A Personal Connection~Learning About Life Through Little League

Coaches

Little League Coaches

By Hank Manz

Even with some of the fields still brown and even with the nights still cold, it is now a very important time of year. Spring? Well, sure, but more important than that. I am speaking of something that surpasses everything else because it is time to start playing baseball.

I don’t mean just watching baseball. Sure, that can be important, too, but not as important as actually playing the game.

There are other sports that people might like, but there is nothing quite like a warm summer night, a well-oiled glove, a hat that fits perfectly, and a bunch of players who can’t hit my knuckleball. OK—that last is getting harder to come by, but even with three out of four, there is nothing with which to compare it.

I was a very small kid with no arm, but one summer in Police Athletic League baseball I ran into a coach who had a couple of the fingers on his throwing hand in a recent war. All he could throw was a knuckleball which was perfect for a player who would never be able to throw faster than 65 mph, even in college.

That knuckleball, along with an ability to scratch out singles with men on base, and a Vern Law signature model glove earned me a spot on several teams over the years. More than 50 years later I still have the glove. Oh, there have been love affairs with flashier models now and again, but I have always returned to that Law Trap-Eze glove. I once buried an almost new glove at a field in Cambridge after committing five errors including one that lost the game for my team.

The non-wood bats gave me a boost about the time my hitting was starting to really sag, but my first home run would not come until I was just past my 40th birthday when the perfect pitch and the best swing ever came together in my first round-tripper. It broke a window in a passing T-bus, but the driver just shrugged it off as did the police officer whose cruiser windshield I cracked when I fouled one off later in the game.

So it was inevitable that one day I would take my then only eligible child to Little League registration. After signing up we waited for the coach to call to tell us what team she was going to be on, but instead a smooth-talking league organizer came by to tell me that an awful lot of kids were going to be disappointed if I couldn’t sign up as a manager, the baseball equivalent of a head coach. It seems they were short of volunteers and really needed someone with my experience, etc., etc. Later, when I became a league organizer, I would use that line more times than I care to count.

I stuck with Little League, eventually joined the board of directors, and ended up as a league organizer. But I also stuck with coaching.

That somehow led to running for Town Meeting although I still do not fully understand exactly how that came about. And that led to running for Selectman.

I finally gave up Little League, but then concentrated on youth hockey and Boy Scouts. About four years into the transition I realized that what I had learned as a Little League organizer fit right into both hockey and Scouts. Hmmmmm.

One day, a light dawned. What I had learned in Little League also fit into town government and a lot of other endeavors. Everything I had learned about life appears to have been learned in Little League. Wow!

One of the first things I learned was that you can make all the rules you want, but if they fail to pass by a huge majority, nobody will follow them.

Use all your players. The day will come when you will be thankful that you spent all your time on that kid who just couldn’t seem to catch the ball because he will make a brilliant catch late in a tournament game which will more than make up for all the ones he dropped.

While we are on that subject, you will spend 75% of your time coaching 25% of your players. If you are a good coach, it will be the lowest 25% and not the highest 25%. The highest 25% are probably better players than you were anyway.

Of course you shouldn’t cheat, but don’t even cut corners. You may be following the letter of the law, but someday the fact that you didn’t pay attention to the spirit of the rules will come back to haunt you.

Try not to relive your past glories through your team. Most of the kids are just looking to have some fun while they figure out that they don’t really want to play ball for their life work. To be honest, your past glories probably weren’t perfect, either. No need for your players to know that.

Keep in mind that there will be failures. With a lifetime batting average of .210 that means I failed close to 4 out of every 5 times at bat. You are surprised I know my lifetime batting average? It doesn’t hurt to keep track so long as you don’t beat anybody else over the head with it.

Winning it all can be exciting, but pizza after you have spent the season in the cellar, but then knocked off the #1 seed in the tournament tastes really good … even when you get knocked out by the #12 seed two nights later. Live for the moment and don’t always concentrate on the big picture.

Try to see the humor in what is going on. My Little League team once won a game when the opposing coach yelled at his pitcher “Just throw strikes.” The pitcher looked over at me and smiled, then started to laugh so hard that he couldn’t get anything even close to the plate. That pitcher is now 28 years old and we both still chuckle about that game. I mean what did his coach think he was trying to do?

Don’t take advantage. It is, after all, only a game. With three players on base, the opposing catcher was hit so hard by a pitch that he fell down in front of the plate screaming. Technically, the team at bat could have sent all the runners home and won the game, but both coaches immediately called time and instructed the spectators to stop yelling. As one coach put it “Winning by stepping over a screaming child is not my style.”

There is so much more, but I will leave you with this thought. We all know healthy snacks are good for you, but while players may like them, nobody really adores them so now and then break out the licorice ropes and Hershey bars. The players will sing your praises and who knows—the resulting sugar high may win you a game.

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Putting Sports in Perspective

Commissioner Hanksmall

Commissioner Hank

I woke up the morning after the Super Bowl realizing I had to deal with a real crisis.

The new, probably large, house going up in my neighborhood which I wrote about earlier? No, I was just a bit saddened when more than 60 years of history disappeared in under 45 minutes, leaving only an empty lot where once a house had stood, but I had written about the inevitability of change and here it was happening right in front of me.

The fact that Tom Terrific had not been able to lead the Patriots to another NFL championship? Really, I am over that and am already looking forward to next season.

This was a real crisis because when the Super Bowl ran long because of the power outage (obviously they should have had a muni supplying electricity to the stadium), I lost any chance to see Downton Abbey that night. Sure, I could talk with the best of them around the water cooler about the football game, but not only was I going to be lost when the subject of Downton Abbey came up, it was very likely that before I could find another way to see the episode, most of the secrets would have been revealed. Did Bates get out of jail? Would Ethel manage to prepare lunch without embarrassing her employer or herself? Would Lady Mary stop being irritating and actually do something productive besides looking gorgeous and wearing clothes really well?

Of course, like many Lexingtonians, I am interested in sports, especially youth sports. The day before the Super Bowl I had spent five hours being the Commissioner of LBYH In-House Hockey, an 11-team, 187 player, inclusive league for kids between the ages of 5 and 11. Everybody gets equal playing time and coaches are evaluated mostly on how well they can bond with players and parents rather than their won-lost record.

I followed that with a short nap and then headed off for four hours of announcing at the LHS varsity hockey games. “Good evening hockey fans …” I once figured that I sit through something like 140 hockey games each year.

Of course there is baseball in the spring and summer, but here I stick with T-Ball age players. In fact, I spend most of my time with Pre-Ball which is for players between the ages of 4 and 6. And let’s not forget football in the fall.

So with all of that, I must be nuts about sports, right? Well, sort of, but not in the way you might expect.

Sports does touch kids’ lives and it can teach valuable lessons. But all too often I see things I would rather not see. Coaches who act out. Parents screaming about just about everything.

I forget who won and who lost almost as soon as the game is over. What I remember are the good plays, the flashes of brilliance, the displays of sportsmanship. The player who scores the first goal ever. My son slept with his trophy for weeks after he scored his first. A tiny goalie realizing that the pucks do not hurt because of all the padding and that she can stop them. Matt in his wheelchair propelling himself around the bases will be with me always. I wake up sometimes thinking “What if I had been so stupid that I denied Matt his chance just because he was in a wheelchair?” And then I remember that it all came out all right and I smile.

A few seasons ago, the LHS varsity hockey coach pulled up to the varsity for the last game of the season, a player who had spent his high school career on the junior varsity. The player would get to be a varsity hockey player even if only for one game. Then his teammates combined to feed him the puck so that he could score his first varsity goal.

I have no memory of how many games the team won that year. But that bit of magic told me all I needed to know about the coach and the team. They were all superstars as far as I was concerned.

The funny thing is that the kids care mostly about playing rather than about the score. Years ago a team I coached won a hockey tournament. The coaches were feeling pretty good about themselves. Obviously we were just about the best human beings around. Then I felt a tug on the hem of my jacket and looked down to find a tiny third liner with tears in her eyes. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “Do we have to stop playing hockey now? she demanded.” That little third liner didn’t care about the trophy in her hand. She didn’t understand won or lost. What she cared about was playing the game and now the season was over.

The fact is that no matter how good a Lexington player is, there is a nearly 100% chance that they will make a living doing something besides playing professional sports. So take it easy, enjoy the game, forget the mistakes and the bad games, and remember the good times.

Years ago I was the starting pitcher in a baseball game. We were mercy-ruled after the other team scored 21 runs in a single inning. While it was true I had struck out nobody, neither had I walked anybody nor had I made any errors or thrown a wild pitch. Even better I had made no fielding errors and my ERA was still zero because there had been no hits. All runs were scored on errors. And it was only the first inning.

The funny thing is that while I have played on some good teams over the years, that is the team I remember best. I still see the guys I played with. And we are still kidding each other about just how awful we were that day and just about every other day.

So most of my job has become figuring out how to let kids just play the game. I want everybody to have a chance to play the game, no matter what game it is, and I hope all of us can join in to make that happen. Not just with sports, either.

 

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Riding the Big Yellow Bus

Hank and Chuck

By Hank Manz

I am getting used to the fact that much of the world views me as an Old Guy.

All the signs are there. Kids I know mostly call me “Hank,” but young women—and at my age that means they are under 45—almost always call me “Sir.” The clerk at Dunkin’ Donuts doesn’t even look twice before giving me the senior discount. And the Lexpress bus driver doesn’t start the bus until I have taken my seat.

So it was interesting to return to my childhood a few days ago when Judy Crocker, long an advocate for getting school kids out of cars and off to school by bus, bike, and foot, arranged for me to make a morning school bus run. There I was at 7 AM, along with fellow Selectman Norman Cohen and School Committee Member Jessie Steigerwald, outside Lexington High School, waiting for Chuck Trombly who drives bus #7 for C&W Transportation.

Right off the bat I was impressed with the reaction of a bus driver when Jessie asked him which bus he was. He immediately said that he could not take any riders. That’s good. The drivers are trained in security.

But then the #7 showed up and I waved goodbye to the other two and met Chuck who was finishing his first of three runs for the morning. I took a seat up front, once again reminded that while I am taller than average, I would have trouble seeing over the padded seat backs which are built high for safety in the event of a crash.

The high school run was over, but the second run of the day was for Diamond Middle School. This may surprise a few parents, but the kids were mostly quiet and when they got off the bus many thanked Chuck. They knew his name, but even better, he knew theirs and he also knew the names of many of the parents.

I had prepared for this trip by watching 16 Candles, the movie which was the breakout for Molly Ringwald. The one where she climbs on the school bus with a friend, looks at all the riders acting out, then turns to her friend and says “I just loathe the bus.” Someone has posted a video clip of that scene on YouTube which you can see at:

I found that the school bus in Lexington is nothing like that. The kids were mildly interested in why someone my age was riding the bus. Several of them greeted me by name. If I recognized them, then I probably knew them from Boy Scouts or baseball. If I didn’t, then it was probably hockey where I don’t recognize anybody unless they have on a helmet.

Shower shoes as school footwear are still in style even with winter approaching as are T-shirts with questionable slogans on them. Backpacks look incredibly heavy. One of my Scouts told me that he carries a backpack that weighs one third of what he weighs.

They chattered away about all sorts of things but only had to be reminded to use their “indoor voices” a couple of times by Chuck.

We were on time to Diamond and then immediately started a Fiske run. The riders were a little louder, but once again Chuck knew their names and the names of the adults waiting with the kids at each stop. There was one tough moment when it turned out that a cul-de-sac was almost completely blocked with construction material, but Chuck managed to get the bus turned around in a space that looked small for the Mini I drive. I was impressed.

We were a few minutes late pulling into Fiske, but with the street blockage and the traffic I wasn’t surprised.

But that wasn’t the end because now it was bus evacuation drill day back at Diamond. Once there the bus was the scene of several simulated accidents. After a short talk about safety systems and means of egress from a crashed bus, the students opened the back door and practiced getting out quickly.

Sounds like an enjoyable morning, right? As it turned out, inside the bus everything was great. Chuck not only knew his route, but he knew the people on his route. He knew which kids were going to be late out the door. He checked the bus for lost items and possible sleeping students after we unloaded at each school. He had obviously made friends with his passengers so they paid attention when he spoke.

Outside the bus was another story. Some parents were late getting their kids to the bus stop and were not shy about keeping the bus waiting. Automobile driver were reluctant to let the bus into traffic. Car drivers resented stopped school buses and thought nothing of beeping and yelling and making that hand sign which could mean “You’re number one” but which I think means something else. The glut of automobiles near each school slowed traffic and made it hard to get to the bus lanes.

There was the National Grid truck whose driver, talking on a cell phone, almost drove past the bus, but stopped. He was well into the danger zone, but at least he stopped, something I cannot say about other drivers.

While the automobile traffic at each school wasn’t a complete showstopper, it was clear that we are at, or at least close to, a point at which something will have to be done to move personal vehicles out of the way so that buses can do their job efficiently. Moreover, there were some almost heartstopping moments when parents let students out of a car so they could run across traffic to get to the school.

There were volunteers and school staff helping at each school to move things along and they were not only working hard, but were working effectively. They, too, obviously knew the students.

I made a mental note to come back on a rainy day to see how many more cars would be added to the queue.

The bottom line is that if you are a parent wondering how safe the bus is, I found it less stressful than my rides on the T. The drivers are skilled, the buses are in good shape, the ride is smooth, and I can’t say enough about the atmosphere on the bus. My bus ride was nothing like the rides I remember from my youth to which I can only say Thank You! But I hope that more students will start to ride the bus and I fervently hope that parents who do drive, will exercise caution when letting their kids out of the car. What I saw outside the bus was, frankly, too often a bit scary.

 

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Choices Including A Decision On What Is Essential

Hank at Camp.

Choices Including A Decision On What Is Essential

The weather was warm, the grass, as always, was a bit brown, but the garden was in good shape except for the squash which died from some sort of fungus. The outside repairs except for two more porch-related projects were done, and the apple trees were coming along nicely with no broken branches now that I had learned to make supports for the heavily laden ones. So now it was time to go to camp. Yes, after all these years, I still go to camp and Boy Scout camp at that.

Camp is really a time for stripping away the unnecessary. Some background might help you understand why that might be so.

Our first week is spent at a primitive camp. Tents and cots, but not much else in the way of amenities.

What to wear is never an issue. No matter what day it is I will be wearing a red T-shirt and shorts. If I run out of shirts, then I will go swimming with one and when it dries, I will have a clean T-shirt to wear the next day. And if it doesn’t get washed, I won’t worry overmuch about it. Fashion at camp is whatever is comfortable, handy, and reasonably clean with the third being pretty far down the decision tree.

If it gets cold, I will slip on my old fleece and my nylon track pants. There will be no choice of which ones because I only bring one of each. When you have to carry everything half a mile to your campsite, you tend to take only what is necessary. The fleece is showing its age with many patches, but warm and light together trump any fashion sense I might have.

There is no electricity so you tend to get up at daybreak and go to bed at a decent hour. But without electricity how do you charge your cell phone and iPad? You don’t have to because you left them at home. We have a strict no-electronics rule, but there is little need for enforcement because there is no Internet and there are no bars on your cell phone. There is also no newspaper and mail is iffy at best. This column was written on paper with a pen. Whoa! Totally retro. But then I had to file it so I grabbed my pack and a hideout tablet, walked two miles one way to an Internet connection, typed in the story, and transmitted it before walking back. When you have to walk four miles to get your e-mail, you probably won’t.

There is more than just doing without some simple things. You also learn to make choices and not rely on shortcuts. For instance, if I walk to the waterfront for a swim and find that I have forgotten my towel, then I have a simple decision to make. I could walk back and get it, but it is a long walk and the hill is steep. Nobody drives and there is no phone service so I can’t take one of the usual shortcuts I might employ back home in Lexington. I will simply do without which means I will dry myself with my T-shirt before walking back to the campsite.

Snacking is hard. There is a camp store, but it is a long walk and it has short hours. Given a choice between a long walk or an afternoon nap, I will probably choose the nap. Last year I spent just $15 at the store in two weeks, most of it on ice cream cups, the rest on popcorn.

Watching mindless TV, or any TV for that matter, is out. A book would be a good thing to bring along. A real book rather than an electronic one. The funny thing is that there is so much to do that there is not a lot of leisure time.

Every day is grilling day because we cook all our own food over outdoor stoves. Here, too, there are choices so you soon learn to balance food preparation and cleanup with the basic thought of minimizing both while still putting a good meal on the table.

I don’t have to drive out to some piece of conservation land for a walk. I have several thousand acres to enjoy and I am right in the middle of it. You walk everywhere so putting in five miles in a day is pretty standard and you get to know a lot of animals. For the past couple of years I have found that if I walk down the main road around 9 PM, I will come across a porcupine just sitting in the road. Maybe this is his version of camp.

One of the best parts of camp is that it gets dark. There are no streetlights. There are no electric lights at all except in the administration building which is far away, and in the showerhouse. The night noises remind you that there are other beings on the planet and in this place. The stars are awesome. Those new to camp tend to bring monster flashlights. I carry a single cell LED light which I use only when there is no moon and even then I use it only as a last resort. One has interesting experiences when trying to walk from the administration building to the campsite without a light on a dark night.

Of course there are the campfires. Skits which were old forty years ago, but which are still funny. Songs. Stories. The Cremation of Sam McGee and The Shooting of Dan McGrew can only properly be recited around a campfire. “There are strange things done, in the midnight sun, by the men who moil for gold …”

Even the bugs are awesome. Often at night we will light a Coleman lantern which everybody shares for reading and games. Within a few minutes there will be an amazing assortment of winged critters attracted by that light. Bug zappers? Don’t be silly. In two weeks we will be gone and all that wildlife will still be here. It is really their place and we are just summer visitors so we try to tread lightly on the land.

I will arrive back in Lexington, probably in need of a bath, but I will be five pounds closer to my goal of getting back to 184 pounds, I will have taken at least 200 pictures to sort through and post, but then I will look at my overflowing voice and e-mail inboxes and I will realize once again how much time I spend doing things that are necessary, but which two weeks out of every 52 I get to ignore.

“Oh, gosh—I would have called you back, but there was no phone line available and no Internet connection” sounds so much better than “I just didn’t have the time (or desire) to return your call.”

But there is one bad thing about camp. When I come home it takes a long time to lose the feeling that while camp can be physically demanding, overall life there is a lot easier. I will be home in a few days where I will have to sort through 200+ e-mails, several dozen voicemails, and a pile of snail mail which is overflowing the table onto the floor.

I can’t wait until next year …

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A Personal Connection ~ Finding Time To Do Just A Few More Things

By Hank Manz  |

I am still recovering from a recent birthday.

Just about anybody even close to my age will tell you that birthdays become a love-hate sort of thing at this point and beyond. And when you hit those start/end-of-a-new-decade events—the ones where your current age ends in zero—one has to pause for a moment.

I have never advertised my birthday, but this is the age of instant media so of course there were all sorts of way people could figure it out.

Several people wrote on my Facebook Wall. Facebook is another one of those love-hate things with me. The fact that my Facebook avatar is a rat, albeit a cute rat, should give you some hint about my feelings on that score. Shortly after I set up my Facebook account, I realized that people I knew 30 years ago could now trade stories about me with people I met much more recently. That cannot be good in the long run.

On the plus side, the Internet has allowed me to re-connect with one of the three bright spots in an otherwise dim high school experience. Mrs. Blumberg, my junior year English teacher, is still teaching. Mrs. Blumberg introduced me to, among other things, Shakespeare, and she was the first to suggest that there was better poetry around than that scrawled on bathroom walls.

A couple of people, noting my age, felt I should do something special to mark the day. I took that advice.

The first thing I did was to cut what passes for a lawn at my house without being reminded and I trimmed the bushes which line the driveway, again with no reminder. And then I got rid of the moss and patched the bare spots before spreading some really nice wood chips from the Hartwell Ave. composting operation under the two apple trees in the front yard.

Then I cleaned up a bit so I could preside over my last meeting as the Chair of the Board of Selectmen. One last executive session and then Deb Mauger took over as the new Chair. I have become increasingly aware of just how much time is eaten up by the constant stream of things that seem small, but collectively add up to many hours a week. I know—this should not be news to many in a town where volunteerism is almost religion, but it helps to be reminded that nothing happens without the two key ingredients of time and work. I will simply say that after two years as the chair, I have a new appreciation for those who work at the many things which make Lexington the town it is.

I have gotten a jump on my mindless summer reading by checking out an e-book from Cary Library. In this Robert Parker mystery, the chair of the Board of Selectmen of a small Massachusetts town is involved in major criminal activity which includes murder, misuse of public money, and worst of all, intrusion on Conservation Land. With all of that she still has time for an affair with the Superintendent of Schools. Give me a break. The best way to make sure somebody has no extra time is to get them involved in some community work. Lex Farm. The Farmers Market. The Garden Club. The 300th Committee. The Community Center Task Force. The LHS Landscaping Committee. The Friends of Cary Library. Youth sports. Just about any committee including the one that was formed to figure out why we have so many committees interested in transportation. The list is pretty close to endless.

The really unbelievable part is that all of this activity in the Parker potboiler remains a secret for years. Fat chance, at least in Lexington. I once said that Good news travels at the speed of sound, but bad news travels at the speed of light. I thought it was original until I checked it out and found that there are several more well-known writers who have said much the same thing.

Mark Twain and Douglas Adams have both weighed in on the subject with quotes that are much cleverer than mine. But it was my son who said something which I saw as an incredible growth moment—If you don’t want people in Lexington to know you are doing something bad … then don’t do it.

Unfortunately, all too often the other side of that coin is not apparent to all. I mean sometimes we miss the many good things which are going on in Town. So as you walk around, take a moment to stop and talk to people. And don’t forget to talk to Town employees, many of whom live here and do a lot more than just their jobs. A few years ago when there was a water leak in my neighborhood, the DPW crew who responded let every kid on the block check out the backhoe they were using and then went up the street and bought out the lemonade stand two girls were running. Every time I pass that patch in the street I think of that day and my tax bill becomes a bit easier to look at.

Summer is fast approaching with concerts, the carnival, Blue Sox baseball, supper at a sidewalk table, and all the rest of it. There really is a lot to do in Lexington so this summer, with a bit more time on my hands, I am going to do some of them. But first I have to finish this column …

 

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A Personal Connection ~ Making Town Government Work

By Hank Manz  |  About the time I am getting exasperated with Town government, something always happens to restore my faith in it. This Town Meeting season it has been Articles 17, School Bus Transportation Subsidy, and 16(e), White House Stabilization.

The articles worked out differently, it is true, but both were characterized at some point as failures of major boards to lead adequately. The need for Article 17 was laid at the feet of the School Committee while the way Article 16(e) played out was thought to be a failure on the part of the Board of Selectmen.

But that is the magic of Town government. Sometimes things end up exactly as they should.

Transportation of students to schools in private vehicles is out of hand by most accounts. I live in the middle of an elementary school traffic pattern so I know that the increase in school-based traffic is more than just a rumor.

The planning process for the new Estabrook School brought traffic into sharp focus when it was realized that to handle traffic queuing on site might require more than 1,400 feet of roadway. This could lead to widening of access roads, increases in impervious surface, reduction of play space, and other changes, all to handle a twice-a-day problem.

At its core, this was not a school issue. This was a community issue. The schools and the School Committee had an important role and that was to not throw up any roadblocks to a better plan, but making this a purely school issue meant an almost impossible task of assigning priorities.

Can I reasonably expect the School Committee to be able to say that returning foreign language to the elementary schools ranks below a car-related issue? They already have a daunting number of priorities to try to balance. Making them completely responsible for changing the culture surrounding student transportation was, I thought, asking a bit much.

The Selectmen were in the same bind with the White House. Everyone agreed it was an eyesore. But too many conflicting priorities, too little money, too many competing interests, too many projects already in the works, a 300th anniversary coming up, and a citizenry already paying out a goodly share of their income in taxes made it hard for the selectmen to do anything else except what they did which was to vote to indefinitely postpone the article which meant it would remain an eyesore for at least another year. Oh, there had been a suggestion to simply raze the structure or to move it off site, but for many reasons those were never going to fly, at least in my lifetime.

The solution for school transportation—somehow get more students to ride the bus—came from a citizen article proposed by Judy Crocker and backed by various groups like Safe Routes to Schools. Judy has been a leader in the effort to get kids to walk and ride the bus for years. With a survey in hand which indicated that lower bus fees would increase ridership, Article 17 proposed a way to lower those fees. The very much misunderstood funding piece took awhile to grasp, but finally just about everybody realized that we were risking a relatively small amount of money and the money needed would actually decrease if more students rode the bus.

Moreover, a tie to Lexpress could be created which would allow students to take the school bus in the morning and Lexpress in the afternoon. Credit that one to a forward-thinking Town Transportation Coordinator, the Transportation Advisory Committee, and a Board of Selectmen who listened and acted.

The solution for the White House emerged as an amendment to the attempt to indefinitely postpone the article. That would have meant no funding for the external stabilization of the building, but the Capital Expenditures Committee disagreed and proposed going ahead with the work against the wishes of the Selectmen. Both the amendment and the article passed with votes to spare so by this time next year, I will not have to wince every time I go to the Farmers Market or walk to the Senior Center.

For both school transportation and making the White House less of an eyesore, the public, acting through Town Meeting, accepted both problems as community problems and took the steps necessary to address them.

The underlying plans supporting both articles were not seat-of-the-pants efforts. Both were backed by extensive preparation and well thought out plans. Moreover, in both cases we now know there is an acceptance of broad responsibility for the article. Instead of one board standing up to push for passage of an article, in both cases a much larger group has said that they will help make things happen. With anything you do in Town government you hope that is the case, but it is gratifying to see a demonstration of that fact.

I understand that you may not agree with the solution in either case, but it is the process I am interested in. Boards have responsibilities which can get in the way of solutions so every now and then outside help is needed. I was impressed this year that in an orderly and, dare I say it, collegial, way that outside help weighed in and was heard. The funny thing is that this has actually increased my appreciation for the problems boards must deal with and how important demonstrations of acceptance of responsibility are.

Boards still have to do most of the heavy lifting they were elected to do, but it is nice to know that there really are checks and balances in place and sometimes they even work.

 

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A Personal Connection-The Economic Impact of a Light Winter

Hank Manz

By Hank Manz  |  Shortly after I was elected as a selectman in Lexington, my outlook on snow began to change.   No longer was it that attractive blanket which made the town look like a Norman Rockwell painting and which, thankfully, covered the leaves I hadn’t raked in the fall.  Snow costs money.  Not only must the town pay overtime for DPW workers, but they must also contract with private plowers to augment town equipment and personnel.  The town must pay for salt and sand and then, after the salt and sand has eaten away and abraded the road surface, the town must pay again for early maintenance.  Plowing sometimes rips up curbing and tears out patches in the road.  More money for repairs.  When budget time comes around as it inevitably does, then the realization hits that, once again, taxes are going to go up if we wish to maintain services.

Fall came and went this year without much in the way of brilliant colors and also without much bad weather except for a hurricane and a winter storm which cost us some trees, but did little in the way of damage to buildings.  I stopped in at Ranc’s for some ice cream on one of the few cold days in January and found Joe less than enthusiastic about the temporarily freezing weather. For the most part, however, the weather has been mild.  At home, with a new, more efficient, heating system installed last summer, we have been much more comfortable, both physically and fiscally than we were last winter. Even with the price of oil up, consumption is far below that of last year—a combination of a better boiler and better weather. The woodpile which feeds our woodstove is getting a bit low so I will have to split some more wood soon. This is a lot easier job that usual given the lack of snow. I suspect that Curt, an owner of a local insurance company, is happier because with no snow and ice, the claims rate has not yet taken the usual seasonal jump. The weather is so warm that the family cat has not had to take up his winter place under the woodstove where I am sure he passes the time wondering why humans insist on making it cold and wet outside. If I spoke Cat, I would probably find out that what he is saying when snow is falling is “Do I have to draw you doltish humans a diagram?”

So it was with a light heart that I broached the topic of no snow with Susan who was until recently the manager of the local branch of Brookline Bank. That led to an extended conversation while she filled me in on the other side of the coin.  No snow means no plowing which is how the private plowers, most of them landscapers or contractors in the building trades, pay for the trucks they use all year round.  No cold weather means fewer oil deliveries which has a heavy impact on oil dealers because they have contracted to buy a minimum number of gallons of fuel from the distributors and now they might not be able to meet those minimums so they could be in trouble.  No cold weather means that even if the local shoe stores avoid getting stuck with a huge inventory of boots which will be out of style by next year, there is a good chance that somebody will lose money on that inventory somewhere.  Of course no snow means that people like me will make their boots last another year even though the pair I wear most often has several hot-glue patches on them. No snow means many local stores are carrying large inventories of shovels, scrapers, sand, salt, and windshield washer fluid.  They should have sold at least half of the stock by now, but now they may be stuck twice—they are paying for storage and eventually they may have to fire sale the leftovers. Susan had at least two dozen examples and I could think of even more as we talked.  It means, for instance, that I might have trouble getting donations for the youth hockey league I help run because local businesses are the main source of those donations.

This was an amazing revelation—snow is an economic engine for the economy of the small town in which I live.  Could it be that the half a million dollars or more the town spends in most years for removal is nothing compared to the economic boost it gives many of the citizens who pay for that removal with their tax dollars? Then they, in turn, can afford to pay their taxes which helps keep the town solvent.

Bursting with my new-found knowledge, I started the task of convincing the citizenry by talking to my spouse.  She wasn’t buying it, even after I pointed out that her own windshield scraper, broken last winter, has not had to be replaced.  Sad to say, only a very small number immediately bought my explanation, including guys like Mike who runs a landscaping business and plows in the winter.  Fortunately, with the Super Bowl over, a weekend snowstorm may excite more interest in plowing than it would have just a few weeks ago.

But I still believe in the economic engine theory and should it snow, I will be sad that the town’s financial problems will be worse in the short term, but glad that Dick will sell some boots, that Mike might get some plowing time in, and that Lexington Ace Hardware will sell at least a few shovels.  To prepare for what must surely come, I will buy my wife a new windshield brush and scraper for her car, but while I am on that errand, I will stop at Joe’s for an ice cream sundae and I will drive very carefully so Curt will not suffer. You know—my boots are looking a bit the worse for wear so just maybe I will be paying a visit to Michelson’s very soon. It has to snow eventually, right? But please, not in April …

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