Great Barrington leaders should heed lighting complaints

Things are heating up in Great Barrington. This time, the battle is between those charged with running the government and just about everyone else and the fight is a humdinger.

This seems to demonstrate some of the dangers of a town manager form of government. To be sure, most of the folks in the battle over the way the Main Street of Great Barrington looks are nice. I am a huge fan of Selectboard Chairman Sean Stanton and even Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin (even though she doesn’t answer my phone calls).

The best small town in America now looks like the entrance to the Holland Tunnel. The problem is that both the merchants and we regular people who live here or visit just hate what we see so far.

The early warnings of the merchants, many of whom don’t vote, were ignored. Now we are left with those giant traffic light poles. They are just plain frightening. What was once quaint and beautiful Main Street is now simply offensive.

Great Barrington is a tourist town. I love that. We are protected from bad things because of our tourism and the growing arts scene. Now we look like the big city that most of our tourists are trying to get away from.

The horrible new traffic light holders seem to come right out of the Department of Defense budget. We were told that we had to have them by the state which gave us the money, as in, “We took the deal.”

In fact, there were those who thought that taking the state money was a terrible idea. It turns out that they were right. In response to the terrible outcry about the way the town looks, I suspect that the powers that be are taking a look at the citizen anger and figuring that they had better do something to calm the potential political revolution down.

They are now telling us that we can make some changes “down the road,” all the while arguing the validity of their positions out of the other side of their mouths. Town Manager Tabakin says that citizen complaints are “not unreasonable” but my friend (I hope) Sean Stanton says that the new overhead “cobra” lights are all about pedestrian safety.

Some, like Chip Elitzer, argue that lighting can come from the third source of lighting in the town, the decorative, old time lamp posts. Tabakin counters that those decorative lights don’t throw off the same amount of light as the larger cobra overhead lights, which are more protective of those crossing the streets.

From where I’m sitting, downtown Great Barrington is not a crime-filled city but a gentle, beautiful, bucolic place. The town has an extraordinary well turned out police force, complete with a chief, sergeants and lots of patrol cars that we are asked to provide at every town meeting.

My bet is that when we are told that some time in the future the ugly poles can be removed, there is a prediction and/or a hope on the part of the powers that be that all of this will be like a passing shower that will soon be gone if everyone can just be persuaded to wait for that time in the future when beauty in our town will be restored. I am extremely wary of their promises.

We do have a town manager form of government. I am for it. I always have been. I am worried, however, that the five member Selectboard and its powerful chair are inclined to let the managers have their way. That is a mistake.

But, to go back to a political Selectboard like the ones we used to have would be an even bigger error. Nope, we have to count on the current board to exercise independent judgment and to represent all of us. Clearly, in this case, that didn’t happen.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 10/31/15

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