4/7/08

NEWTON'S HIDDEN WEALTH

Ellie Goldberg 617 965-9637, Erika Keller Rogoff, Francoise LaMonica, Andrew Martin, Rohna Shoul, Ilene Spiro, Janet Sterman, Maeve Ward
 
A version of Newton's Hidden Wealth was recorded for broadcast NewTV News:
Video 4min 

The Newton Parks Department's plan to use Trimec Plus on playing fields in Newton this April reveals that Newton's reputation as a "green" city committed to protecting its citizens or safeguarding the environment is undeserved.

Trimec Plus is a weed killer product containing a mixture of the toxic chemicals 2,4-D, Dicamba, and MCPP plus MSMA.* The evidence continues to grow that these chemicals cause serious health and developmental damage to everyone and especially to children.

'It was to avert these dangers that a group of dedicated Green Decade Coalition members proposed that the City adopt an enlightened policy to stop the practice of routinely using a variety of herbicides and insecticides on school playgrounds, public parks and buildings. We were heartened when Mayor Tom Concannon signed an executive order on September 11, 1997. <http://www.ci.newton.ma.us/Exec/ipmpolicy.htm>  (Note 2014. Policy no longer online.)

The policy called for Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM is a proactive cost-saving approach to preventing and correcting conditions to prevent weeds and bugs. It is not simply a menu of toxic and less toxic "treatments."
If Newton had effectively implemented this policy, all city buildings and grounds would now be in great shape. We could rely on a pro-active coordinated system of operations, preventative maintenance and repair. All city employees, contractors and citizens would be committed to a culture of collaboration and sustainable cost-saving practices that prevent damage and deterioration and that would make it possible to avoid using pesticides.

We would have fixed the underlying site problems on our sports fields such as poor drainage. We would have corrected bad mowing and irrigation practices. Enlightened sports coaches, teams and recreational users and neighbors would gladly adjust to field conditions to avoid the overuse and abuse that dooms to failure any seeding, aerating or fertilizing – no matter how much or little we spend. We would all be proud of our well-maintained fields, schools and firehouses. We would be thriving with energy efficient buildings and "green" playing fields. Newton would truly be a model of Integrated Planning and Management.
However, despite annual proclamations of Alternatives to Pesticides Month, the City has never truly committed to making the policy work. An advisory committee was made up of city department representatives with limited knowledge and inconsistent and unreliable participation. The group has never lived up to the purpose or the promise of being an effective and educated advisory group for any kind of oversight or coordination. Thus Newton has yet to develop the values and scientific expertise necessary to correct its inefficient, wasteful and unsafe practices.

Just as the lack of maintenance has allowed all of the city buildings to deteriorate, the City administration has missed hundreds of opportunities to prevent problems and has wasted millions of dollars. Instead of having playing fields and buildings citizens can be proud of, we have dilapidated schools, deplorable fields, deteriorating firehouses, demoralized employees and disgruntled citizens -- and more pesticides. Thus, ever since 1997, the Parks Department has claimed that "organic fertilizers" fail to stop the weeds and then rationalizes its use of "less expensive" synthetics and pesticides.
The real problem is that the city has yet to adopt ecologically-wise long-range cost-effective practices, has yet to change the culture of city departments working at cross purposes, and has yet to adopt a standard for accountability.

Newton's management culture persists in tolerating poor performance and shoddy work. Contractors and suppliers can exploit Newton's ineffective piecemeal approach to contracts and disjointed decision-making. It is a system vulnerable to waste, fraud, abuse and escalating costs. And no lessons are learned -- these same contractors and suppliers seem to have the loyalty of Newton officials and a lock on Newton's contracts no matter how poor the results. Do we see evidence that there will be better design, maintenance and sanitation in our "new" buildings?

I wish the people who think Newton needs an override would imagine how much Newton would have saved if the City did basic maintenance and repair and was truly committed to quality control, systems efficiency, and protecting our buildings from rot. **

Newton's hidden wealth is the citizens who are unsatisfied with the status quo, who understand that Newton could be doing so much better and have not yet lost faith in the potential of the City of Newton. Now is the time to begin realizing that potential and getting value for every dollar.

A good place to start is to cancel the Parks Department's plan to use Trimec Plus and invest in a long-range system that sets a high standard for collaboration and makes quality and accountability a priority in all City departments. We would then be praising our city officials for their fidelity to principles of good government and financial stewardship.

That's where the money is!

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*To learn about the dangers of these chemicals:
  1. See GreenCAP's award winning video "Say No to Pesticides." Contact the Green Decade Coalition 617 965-1995, info@greendecade.org
  2. See the documentary films "Playing it Safe" and "Our Children at Risk" from Grassroots Environmental Education. Contact Ellie Goldberg 617 965-9637, healthykids@rcn.com
  3. See Contaminated Without Consent online at http://www.healthytomorrow.org/
**In December 1995 Ellie Goldberg sent a letter to Anne Larner and the school committee when she became concerned about the lack of knowledgeable professionals, lack of quality control and accountability, and the lack of a comprehensive coordinated system to address the air quality hazards and poor sanitation in Newton's schools.