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Between the Lines

Does Northampton have its priorities straight?

Comments (6)
Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Was it appropriate for the Northampton City Council to take up the issue of drones last month, unanimously supporting a resolution calling on the U.S. government to stop using robots to kill alleged enemies and to reject Obama administration efforts to rewrite rules on domestic airspace?

It wasn’t the first time Northampton has made national news by passing legislation related to matters well beyond the immediate purview of municipal government. In 2002, for example, the City Council unanimously passed a resolution against the U.S.A. Patriot Act. And, of course, Northampton lawmakers aren’t alone in occasionally taking up issues over which municipal officials have little or no direct authority. On the drone issue, for example, Charlotte, N.C. passed a resolution similar to Noho’s.

Not that I support the Obama administration’s position on drones, but Northampton’s resolution bugged me. Do I believe that local governments shouldn’t get involved in state, national or international affairs? Not at all. In this case, the Northampton resolution addresses property rights issues that could directly impact local property owners. But even if the resolution were entirely symbolic, I’d still support the Council in challenging policies being made at higher levels of the government.

My ire is about the timing of the vote, which came on the heels of a divisive Proposition 2 1/2 override that, with heavy support from a majority of councilors, passed last month 6,056 to 4,641. In making the case for the $2.5 million override, supporters, in particular the group Yes!Northampton, insisted that while progressive federal and state tax reform was their ultimate goal, “in the face of continued state aid losses, Northampton faces a very clear and stark choice.”

That choice: vote for the override or “suffer extreme budget cuts,” compromising education and public safety.”

I don’t think the choice was as clear or as stark as supporters say it was. I agree with Lois Ahrens, a city resident and bona fide progressive, who feels override supporters “created a false dichotomy between people who are financially able to support the override, who they cast as virtuous and positive, as opposed to those of us who cannot afford to support the override... characterized as not forward-thinking, stingy—the reactionary ‘No Northampton’ people.”

I think Northampton officials could have done more to solve the city’s financial problems than hike property taxes, a move that is far from progressive. But rather than work harder to find solutions that don’t hurt the city’s poorest property owners, city councilors chose to spend time and energy on the drone issue, appearing to engage in partisan dabbling rather than acting as concerned civic leaders.•

Comments (6)
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Now you decide to speak up? You're a couple of weeks too late.

Where was this argument against the override when we needed it most and we in the No camp were overwhelmed by a well-funded PAC and all the city's big guns?

Posted by Anon on 7.17.13 at 10:13

As a resident of Northampton, I could not be more proud of our city council for taking up the Drone issue and their subsequent vote. Umanned constant surveillance and the establishment of an orwellian police state are issues of greater and more import to many of us, your downplaying of these issues and highlighting of the small tax increase issue (which as you state affect only the financially disadvantage, clearly a smaller demographic than all residents) shows a clear lack of perspective.

You are being quite disingenuous with your comparison of the topics of finances and drones. When the total volume of time spent addressing each issue is summed up, demonstrating quite the disparity in contrast to your assertations, will you issue a correction and apology?

Try using cold hard easily obtainable facts, instead of off the cuff nonsensical platitudes.

How does this pass for news, and not an editorial?

Posted by tiedyeguy on 7.17.13 at 11:43

If the City Council is so worried about drones and Orwellian dictatorships, then why did it vote to give a tax rebate to the local arms manufacturer (L3-KEO) that helps builds these weapons? They should put their money where their mouth is and actually do something about drones besides debating resolutions: stop giving taxpayer funded handouts to L3-KEO.

Posted by blunderbuss on 7.17.13 at 11:56

I would really like specific examples of this: " override supporters “created a false dichotomy between people who are financially able to support the override, who they cast as virtuous and positive, as opposed to those of us who cannot afford to support the override... characterized as not forward-thinking, stingy—the reactionary ‘No Northampton’ people.”"

I didn't follow the override campaign all that closely but never saw supporters cast themselves as virtuous (i am sure some did feel virtuous; but never saw this as a campaign strategy). In fact, supporters relied on facts -- leading up to the call for the override were numerous forums outlining the budget situation.

Nor did I see opponents characterized by supporters as stingy.

I did see opponents constantly dismissing supporters as selfish, elite, out-of-touch, newcomers with no regard to the less affluent.

It's a whole lot more compicated than that, and I am disappointed that this editorial didn't make some attempt to dig deeper.

Posted by Valle on 7.21.13 at 7:38

And I guess, more importantly, huh? I don't understand the premise of the editorial. We had an override, so we shouldn't do/talk about anything else? Until when?

What is your evidence that the city hasn't done enough to save money? It's easy to just write and admonish -- it's a lot harder when you have to do it based on facts. This editorial is completely devoid of facts.

And because it comes weeks after the override, it's essentially irrelevant.

Posted by Valle on 7.21.13 at 11:55

Valle, I read a barrage of comments on the Gazette posted by several prominent override supporters (including a particularly aggressive person, chezdan, who was also commenting on the Yes Facebook page) calling No supporters "the get off my lawn crowd," "those people," among other perjoratives implying we're a bunch of angry Tea Partiers ready to throw the city's schools under the bus to save a few dollars every month, which is a canny way to attract the liberal establishment vote in Northampton, I suppose.

Other Yes supporters seemed to be either tacitly agreeing or at least not distancing themselves from his remarks and deflected by continuing on message with the "We're doing it for the children" mantra and dragging the kids into a political fight like human shields. I never heard Pam Scwartz or the Yes leaders articulate any empathy for struggling homeowners, our neighbors who've worked and lived in this city their whole lives, with the same passion they did their own kids.

So, OK, maybe you didn't read these hostile comments (though I saw one of your posts on the Talkback page) or don't perceive them as dismissive of the No supporters. Despite your claims to not have followed the override closely, even though I read your Facebook comments on the Yes page that suggests otherwise, including your love of your YES! lawn sign, you are part of the group that got the override passed. But you shouldn't wag your finger at others when we found those nasty comments both insulting and not reflective of our concerns. That's exactly the "false dichotomy" we're talking about here.

Regarding money savings, I read many good letters in the Gazette and from commenters at public hearings offerring imaginative ideas for raising more money and reducing our spending that have not been embraced by anyone in the city's leadership, including the mayor. Folks like you just don't want to listen to these ideas or try them out, it seems to me. Is it too declasse to worry about money in your social group? I don't know, but you never hear that concern from the Yes folks. Unless you go along with whatever Yes Northampton! supporters are advancing as the reason we're in the mess we're in -- and that means it has nothing to do with how the city raises and spends money, it's just the fault of the state and feds -- you will be considered to be an outlier in this city and not worthy of being treated seriously. That's what the Advocate was writing about, and they nailed it (albeit too late).

Posted by blunderbuss on 7.24.13 at 8:02
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