Tuesday, 20 April 2010

All about twinning, a little sister and its Big Brother

Above: An aerial view of Brewster , Massachusetts

The Spring 2010 Town Meeting of our Cape Cod sister community of Brewster will be held at the Stony Brook Elementary School Cafetorium at 7.00 pm on Monday 3 May.

Budleigh Salterton Public Hall, seat of the Town Council, where our Annual Town Meetings are held

Budleigh Salterton had its Annual Town Meeting a month or so ago on Wednesday 10 March, as I reported at http://budleighbrewsterunited.blogspot.com/2010/03/2010-annual-town-meeting.html

Of course our Spring comes a bit earlier than Brewster's.

I see that on the Town of Brewster website at http://www.town.brewster.ma.us/ that it is now officially stated by our Cape Cod sister-community that "Brewster is a twin town with Budleigh Salterton in the United Kingdom."

Budleigh Salterton Town Council's coat of arms

It's lovely to see the link recognised. But of course no such declaration has ever appeared on parchment signed by representatives of our two towns - or however such twinnings are normally officially recognised - even though Budleigh Salterton Town Council told me that they think reviving the connection is "a good idea" and would fully support the link if residents wish to "put the association on a more formal basis."

They're not exact twins of course. Brewster's population of almost 9,600 - growing to an astonishing 25,000 in the holiday season - is more than twice as big as Budleigh's (4,805 in 2001).

And Brewster dwarfs Budleigh in another sense.

Sometimes I feel that certain Budleigh people would like to declare a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from the rest of the county of Devon.

Right: The East Devon District Council logo

At least that seems to be the opinion of certain members and officials of East Devon District Council, its Bigger Brother, under whose jurisdiction the town of Budleigh Salterton falls in matters such as economic development, planning and household taxes.

EDDC development management chairman Paul Diviani, for example, was quoted in the Exmouth Herald of 28 September 2009 as saying that residents had to realise Budleigh Salterton may be unique to them, but East Devon District Council viewed it as 'part and parcel' of East Devon.

Budleigh Salterton Town Council responded a month later with an Open Letter published in the local press accusing its Bigger Brother in Sidmouth, a few miles up the coast from us, of high-handedness and bullying. "It is very depressing for us to discover that the district council is not so protective and not so concerned about the town and its residents," it complained. Some people, it felt, believed that EDDC had "little regard for the democratic process, for the views of the town council, and for the views of the majority of local townspeople."

Above: Budleigh Salterton's Longboat Café, a source of controversy in the town

All this public anger and indignation has arisen mainly because of East Devon District Council's ruling that the Longboat Café owners in Budleigh can go ahead with their plans for development of the site into a restaurant. "Such actions cannot but give the impression that EDDC officers and district councillors 'know what is best' for this town and that it is only their opinions that matter," bitterly concludes Budleigh Salterton Town Council's Open Letter.

A poster advertising the Longboat protest meeting
on 24 March 2010

Of course in Brewster, as far as I can gather, such a situation would never come about because their Town Selectmen (Councillors) are the decision-makers. In the land of Independence Day, even relatively small communities like Brewster seem to have a wonderful autonomy over their affairs, just as each State is able to enact many of its own laws. But that's America for you.

Some of our Town Councillors might now be envying their US counterparts in Brewster such powers. But the other side of the coin is that the Cape Cod town is financially accountable for its own affairs. And I read that Brewster is looking at a deficit of $396,000 for the 2011 financial year. http://www.wickedlocal.com/brewster/town_info/x863092211/Brewster-still-looking-at-deficit These are hard times of course.

Above: The clubhouse at Brewster's Captains Golf Course, just one of the many concerns for which the town's selectmen are responsible

So running Brewster is not a simple matter. Education, roads, water services, housing, police and fire services, waste disposal, the Captains Golf Course, the Ladies' Library, the Brewster Town Band... The list of Selectmen's responsibilities goes on and on. The document published by the Town Administrator's department to accompany the Town Meeting on 3 May runs to an eye-popping 64-page pdf document which you can access at http://www.town.brewster.ma.us/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=944:spring-2010-town-meeting-may-3-2010&catid=29:town-clerk&Itemid=31

And of course the whole show has to run harmoniously. Brewster's voters will be expected to play a full part in their town's decision-making process, but naturally in a civilised and rational fashion.

"No person is to indulge in personalities or derogatories," they will have read in the sternly worded instructions for the conduct of the Town Meeting, somewhere in amongst those 64 pages. And worthy of the tone of the 1789 United States Bill of Rights is the final exhortation which concludes them: "Let us maintain decorum and reason together."

I feel rather in awe of our Big Sister across the pond.

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