Terry W. Rothermel

Interviewer: Carrie Kline
Date: November 13, 2013
Place of Interview: Lower Meeting Room, Concord Free Public Library
Transcriptionist: Adept Word Management

Click for audio: part 1, part 2.
Audio file is in .mp3 format.

Terry RothermelCarrie Kline: 0:00:01.9 Okay. So today is November the 13th, I believe, 2013. I'll pause for a moment here. Leslie Wilson's coming in and out. I'm Carrie Kline here with my husband and partner Michael Kline, and would you introduce yourself with your full name?

Terry Rothermel: Terry Rothermel.

CK: I need to adjust the sound. Can you say once more, "My name is?"

TR: Terry Rothermel.

CK: Say the "My name is."

TR: My name is Terry Rothermel.

CK: And your date of birth, to put it in some perspective.

TR: April 7, 1938.

CK: And tell us if you would some about your people and where you were raised.

TR: The Rothermel's are of German descent. We all come from one family who came from Germany in the late 18th century. They had nine boys, so those boys spread the name around this country pretty well. I grew up in Indiana. My parents both grew up on farms in central Indiana, and then my father was a teacher and high school principal in South Bend, Indiana. I had the honor of going to the school where my father was principal, and at that point, I became Unitarian, which will come up later in my discussion of my time in Concord and—

CK: Talk about your path to Concord then.

TR: I came East to school, went to Yale University, and then went to MIT for graduate school in management and ended up interviewing for jobs as a student interested in the chemical industry. It turned out that there was a company in Boston that wasn't in the chemical industry, but it was a management consulting firm, Arthur D. Little. So I joined Arthur D. Little upon graduation with my PhD and was a consultant there for thirty years. That was the only job I ever had, one of those rare things these days. I specialized in consulting with companies on how to get into the business of environmental—what was then called pollution control, companies that wanted to make money by selling equipment and instrumentation, services, which covered air pollution, water pollution, solid waste management. And I was giving talks on that industry in the late 60s before the Earth Day of 1970, and that's how I spent most of my career.

CK: 0:03:21.3 That must be a strange feeling to have been so ahead of the curve and known so much before people acknowledged even issues of air pollution.

TR: Yes, it was an early opportunity for me to make adept in a business that didn't really exist. Most of my colleagues who consulted with industry weren't very happy with pollution control laws at that time, and so it was wide open for me to jump into an industry that others didn't want to really serve. The business was never very profitable, because the customer did not want to spend much money on things that weren't productive, in their minds.

CK: Was there a law that they had to abide by?

TR: Yes, we had the laws of the late 50s and also the 60s on water pollution control and air pollution control in particular. And those laws took care of the basic problems. We did a pretty good job of following up with those laws in the 60s through the 80s so that our streams are much cleaner than they used to be and our air is—except for some exceptions—much cleaner than it used to be.

CK: Because of those laws in the 50s and 60s?

TR: Because of those laws in the 50s and 60s, which was then pollution control. Now we talk more about environmental issues and opportunities, but that's a much broader definition these days than we had then. We didn't have a word like "sustainability" in those days.

CK: Are we talking about clean air and water legislation by name? Or were they referred to differently?

TR: Well, the water law bill was called the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1956, I think.

CK: Sorry, I got unhinged here. I'm sorry.

TR: The water law was called the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1956, amended in later years, and the air law was the Clean Air Act of 1970, I believe.

CK: And so that was what you did in Boston?

TR: In Cambridge. Arthur D. Little was located in the Fresh Pond area of Cambridge, and we went bankrupt about ten years ago, and so it's no longer the company it used to be. But I got a career out of it.

CK: 0:06:20.2 A career that related to the town of Concord as well?

TR: It turned out that it did. We have a system in Concord called the green card system where people fill out a card at the townhouse that says what committees they might want to serve on and what their backgrounds are for serving on those committees. And I don't remember the time, but I must have filled out a card for certain committees in Concord and was appointed to the Public Works Commission, which includes some of the things I knew about in my profession. I started my profession with a job in which I have visited two dozen sewage treatment plants, and that's how I broke into the business, and part of the public works responsibilities in any town is sewage treatment as well as water treatment, roads, so that I went on to that committee. It was an interesting time in Concord because the committee's service started to change.

CK: What time are we talking about?

TR: We're talking about the late 70s. The League of Women Voters worked on the town to—

CK: Who did?

TR: The League of Women Voters of Concord worked on the town to make sure that people didn't stay on committees forever, and so I was one of those that replaced a member of the Public Works Commission that had been on there for over twenty years. He later became a good friend of mine, so that was how someone who was not from Concord got involved in town government at a fairly early age.

CK: You say it was a time of change, then?

TR: It was a time of change in the way we turned over committees so that with the turnover we've had more people get involved since then. We have a nice problem of getting enough people to serve now with those openings coming up every couple of years, and it's been healthy for the town.

CK: Healthy?

TR: In terms of getting more people involved and not having some of our officers or our committee members get entrenched and dominate what goes on in a given committee too much. Related to that is the unwritten rule that we have in Concord that says that our elected officers don't serve more than a given number of terms for whatever that term is, so the board of selectmen. There is an unwritten rule that selectmen don't serve more than two, three-year terms. There's no reason why somebody couldn't except that a lot of us would raise questions as to whether that was a good thing or not. A couple of school committee members have served more than two terms, but the general rule is that you don't do that. My service on the Public Works Commission involved when I was chair of a project in which the state was requiring us to discharge the effluent from our sewage treatment plant directly into the river and not into the marshlands around the river. It was called an outfall, and as a result, I got some visibility with the selectmen on that issue, and at the end of that year I was asked by the outgoing selectmen as to whether I might want to run for selectman, which I did.

CK: 0:11:12.5 What year was this?

TR: This was 1982.

CK: You ran for selectman.

TR: After serving on Public Works Commission. That was my only experience, and it was quite an experience. Concord does not have parties in its elections. You can sometimes guess which political philosophy somebody might have, but we don't run as parties, and that was a good experience for me because I'm an introvert, and being political is a test. But in running for office I went to twenty-one coffees to meet people, had a good organization, and I organized my own campaign.

CK: When you say organization is that what you mean?

TR: Yes, that's right.

CK: Twenty-one coffees.

TR: And in those days we had a dump, and you would go to the dump and shake hands with the voters, and I was running against someone who had previously served in state office, so I worked hard, and he didn't, and I won.

CK: Why did you want to work hard and win?

TR: Because it was something that I wanted to do. Public service is already in my blood, and I also talked to an old friend of mine, Bruce Old. At that time he was working at Arthur D. Little. He had served on the school committee. My kids were still in school in Concord and I asked him—I knew I'd be away from home some a lot of nights, and he said, "No, the kids would appreciate that," so I did run.

CK: And won.

TR: And I served 2 terms from '82 to '88.

CK: Talk about what was going on, some of the highlights of those years.

TR: Hold on that?

CK: Sure.

TR: I need to get some water.

CK: Okay.

TR: Serving as selectman in Concord is obviously an honor, particularly for some of us who didn't grow up in Concord. We have a nice system where we rotate the chairmanship of the Board of Selectmen. In the third year you become chair, the last year in your first term, and that prepares you to really be a good selectman, being the chair. The second term you are very knowledgeable in serving the town with the experience of the first term. Serving the third year as chair also gives you a running start on getting reelected against whoever might run against you, because you are the current chair. In my second term, I had started to note what we do in Concord that we saw we want to do and what we don't do that we say we want to do. Concord has had, for example, two major goals in its long-range plans, and there was a long-range plan on the board at that time. And the long-range plan would emphasize conservation of land, and we were starting to see goals of protecting our diversity by bringing in more people from outside to maintain that diversity, economic diversity as well as others, and so I got very interested in affordable housing. We have had several organizations in affordable housing since then. We had a fair housing group at that time led by Jim Craig. We had a group start up—I'm giving a little history here—called the Concord Housing Trust, which actually built some affordable housing over a period of two decades. Those people got burned out. The leader of that group was Peter Farrell. They got burned out, and so they passed the torch recently to a public non-profit called the Concord Housing Development Corporation, and they are currently in the business of building houses for—affordable houses for people to come into town or people who have some connection to Concord to still live in town. That includes teachers, policemen, employees in town, the kind of diversity we would like to keep as a town.

CK: Why?

TR: Concord has always been a diverse town, primarily with the farming we had in our early settling days and through the current day. And since Concord has become quite expensive to live in, we're seeing where policemen and town employees and teachers, if that's the only income in the household, cannot afford to buy a house in Concord.

CK: Why does that matter?

TR: Well, to the long-range planning people it did matter that we maintain our diversity and not become one-dimensional in terms of the kind of people who live here as in many suburbs around our country. And we are certainly getting gentrified, but those of us who work in the affordable housing field are working to at least make—at least hold back the tide of house pricing and property pricing by allowing others to live here or continue to live here.

CK: 0:18:00.6 How is that working out in terms of those groups of people you mentioned?

TR: Well, I should mention first the oldest group, which is the Concord Housing Authority, which was for low-income people. That's a state agency that all towns, I think, have, which provides housing through various means for people to live in Concord with subsidies or any other town. The final group that I should mention before I go further is Concord Housing Foundation, which was started by the Concord Housing Trust so that there would be a group in town that could raise awareness, and more importantly, raise money to help subsidize these projects. I was head of the Concord Housing Foundation for ten years. I succeeded Jim Craig in that regard, and I'm still on the board. Now, Concord has done quite well in terms of affordable housing. I can't remember the last time that any article on affordable housing went before a town meeting and was defeated. The town meeting process with people thinking broadly about the interests of Concord and their interest as citizens in Concord has supported a very tough issue like affordable housing when the votes had been important.

CK: It's a tough issue?

TR: It's tougher because of those two long-range goals that I mentioned, conservation and housing. Conservation is an easier sell because if you give money for that and it's next door to you, you have an open field. You have a forest or woodlands, and all that is very acceptable, very easy to give money to. But when it comes to having affordable housing in your neighborhood, that is a tougher sell. For example, in one situation where the school committee at that time in, oh, I'd say the 80s, maybe 90s, said they had some surplus land near one of our elementary schools that we could use for affordable low-income housing. It took us—I was then on the Concord Housing Authority as a commissioner. It took us four town meetings to finally beat down the opposition to that project, and those houses stand today with low-income housing and I think about six families right next to a school where the kids can walk to school, and I haven't heard any complaints lately.

CK: How did the arguments go on both sides?

TR: Well, you always hear about traffic. Can you believe that? There's actually--. In some cases you run into legitimate fear, a fear in a suburban town like this that if you bring in people who are of low income they have in mind tough parts of the urban setup, that those people would come out here, and they would be dangerous neighbors. I understood once talking to a woman that she was actually scared, but there are just as many problems with kids of wealthy families as there are with our affordable families.

CK: Affordable housing families?

TR: Affordable housing families, right. So I think this has to do with a personal interest of mine in equal opportunity and Concord's continued diversity, or at least trying to keep as diverse as we can in the future. Most recently—

Michael Kline: 0:23:03.9 Excuse me, was this a defining interest of your life? Or was this an interest—this equal opportunity—or were you interested, rather, in fulfilling the vision in the long-range planning? Or was it a combination of those two things?

TR: Well, good question. The trigger was the existence of those goals in our long-range plans. There have been a couple others since the time I was triggered, and I was concerned about our hypocrisy in pursuing one goal very well at the time and not pursuing the other in fact.

CK: The one?

TR: The affordable housing was not being pursued. In fact, we were saying the right words. There were a few projects of the housing authority back in the 80s. We developed a couple of developments of six or eight units in town, but other than that, we were not moving as vigorously as we were in conservation.

CK: Were you already known to have that stance when you were up for your second election?

TR: No. I took the opportunity in my second election in the last year I served to use my leverage as a senior selectman to develop a bylaw which would say that new developments of a certain kind would be required to have ten percent affordable units.

CK: And you couldn't have gone for a third term anyway, I guess, with the new regulations.

TR: No, and actually, I served with a selectman who was involved a year after I ran for election the second time. Actually, he ran for—he and I were elected together my second term. He was in his first term. When he ran for a second term, there was a housing development being discussed in which there could have been affordable housing, and your question is good, because he paid the price. He got defeated for his second term because I think largely his connection with that project, which never became affordable housing in that neighborhood.

CK: I guess we were wondering too—we didn't talk a whole lot about your upbringing. Was there something in you that has this seeking of justice as part of it? Or were you just trying to fulfill the letter of the law, or where does it come from?

TR: Well, my parents were Society of Friends, or Quakers. That was part of it, I suppose. My strong interest in my own church, the Unitarian Church and the Unitarian faith, is probably part of that. It was not an interest I had until I served as a selectman. It has become what people associate with me in town.

CK: What has?

TR: 0:26:46.9 Affordable housing has become the thing that people associate me as being involved in in town. I've been doing it now for thirty-plus years in being a member of the housing authority now for a while, the head of the housing foundation and certainly a spokesman for affordable housing at town meetings and other venues. Most recently, something I'm very proud of right now is that the town was looking to buy a farm, the McGrath farm, over on Barretts Mill Road the last two years. And one thing that I've been concerned about as a town citizen is that we buy farmlands, and we don't save farms. The farmlands become open spaces. The neighbors don't particularly want the farm to be there any longer, and the neighbors have probably donated to the purchase of that land through private means, and often these are town purchases. And so I've often had the view that why can't we combine affordable housing and conservation and saving farmlands in Concord and develop an affordable farmstead and farm house and a place for an affordable farmer. Being a farmer is a very capital-intensive undertaking. The children of our farmers in Concord that still are here are not necessarily going into farming, and so the future of farming in Concord in terms of having actual farmers is a big question that even our farmers are concerned about. In fundraising I had known certain people in town who not only were concerned about affordable housing but also had significant monies to donate, and so I approached a couple of these parties and we informed the town—our foundation informed the town—that we had two pledges of $100,000 each to save the farmhouse on the McGrath farm, and it will probably be divided now into two units so that a farmer right now is being looked for to come and farm that land, occupy that house with his or her family, and continue to operate a farm stand, which has always served that neighborhood well.

CK: So that's a requirement for whoever moves in?

TR: It's not clear yet. The town has to decide that. I would hope that we would require a new farmer to keep that farm stand going, because that's the basis of support of this project in that neighborhood is that that farm stand has been serving them with produce. Many of them have served as volunteers on the farmstead while the farmer was getting close to his death, and so that will continue to be a selling point, which I hope the town will require of that farmer. And so that will be happening in the next year. That farmer will be producing things next summer on a limited amount of land and then possibly take more land later of what had originally been that farm. The town owned most of that land before this farmstead came up for purchase.

CK: And so who owns it now?

TR: The town now owns the farmstead as well as most of the land that had been purchased earlier by the town, and at this point different farm organizations are farming the land that we had previously owned.

CK: So it would be a lease arrangement or something?

TR: Yes, there is a precedent in town. There's the Marshall farm, which I have learned about since I got into this, in which we bought the farmstead and the farm land from the Marshall family, which then continued to farm that land in a different part of town. And they pay rent to the town, rent that not only covers the taxes on the land, I think, but also putting money away for repairing roofs and other things on the farmstead. We have a precedent for how to make this happen. In that case, it was the actual family staying there. In this case, it will be a new farmer and a riskier situation. It has to be watched carefully to make sure it works.

CK: 0:32:25.1 Someone who is new to farming, you're saying?

TR: New to Concord possibly. Our farmers know about it. There are people being trained to be farmers who did not come from farm families, and they are being educated here in New England on that skill, and those applicants are out there if we hear from them in this situation.

CK: So you're actually advertising in some way to reach—

TR: Yes, the town is putting out an RFP as we speak to look for people who are interested in that, and our agricultural committee is advising on what the town should be looking for as they look for this farmer.

CK: And that will be affordable to a—

TR: That will be affordable to a farmer. Otherwise Concord's future is keeping its farmlands and having organizations outside of Concord or farmers outside of Concord farm these lands, and my vision of the right way to do it is we maintain our farmers, and it's important to Concord's history and culture.

CK: Feed yourselves.

TR: Yes, that's becoming more popular, and that won't hurt a bit in keeping this going.

CK: What's that? What is becoming more popular?

TR: I don't know—it's called CSAs where people sign up to take the produce of a farm ahead of time, and then they're given vegetables and fruits or whatever to come off that farm as part of their subscription over the harvest year.

CK: And in this case there's actually room—two units so room for two farming families to lease.

TR: There will be a main family, and who knows what that family will look like at this point. But then there will also be an apartment in the same building, which is a new building, 20 years old, a new house, and there will be an apartment there for a farm foreman who may or may not have a small family, because there won't be any bedrooms in the apartment. And we still have to look forward to—there's an old farmhouse on the property which had been used as sort of a bunkhouse for farm workers. And the future of this older house still has to be determined. Our foundation right now is surveying farmers in town to see what their needs are for farm workers living in Concord or living on that property, for example, as to whether we should save that capability in Concord. That study is underway. It's possible that we won't keep that building because there may not be a need. It's also possible that Concord would have the courage and the responsibility to allow for some housing for even seasonal farm workers, if not students then immigrants to farm in Concord.

CK: 0:36:02.8 You say courage.

TR: Yes, I think it's courage. It takes community courage to make that commitment against all the fears and blocks that are thrown up against such things. That's the kind of decision that we in affordable housing in Concord are used to the town meeting approving. That if we advocate and our town leaders advocate doing something like that, the town meeting will go along with it.

CK: It sounds like you've remained involved.

TR: I'm very involved. I haven't retired. I constantly watch what's going on in that arena, and a few years ago we in the foundation noted that when a farm came up for sale and the town was going to buy it that by the time we in the affordable housing area knew about it, the town had already determined how it was going to be handled. And housing was not part of that, so we petitioned a warrant article at town meeting several years ago.

CK: A ward article?

TR: A warrant article, which is a piece of business at a town meeting, which said that when the town began discussions about the purchase of a piece of land that Affordable Housing would have—that a representative of Affordable Housing would be involved in those early discussions before things were cast in stone. That was not very popular with some groups in town, but in a way it led to our knowing early about the McGrath farm as a possibility, and that's the kind of thing that we've had to champion in order to make it a fair game between—unfortunately between conservation and affordable housing.

I want to go back to the office of selectman in Concord. I was a selectman thirty years ago. As I look back, I think about being a selectman as really training for being a better citizen at large later on. If you look at our committees in town today you will see that many ex-selectmen are serving on—continue to serve on committees and boards, as I have done in housing, and I'll talk about another activity. That could mean that selectmen are entrenched in still controlling the town, but I don't look at it that way. I look at it as experienced people who know what goes on in town, how the town works, bringing that experience to other committees in town, and in that way using our experience to that good.

One of the other areas I've gotten into in Concord in the last fifteen years has been tax relief for seniors. The selectmen formed a committee to study possible tax relief for seniors, people who have lived in Concord most of their lives or all their lives now facing tax bills in their retirement or even earlier that they cannot afford. And by not affording, can't afford to stay in Concord, and our board of selectmen and others have championed this kind of analysis so that we can find ways of keeping—allowing our seniors to stay in Concord. I headed two committees having to do with looking at ways to give tax relief at that time primarily for seniors, and we ran up against a wall in those studies. The state controls most of the things called taxes, and there's not much that a town can do about taxes like property taxes, which we're really talking about here. There's not much the town can do except take what the state has and use those tools, and we do have several state programs in which seniors might qualify, particularly veterans, the blind, people in emergency situations. Maybe up to $1,000 a year against their taxes can be exempt. We had the idea in town—we still have the idea, but I think hopes for it are fading—of combining our taxes in town between income taxes and property taxes, and for the town to have that authority, the State House would look at that as requiring a change in our state constitution, or they're very protective of their taxing powers at the State House. It's not looking good for that. One idea that did survive because of one of our selectmen at the time, Dinny Macintyre, was a private fund to help those in need in Concord to help them face their taxes. So right now I am on a committee that was formed, and I'm now the chair of the tax relief fund. Initially when it was formed by the selectmen it was called the selectmen's fund, and when Dinny Macintyre left the board of selectmen, Stan Black was given that responsibility to run that funding every year, and he rightly had the discomfort of a selectman raising money from citizens. He didn't feel comfortable with that role, and so I think he had a lot to do with forming the tax relief fund committee, which would raise money, as we are doing this fall, to help the seniors pay their taxes. And so at this time, we can help not only seniors but any other struggling family or household to pay up to—having the town pay up to $1,000 with this fund against their taxes.

CK: 0:44:35.3 Against town taxes.

TR: Town taxes and property taxes. That program is administered through a group called the Hugh Cargill committee.

CK: Hugh Cargo?

TR: Hugh Cargill. Hugh Cargill was an upstanding Concord citizen in previous centuries who gave money to the town to do various things, including funding to help people get by in Concord. And the Hugh Cargill Committee has been doing that great work since I've been in town involved, and people in desperate need to pay an oil bill or something, they will interview the person and make grants I think up to $500 a year to help them in their life in Concord. The tax relief for households in Concord has been put on their shoulders, and they now get those calls and check out the situations and decide to give those monies. We on the tax relief fund have the easier part, raising the money. And Hugh Cargill does the tough stuff, which is vetting the applicants for those monies in different ways, relieving the taxes of those households.

CK: And it's raised how exactly?

TR: We raise it through—every few years we'll do a town-wide mailing, and we do that about every three years, and then we keep a list of the people who have donated to that fund, and we approach them in intermediate years with other ideas of how to build the list so that we're raising somewhere between $40,000 and $60,000 a year now to help between forty and fifty households in town, and that evens out to about $1,000 a household in quarterly increments per year. Let's see, tax relief—

MK: 0:47:16.0 You were talking about that the tax relief fund aims to raise $40,000 to $60,000 annually to help—did you say firty-five to fifty households?

TR: Forty to fifty households. Let me step back to my becoming a leader in Concord and what that started with. I was very involved in the Unitarian faith in college. At Yale I was down in New Haven. Sometimes we would come up here to visit with Wellesley groups and meet some women who were also involved in Unitarianism. On those occasions we would sometimes meet with leaders of the Unitarian faith who are in the Boston area, and one leader that I met at that time was Dana McLean Greeley, who was a minister at First Parish here in Concord after he—

MK: I'm sorry, who was that again?

TR: Dana McLean Greeley. McLean, M-C-L-E-A-N, Greeley, G-R-E-E-L-E-Y.

CK: It was Dana? Okay.

TR: Dana. So when I was in college, he had just become president of what became a combined faith of Unitarians and Universalists in the United States, and so essentially he was my Pope. Little did I know that later I would settle in Concord, and he would be called as our minister after he had served as head of the Unitarian faith.

CK: That's what faith?

TR: Unitarian, U-N-I-T-A-R-I-A-N. He came to us in the 70s, I think, and I served on the governing board, which is called a standing committee, of the First Parish in the 70s, and I had the pleasure of working with a great man who was very involved in his career in the racial relations situation down in the South in his position as head of our faith. And that position and leadership at First Parish became my political base for running for office, that plus my wife being a teacher.

CK: And her name?

TR: My wife's name is known as Kitsy, K-I-T-S-Y, and she also is a Midwestern girl, as I am a Midwestern boy. She was a teacher at the Alcott School most of the time and other schools in town before she got tenure at Alcott, and she was a teacher for 25-30 years in our town. First Parish is—in some of these activities like affordable housing and charitable activities we, like other churches, are very involved. But in housing, for example, the bulk of the people that were involved in the foundation I headed for ten years—maybe it was because of me, but I don't think so—are First Parish members.

CK: 0:51:49.4 And the foundation's name again?

TR: Concord Housing Foundation.

CK: Made of mostly of the First Parish then?

TR: In large part, yes, but what is also good is that we have people from most of the churches in town on that board of eleven people. Another housing issue that brings to mind is we are concerned—many of us—about the process of our smaller houses being torn down and replaced with—for lack of a better term—mansions. So you'll take a house that sells for $500,000 in town, and most of that is land value. The new owner or the developer will tear the house down and rebuild a house that might sell for well over a million to a million and a half. That obviously has a lot to do with what kind of people are going to be able to buy those houses. We had a couple of years ago a neighborhood that had been built shortly after WWII. They were mostly Cape houses, one floor, maybe a second attic-type floor. In that area no basement, because it's a high water table area. And a few years ago developers started to move in on that neighborhood and started the tear-down process, and this was a very close neighborhood. And after a while, a few of the citizens in that neighborhood--one leader is Tina Labadini, a young mother and housewife-- started a process of seeing whether we could do something about that.

MK: The spelling, please.

TR: L-A-B-A-D-I-N-I, Tina.

CK: Good for her.

TR: She was not part of the affordable housing activity at that time. She is now on our foundation board, and our foundation was supportive of her efforts. That activity and initiative to try to limit the size of the mass of houses had some success but not great success. As a result of the town meeting the selectmen formed a committee—or the planning board formed a committee to study what could be done to limit the size and the footprint of houses in that neighborhood in which the typical lot was a quarter acre. And that committee was made up to a large part of people in the real estate and construction business, which is good because they would know about that, but it's not that good because it represented a certain interest, and so the bylaw that resulted from that for that kind of neighborhood in Concord does not have much teeth, and so that was not a great success. We pushed the town to do the similar thing in the next size lots in town, which is a quarter to a half acre, and that bylaw was passed for that size lot in our town as well, but once again, it's still not enough. It's not really constraining the mass of these houses.

CK: Are there environmental regulations that would have an effect? No help? How large a carbon footprint a house can take up in town?

TR: 0:56:33.0 Well, maybe in ten years they'll start talking about carbon footprints on houses, but not at this time. Not there yet. That leads me to think also that neighborhood and one of the reasons why it doesn't have basements. Most of the center of Concord is on a high water table. With three rivers, you can guess how low or how near to the surface our water table is, and it's probably true that much of Concord center and even West Concord would not have been built if it was built under current regulations because of that water table, the floodplain concerns. When I got involved in the public works in the 70s, late 70s, Concord already had a sewer and a sewage treatment plant of fairly old age design, designed by a firm called Metcalf and Eddy, a Boston civil engineering firm, and it's probably one of their first installations in Massachusetts. So when I was a selectman and just off of public works and maybe before I became a selectman there were federal regulations that I talked about earlier that were funding the extension of sewers. They were called 201 studies, and I was a selectmen's representative on our 201 committee to extend the sewers to some needy parts of town where their septic tanks were failing and where there was no other solution. We extended the sewers in the 80s to a few parts of town, and we also as a town funded half of the cost that would go to the town for doing this. The federal government was also putting in money through its programs, and that came through the state, to help pay for those sewers. About ten years or so ago—excuse me, fifteen years ago—the town was again concerned about other parts of town that were having trouble with septic tanks, and the town decided that we needed another extension of the sewers. This time there was no town money. Excuse me, no federal money, no state money to speak of, and so the town would have to foot the bill for these extensions to these needy districts or neighborhoods in town. And the initial proposal of the town was that the households would pay for all of it through an agreement, a lien on their property I think there was something like that, or they could take a loan for a while, and the town would underwrite that, and the homeowner would pay it over time.

CK: These specific households affected.

TR: Yes, and we were talking about $10,000 to $20,000 a household to upgrade their sewage treatment needs, and of course, some of them had septic tanks that were working fine. So from my experience in the earlier board of selectmen, I was concerned that Concord was not being responsible here. Concord in its history allowed these homes to be built. Our families had bought these homes, and indeed, they were in questionable areas relative to groundwater and flooding, and I felt that the town still had a responsibility. So over a period of two town meetings, there was first the authorization to study the need for a sewer extension and new addition to the sewage treatment plant, and then the second year was a vote on doing it. In the first year, I proposed an amendment to the town warrant article which would require—or would have the intent that the town would share in the cost.

CK: How many households, how much money are we dealing with?

TR: We're talking about several million dollars and we're talking about—I don't know the number offhand, but as many as sixty households, I think, in two neighborhoods.

CK: 1:02:31.5 So you recommended that the town—

TR: Yes, and that failed. That amendment failed in the first town meeting, and I remember talking to the director of public works at the time as the second year came around about that idea still, and he had the opinion that we already decided this. I proposed an amendment again at that town meeting when we were actually speaking big bucks to have the town support half of the costs, which had been done in the previous sewer extension. Different than the first time, we now had a thing called a sewer fund. It's an enterprise fund of the town that maintains the sewers and the sewage treatment plant, and only those who are on the sewers pay for it. What was worked on was what proportion of this half of the town would come from the general citizens and what part would come from that sewer fund, and then the householders would pay the remainder. And then the people in the neighborhoods, I remember working with one neighborhood leader who wanted this to happen. They wanted the sewers but were concerned that this amendment would kill it, and so it was a very delicate thing to make this amendment, argue that case, have others support it, have obviously the neighborhood support it and see if that amendment would pass. It was in the original town proposal. It did pass, and as a result, I think the average savings for each household was about $7,000 a piece on average. Once again, town meeting and the people that go to town meeting have this greater view of what's right, and they decided that the town and each taxpayer would pay a little bit so that this neighborhood could have the sewers it probably deserved. And town meeting, once again, was in my mind pretty wise.

CK: Congratulations.

TR: Well, my kids know me to look down from an airplane and spot a sewage treatment plant instead of baseball fields from airplanes, and it's my favorite part of the Roman ruins is the sewers. My family is well aware of my interest in that, which comes from my profession when I was a practicing consultant in the environmental field.

MK: Anything you want to move to?

CK: Do you want to talk more about First Parish before we get into contemporary issues? Or do you feel like you said what you want to say on that?

MK: Did Concord attract you because of the—initially because of the traditions of UU thinking here or transcendental—

TR: No, our faith had nothing to do with our choice of Concord really. We were living—we were renting a house in Lexington, and we were going to that church in Lexington for a few years before we decided to not rent and own a house. We had good friends in Concord who talked us into looking here, and we did that, bought a house here across from the Alcott School, lived there for twenty years and then moved to the Nashawtuc Hill area for the last twenty-five years. Our house across from the Alcott School meant that my wife could commute by walking across the street for many years.

CK: 1:07:27.8 Was there much difference when you moved from Lexington and arrived in Concord?

TR: I don't think we had become that involved in Lexington in a few years to really notice the difference.

CK: What was Concord like when you arrived? What year would that have been?

TR: That would have been 1968.

CK: Can you compare and contrast?

TR: Well, we certainly have a different downtown than we had then. We have a different downtown now.

CK: How so?

TR: There used to be different supermarkets. There were two drugstores downtown. There was I think a Walgreens in which they had a counter where you could get a soda.

CK: Talking ice cream sodas?

TR: Yes. There weren't as many banks as we have now. But with Concord's preservation of our historic district, it still looks the same. It's just what's in the buildings that's different, and so there are many high-end businesses in downtown Concord. We still have some local and privately owned activities and businesses in West Concord. The schools have changed. When I talked to Bruce Old, who had been a school committee member who worked with me at Arthur D. Little, about serving the town and what that would mean to the family, in Bruce's time on the school board they had built several of the elementary schools that existed when we moved to Concord. And unfortunately, they were built in the California style with nice flat roofs. They had no sense of what happens when it snows, and so those are the schools we've just been replacing now in the last ten years, and as you go around town, our new elementary schools have sloped roofs.

CK: The mic is picking up that.

TR: Okay this—

CK: It's fussy.

TR: 1:10:01.4 So that's an expenditure that this generation has had to undertake in pretty large bonding programs in Concord to build new schools, and as we speak, a new high school is being built. Other changes. Well, we're certainly becoming more gentrified. We are losing some of our diversity that I've worked hard to help protect or fight against.

CK: How does that feel?

TR: Well, like I say, I'm not retired. It keeps me going. Let me talk a bit about town meeting. Certainly—

MK: John?

CK: Town meeting.

TR: Town meeting.

MK: I'm sorry.

TR: When I first came to Concord and attended town meeting, I had a derogatory phrase I used to use about it which was democracy by the mouth. I have obviously changed. I'm one of those mouths now at town meeting, and in current times with all the technology we have available to us at this time for communication, for possible remote participation in town meeting, there is a lot of thinking about how town meeting changes in Concord or may change. We now have a committee that's been formed to look at governance and to look at our town charter, and that involves our town meeting and how it works. There are concerns that our town meeting process shuts out the use of—I mean the availability to people who might be a two pair of working families with kids who can't attend late night meetings, at least both of them can't.

CK: Or a single parent.

TR: Or single parents, right, and also a feeling that the ballot box, the voting machine, is a more broad way of running a town than town meeting, because more people were able to go and vote sometime during a day on what might be articles of decision. I'm one of the defenders of town meeting. It's a check on the authority of our town leaders, boards of selectmen turnover. I think that I have seen attempts on the part of our town leadership to limit the power of town meeting because town meeting can do some things that aren't in your plans. There are some checks on the authority of town meeting to the monies and things like that. But town meeting is still in Concord the final authority on most of our activities. The schools are somewhat exempt from that, and that's a controversy in town right now. But—

CK: The schools are exempt?

TR: I'll come back to that maybe.

CK: Yeah, stay with your thought.

TR: Between 500 and 1,000 people of our some 16,000 citizens attend town meeting every year. The number varies depending on the issues. A neighborhood can pack the hall. Special interest groups can pack the hall. Certainly when we voted on new schools parents packed the hall, so there is that opportunity. And people on the other side of some of those issues might feel that such things might better be decided in the voting booth and not in town meeting, but there is a core of town meeting that are regulars, that if you make a good case to that core, they still properly represent the majority of who is there, and that's where the swing votes are in those regulars that come every year who enjoy the process. There are ideas that our committee right now are considering and our moderators have considered over the years on how to streamline town meeting, how to look at the new technologies that we have and how that could be used. One idea at this point—and we'll probably get there—is to have people vote from home through television, or town meetings are on television. They could be watching, or they could not be watching, and that's part of the issues. Does a voter at home who is watching and able to vote from home, is that citizen involved? Or are they simply waiting for that vote to come up to cast their ballot? The people at town meeting who are in attendance have heard the arguments. Yes, some of them have made up their mind before town meeting.

CK: I thought you said town meeting was televised.

TR: It's televised, but we don't have remote voting.

CK: But people are listening to the arguments.

TR: People are listening to the arguments. They may decide to show up at town meeting watching it on TV, and they might get in their car and drive over and be there for the vote, and that's fine with me. But they cannot vote remotely, and that's what's being talked about as 1 option to our current town meeting process. Our town meeting is totally open to all citizens. In Lexington, for example, and other towns, there are representative town meetings where people are elected to represent general basis or maybe neighborhood basis interests at town meeting, and they are the only ones who vote. Any citizen in Concord who is registered as a voter can vote at town meeting, and that's been our culture. And rightly, with the technologies that we have now and the business of people, it's being questioned, and my feeling is it should go slow, but it will change, and things will be lost, but also things will be gained as we change that process.

CK: Can you break that down for us some of the—

1:18:50.2 (end of audio 1)

0:00:00.7 (beginning of audio 2)

CK: —changes that you expect some of the losses and gains.

TR: Well, the changes will involve I think at some point remote voting as we trust the system, as we find ways of making sure the voting citizen at least has a chance of being involved before their vote and to make up their own mind. That's one of the losses, that we have citizens voting who are not getting into the issues, not hearing the arguments pro and con.

CK: But why aren't they hearing the arguments if they're sitting listening and watching?

TR: The question is whether they are at home listening and watching, or is it sporadically? But that's one of the things that will happen as we go to take that route. I hope that people will still be able to congregate in a place and become the debaters. Whether people could vocalize their feelings from remote position, that's something I haven't thought about. But there are all sorts of possibilities with our technology that we have. I think the main thing to be protected in my mind is the open debate of pros and cons of a given issue and the ability to have that in a civil fashion and to have people engaged, which once you move outside of the hall to a town meeting that goes beyond the hall, I'm concerned about people not being engaged.

CK: Is it a diverse representation of people who come to town meeting among the 500 or so?

TR: Well, I think you could say that it's not good that the 500 is a constant group. That 500 is bigger than the fifty that we might have as representatives if we had a representative town meeting. The 500 are regulars. They are veterans of the process. They've probably been in town a long time, and somehow they have made time for town meeting.

CK: Do they represent that diversity you were discussing at the beginning?

TR: Yes, I think so. Some of the people who speak at town meeting are certainly from a broad diversity of lives, and so the household that is having trouble paying taxes in Concord will have one reason for being against things that are going to increase taxes, and they certainly show up at town meeting, and those who are just interested in town meeting show up for that reason, who find it exciting and not boring. A lot of people find town meeting very boring, and that's why they'd like to pick the times that they would choose to participate, and they feel disenfranchised because they don't participate and don't have a vote. The excitement of town meeting comes when you are listening and something comes up that tickles your interests and your preferences as to what Concord is like, and you're stimulated to say something. Since being a selectman, my model of using town meeting for pushing certain values—my model was the first women selectman in Concord, Anna Manion, M-A-N-I-O-N. She was a stately lady. She was actually one of my advisors when I ran for selectman, and I noticed in early town meetings that I attended whenever Anna would get up to say something, people listened, and she wouldn't get up very often. So Anna became my model as to how to behave at town meeting. Not very often to say something, but to also say as much as I could of import to the town. At one time when we changed moderators and our one moderator was retiring from that job, and we were thinking of another moderator, going to be electing a new moderator, I thought about running for moderator. And fortunately, another former selectman announced before I had a chance, and he became a very good moderator.

CK: 0:06:20.3 You could have still run, I suppose.

TR: I could have, but I also then about the same time got appointed by the selectmen to be in the housing authority, and that became my cause in town, and so my role in town meeting has been to be a participant and not to be a moderator or an assistant moderator or even count votes, because they have people that count the votes. I've always felt that I take enough of a position in town meeting that I shouldn't be counting the votes. Although I think I would be trusted to do so, I didn't think it was the right thing for me to do.

CK: Is that the main change, the current change that you think of when you think of current government, that question of whether to do this remote voting? I guess there's always—

TR: I think that's the most likely change in the future. I think the town will go slowly on that. The other idea for change is to not have town meeting, to have everything decided at the ballot box. I don't think that's going to happen in Concord in the very near future at least. It allows for more stacking of the votes. In my mind, voters that aren't quite as educated but promoted to go to the polls to vote for a certain issue and not hearing what others have to say about it, being one sided. Concord's town meeting in current times is famous. We are the only town, I believe, in the United States that has banned the sale of single serving bottled water. That has been challenged three times. It still survives, and it's being challenged for a special town meeting coming up in a month. But that's the kind of thing that a lot of people think is not serious enough business for town meeting, but it shows the openness of town meeting to an issue. In this case, driven by environmental feelings about the waste of plastic bottles, their long life in the environment, and indeed, the amount you pay for a bottled water compared to the very good water we have in Concord that can be bottled in your own containers. It's a controversial thing that town meeting has done. It's an example of the kind of thing that our leaders would never come up with, and sometimes to their chagrin, would never come up with, because the town has spent a lot of time—(phone ringing)

MK: It might have been the sky falling.

CK: Some more on the bottle bill. So it was not brought up by—

TR: By the leaders of the town. It was brought up by a petitioned article. Two people, Jean Hill and Jill Appel, A-P-P-E-L, they have carried most of the water, in this case, on this one, and many of us have supported that. And that side of the issue is preparing for this new challenge coming up in a month.

CK: 0:10:52.1 What's the challenge, and what have they been?

TR: We have a special town meeting to buy some land for use by the town and the schools, and whenever a town meeting comes up, other petition articles can be entered in, so we have a third article not having to do with land acquisition in which the bottle bill is being challenged.

CK: On what grounds?

TR: Well, the businesses in town clearly have concerns about this that our citizens will go outside of town to buy their bottled water and not buy it locally. Our parents who run to and fro to get their kids to various soccer matches or basketball games or whatever value the convenience of bottled water.

CK: Single serving.

TR: Single serving for themselves and their kids. The proponents of the bottle bill have made sure that we have some places to get water around town. I don't know much about that. And I've noticed that our businesses are finding other ways, either giving the bottle free in exchange for a donation or the plastic used in the bottle is biodegradable, and that means certain plastics that go out in the environment sit there and will degrade in a reasonable amount of time, which the current major plastic being used, I think it's high density polyethylene. It takes a long time to degrade.

CK: So some of the businesses have moved to a different kind of plastic water bottle?

TR: Some have. I've noticed that.

CK: Is there a possibility of getting the county commission to do something similar so that people aren't going right outside the town limits? Has that come up?

TR: Our counties in Massachusetts have very little authority, so the state is the main option. We have a state water bill that requires five cent deposit on items, and that bounty on bottles is many years old and needs to be updated, because five cents is nothing, or ten cents is nothing, and we only put those bounties on soft drinks. We do not have a bottle bill in the state that requires deposits for energy drinks or bottled water or all the other new creative juices that are being bottled these days. The League of Women Voters and others right now are trying to petition for a referendum in Massachusetts to increase the bounty on bottled water, on bottles, so that the economic value of returning these bottles is greater, and the incentive is greater. It has always failed to get through our legislature because of lobbying interests, and so the last time our bottle bill was challenged we had all sorts of flyers and things in the mail, sponsored, when you get to the bottom of it, by the bottled water companies trying to get people to vote down this awful precedent that they would hate to see go across the country anywhere. We do know that certain colleges have banned single serving bottled water in their vending machines and their cafeterias. It's not an unknown thing. It's just it's not typical for a town or a municipality to have done that.

MK: 0:15:34.9 What else do we need to ask you that we haven't encountered yet? This has been absolutely fascinating.

TR: Well, one thing I didn't cover—but I guess this is the history of Concord, and it's deserving of cover, to be covered, and deserving for the person involved. One of the frequent spokesmen at town meetings about issues that weren't always popular with town government was a lady named Anna Thompson, T-H-O-M-P-S-O-N. She would dig to the bottom of things and raise questions with town government that many of us would not appreciate. At one point, we had an open position in the housing authority. That's an elected office. It's a state office, but Concord citizens elect people. I was elected to the housing authority to fill out a term and to serve a full term. We had an open position, and someone in the caucus where we nominate people to be in offices, to be nominated and elected possibly, someone nominated Anna Thompson for that housing authority position, and she was elected, and she served, and as is common with Anna, some people on the authority found it difficult to work with her. And eventually, they brought a petition to remove her from the housing authority. This was one of the most unpleasant things I have been involved with in Concord. By the great non-wisdom of the state government, they made the selectmen the judges in such games. There was a law that allowed her removal in the state legislation for housing authority, and it made us poor selectmen the judges. I was chair for half of that trial of the selectmen, but fortunately, we had a town counsel who was a lawyer, obviously, who guided the board of selectmen through this process. We were ill suited for such a job, and right now in our committee that's studying governance in Concord and our town charter, one of the issues is that Concord voters should have the authority to remove people from office. This has been happening across the country and state offices where new elections are held to remove someone from that office. Our committee right now is dealing with that issue. I think they are leaning towards not having that in our town charter to allow that to happen. I certainly found it to be a terrible trial not only for us as selectmen but particularly for Anna, who meant well in her concerns for things in Concord. She was accused of violating an executive session of that board, and as I voted and as I thought, I think she was guilty of that, and we did remove her. But it's a process that I would not wish on anyone else or this town in the future. It's a very divisive process, and we find things that separate us too often anyway, but this one was in my mind something we shouldn't do again, but many people think in this day and age that that possibility should be there.

CK: But you disagree.

TR: I disagree.

MK: What do you see as the alternative?

TR: We have elections every few years, and that is the opportunity for someone to challenge an incumbent, and in that democratic way, to remove someone from office. We have elections every year for selectmen, one or two selectmen every year, one or two school committee members every year, a housing authority member every—they serve five years, but usually there's a housing authority position open. Right now we elect a moderator every year. They're reelected every year. That opportunity is there, and I think the other alternative of petitioning and making an issue, the performance of an elected official, is I think something Concord doesn't need to get into.

CK: 0:21:59.8 But the moderator will serve perhaps through maybe one meeting and some special meetings, and then a new one comes in?

TR: No, moderators in Concord typically serve for five to ten years. They get reelected, and it's usually not a race after the first time. That's not a competitive office once we have a moderator in place, and all of our moderators have been quite competent, most of them lawyers. And they've served I don't think any longer than ten years, and we just had a turnover of moderators about three years ago.

MK: Was this horrible recalling process more likely to have happened to a woman, do you think, than a man?

TR: No, I don't think so. Thank you for the term recall. I couldn't recall what that word was. It's recall or removal. In this case it was removal, but I think that's the current interest in the part of some townspeople that we have a recall capability, because we currently have an issue with schools about an issue that divides us, and we had an election last spring in which the people representing the current trend of things were reelected, or new people were elected to serve that idea. And those who wanted a change and their nominees, their candidates lost, and so there was the opportunity for recall or change, and the town voted to go with the current way. That's our democratic process, and I think that's sufficient.

CK: Thank you. Is there more we should be discussing? I think you did an eloquent job.

TR: Thank you.

0:24:24.3 (audio 2 ends)

Terry Rothermel

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Mounted 30 July 2014 -- rcwh.