Editorial Roundup: New England

Rutland Herald. October 6, 2021.

Editorial: No regard

The other day, we published a letter to the editor from someone who acknowledged that they were against the coronavirus vaccination and had not received it. The response within the community has been unfortunately unsurprising.

Our policy, as stated on our website and occasionally in our print publication is “We endeavor to publish all letters, but they should be short (no more than 300 words) and to the point. … Letters should include the writer’s full name, telephone number, and e-mail for verification. All requested information is solely for the purpose of verifying comments. It will not be used for any solicitation purposes. Letters that are unsigned, libelous, in poor taste, or incomprehensible will not be published.”

The way social media threads allow the audience to watch the rapid descent down the rabbit hole, we could have done the same here. But per our policy, many people who submitted responses did not pass muster, so the worst submissions never saw their glory off the press. Many, if not most of the letters, were unsigned, libelous, in poor taste or incomprehensible.

Add to the mix, a flurry of voicemail messages that were in the same vein, most of them falling under the categories of “in poor taste” and “incomprehensible.”

This was a most embarrassing display.

Your neighbors were castigating a member of your own community for having a different, albeit unpopular opinion.

Your neighbors were viciously mocking someone they did not know, making claims of mental illness and developmental issues (using some terms that have not been in the lexicon for decades now).

And your neighbors were openly suggesting the original letter writer was better off dead.

Also added to this toxic mix were the dozen or so people who reached out to us to lecture the newspaper on the irresponsibility of publishing a point of view of someone opposed to this specific vaccination because “it might encourage others”; or that we were giving press time to a position that “doesn’t deserve any ink”; or that we should devote space on the editorial page “to things that matter.”

The really bold among you went so far as to expose a special arrogance by telling us that you “don’t want to read things I don’t agree with.”

In summary: We didn’t fit your algorithm.

All of this is representative of three things: intolerance, ignorance, and a complete lack of (or regard for) understanding of the Bill of Rights.

Newspapers, which are constitutional protected under Freedom of the Press, are the place where communities can have a dialogue about the issues of the day. In fact, we encourage that dialogue. A vibrant editorial page is important because it is a barometer of the community at large. If a newspaper through its coverage generates a response from the community — good, bad or ugly — then the newspaper’s role is well served. It is providing a place for a dialogue.

As we have stated in this space many times, communities are made up of many points of view. And the myriad perspectives that are out there need to be heard, understood and celebrated. We need to listen to one another, even when we disagree. We need to agree to disagree. Because we would not want to live in a place where we all thought the same way, lived the same way, believed the same way. That would be intolerance.

Choosing to ignore the thoughts and opinions of others, and settling upon “just the facts” that suit an argument and no others is just ignorance. You see, bubbles are a tough place to exist, because when they pop, you find yourself woefully out of step with others outside your fragile, little world.

And the tenets of our Constitution, the one that we point to all of the time as the “word of the founders,” provide for those freedoms to have opinions, share them how we want and to a larger audience than our like-minded selves. Wanting to shut down the flow of information for the sake of cleansing the message received is a dangerous wish when we also want to fly flags, own guns and defend rights.

On days like today, where we have to level our sights on those among us who would rather obstruct, berate and hate, we find ourselves grateful for the role we play in providing information, sharing perspectives and giving air to the issues.

Because if one thing has been made more clear it is that we must be presented with facts and information in order to further develop the dialogue we need in order to understand one another as a community.

What we won’t tolerate is the lack of accountability by members of the community who won’t stand behind their opinions, preferring to bully from the cheap seats with no regard for others.

___

Boston Globe. October 8, 2021.

Editorial: A sensible solution for the Allston Interchange

The state made the right decision in moving forward with a plan that rebuilds the elevated part of the Massachusetts Turnpike at ground level.

It took years of negotiation — and more delays than rush hour on the Mass Pike — to settle on a plan to fix the elevated section of the highway that loops around an old rail yard in Allston, but the state transportation agency has announced it is finally moving forward with a proposal to reconfigure and rebuild the old and deteriorating viaduct at ground level. It’s a massive, decade-long project, with a price tag of $1.7 billion, that would also free roughly 100 acres of land for reuse in Allston and help reknit a neighborhood that was separated from the rest of the city by the Pike’s original construction.

It is the right step in the right direction — and should free the city, state, and Harvard University, which owns most of the land in the area, to start thinking big about the transformative opportunities for new housing and economic development that the project will create. Making the most of those opportunities will be a major test, particularly in light of recent failures to create new and vibrant neighborhoods that offer affordable rental units, congestion-free streets, engaging architecture, and plenty of public transit options. No one should want to see a reprise of the failures in the boring, homogenous Seaport District.

The Baker administration’s decision comes after community activists had pushed back on some of the alternative proposals for replacing the crumbling 60-year-old Allston viaduct and straightening the Pike, which became possible after the rail shipper CSX stopped using the rail yard. The main technical challenge was around a narrow zone known colloquially as “the throat,” where the Pike (Interstate 90), Soldiers Field Road, an existing pedestrian and bike path, and railroad tracks all have to fit in a thin strip of land between the Boston University campus and the Charles River. One option was to build a new elevated part of the highway, but many neighborhood advocates opposed that idea because it would have blocked off the river. Most favored an at-grade option, but differed on how it should look; some environmental activists favored eliminating a lane on the Pike, an option that was never realistically on the table.

The chosen proposal does move the pedestrian and bike path onto the river to be built on pilings, a solution that did not sit entirely well with some environmentalists. But that section of the river is not exactly a pristine wilderness. As other stakeholders have noted, the banks on that stretch of the Charles are man-made, and the river has seen many artificial improvements through the years. Pathways built on pilings can be beautiful additions to waterways, like the boardwalk on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, and there’s no reason to imagine the design wouldn’t work here.

In moving forward with the Allston project now, state authorities are hoping to take advantage of possible federal infrastructure dollars that could be approved by Congress to pay for it. That means tolls would not have to increase to fund the megaproject, which also includes building new rail tracks, a new rail station on the Worcester/Framingham line, and a new stretch of Soldiers Field Road.

In an old and crowded city like Boston, 100 acres of new land doesn’t come along too often. The state deserves credit for unlocking, for the most part, the impasse that had plagued the project for years. After a decade of obsessing over track configurations, shoulder widths, and other engineering details, the city, Harvard, and the other stakeholders in the area should now turn their collective attention to making the land a model for far-sighted urban planning.

___

Hearst Connecticut Media. October 8. 2021.

Editorial: Vaccine decisions put trust in CT police to test

The very essence of being a police officer is to keep the public safe. To ensure rules are followed. To help people make good choices.

The pandemic puts each of these to the test.

Before COVID-19 became part of our everyday lives, we were already in the midst of a national crisis to reverse an erosion of trust in police. Connecticut’s police accountability law created in the aftermath of protests against racial injustice and police brutality created new fissures as some departments and state officials claimed overreach.

These wounds are not healing. A step forward would have been if all officers took advantage of being offered spots at the front of the line to get vaccinated last winter.

Instead, too many officers are apparently using magical thinking to avoid the shots. A leader in the Stamford police union wrote an essay expressing the troubled reasoning that “many officers possess natural immunity after already being infected with COVID.”

Stamford has a pretty admirable rate of eligible residents who are fully vaccinated: 82%. But among the 268 police officers in the city, only 59% reported getting shots, according to a Hearst Connecticut Media Group review.

Some Connecticut departments reported much better figures. Redding hit the high point of 95%. New Haven recorded the lowest reported rate (56%).

Other police departments, including some of the largest in the state, declined to disclose the data or didn’t even bother keeping count. Though municipalities have different policies, the thousand State Police troopers face a mandate to either to take the vaccine or submit weekly tests.

This is not keeping the public safe.

This is not following the rules.

This is not helping people make good decisions.

But worst of all, it puts our officers at unnecessary risk. They deal with some of the most vulnerable members of the population, many of whom are sick or not vaccinated.

Data from the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial Fund cites COVID-19 as the leading cause of death among police officers for the second year in a row. Of the 255 line of duty deaths in 2021, 144 have been attributed to COVID-19. In 2020, the memorial page documented 371 line of duty deaths, attributing 242 to COVID.

“Getting vaccinated is just as important as wearing your vest and your seatbelt,” the fund advises.

Wearing masks seemed reasonable, too, particularly during the early days of this crisis. Still, we saw too many officers maskless in public, setting the wrong example for children who have no other choice, and who still don’t have the option of getting vaccinated.

While some departments cloak their numbers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keeps revealing ones that should make these easy decisions. The latest reports that people who are not fully vaccinated are 11 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than those who have gotten their shots.

By getting vaccinated, officers do more than keep us safe, follow the rules and help others make good decisions. They help mend shattered trust.

___

Bangor Daily News. October 8, 2021.

Editorial: By getting vaccinated, officers do more than keep us safe, follow the rules and help others make good decisions. They help mend shattered trust.

Matt Dunlap is no longer state auditor. He never should have been.

We’ve got nothing against the former Maine secretary of state, who we found to be open, accessible and detail-oriented in his previous role. But we do subscribe to the notion that public officials should be qualified for the offices they hold.

In some cases, “qualified” might be tricky to define. Different people value different experiences in choosing who to vote for, as an example.

In other cases, however, the set qualifications for a position are crystal clear. Like for the role of Maine state auditor.

Maine law states it plainly: “The State Auditor must be a certified public accountant or a college graduate with not less than 6 years of experience as a professional accountant or auditor, including not less than 5 years of auditing experience, of which not less than 4 years must have been in a supervisory capacity.”

Dunlap, a Democrat, didn’t meet those requirements when the Democratic-controlled Legislature chose him for the position in December. He was, in his own words at the time, “utterly unqualified” for the job.

Now, state law also allows for cases where the auditor isn’t qualified, and gives them nine months to pass exams needed to become a certified public accountant, certified information systems auditor or certified internal auditor. As Dunlap explained in a recent letter to Maine Senate President Troy Jackson, also a Democrat, Dunlap has failed to secure a certification for internal auditor within those nine months.

In the letter, Dunlap outlined his efforts to enlist the help of a tutor and take a financial accounting course, difficulties scheduling some of his tests, and how he passed one of those tests but failed two others despite coming “agonizingly close” to passing.

“I present this narrative to you to explain my circumstances and not to make excuses for them,” Dunlap said in the letter, noting that Deputy State Auditor Melissa Perkins will be in charge of the office in the interim. “While I could convey much about what I’ve learned about the maturation of the role of the internal auditor over the last thirty years and the vertical effort needed to meet the requirements of the law, those are only superficial to the situation; I knew the rules going in and have done my best to meet those standards.”

In keeping with our past experience with him, Dunlap’s letter was detailed and thorough. We wish the Legislature had the same attention to detail when selecting him as auditor. The fact that he was unqualified for the job was no small detail. It should have been reason enough at the time to select someone already qualified for the role.

Moving forward, the Maine Senate will need to confirm a new state auditor. Asked if Jackson would think about renominating Dunlap should he become qualified, Jackson spokesperson Christine Kirby said the Senate president “isn’t ruling anything out.”

Generally, when making a decision like this, members of the Legislature should be ruling out people who are literally unqualified. And while we’re on the subject, we’ll once again point out that the Legislature shouldn’t be filling these positions in the first place.

Along with the positions of attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer, the auditor is one of four positions currently chosen by the Legislature that should instead be chosen directly by voters. This situation involving Dunlap is just one example of how the current system often leads to political insiders from the party in power filling these roles. Having the public elect these officers could bring more transparency and accountability to the process.

Again, we don’t have anything against Matt Dunlap. But we do have something against a system that often prioritizes political connections ahead of qualifications.

END