Francis "Pat" Moulton
573 Lowell Rd.

Interviewed May 2, 1992

Age 70

Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer

Francis "Pat" Moulton--Participation in town government
--Community civic spirit, Town Meeting participation
--Service on the Finance Committe
--As Selectman
--Introduction of Town Manager form of gov't and open meeting law
--As Town Moderator
-- Uniqueness of the New England Town Meeting
--Alice and Pat Moulton as Honored Citizens

We moved to Concord in 1949 and lived at 12 Elm Street. When we moved in, a lot of other people had recently moved into the neighborhood and had small children, so we quickly got caught up with other parents and our children got caught up with the other children. Everybody at that time, all our friends, were very interested in the town and eager to participate in town affairs and many of them did. Virtually everybody went to town meeting and knew what the issues were. They went to town meeting and stayed for the whole meeting rather than just special issues.

My earliest experiences with town meeting was when they were held in the Armory and it was there for a number of years. We had some sessions at the high school after the present high school was built, but the Armory was where we were for a long while. We had overflows at the Emerson Annex, which was part of the old high school.

I can remember some of the early town moderators. I can barely remember Hubert Wardwell, "Wardy", running a town meeting. I knew him fairly well, but he stopped being moderator very shortly after we arrived and Livingston "Livy" Hall took over as moderator. I dealt with him a lot. He appointed me to the Finance Committee. He was followed, of course, by Bert Newbury and then by me. It seemed that the Town Moderator served for about eight, nine or ten years and retired and then somebody else took over.

My first position in the town government was on the Finance Committee in 1958. All moderators including myself made an effort to see that there was a balance geographically so that the various parts of town could feel that they were represented on the Finance Committee, but also we tried to get various skills on the committee as well, building people, lawyers, accountants, whatever. We were always looking for people that had a combination of attributes, where they lived and what skills they had for particular slots. I know all my predecessors followed that procedure. This is very desirable or otherwise we would end up with a Finance Committee that has one point of view and that's not good. We certainly ran the gamut. I remember when I was on the Finance Committee we had people from all sides of the political spectrum. I remember serving with Dan Troop Smith, an excellent economist, but he was also very conservative, much more conservative than I was, we got along very well, but we certainly differed on a number of issues and that was good.

Some of the people that I served with on the Finance Committee I then served with as Selectman. Sy Archibald, in particular, was Chairman of the Finance Committee. He had come on the same time I did, but he left to become Selectman before I did. Lou McNally, Bill Locke, Richie Loughlin, all of those served first on the Finance Committee. That was good because we were used to working with each other. We had different points of view on the Board of Selectmen too, but at least we knew where each other were and how to work together.

I became a selectman in 1966. Some of the issues we were facing then we're still facing today, like Route 2 and what to do with it. It was an issue before I got on the Board of Selectmen and we haven't resolved the question yet, really. But it's certainly undergone a lot of evolution in the number of years that have passed since then. There were various issues some of which are still with us, but some of which aren't. It took two rather rancorous town meetings to decide who was going to be responsible for the restrooms at the National Park. Everybody agreed that they ought to go there but nobody wanted to be responsible for them. We had the problem, as we have again, what to do with the dump. It was a simpler dump in those days. It was where the high school is presently located. I used to go up there and shoot rats when I was first in town. - It was an old fashioned dump where you just dumped things over the side. That finally filled up and we decided we needed the site for the high school so we had to find a new one. Tom Plant was head of the committee to do that and selected the present site, what we still call a dump although that is no longer the proper term for it. They selected that area and that was very controversial. The Town of Lincoln went off like a rocket because we were right at the edge of Goose Pond. They didn't think that was a good idea, but we owned it. So that's where we put it, and that's where its been ever since and now we're trying to decide what to do with it. Issues don't change that much. Some come and go but some of them stay with us forever.

I don't remember finally how the restroom issue was solved. Somebody must have finally agreed to be responsible. Those were the old restrooms, now the National Park takes care of them themselves. There wasn't anything there, and so we were going to put some restrooms in the parking lot, because we had all these people coming to town and we had no restrooms. This was in the very early period of the Minuteman Park. It was fairly soon after the park had been established. It had been going on long enough to pull a lot of people into the town so the problem became acute. It was an enjoyable issue, everybody had a good time fighting over that issue. It took us two town meetings to do it.

When we moved to town, there were about 8,000 or 9,000 people in the town. A lot of people were moving in then. People were coming back from the war and settling down and having children. A lot of people moved and continued to move to Concord, so that in a very short space of time, we reached 16,000-17,000 which lead to expansion problems, particularly in the schools. It's a contradiction to what has happened in the schools in the last 8-10 years, the school grew by leaps and bounds and we kept having to build new schools. Fortunately, at that point, we seemed to be able to afford to do it, and we did it. Although I think there are those now in town that would say we didn't do some of them very well since we are in the process of repairing the high school. It was inevitable, but I don't think we should have had as much trouble with it as we have had.

The Board of Selectmen expanded from a three-man board to a five-man board, and that really happened before I got on the board. It actually happened sometime between 1949 when we moved to town and the early '50s. When we went to a town manager form of government, that also took two town meetings to do. It was turned down the first time. They had to come back the next year and vote on it again. It really wouldn't have been possible to continue the old three-man board. The town is too complicated now and the issues are too complicated to run in that relatively informal fashion, particularly if you're talking about purely volunteer work. It's not as if the selectmen got overpaid.

I think the opposition to the town manager was largely because it represented change. I don't remember what objections were articulated. I think it was basically a resistance to change. "We always did it this way, why should we change now?" People just need a little time. Taking two years to accomplish a change of that magnitude is not so surprising.

I was on the board before the open meeting law. We never had open meetings - well, nobody ever came. The media didn't try to come, I don't know what we would have done if they had, but I suspect that we would have dragged our feet. But I don't ever remember that we threw anybody out of a meeting. As I say, they didn't come so we didn't have to throw them out. And we did a lot of things a lot more informally. Nobody ever came to the Finance Committee meetings. The Finance Committee had a lot of subcommittee meetings, a lot of work particularly by the Chairman and Vice Chairman putting together various things. We had a whole lot of meetings that I suspect would be covered by the open meeting law now, but we never gave it a thought and nobody else ever gave it a thought. When I was on the Board of Selectmen, when we got through with the formal meeting, we would go over to the Colonial Inn and sit around and shoot the breeze and maybe make some more decisions over there. Again nobody complained about it. I was a selectman when the transition just started and the open meeting law came in when I was still on the board, and I can't say it made an awful lot of difference to us.

There are moments in which it's awkward. I think as I read in the papers right now, the selectmen are concerned over the extent to which they have to have open meetings in hiring a new town manager. I understand that. I don't feel that their preliminary work should be in open meetings, but it's hard to do that when you're dealing with people. By and large the open meeting law, I can't say really changed anything except that we started getting a lot of people at meetings, and that's fine. In one sense there is a lot more participation in those meetings about issues in the town than there used to be.

The radio people had not asked us to broadcast selectmen's meetings by the time I got off. That first started when I became moderator and there started to be agitation that we broadcast the town meeting. There was considerable discussion as to whether that was good or bad and the result would be fewer people would come to town meeting. In retrospect now, I think we were unduly concerned. I don't think it has made a devil of a lot of difference. There is a irreducable minimum of people that go to town meetings regularly and they're not going to stay home because they can hear it on the radio. If they have to stay home, it's good to have it on the radio. Then there is another bunch of people that only come when there is an issue that they are interested in and they'll still do that. And there are a whole lot of people who probably don't even listen to the broadcast. I don't see that the broadcasting or now televising town meeting is a real impediment. It can be but I think there are occasions in which people want to speak. But I don't think it's a real problem.

Running a town meeting is something that I enjoyed very much. It's a lot of fun. Some people don't like to do that kind of thing, but I do. It's making sure that the meeting moves along and at the same time cover all the issues that they have to cover. It's something that is a bit of an art and is fun to do. I got criticized I think because some people said I let people talk too long. I don't mind that criticism, I let them talk as long as I thought they ought to talk and I shut them off when I thought I should. I'm sure other moderators would do it differently and that's all right because everybody has their own style. Most of the people who generally go to town meeting are used to how it operates and every now and then you get somebody who has not had the experience before, and doesn't know how it operates and that's always difficult because you have to make sure that whatever it is they want to say, assuming that they have something to say that is germane to the issue, we've got to try to keep them from running on forever or getting off on extraneous explanations.

As I say, I enjoyed the meetings, but it takes a lot of preparation. You want to avoid being surprised, and it's very easy to get surprised. One of the problems is that you've got to make rulings which are final. People really don't realize how much power a moderator has. Whatever rulings he makes are final. You don't appeal town moderator's rulings, once he's made them, that's it, and you go on to something else. You have to make darn sure that you are fair in doing that and that you're right. The easiest way to be wrong is to get surprised and all of a sudden have to make an important ruling too fast. I always tried and think most moderators did, to spend a lot of time before town meeting getting prepared. In fact Livingston Hall and Bert Newbury used to have a Sunday before town meeting where they would have a run through, a rehearsal where they would know what people were making motions and amendments. They would get them all in the same room and just run through the warrant and make sure everybody knew where they were making motions on what and try to smoke out amendments and disagreements and so forth. I did that for a few years and then I decided I didn't need to do it anymore, so I gave it up. I did try, however, whenever I could to review any petition articles and petitioners to make sure they understood what they had to do and tried to see all their motions and whatnot ahead of time and try to help them do it in a way that would make sense and wouldn't confuse me. In spite of all that, you can get surprised on occasion.

I have been surprised. Sometimes in the heat of the moment, somebody will decide they don't like the motion the way it is and they want to change it and don't how to change it, so you've got to help them through that. I never had any surprises I wasn't able to deal with. But there were occasions when there was wasted time, I suppose, getting things organized. I served as Town Moderator from 1974 to 1983.

I never ran a meeting at the Armory. I did run a meeting once at the high school, but most of the meetings were at the Sentry. That holds a thousand people and you've got a particularly hot issue, you have to run an overflow which is awkward. It can be done. We only had one or two overflows but I can remember one that Bert Newbury ran in the Armory of all places. That was when I was on the Board of Selectmen and Concord, California was having its 100th anniversary and they decided as part of the celebration, they've had a telephone hookup between the Governor of California and the Governor of Massachusetts and the Mayor of Concord, California and the Mayor of Concord, Massachusetts. We didn't have a mayor but I was the closest thing to it so I got on the phone with the Mayor of Concord, California and Governor Reagan talked to Lt. Governor Sargent, Volpe was away at the time. It was an inane conversation by and large. Reagan and Sargent got into an argument about gun control and the Mayor of Concord, California astonished me by saying proudly that they had increased their population from something less than 10,000 in 1944-'45-'46 to over a 100,000. This was in a space of only about 20 years or so and that appalled me and I told him that we managed to go from 4000 or 5000 in 1636 and we were all the way to 15,000 now and we had no desire to go any faster. But he was very proud of it. I don't how we would have handled going to 100,000 people in a space of 20 years. We have trouble enough increasing by 10 or 15 in that period of time.

The town meeting concept is unique in New England. You talk to people in other parts of the country and they never heard of it. They're run by town councils which are very different from the way we do things. It's all representative, school districts have a totally different tax system from the town itself. All in all, it's not the same. Town meetings are almost all held in New England. Of course, that's where they started. I suppose the reason is that they haven't happened in other parts of the country -- well, I don't know what the reasons are. One would have thought that Pennsylvania or Virginia or some of the Atlantic states would have gone to town meetings but they didn't, and we did. We've had them ever since and it's work extraordinarily well, I think. We are small enough that although I think that if everybody who is eligible came to town meeting, it would be gridlock, we wouldn't be able to do anything. We don't have that, although in theory we have an open town meeting, but an awful lot of people don't come. A lot of people think that's bad, and maybe it is bad, I'm not sure it's all bad, however, because as I say if everybody came we wouldn't be able to govern ourselves. We'd have to go to representative town meeting.

I think it's a good way to run town affairs. Everybody gets together and works on the problems together, and that's good. I don't think special interests have overwhelmed the working process. Every now and then there will be a lot of complaint that special interests have influenced unfairly some particular issue. I don't agree with that, I don't think they have. I think special interests make themselves heard and there are occasions in which I wish more other people would participate but I don't really think special interests have been a problem, a serious problem anyway.

Two years ago during the evaluation of Town Manager Alan Edmond who has just resigned, the selectmen asked me to interview town employees, in particular the heads of a number of town departments and committees to find out whether... There were a lot of rumors going around at that time about unhappiness in the fire department and the police department and unhappiness with the police department and unhappiness with the town manager and so I did. I interviewed I've forgotten how many town employees, on a purely confidential basis and I think they treated it that way. I think the ones I talked to seemed to be forthright and were speaking with candor. Then I made a report to the selectmen on the basis of that. I don't know what influence the report had on the ultimate resolution of things, but they asked me to do it, and so I did it. I must say it was not the type of thing you like to do particularly but they felt it had to be done and I wanted to help them. I'd been there myself and you need all the help you can get on problems like that.

In 1991 it was a surprise that Alice and I were voted the town's honored citizens I must say. Miriam Coombs who is the honored citizen this year said at her ceremony, she found it odd to be honored for something that she liked to do and would have done anyway, and I know exactly what she means. Both Alice and I have enjoyed working for the town and doing what we do, and have that result in being honored citizens and entitled to ride in the carriage at the parade was a pleasant surprise. It is something you do appreciate to have your fellow townspeople give you that recognition, but nevertheless it is recognition for something you were going to do in any event whether you got recognized or not. That was fun, we had a good time.

Text and image mounted 4th May 2013. RCWH.