech companies developing technologies for a greener future as well.
Are blue and green high-tech entrepreneurs looking for the cheap and easy?
No, they are looking for a community that is unafraid to commit to a vision of the future.
If we want to keep what’s good about Plymouth now, we need to plan for the Plymouth of tomorrow.
Some people may be surprised to know that my partner Sharl and I are small business owners.
Those who I often disagree with on local political issues, like to say I’m a tree hugger, with a bias toward the environment, and no sympathy for business owners.
In fact, I’ve always been entrepreneurially inclined, have run my own business in the past, and for the past five years have been operating a business that is directly tied to downtown tourism.
At the same time, I have helped lead a successful non-profit that, while I have not financially benefitted from it, has brought hundreds of thousands of dollars into this community.
So I think I have some insights into the business environment – especially businesses located in the historic downtown – and have to say I am concerned with the direction that this part of town is taking, in terms of development, character, traffic and the like.
Most Plymoutheans live elsewhere, so they might not care what happens downtown: it’s a place they visit, for its restaurants and bars and boutique businesses, perhaps for a short excursion into the harbor – so they don’t have to deal with the congestion, the noise, and the changing character of the area on a regular basis.
From my standpoint though, we’re on the edge downtown.
- Water Street has become a virtual drag strip, though its often too congested to allow for high speeds.
- Water, Court and Main Street are being squeezed by outdoor dining areas, sandwich boards and ‘open’ flags that impede foot traffic.
- On summer nights it’s a battle of the bands, with outdoor music emanating from abutting businesses, creating a cacophony of classic rock songs splashing up against each other like criss-crossing waves on a rocky promontory.
From an architectural perspective we are fast losing our small-town appeal as well, with bigger and bigger buildings, less and less open space, and fewer and fewer parking spaces, all leading to a loss of what was a unique blend of small-town streets and independent businesses.
Our independent, non-chain businesses remain a saving grace, and specifically our unique owner-operated restaurants and boutique stores, but if we don’t hit the pause button and come up with a plan that eases congestion, focuses on the pedestrian and emphasizes the history and beauty of this important part of town – our downtown will quickly become just another over-developed waterfront, indistinguishable from dozens of others.
- We need remote parking areas
- We need better traffic control.
- We need enforcement of noise regulations and open sidewalks.
- We need to work with the state to fix the trains so that visitors don’t have to drive here.
- We need a commuter boat from Boston.
If we want to keep the good we have today, we have to plan for the future.
If you feel the same, check off my name: Frank Mand for Select Board.
The Cone of Silence
Executive Sessions are a bad habit.
It didn’t begin with the present Selectboard, but they have probably perfected the art.
Going to talk to Holtec?
Going to fire the Town Manager?
Going to buy a property that nobody wants?
Not enough water for the latest hi-rise development?
What is the leading reason for these closed sessions?
Supposedly divulging to the public what you may or may not want to pay for property, or for a salary, will jeopardize negotiations with a group or individual.
Could it be, though, that if you express publicly what your feelings are, that will force you to be more honest and respectful, shorten the negotiation period, and remove the ill-feelings that often persist long after the negotiations have concluded?
I think elected officials should err on the side of greater transparency and forego executive sessions whenever possible, because that will also create greater trust on the part of the public.
Ultimately, the responsibility lies with the Selectboard, but the public deserves their say - before a decision is reached.
If you feel the same check off my name.
Frank Mand for Selectperson
The Best People
I’m more than a little worried about how we choose people to fill the important committees and commissions that play such a large role in our Town Meeting form of government.
There are as many ways to appoint committee members as there are committees, and that’s a problem.
We should really have a standard, objective process, but we don’t.
That’s why, as an elected Charter Commissioner, I supported a change in the town’s charter that creates a committee that will leave those decisions in the hands of those you elect but offers recommendations.
No committee, be it a Select Board, Planning Board or another group, should be able to stack a committee with those who agree with their agenda, regardless of their qualifications.
If you feel the same, check off my name:
Frank Mand for Selectperson.
Changes in the Charter
I was elected to the Plymouth Charter Commission, and believe our 18-month effort to produce a new charter for the town should be ratified by voters at the May 2023 Town Election. Below you will find several of the more controversial changes The Commission proposed and why I believe they will improve the effectiveness of our town government.
One of the more controversial revisions to the proposed revision to the Plymouth Town Charter, is the expansion of the Selectboard from five to seven members.
The key here is not how many however, but how these seven will be elected.
Four will be elected in the same manner as they are today: by voters in all 18 precincts.
The new charter creates three new ‘District’ Selectboard members who will be elected by voters in their district (containing 6 of the town’s 18 precincts.)
It is likely that the three new districts will represent, as closely as possible, ‘old’ Plymouth, a larger ‘west’ Plymouth, and six precincts largely found in the southern end of town – but the creation of those districts will be put in the hands of a special committee and they may decide otherwise.
The majority of the Charter Commission members felt that this change would accomplish several important goals:
- It would give neglected areas greater attention. There is concern that the older, historic sections of town receive more attention from town government.
- By offering a ‘District’ representative we might, potentially, increase voter interest and turnout at elections.
- It would give the Selectboard itself a broader perspective on the issues.
- And it supports government’s main function: to allow the fullest possible participation of all residents in the preservation of the community’s common resources.
Of course the existing board is uncomfortable with this proposed revision, as it appears to water down their authority, adding additional Board members. But if fewer numbers were in and of themselves better, we should reduce the number, to three, or one.
Again, the emphasis is on fuller representation: a town of this size, and variety, must be on guard against any precinct, region or group gaining too much influence or garnering a disproportionate amount of financial support.
Are 7 too many?
In my experience if you have the right level of commitment, boards with greater numbers produce better results. But whatever the number, boards must be committed to open, transparent discourse. Three additional ‘district’ Selectpersons will at the very least force the board to be mindful of different perspectives.
Greater Authority for the Committee of Precinct Chairs
At the meeting in which the Selectboard was officially presented the revised charter language several Board members objected to what they perceived as increased authority for the Committee of Precinct Chairs, and Town Meeting members in general.
I would argue that the new Charter language does not increase the authority of the COPC but, rather, underlines the authority they already possess.
There is a new provision in the revised charter, for example, that the COPC and Selectboard hold joint meetings four times a year. Both groups are required to meet and so, both might object to this provision as burdensome. But what this is really is, is an opportunity for both groups to discuss concerns that they have, before those concerns become contentious.
There is also a provision that gives the COPC responsibility for reviewing and recommending non-financial Town Meeting articles. This is not so much new authority, as it is a sensible re-allocation of resources. The Finance Committee is widely considered the hardest working volunteer committee in Town Government, and allowing them to concentrate their research and debate on articles with a clear financial impact – should prove more efficient.
The goal of the Charter Commission was not to diminish the authority of the Selectboard, but rather to make it clear that Town Meeting’s 162 members represent a co-equal branch of government.
Again, and again, the final result of this and other revisions to the Town Charter, should be to increase the level of true representation inherent in this form of government. Plymouth has over 60,000 residents, over 40,000 registered voters, over 500 citizens participating on elected and appointed committees and boards, 162 Town Meeting members representing 18 precincts and, for now, just 5 Selectpersons.
Appointments to Boards and Committee
One of the more important new additions to the Town Charter being proposed is the addition of a special committee that will review all applicants for appointed boards and committees and make recommendations to the various appointing boards.
It is important to note that this change was under consideration well before the present Selectboard replaced most of the Conservation Commission.
While I personally objected to that Selectboard action, my concern for the process by which committee appointments are made goes back decades, to when I was reporting on local government for the Patriot Ledger. In many towns I covered (I think most but I have no way of verifying that) the appointment process was whimsical. Some Boards simply announced their selections. Others voted for their favorites first, never giving other applicants a vote at all. Some interviewed candidates at length… The result, as I saw it, was that worthy candidates were often not properly considered and decisions were made based on friendships, familiarity, or at worse, political considerations.
This new committee will not impose a process on the various appointing Boards: they will be free to choose who they wish, how they wish. But they will have to justify their selection against the recommendations of an objective committee reviewing all applicants’ experience and interest.
The result should be a fairer, more transparent process.
Mastering the Master Plan
There is one government entity that gains considerably more authority in the revised Plymouth Town Charter – and it is not who, or what you might think it is.
In several places within the revised charter the authority of the town’s Master Plan is highlighted, and a special committee has been established whose function is to ensure that this authority is not abridged by any resident, elected official or town employee.
In order to accomplish that, the Committee is charged with receiving complaints when anyone believes that the intent of the Master Plan is being ignored or abridged.
There is no penalty for actions that may be judged to be in conflict with our Master Plan, but the result of this new level of targeted transparency should be a greater awareness on the part of all, to the goals of the Master Plan.
That has been one of the chief problems of the past 20 years, in my opinion: we have not strictly adhered to the principles of the Master Plan. That forward-thinking plan envisioned healthy villages surrounded by traditional New England rural settings. Instead we have allowed the villages to be overwhelmed, the countryside to be clear-cut and excavated. That now 20 year-old plan sought to preserve the Pine Hill and the character of Chiltonville. Since then the Pinehills development has consumed most of that vast woodland and has its eye on the rest and, well, Chiltonville is one of the last intact rural areas in town.
Of course it is time for a new Master Plan, and while that will take years to finalize, this provision in the revised charter should help to ensure the work that goes into producing that new comprehensive plan for the town’s future will be adhered to.
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