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We had worked to elect two of the three Selectmen and felt we had an investment in Town government. There were others, however, who resented the success of the 'Committee' and decided that something had to be done. They seized upon the 'Charter Commission' as their vehicle.
In Massachusetts the process to change the form of Town Government (the Charter) is long and complicated, as this is not a decision to be taken lightly. A Charter committee is formed, there is a long study period, many hearings, a detailed report is written, there is more debate and discussion, then a final report and finally, a public referendum on whether to accept the new Charter.
This process was underway at the time we began working with our candidates, both of whom were now in office. The selectmanic system had served the Town for over two hundred years, but given the phenomenal rate of growth in recent times, a reasonable argument could be made that it was time to change.
The system depended, to a great extent, on the integrity and honesty of the Selectmen, and on the public knowing their elected officials, and keeping informed in municipal matters. The duties of a Selectmen were ill defined, and in times past the the job could be performed with a few hours work. The job, in short, was what the individual Selectman chose to make it.
Indeed, prior to the election of the three incumbents, there had been a decade long string of hapless, incompetent and ineffective Selectmen. Based on that long, awful nightmare many felt that it was time to institute a new system with a professional Town Manager. They advocated 'full time, professional government.'
The referendum on the new Charter was approaching, and the 'Committee' realized that the forces supporting the 'full time, professional' Charter were going to win. This meant that the existing Board of Selectmen would be abolished, and our work to get our candidates into those offices would come to nothing.
Although we had split on the election of Jeff Wilson we felt that it was in everyone's best interests to work with the 'Committee' to keep all of our incumbents, who were well qualified, hard working men, in office.
The design and execution of this campaign required some 'sleight of hand'. We appropriated all of the phrases and arguments of the Charter supporters and made them ours, only better. They wanted 'full time, professional government', we offered three full time professionals. They wanted 'progress', we became the Barnstable Committee for Progress (BPRO). Our 'Voter's Miniguide to the Charter' was presented as 'What You Can Do For Professional Government in Barnstable.'
In a short but intense campaign the supporters of the Charter were overwhelmed, as we mailed our 'Mini Guide' to all voters and included a larger version of it as a supplement to all the weekly newspapers. When election day came, the Charter was badly defeated, and the selectmanic system, as supported by the 'committee', remained in place.
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