On Monday nights during Selectmen’s meetings, Sturbridge citizens hear that we should question government, vote at Town Meetings, and participate in citizen’s forums – 'this is the people’s Town Hall.' The political jargon is overwhelming at times – but all those statements ring true to us because they echo our Constitution – it’s what we WANT to hear and believe. But when it comes right down to it – do they REALLY mean it?
The following is the perfect illustration of how our local government has usurped the power of the people – when this kind of stuff happens, it doesn’t matter whether you vote at Town Meeting or question government. In this particular case, two of the petitioners proactively approached Selectmen on February 6th to ask that Town Counsel write the CPA ballot question, now known as Question 4 on the upcoming Town Election. We asked to be placed on their agenda, so they knew we were coming and they had time to research our request. However, they denied allowing Town Counsel to write the ballot question, saying it would “cost money” while also setting a precedent for other petitioners who want to bring ballot questions to Town Elections. They recommended that we find our own attorney and we did so because we had no other choice – we wanted RESIDENTS to decide if they want to revoke or keep the CPA.
Our ballot question was completely NEUTRAL. As written on the petition that 365 people signed, it simply reversed the question asked of voters in the original 2001 ballot question written by Town Counsel when the CPA was adopted in Sturbridge. However, we learned a couple days ago that Town Counsel has REWRITTEN our ballot question; the last two sentences in that rewrite read: "Rescission of the CPA will mean that the Town will not collect the surcharge or matching funds from the state. Note, however, that even after the CPA is revoked, the surcharge will continue to be assessed until such time as any contractual obligations incurred by the Town under the CPA have been satisfied, including the payment of debt service."
That wording above above was NOT included in the 2001 ballot question written by Town Counsel, nor is it mentioned in any other ballot questions used by other communities who have tried to revoke the CPA. There are many underhanded things that politicians can do; but this one is pretty egregious. They’ve spent the money on Town Counsel they said they didn’t want spend when we asked them to write the ballot question; they rewrote our NEUTRAL ballot question without our knowledge; and the rewrite includes that “Rescission …” sentence, which we view as an absolute outright lie. In addition to all that, this rewrite also means that every single one of those 365 residents will get something completely different than what they signed on to – a completely NEUTRAL question on the ballot. The town didn’t tell anyone about this – we just found out by accident, thanks to Paul Roy’s series of articles about the CPA in The Examiner: http://www.examiner.com/tea-party-in-boston/sturbridge-and-the-community-preservation-act-part-1. And what is most sad and pathetic, is when we questioned the Town Administrator as to why our NEUTRAL ballot question was rewritten and on what legal grounds did they do so, we received a precisely imprecise response, which is pasted in below:
From: "Shaun Suhoski"
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Cc: "Lorraine Murawski"
Date: 03/23/2012 02:48:30 EDT
Subject: Ballot Question #4
Dear Carol and Dave,
You have each queried me about the "summary" printed to accompany ballot question #4 (the CPA revocation question). Town Counsel has reviewed the statutory requirements, conferred with appropriate authorities at the Mass. DOR and State Elections Division, and remains convinced the language is proper.
I have also reviewed the language as a lay person and find it to be an unbiased, concise summary. I plan no further action on this matter.
Thank you for sharing your concerns.
Shaun A. Suhoski
Town of Sturbridge
308 Main Street, Town Hall
Sturbridge, MA 01566
(508) 347-5886 (fax)
NOTE: EMAILS MAY BE CONSIDERED A PUBLIC RECORD.
ü Please consider the environment before printing this email.
bc: board of selectmen
Regarding that sentence in the rewritten ballot question that begins with “Rescission…” Following is an e-mail from the MA Department of Revenue, which has regulatory authority over the CPA. It is from Attorney Kathleen Colleary, Chief, Bureau of Municipal Finance Law, Division of Local Services, MA Department of Revenue, dated February 27, 2012:
"If the CPA is revoked, an analysis must be made to determine the fund's obligations and the amount of uncommitted monies available to meet them. The statute provides that the surcharge must continue to be assessed in order to accumulate the necessary funds to meet those obligations.G.L.c.44B,§16(b). In that regard, note that the town will also continue to get state trust fund distributions in any fiscal year after a year in which it assesses a surcharge. For example, if the last year assessed in FY13, the town would get a distribution in Oct. 2013 (FY14) based on the FY13 surcharge collections.
Once the CPA is revoked, the community must wrap up the fund. The CPA is no longer operational except to the extent that (1) fund obligations must be met and (2) any uncommitted monies available after reserving the monies needed to meet those obligations must still be appropriated for CPA purposes. The town's legislative body may appropriate those remaining funds for CPA purposes, alone or in combination with other financing sources, as it determines."
Kathleen Colleary, Chief
Bureau of Municipal Finance Law
Division of Local Services
Massachusetts Department of Revenue
With that statement, the Department of Revenue (DOR), which is the agency with regulatory authority over the CPA, says the surcharge continues, the revenues from the surcharge continue, and the matching funds continue. We got that same information from a couple different sources at DOR, not just a single source.
Remember when Sturbridge citizens adopted the CPA in 2002, we were told we could revoke it after 5 years? Everywhere you look, you will find all kinds of information about how to ADOPT the CPA, but there is no detailed information about how to REVOKE it. We’ve read the Community Preservation Act and the Department of Revenue’s Implementation Guidelines cover to cover; and we’ve made numerous phone calls and e-mails to state officials.
Most importantly, we followed the law and requested that Selectmen hire Town Counsel to write our CPA ballot question as required by the State Elections Division at the Secretary of State’s office. Selectmen denied us that right, they denied our right to due process, and they used sabotage and subterfuge to turn our NEUTRAL ballot question into a confusing, illusory piece of legalese. Therefore, we have come to the conclusion that our rights, our choices, our voices – it’s all an illusion unless Selectmen AGREE with the issue – so much for having the right to choose how we spend our own money; and let’s not even go there about questioning government.
Don't be fooled: if you want to control spending, pay down the debt, and bring the CPA back at some point in the future, perhaps with a lower surcharge percentage, VOTE YES on Question 4.