This is No Time to be on the Sidelines in Methuen’s Fall Elections

Former City Councilor and School Committeeman Kenneth Willette now IN the West End Council Race.By: Ken Willette, Jr. – Oct. 24. 2015

Local media outlets may soon publish articles highlighting the projections of election officials regarding a sub-par turnout from Methuen voters. While some races will go uncontested, this is definitely not the occasion to avoid casting a ballot and remaining silent over your concerns about the course of Methuen’s future. Methuen is at a pivotal crossroads. Seniors and families on fixed incomes have faced residential tax increases year after year, as though some of our leaders are operating on auto-pilot. I, for one, do not consider tax increases to be a foregone conclusion. Methuen businesses are faring no better, as they are saddled with what are routinely publicized as the highest commercial tax rates across the Merrimack Valley.

But are our leaders doing enough to limit spending, promote greater economic development and alleviate this ever increasing burden on homeowners and existing businesses alike? Are we tracking the vacancy rates at our industrial parks and making those figures available to leaders and stakeholders? In light of the progress being ushered in downtown Haverhill, what is the long-term strategy for revitalizing our downtown area that is witnessing decades-long mom-and-pop stores, restaurants and retailers either leaving Methuen entirely or simply going out of business? How are we proactively promoting to a national audience of prospective business clients the advantages of relocating to Methuen once the rotary project is finished?

The Methuen City Council is a co-equal branch of municipal government, yet hasn’t it been kept out of the information loop on recent, and often controversial, proposals? When large-scale pipelines are proposed, cell phone towers are thrusted into unsuspecting neighborhoods, and power plant presentations are only initially revealed to small groups of power brokers, is our city government really doing enough to inform the electorate? Shouldn’t our city’s main webpage automatically provide alert notices on such far reaching activities? Shouldn’t we adopt the same telephone alert system already utilized by the Methuen Public Schools to notify impacted residents of special meetings, hearings and zoning votes? In this incredible age of text alerts, emails, electronic access and social media, I subscribe to the philosophy that full disclosure and easy access to public information empowers our residents.

Methuen must not be known merely as the community that annually supports tax hikes at the expense of residents and small-to-medium sized businesses. It must not be viewed as the community that conducts side meetings and welcomes advance teams of lobbyists to convince small pools of leaders regarding proposals, which have a direct bearing on our community’s environment, health and quality of life. Information should not be given out in piecemeal fashion like a scavenger hunt. But again it is entirely up to the voters to make a difference in November, or the status-quo scenarios I highlighted in this column will become a permanent fixture in Methuen’s political landscape.