To the editor:
I used to feel good about our local form of government. The citizens of Marblehead could put together a warrant article to be presented and voted on at the Town Meeting. Once a majority voted in favor of the matter, the warrant article became law. Then it was, I thought, up to the Select Board, together with the town administrator, to see to it that the law is properly administered.
Today, that good feeling has left me.
Back in 1995, Putt Mace, Karen Martin, myself and others went before the Select Board with a proposal to keep the State Street public restrooms open all year. The board loved the idea, as did everyone at the May 6, 1996, Town Meeting, where Article 32 was unanimously adopted. It did not require tellers to count the votes. Not one person raised a hand in opposition to the article.
Anyone who has visited the public landing will have noticed the sign on the restroom doors stating “closed for the season.” At first, it was Parks and Rec that followed through with the decision on Article 32. The State Street restrooms were kept open. After a few years, it ended.
Responsibility passed to another town department. Ask what happened, and all the excuses given (lack of insulation, pipes freezing, vandalism, too expensive to heat, etc.) can be summed up under the headings of poor management and poor maintenance.
Will pipes freeze in winter? Sure, if there is no heat. The furnace supplying that heat needs to be maintained or replaced when unreliable. The same can be said of each and every house in Marblehead.
Lack of insulation? It is a small solid brick building designed with a furnace meant to heat the restrooms in the colder months.
Too expensive to heat? Restroom temperatures do not need to be kept above 50 degrees. How about installing an air-source heat pump system? Again, where is the management?
And what about vandalism? Not surprisingly, vandalism results when restrooms are closed, not when open? Why is that? Think about it.
People head for a restroom for one reason and one reason only — to relieve themselves. What possible reason could there be for locking the doors? Sure, lock the doors after hours at the bank, at Crosbys, etc. Theft can occur there. But in a restroom? What’s to steal?
I can imagine a locked-out citizen needing to perform a necessary, time-sensitive bodily function, which is not limited by the season or controlled by clocks, when confronted with a locked restroom door, to think: “What the …k! I live in this town. I pay taxes in this town. Am I being told to go behind a tree?” Vandalism, as a result, should not be a head-scratcher.
And what about security cameras? The management question again. I was told by a Harbors and Waters Board member that security cameras were not an option due to legal issues and a need to have the cameras monitored 24/7. Upon researching the matter, I found that there are no legal barriers to installing surveillance cameras in plain view in the public areas outside the restrooms where people do not have an expectation of privacy. Monitoring 24/7? Not so.
The town has failed in administering the 1996 Town Meeting vote. Not only have the restrooms not been open in the winter, they were closed all spring. The first opening was this past Monday. Despite the 15 to 20 people fishing for squid on the public dock until 2 or 3 a.m., the restrooms are closed to them after 11 p.m., resulting in widespread urination in the public parking area.
I think it is time for a group of volunteers to have a chance to see if they can administer the matter better. They can’t do a worse job.