'The best-laid plans'
Now that everything must be passed by some commission on ecology or environment, or sanitation or something, a couple of us were reminiscing the other day about our early experiences with one of the first Planning Boards. The formation of a municipal planning board came before our town meeting with the full approval of the town manager, the town officers, and the budget committee. This last is a group of respected businessmen who keep in touch with town affairs and advise the annual town meeting about the wisdom of certain issues and the amount appropriations. Fifty years ago the citizens in town meeting assembleys were not usually in need of such advice, but things have changed so much that voters do not keep themselves informed and now really need help.
And such has the gap grown that our town very often rubber-stamps the committee's recommendations; that's what happened with the Planning Board. A few desultory ayesm responded, and the ordinance creating a Planning Board was approved without naym . I was a member from the beginning, and retired after I served my fifth year in the chair. We were not a popular body, and we accomplished only a great deal of dissension that left the community no better off. We, the members, had learned a great deal about human nature, bureaucracy, and town managers, but our planning had not caught on.
The idea came down from Washington, where a commission had funds to allocate. This is a cutie of a way to start off, since the money goes to early applicants, and the town managers can expedite things with the great rallying cry, "We must hurry, or some other town will get these free funds!" That was heard in our town. Our town appropriated $1,000 for the first year of our planning, and the gimmick was that the state put another thousand with ours. Then the federal government doubled that, and we had four thousand, except that now our first thousand was automatically controlled by the state, and the state, in turn, by Washington. We, the board, never saw any money, had none to spend, and we served without pay.
It wasn't long before the dawn of understanding. A pleasant young man came to our first regular meeting, saying he had been retained to guide us in our work. He was a Community Planner by trade, and in the employ of the consultant firm of, let us devise, Hopskitch & Jump -- civil engineers, management counselors, advisors on public affairs, architects, and urban planners. He had a program ready, in eight phases, and a code that would bring us the authority to phase away.
We phased with this leech until he had the $4,000, our town had a code, and everybody was on our backs. Planning, we learned, is something that is always great for the other fellow. Every citizen in town came to each of us to speak a good word for trailer parks. Trailers are with us and we must give them a proper place, but don't, each said, put them out my way. Old auto junk yards are essential, we must have them -- but not on my street. And the chairman of our budget committee said our program would have a bad effect on real estate prices -- he knew, because he was a real estate broker. If this were likely, I asked, why did he come into town meeting and urge the planning board in the first place?
"I thought it was a good thing," he said.
I said, "It ism a good thing, and you should still support it."
He said next town meeting he would see that we were repealed. I explained to him that there is no provision in the statute for repealing a town planning board, that once it is enacted it is permanent, and it is a statutory duty of the municipal officers to appoint the members. "Well," he said, "at least we can stop raising funds for it."
"True," I admitted. "But the Planning Board serves without pay, and the money means nothing to us members."
"You got $4,000," he said.
"No, Mr. Grabball from Hopskitch & Jump did. And when he got it, we didn't see him again."
And I never did. I planned for five years, and I thought that was enough. We planned a good many wonderful things, promising our town beauty and grace, but our planning board had a board of appeals. The chairman came to be the real estate man, from the budget group. So there was no great harm done by our planning.