Sel. Grady’s Political Stance
In the past two months Chairman of Selectmen James T. Grady has provided the Town of Bourne with a unique opportunity to evaluate itself.
Mr. Grady, after attacking several businesses and institutions, notably the National Marine Life Center in Buzzards Bay and the Bourne Recreation Authority, found a need in each instance to compromise while citing goals achieved and declaring a victory on behalf of the town. But then Mr. Grady found a business to attack that was less able to defend itself; he discovered Knowlton’s Garage, Bourne’s only auto salvage business, located on Rte. 6A in South Sagamore.
Defending a salvage yard in this environmentally sensitive time is a lot like defending the free speech rights of despised groups or individuals, yet fairness must apply to all if it is going to apply to any.
But when it came to Knowlton’s, fairness and compromise was not the goal of the chairman of selectmen. A vituperative and vengeful attitude and approach was taken by Chairman Grady as soon as the Anderson’s license permit came before the selectmen. But while the vengefulness remains unexplained, the vitriol should hardly be surprising since the attack on Knowlton’s was so carefully planned it took most of a year to prepare and implement.
A bylaw was created by lawyer Grady and shepherded through town meeting by him in his role as selectman. The great majority of people who voted for the new local law did so believing that the selectmen would now have the ability to put conditions on how the town’s only auto salvage business could operate. But Mr. Grady believed he had designed the bylaw so that it would be extremely difficult if not impossible for Knowlton’s Garage to meet the criteria.
When it came time to issue the new license to the Anderson family, heirs to the Knowlton’s who founded the business nearly a century ago, Mr. Grady turned his position as chairman of selectmen into that of chief prosecutor. With a vengeance he unleashed a legalistic attack on John Anderson, who had appeared before the board simply as a local businessman and citizen, without a lawyer. Mr. Grady was successful; he secured a conviction against John Anderson and his family business.
There was no attempt to tell Mr. Anderson what the board would require in order to license the company; there was only a prosecutorial attack illustrating reasons why the company would not be licensed, including an assertion that the business had no ‘grandfather’ protection for its zoning and therefore couldn’t be licensed under Mr. Grady’s carefully crafted new law.
On a 4-1 vote the board denied Knowlton’s a license and essentially put the company out of business.
The Andersons then hired a lawyer, Jon Fitch of Sandwich, and appealed to the selectmen for reconsideration. Mr. Grady vehemently opposed the reconsideration. invoking Robert’s Rules of Order – which he has dispensed with in other cases – to make it more difficult for the applicant, since under Robert’s Rules a motion to reconsider would have to be made by one of the four who denied the license in the first place.
But thankfully Sel. Leo Locke was fair-minded, as were Sel. Mark Tirrell and Sel. Linda Zuern. A reconsideration hearing was scheduled. Mr. Grady and Sel. Wayne Covell remained adamantly opposed.
During the reconsideration hearing, held February 11th, Mr. Grady and Mr. Covell repeatedly made it clear that they do not want to improve the business or correct problems. They want to close the business, despite the advantages the town would gain by licensing Knowlton’s under strict guidelines and cleanup procedures.
This arbitrary posture presents a clear challenge to the people of Bourne, since how the community responds to this black and white form of government action will set a precedent. Will the people of Bourne accept a local government that cannot or will not allow certain existing business to operate under any circumstances? And just what is the philosophy behind such arbitrary government?
Mr. Grady, who is the promoter of this approach, has not explained his reasoning. He has not sought the give and take that speaking to the people of Bourne would entail, nor has he tried to politically explain himself and his approach to governing. He has instead harshly employed courtroom tactics to gain his way and dominate the board.
Is this what Bourne wants from its executive board?
Ironically, Knowlton’s Garage may be less of a perfect foil for this drama than Mr. Grady anticipated. The Anderson’s have stood up and are fighting for their family business, and they are doing so fairly and honestly, although Mr. Grady repeatedly questioned their integrity during the recent hearings. Nonetheless, the Andersons have presented the town with a thorough and environmentally sound program by which their business would be both tested and regulated, they have illustrated a landscaping plan to screen the property with trees, and they have proven, with affidavits, financial documents and testimony, that the business was existent long before 1959.
This is not even a compromise. This is a complete victory for the Town of Bourne; the Anderson’s have made it clear they will turn their business into one of the most environmentally sensitive salvage operations in the state.
Yet during a finance committee meeting that took place after the reconsideration hearing, Mr. Grady made it very clear his aim remains the termination of the Anderson’s business and that he is working toward that goal at every opportunity. If it should happen that he succeeds and gains a third vote to close the business, Bourne will have taken an unusual step toward a future where once a business is targeted for whatever reason, the owners will be punished. There will be no possibility for the business owners to meet any town requirements; the only solution that will satisfy the town will be the closing of the business.
So now the selectmen are reviewing the Knowlton’s materials and the plans; a vote is expected on March 4th. It is far from certain that the selectmen will accept and codify the proposed changes; the board may follow the chairman and seek to end the business. If a majority of the board supports a regulated and improved salvage yard, the ramifications are very likely to be positive in the long run, but if the decision is made to deny the business a chance, that punishing narrowness will similarly have a negative effect over a long period.
The March 4th vote will be significant.
This is a defining period for Bourne, and one in which townspeople would be well advised to make their views known, to each other and to their elected officials.