Feb 112011
 

Backstory: Several weeks ago, The Groton Herald published an editorial attacking Groton elected officials and administrative staff about the way confidential real estate negotiations concerning the proposed acquisition of the Sacred Heart church building and land on Main Street were handled. An electronic copy of the editorial is not available. This letter was submitted by Selectman Peter Cunningham in response. — Ed.

As one Selectman, I’ll try to describe my reaction to the Groton Herald editorial of January 21st as well as some of the comments that have been posted to the Groton e-mail list (Talk About Groton — Ed.) on the fire station issue.

The need to replace the center fire station has been well known and discussed in numerous public forums for at least the past decade. This includes the current and past master plans which many of the list posters on this issue have participated in. Back in ’97 – ’98, when I was chairing the fire department study group, this was a major point of discussion as the growth of the town was transitioning our fire department from an all volunteer department to a hybrid one where there is a mix of full time and call members. At the time, our existing fire stations had been built and designed around the volunteer model which had served the town well, but was under stress due to the residential growth that had occurred in town.

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This is no secret and was reported on at the time by the Herald. In fact, a study prepared in 2002 for the town (and reported on by the Herald) documented the inadequacies and shortcomings in all of the town’s fire stations. That study was the basis for replacing the Lost Lake station which was approved by town meeting with a thorough discussion of the need before the vote.

It was also well-documented and discussed as part of the process in approving and planning for Station Ave. overlay district, that the center station (station 1) should preferably be relocated. Our current and past fire chiefs have advocated for a Main Street location because it would provide quicker access to the central arteries leading to different areas of town, i.e. Hollis St, Farmers Row, Lowell Rd, Old Ayer Rd, etc.

Main St. sites have been considered over the years, including one next to the school complex, but never came to fruition for a variety of reasons. Given this background and the availability of the Sacred Heart site, it should come as no surprise that the town would have an interest in it.

The timing of bringing this matter forward at this time is due to nothing more than the opportunity presented by the availability of the church site. It is not very often that a suitable Main St. site becomes available and I can imagine the second guessing going on years from now if we passed it by. Not to mention the increased costs to the town that such a land acquisition would cost at some point in the future. It also should be recognized that there is a compelling need to conduct real estate negotiations in executive session. To do otherwise would jeopardize the town’s bargaining position. This need is recognized in the Open Meeting Law which provides for real estate negotiations to be conducted in executive session.

What I found most galling about the Herald editorial, though, was its allegation that our “open town meeting form of government” was being eroded by the “bureaucratic actions in town hall”. That is so fundamentally untrue, and while I suppose the paper has every right to state that, it is misleading to townspeople. The editorial goes on to link their concern to the adoption of the town manager form of government. Because the need for a new station predates having a town manager, I don’t understand this logic, other than to note the paper was never that warm to the idea of adopting the Town Charter in the first place. But most importantly, nothing changes regarding our open Town Meeting.

Any proposal to build a new station and acquire the land needs to be approved at the special Town Meeting. While working on the committee which established the Charter, it was paramount that nothing would change our open Town Meeting. It is recognized as one of the purest forms of governance, but with it comes the responsibility of those who participate to be informed. More often than not, we rely on our local press to help us with that and there is, in my belief, an incumbent responsibility on them to opine accurately. A simple search of the Herald’s archives would have revealed that the need for a new center station has been reported on previously and is not ‘coming out of the blue’ as the editorial seems to suggest.

Whatever folks may think on this issue one way or another, do plan to attend the special Town Meeting on Monday, 2/28.

Take care,
Peter Cunningham

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