Bidwell Advisors
May 2, 2019
To neighbors and friends, Ward 2 and elsewhere,

It's spring in Northampton. Pollen and protests are in the air! 

Please read on to learn more about:
As always, I look forward to hearing your questions, concerns and suggestions.


Dennis Bidwell
The City Budget and Teacher Salaries, Public Hearings June 5 and 6citybudget
All of us on City Council have been deluged with emails and calls regarding the ongoing contract negotiations between the Northampton Association of School Employees (NASE) and the City. Drawing on a Facebook post by my colleague Bill Dwight, here is some background on that process:

1) Collective bargaining continues between NASE and the School Committee (which is chaired by the Mayor.) The City Council is not an authorized participant in that process per Massachusetts General Laws and by our own City Charter. It would be inappropriate for Councilors to be seen as interfering or insinuating themselves into that process. By our charter, the Mayor and the School Committee are the negotiating agents. Comments, pro or con, by any City Councilor, or by other elected officials, could be considered a form of violation of the collective bargaining process. 

2) The Council will not be voting on the budget at its meeting tonight. It is not on our agenda. (Nonetheless, any and all public comment regarding this and any other matter is of course welcome.) The Mayor will be presenting his proposed Fiscal Year 2020 budget to the City Council for consideration in mid-May. At that time it will be posted on-line and hard copies will be available for viewing at City Hall, in the libraries and at other locations. The Council will then hold public hearings on the budget June 5 at 7:00 pm, and June 6 at 7:00 pm, at the start of our regularly scheduled meeting. (Meetings in City Council Chambers.)The process will eventually lead up to a Council vote on the budget before the end of the fiscal year (June 30.)

3) The City Council has final approval of the City Budget but our powers are limited. We do not participate in the Mayor's preparation of the budget. We may only approve it or reduce or reject specific line items. We are not allowed to add or transfer departmental funding. Alan Seewald, the City Solicitor, has offered this clarification regarding the suggestion that the Council could simply reject the entire budget: "The City Council does not have the option of simply rejecting the budget in total. The charter requires the Council to adopt the budget, with or without downward amendments. If the council fails to carry out that mandate for 45 days after the filing of the budget with the clerk, the budget is deemed adopted and the funds appropriated."

I hope that this helps clear up some of the confusion about the City Council's role in this important matter, and why I must refrain from commenting on matters now in collective bargaining.
Financial Information Provided by the Mayor at his Budget Town Hall Meetingsmeetings
In his three budget town hall meetings held in the last week, the Mayor has provided in great detail a variety of factors that go into his preparation of the budget he'll present to Council in the next few weeks. I encourage you to familiarize yourself with this information as you prepare to weigh in on the draft budget.
Commentary on our Police Departmentpolice
I have heard many comments in response to a Gazette Letter to the Editor by attorney Dana Goldblatt in which she defended her use of the term "violence workers" in describing the police officers of the Northampton Police Department.

Northampton resident Kevin Lake offered an especially thoughtful response in his own guest column last week, "Violence Workers" is not a true name. 

'Violence workers' is not a true name
By Kevin Lake

Attorney Dana Goldblatt's recent letter on April 11 urged us to call things by their true names.

I agree with the value of accurate naming. However, as William James, an American philosopher and psychologist, said: "A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices."

It appears that Ms. Goldblatt's prejudices are such that in her certainty and righteousness, she deceives herself about what is "true." Though her desire for citizens to be active thinkers is admirable, the term "violence workers" is not logically a defensible "true name" for Northampton's police.

The word "police" shares the same root as the word "polity," which Ms. Goldblatt uses to describe the community of which she is a part. It also shares the same root and historical meaning as the word "policy." When humans organize into a society (a polity), we create a structure of norms, standards, patterns and agreements that define that society ... we have policies.

We codify many of these policies into laws, and we certainly debate and argue about them, but these policies define the responsibilities of membership in our society. Membership in the society requires reasonable adherence to these policies. If, for example, the societal policy involves the recognition of the concept of private property, then I cannot just say "Gee, I want that ... I'll take it." Most of the time we all comply voluntarily with these policies. Only rarely is it necessary to compel compliance.

When humans create a government, one of the central roles of that government is to articulate and, when necessary, enforce, these policies. Policing is a straightforward and accurate name for the work of this policy-focused role. The work involved has many dimensions - education, community engagement, public space monitoring, evidence gathering, protecting and so on.

We add to this policing function the societally valuable roles of first responder, emergency management, safety monitoring, and more. A small, even tiny, percentage of this total policing role involves the responsibility to compel. Compelling adherence to the responsibilities of societal membership can include force, if all else fails, and, yes, such force can on rare occasions be to the point of violence.

But characterizing such "last resort" measures as definitive of the whole role is like describing teachers and school administrators as expulsion workers because they have, and sometimes apply, the authority to expel a student. Or characterizing managers as "those who fire people" when, properly done, the managerial role is to hire, support, coach, train, motivate etc. Police, teachers and managers all can go weeks, months or years without spending a minute using the force that their role authorizes.

Fear of expulsion is a poor model for education. Fear of firing is a poor model of management. Fear of physical force is a poor model of policing.
There are jerks and bullies and poorly trained people in managerial roles, in schools and in police forces, and their behavior can constitute failures and betrayals of important societal roles. Vigilance, criticism and repair are needed; it is our responsibility as members of society to point out such failures and betrayals when they happen.

However, pretending that such examples characterize the entire category is both inaccurate and worse than unhelpful: It invites divisiveness when community is needed.

Yes, let's call things by their true names. Violence workers may be a catchy slogan, but it is not a true name.
Dennis Bidwell City Council Ward 2
19 Forbes Avenue
Northampton, MA 01060