The Honorable Herbert P. Wilkins has served as Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts since 1972. Prior to this he participated in town government from 1957-1972 as member of the Planning Board, Board of Selectmen, and Town Counsel. Wilkins oral history tape offers a perspective of municipal government over the past three decades.
Planning Board 1957-1960
Pressure of development and subdivision control law
Formation of Comprehensive Town Plans Committee and results enacted from:
Introduction of first flood plain zoning
Establishment of shopping center district, industrial park districts, two acre zoning
Acceptance of conservation commission and historic districts legislation by Town Meeting 1960
Proposal to establish Minute Man National Historic Park
As Selectman 1960-1966
Agreement with National Park Service for Minute Man National Historic Park
Impact of open meeting law
Post-Watergate cynicism towards government officials
Introduction of Town Manager form of government
Ted Nelson as first Town Manager
Hiring of Paul Flynn
Filming of movie "Never Too Late" with producer Norman Lear
Request by Patriots football team to practice at Emerson Playground
Introduction of Human Rights Proclamation
Observation of changing characteristics of town over the past three decades
Passage of bylaw for a Town Counsel
Assumption of role as Town Counsel 1966-1972
Comparison of governing style between Acton and Concord
Proposal for lower income land development, Riverdale Rd.
1975 Bicentennial Celebration
Justice Wilkins has been a member of the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts since 1972.
You offer a very interesting perspective of town life and the workings of municipal government that extends back over three decades with your participation as a member of the Planning Board, the Board of Selectmen, and as Town Counsel. Your career certainly started early when at the age of 27 you were appointed by the Board of Selectmen to the Planning Board in 1957.
I was somewhat fortunate to become a member of the Planning Board because we had only lived in the town since I was graduated from law school in 1954. Livingston Hall, who became a great moderator in this town, had been on the Planning Board, and he had just been elected moderator. He was the only lawyer on the Planning Board, and the Selectmen, who were the appointing authority as they are now, thought there should be a lawyer. They asked him whom they might pick, and he recommended me. I can recall going out to dinner at a friend's house, I think it was on Martin Road, sometime in the spring of 1957 and getting a phone call from Livy Hall, who had tracked us down through our babysitter. He said the selectmen wanted to make a decision very promptly and would I take the position. I really didn't know very much about what planning boards did, but it struck me as an interesting thing to do, and it proved to be that. The board was in a transition period because some of its members had been elected and some were appointed because the Town Manager system just started up.
The people who impressed me particularly at that time were Ed True, who later was on the Board of Selectmen, and Graydon Smith, who was a partner of Thomas Flint. They provided some real mature judgment about planning problems. The difficulty the Planning Board had at that time was that the town was being heavily pressured by development, and under the subdivision control law, the Planning Board had the major function of dealing with subdivisions. Because of the heavy load we had, we were spending a large part of our time dealing with subdivisions, an important function, but not by any means the wide range planning that a Planning Board ought to be engaged in. For example, we didn't even have a town engineer until the town meeting in 1957 voted to set up an engineering department. So when we dealt with plans which were prepared by engineers we really didn't have any particular help from town employees to assist us in dealing with those plans.
The town, recognizing our problem, had set up a comprehensive town plans committee a couple years before, headed by Thomas Flint, and it was there that the real planning was going on. They retained Roland Greeley, who was a planner and the brother of the late Dana McLean Greeley. We put together what I think was a fairly good plan for the town, probably by today's standards somewhat simplistic, but a lot of important things came out of that. In 1958, I was elected chairman, and I happened to be in the right position at the right time because it was just about then that the comprehensive town plan committee was starting to come up with its proposals. It needed to have articles drafted and presentations made at Planning Board meetings and at town meeting. As a result of the work of others, we went into the 1959 town meeting with a number of rather important planning proposals, all of which were adopted. We had had a modest off-street parking requirement before, but we came up with a reasonably comprehensive one. We had the first flood plain zoning enacted. We established something called a shopping center district, which Stop & Shop now occupies. We established industrial park districts which were more restrictive than the general industrial district, and we established two acre zoning in the areas where it pretty much now still exists. That was one area that there was some controversy about. At that time and it may still be true to some degree, it was generally regarded that two acre zoning was an attempt to keep people out and that it was, therefore, an attempt by the people already here and the establishment to make it difficult for other people to come in. It increased the cost of land that one would have to buy, and it meant that fewer people could live in the town.
I think it is probably now recognized at least in certain places that that size zoning, particularly with cluster zoning which came later, which allows open space to be preserved and houses to be built on smaller lots, is not perhaps as reprehensible as it was once thought to be.
Along that line the National Park was being proposed, and for reasons I am not fully sure of, the Board of Selectmen was not particularly active or interested in the park and did not come out in favor of it. The Planning Board did, and I remember having some modest connections with Senator Saltonstall's office on the park proposal. I have a sense that it is unfortunate that the park didn't move a little more rapidly, once it was created, to get itself into a position to replicate as best could be done what existed in 1775. More recently, there have been some problems with the park service and I am not sufficiently acquainted with the whole process to have a strong view about it. I think at the time it was created people were generally rather in favor of what the park proposed to do. One thing about people in Concord, they don't have to be here very long to have this state of mind: a sense of history and almost a sense of fiduciary obligation to the country, if not beyond the country, to preserve the Concord tradition, the North Bridge area, the American mile, Walden Pond, and other traditions of the town. And in fact, the preservation of the North Bridge area was solely the product of actions of the town of Concord, although from time to time we have had some assistance from state and federal government with respect to some improvements.
The selectmen were rather lukewarm about the park in terms of not wanting to take a position and why, I'm not sure. Of course one of the problems is that you lose tax revenue as certain of these items fall under the park jurisdiction. On the other hand, it seemed to me, in large measure, it was consistent with our long range plan of trying to preserve as much as we could of the rural and historical character of the town. So as far as I'm concerned I think that the National Park has been a plus, and obviously, if one lives near it, there can be moments of considerable unpleasantness. The Planning Board was probably a little closer to what the comprehensive town plan was going to say and thus came to realize that what was proposed was, we thought, entirely reasonable.
I might make one comment about how lucky in a way we've been in Concord, compared to other places, in terms of preserving our town. It has obviously built up over the last several decades quite a bit, but on the other hand, areas nearer to Boston were subject to much more economic pressure even to some degree before World War II. But right after World War II, although there was pressure here, it was not as intense as in places such as Lexington. And we were able, just by the luck of where we were, to avoid the heavy influx of post World War II construction at least to the degree that other places had it. I think we were lucky that we had a number of people who were farmers who wanted to be farmers and those farms were preserved. We had rivers and flood plain areas which did not lend themselves easily to construction. The National Park we mentioned. More recently Harvard has acquired about a square mile of the town up in the Estabrook Woods area, and now we have conservation and conservation easements and the like. It has all sort of luckily fallen in place. Except for I'd say Main Street (and even here way out by the Maynard line what I'm about to say is true), there are very few of our long streets in town that you can't go down and see farmland, open space, woods and the like, which, for a place so close to Boston, I think is really a major plus.
One of the things that we plainly had wrong, and I haven't gone back to check it, was the projection of growth. Looking at what had happened from the late '40s into the late '50s the comprehensive town plan saw a continuing rise in population, and I think, predicted a population in the vicinity of 30,000 before the turn of the century. In fact, I think we are still well below 20,000 and the prospects of going much above that, I think, are not great, although I suspect there is some continuing growth. One of the features which people probably don't think of in terms of planning which I think controls growth in this town, and a very few people had control of it, was the fact that the Public Works Commission controlled where town water and sewer was going to go. It obviously made a tremendous difference in the cost of a home as to whether or not there were going to have to be wells dug and septic systems put in or whether there would be municipal services to hook on to. I suspose a cynic could say that the small group of people who controlled that from the end of World War II up until the '60s may have had as much to do to controlling growth as anybody else. I don't speak positively or negatively about it, but I just think that is something which has happened.
The first thought about flood plains was that we weren't quite clear where the flood plain was. John Robinson, who was then superintendent of public works, had some figures in his records of how high the water was in certain places shortly after the 1938 hurricane which, I think, was thought at that time to be the highest water within recent memory. The problem was we didn't have levels at all points up and down the rivers so, although particularly the Sudbury rises very very slowly, it was not entirely clear where the flood plain was and we selected an arbitrary, well we thought reasonable but in some places arbitrary, contour lines to represent the flood plain and in some instances there would be land in the middle of the flood plain so to speak and those areas presented problems. I think they have now greatly sophisticated this whole process, and we're probably in better shape. One of the problems that happened down stream from here, I gather Billerica was one of them, was a lot of development was put in flood plain areas and sold in the summer- time, and then come spring, all of a sudden people discovered they had waterfront property. Again the flood plain concept was thought by some to be a device to discourage development of land that perhaps could be afforded more easily. These are always tradeoffs, and they are difficult choices, but I think now we know more about the aquifer and ground water problems then we did then. At least the public is more conscious about those concerns, and I think probably more tolerant of the idea of preservation of ground water and helping people from having to live in flood areas. It is much more understood and tolerated then it was then. I think the regulations that the Planning Board proposed were pretty generally accepted. I'd have to go back and look at the votes. The idea was debated in terms of its application in some areas, because of the problems I described earlier, but I think it was generally accepted.
I can take you into 1960, although I became a selectman at the end of the town meeting in 1960. What happened at that town meeting was the product of the comprehensive town plan in so far as planning was concerned. We accepted the conservation commission statute, and since then have had a conservation commission which I think in general has performed good work. I drafted, mostly by copying the Lexington act, a historic districts act for the town of Concord which in 1960 was accepted, and I think that has worked reasonably well. Again, there were people concerned about architectural controls, but I think the commission has been reasonable and recognized that places such as Lexington Road have a diverse mixture of architecture and historical connections, that it probably rightly was excluded from the National Park, and rightly shouldn't be subjected to a demand that everything look strictly as if it might have been built in 1775. We have had one little problem with copying the Lexington act. We checked with them beforehand as to what problems they had under their act and they said, "Oh, no, no problems at all." I got on the Board of Selectmen just as this whole thing was getting started; the selectmen appointed the commission. There is a very complicated procedure for appointing alternates, and we found that that was a terrible burden. I don't even know if the selectmen are now following it. I can't imagine Lexington didn't know they had this problem. If they had told us about it, we would have probably handled it a little bit differently.
There was in 1960 a very hot issue over what to do with the Veterans Building. It was generally thought the Veterans Building was going to come down. The Planning Board was in favor of turning it into a park so there would be sort of a nice area between the Congregational Church and the Unitarian Church. Members of the Board of Selectmen, including Whittemore Brown, I guess by then he may have been a former member, were very forceful in favor of turning it into parking. So there was a big battle between park and parking, and as you know, the building wasn't taken down. It's still there, and it's been turned into a reasonably good use. So there are moments when planning matters come along and nothing really significant happens, although there is an awful lot of heat generated.
I enjoyed the Planning Board. It was a very interesting experience, and I learned about municipal law which helped later when I was a selectman and when I was town counsel here and in Acton and even to some degree in my practice.
The historic district act had to be approved by the state legislature. We proposed an act which went through the legislature, and then I believe it was after that we voted to accept it. But it was not something Concord could have done then on our own. Since then there has been a general historic districts statute enacted which would allow a municipality to set up a historic district, but at the time, we needed a special act.
Now that, as far as I am concerned, pretty well covers my planning board experience. We met rather intensely through many parts of that time, for the three years that I was on the board. We had a lot of controversies over things which now probably seem terribly unimportant, but at the time some people got very heated one way or the other. One of the problems I think was a lot of people thought the planning board could block an entire subdivision, that it had the power to turn it down, much the same way a board of appeals could turn down a request for a variance or special permit. So if we approved a plan because it met the requirements of law and met our regulations, which was really the only test we were entitled to apply, a number of people were very upset that we had approved a particular subdivision. One of the more interesting subdivisions was the one up Lowell Road by Spencer Brook put in by John Marden, across Spencer Brook and up the other side where we had rather large lots. We had reduced some of the requirements for sidewalks and the width of roads and the like, and I think it has turned out to be a very nice development, an expensive place. We were willing to trade off certain requirements in order to keep more open space, and as one looks at that area now, it turned out quite well.
In 1959 which is the year before I went on the Board of Selectmen, two members of the selectmen Whittemore Brown and Bob Parks asked me if I would run for the board. By that time both John Finigan and John Damon had announced to run, and I think maybe one or two other people and that was a very hot contest. And I was able to tell them that I was quite happy to stay on the Planning Board and work in implementing the comprehensive town plan and not get involved in that donnybrook. I had a sense that they would have me run with the hope that I would block one of those two from making the grade. In any event, the next year there was only one slot open, and it was Edward Chase's slot. He was the only lawyer on the board, and he asked me if I would like to run. There has been, and it may still exist, a tradition that a selectman leaving the board will make sure there is someone running who is reasonably acceptable to that person and perhaps to his or her colleagues. It has a certain elitist quality to it. Often when someone wouldn't come up with a name of somebody, I would suggest that certainly you don't want to make the mistake of giving the election back to the people, so you go out and get yourself a worthwhile candidate. But in any event, it worked reasonably well over time. I agreed to run, and nobody ran against me, at least no one came out against me in the caucus. It was rather easy, if one thinks there should be a lawyer on the board, and that was so in those days.
Well, on the Saturday night before the Monday of election I got a call from Archie Ferran who had been on the Board of Selectmen and lived in West Concord and he said, "I understand someone is running against you on stickers and it's Chester Smethurst, who owned the bowling alley over by Stop & Shop that no longer exists. He also had a Buick agency across from the railroad depot on Thoreau Street and Ferran said, "You'd better do something about this because no one's running against anybody for school committee and no one's running against the moderator and maybe no one will show up except the people with the stickers." So I called up various people, including some of my supporters who were members of the League of Women Voters, and I explained to them that I understood they couldn't take a position in an election, but they might take the position that people ought to vote in an election and so a lot of people got on the telephone and made calls around. My wife and I had planned to vote and go to Stowe, Vermont to ski. We already had a babysitter all lined up, and we voted, and we went, and I arranged to have Frank Johnson give me a call. I got a call at the motel in Stowe around 10:00 that night, and he reported that I had gotten 1106 votes and Chester Smethurst had gotten 243. I later learned, when I told this story to knowledgeable people, that it was quite surprising that Archie Ferran had called me because the people that I now describe as knowledgeable told me that Archie Ferran was the one that had supported the sticker candidate against me. So whether that be true or not I never knew, but it made life a little more interesting for a brief while. In 1963 when I ran for reelection I didn't have any opponent. One of the things that I had probably done, although they basically said Smethhurst was running on behalf of town employees who thought they ought to have representation on the board, I suppose, in the process of running Planning Board meetings and speaking on various matters I had said things that people didn't agree with who had special interests here and there. But I was reasonably content with getting as many votes as I did considering most people thought there was no contest at all.
About half of the people that served on the board of selectmen with me are no longer alive, in fact the only one of them that was on the board when I went on it is John Finigan. They were a very interesting group of people. I learned a lot about how to work in a group dynamic which is very similar to what I do now as a judge in the state Supreme Judicial Court. You learn that people may not really be quite able to say in public meetings where they stand, but if you can get a chance to talk to them or talk to someone else who knows what their problem is, you come to realize why it is they are saying and doing certain things. The whole process of working together as a group is an interesting experience. In a way, I found the Planning Board easier in that regard because you knew when someone came before the Planning Board they wanted something, and you knew your position was to protect the town's interests. When you are on the Board of Selectmen, there are all kinds of things that come along, some of them are pro-town, some are anti-town, some of them may be don't really have an awful lot of substance to them that you can put your teeth into but have to be handled. In those days, there were more problems we could handle locally. I think today many of the problems are regional, either in fact or because of legislation. On the same token though, the people who had served before me, ten and twenty years earlier, said it was much easier for them when they were on the board because matters were the kinds of things they could deal with within the town.
I was a selectman when the actual agreement with Minuteman National Park was signed, though I must say, the circumstances of that were fairly slight in terms of interest and concern because the agreement provides it can be canceled by either party, I think it's within six months. We were perfectly willing to cooperate with the National Park Service. They had the power to take the property if they wanted to, although we would have given them a good solid run on that one and given them a fairly high bill if they had taken it. That area could be quite dramatically developed for commercial historical purposes, sort of like a Colonial Williamsburg at the Buttrick mansion and down by the bridge. We have always played that down, and really, in this town we have done very little to, I'll use the word, exploit the historical significance of the town for the economic benefit of the people in the town.
I was also selectman before the open meeting law. I have mixed feelings about the open meeting law. I understand the concern that people have that decisions should be made in open, particularly by elected officials, even by responsible boards, and that there are in certain parts of this state, possibly in Concord, certain circumstances where people scratch each other's backs where certain influences are brought to bear, where it's inappropriate. The problem with the open meeting law is that it tends to make it difficult for people on the board to sit down quietly and talk about their problems among themselves without the glare of publicity. And it's a line drawing process. How much do you want to discourage the private thoughtful analysis of problems by people without the intrusion or knowledge of outsiders as against the right-to-know concept? A line has been drawn and we have had some tough cases, not involving Concord, in my court where certain matters have come up where it is hard to draw that line. I think we made some good progress in making decisions on the board when the five of us or sometimes four of us would drop over to, as we would say, inspect the licensed premises at the Colonial Inn and have a beer, and someone would explain why such and such problem existed, and we would work our way around it. I always thought the town's interests were not being affected adversely by that particular process. But I think, if it happened today, there might be some people who would rise up. In fact, let me talk a little bit about people rising up.
I think post-Watergate (after the incidents that led up to the resignation of President Nixon) there developed a high level of cynicism in this country about the integrity of public officials, elected and appointed. There are a great number of people who just assume that, if one holds a public office, that person is in the business of helping him or herself and is not acting in the public interest. My experience in the town of Concord through the Planning Board time, through six years on the Board of Selectmen, and three and a half roughly as the Town Counsel, and in general from observing what goes on around here, is that there has been very little self-aggrandizement, very little done by people in elected or appointed positions to help themselves. One of the great strengths of this town, and other towns like it, is the tremendous reservoir of talented people who are willing to serve on town boards and committees. We get and have gotten in this town thousands and thousands of hours and thousands and thousands of dollars of assistance from people on various boards. Some of the people who have served on our light plant board are outstanding people in areas of business. This is a resource which the town of Acton for example doesn't have, at least to a considerable degree. I got exposed to that when I was Town Counsel in Acton.
One of the things that was happening when I first went on the Board in 1960 was the development of the Town Manager process. Ted Nelson had become the first Town Manager just about the time I went on the Planning Board, and he had a relatively hard time with some of the selectmen who still thought they ran the town and expected him to follow their instructions. Whereas the system really involved the manager running the town and the selectmen acting as, in effect, a board of directors and reviewing what the manager did, having the power to discharge the manager but not going in and telling the manager which sidewalks to build or where to send town employees one day or another. Whittemore Brown, who had been around the town for years and sort of thought of himself as responsible for how the town ran, I think, gave Ted Nelson a fairly hard time while Whit was on the board. I think he did that with the best intentions, but in spite of that Ted, who was very sensitive and an uncomplicated guy, I think had some problems with that.
We let Ted go away for a year on a sabbatical in 1963-64. I remember talking to someone in the division of accounts in the state house, whom I came later to know in another capacity. I'd been told by somebody to call him up and explain to him what we were doing. We let Ted go to the University of Pittsburgh to get a masters degree and paid him some money while he was there with the expectation that he would come back. He did, but on the other hand, it was probably a doubtful proposition to give public money to somebody in expectation of future work. I was pleased to do it, but the fact is he came back. He just really couldn't quite be comfortable doing what he had been doing here, so he moved on. Another event I just happen to have on my list here occurred in 1960. We passed a bylaw for a town counsel and appointed the first official town counsel for the town of Concord. Considering the number of years the town had been in existence, it was a rather surprising thing that we had never had a lawyer who had been picked to be the lawyer for the town. Part of it is explained by what I just talked about: that there were lawyers on town boards and they sort of took care of things. Samuel Hoar took care of the town of Concord through the '30s and '40s and then Dan Commins and Bert Newbury were on the board and most of the problems were somehow worked out without the need to have a town counsel. But I think it's reasonably apparent in today's world, with all the complications there are, that it is important to have one. The only thing I did, which I'm not sure is good or bad still, is I provided that the town counsel had to live in the town of Concord. I can see great advantages in living in the town where you are town counsel because you know the people, you know the town, you care, it's your own place and possibly you will do some pro bono work and maybe not charge so much, but that is a whole separate issue these days. On the other hand, I was town counsel in Acton, which had the same charter virtually as ours, so I was acquainted with it. I was a little bit removed from some of the debate, and no one could say that I was acting in behalf of one part of town where I lived or one particular group that I might be associated with. I became town counsel in 1966 and stopped in 1972 in November when I became a judge. I found that a very interesting contrast. Acton, at least then, had three very separate groups, Acton Center, West Acton, and South Acton.
Everyone thought in terms of his or her area in many respects.
I was town counsel for Concord at the same time, from about 1968 until 1972, and it was an interesting contrast. Acton is far less sophisticated; it's more upfront; it's more abrupt; its town meetings are more rough and tumble. I'm talking about the time that I know about, not necessarily today. I always felt there was sort of a symbolism in the forms of warrant articles the two had. The Acton warrant articles would say "to see if" such and such would be done. Concord's warrant articles would say "to determine whether" such and such would be done. In a way, it sort of suggested the differences in style. Also, I guess there were differences in style in town managers. The town manager that I dealt with in Acton was very upfront with me. We talked about all his problems, and then we would sort out which ones were legal and which ones weren't, and which were a little bit of both.
Ted Nelson was very open, but I wasn't town counsel when he was town manager. Paul Flynn tended to try to keep the problems to himself, tried to work them out himself, and by the time they surfaced they were apt to be more difficult to deal with perhaps than they had to be, if he been a little more free in talking about things. These were simply differences in style.
One thing I did when I was Acton town counsel, I gave an opinion that the water in Lake Nagog plainly belonged to Concord, and Acton had no right of access to it, though the legislature could change that if it wanted to. I didn't hear a complaint from anyone on that because Acton was pretty well acquainted as to what its prospects were. That could have been a situation where one might say, since I lived in the particular town, perhaps they could have asked somebody else for it but they didn't.
I started off talking about Acton on the basis that they just didn't have many people who were willing to participate in town government. There was, however, a wonderful fellow there, dead now for well over fifteen years, named Charlie MacPherson who was a selectman. He did a remarkable job for that town. He'd start in the morning and go down to public works to make sure they knew where they were all going to go that day and what they were going to do and then he would go off to work. Well, you can't find many people like that. He would try to get people to participate, and there were some very good people who did, but not as many as you would find per capita here in Concord. He used to call those people that he would try to get to participate and wouldn't, the IBM people. They would say "I'll Be Moving."
Ted Nelson decided to leave about a year after he came back from his trip to Pittsburgh to get his masters degree. This was in 1965. I can recall Seymour Archibald, who was on the Board of Selectmen with me a couple of years, coming to see me in my house on Main Street shortly after town meeting. We were about to have the first meeting of the new board and he said, "Don't you want to be chairman of the Board of Selectmen again?" I was quite busy with my practice and had been chairman in '62-'63 and I said, "No, I think you would be an excellent chairman." And as I look back, that was one of the better moves I ever made in my life, because shortly after that Ted Nelson left, and we got in this whole process of hunting for a new town manager. We had many applications, and we made one major false start as you may know. We selected a fellow, who perhaps looked something like another Ted Nelson, who was town manager of, I think, the town of Avon outside of Hartford. And I've forgotten his name now, but in any event, we picked him and announced it. He and his wife came up. The selectmen and their wives had dinner with them and shortly after that he changed his mind. The people down there had offered him more money, and his wife apparently was put somewhat ill at ease immediately by these allegedly sophisticated people here in Concord. As I recall the mix of that board at that time, it would not, in my judgment, have been regarded as particularly intimidating, sophisticated, or both perhaps. It was not a difficult group to deal with, I thought.
We then went to Paul Flynn. We knew it was going to be Paul Flynn as a result of a process that Seymour Archibald, the chairman of the board, took us through about which I complained rather vociferously privately. I don't know if I ever said anything publicly about it. Instead of trying to pick the people at the top and get the one we wanted, he decided we should do it the reverse way and eliminate people. This takes a much longer time, and we eliminated in layers. We finally got down to our third, second and first after a long time. I started calling him "the great procrastinator" because it really took so much time to get there. It worked perfectly here because we knew where to go, and the only question then was: whether Paul Flynn was going to have his feelings sufficiently hurt that he would not want to leave Mansfield where they were very happy with him. We all went down and sat in the living room with Paul and Kelly and talked to him about it. I had been down and talked to the town counsel. I had no doubt Paul was hard working, able, and conscientious, and fortunately he did accept. He moved up here and stayed through the rest of the time I had to deal with including right up to the time I became a judge.
One of the sort of amusing little touches along the line. In '64 we voted the first traffic light in the town of Concord, right down here at the corner of Thoreau Street and Main Street and Nashawtuc Road. We had needed a traffic light there for years, but there was a sense that if you put a traffic light in Concord, it would be an admission of the demise of the rural atmosphere. So we proceeded to have all kinds of traffic jams and accidents there because people were reluctant to do anything about traffic lights.
One other incident in my selectmen time was the filming of the movie "Never Too Late" which Norman Lear produced. It wasn't a bad movie. It wasn't a great movie. It was done entirely in the town of Concord. The house right down the hill here and the Smith's house across Nashawtuc Road on the corner of Musketaquid were the two houses that were principally involved with the principal people in the movie. The process Hollywood had was to come in and hire all kinds of people as extras and hire the police department for special detail. They got the police chief in an acting role helping Maureen O'Sullivan across Main Street. They thereby controlled all our regulatory people and then proceeded to block roads and cause all kinds of distress for all kinds of people. We got mad enough so we ordered the whole thing to stop unless Norman Lear would come down and see us at the Town House. One Sunday morning he came down. He was a very personable guy and cheery and thought he was dealing with a bunch of country bumpkins who didn't understand how important it was to him to be able to shoot movies on Sundays or whenever he wanted to. We got through that, but I certainly learned a lesson about how Hollywood operates. It wants to take over an area.
The board was a very congenial group. We had a lot of fun. We all pretty much generally would show up at the Firemen's Ball, the Policemen's Ball and march in parades and had a lot of fun with the whole process. It was a great way to get to know an awful lot of people very quickly in the town. My father had been actively involved in town government in Winchester. It was something I always wanted to do, and I got into it early and enjoyed all of it.
There was a proposal for middle and low income housing in back of where Stop & Shop is along the railroad track in an area which is still used for farming, and as I see it on the train as I ride back and forth, it is still subject to considerable flooding. It drains into something called Swamp Brook which goes under Sudbury Road and goes down the back of the lots on Riverdale Road and then hits the Sudbury River in a very gentle way. There was a major problem with use of that land for housing which could be appreciated by the fact that, although so close to the center of town, had not been developed for housing, except along Sudbury Road, for over a couple of hundred of years.
A group wanting to develop low and moderate income housing worked out an arrangement with the Wheelers who owned that property, Robin Wheeler who no longer lives in the town. The group came forward with a proposal under the special exceptions that are allowed for low and moderate income housing. There were a number of hearings before the Board of Appeals and a certain amount of intense interest in the whole problem. The board denied the permit. I've forgotten on what grounds at the moment, and then there was a right of appeal to something called the Housing Appeals Committee. We had hearings before the committee, and they came out for Concord. I'll give that committee credit, they sloushed through that area, taking a view of the property. They agreed with me in one of the requests for findings I filed that Swamp Brook was properly named. They, as they always have, approved the override of the local restrictions, and somebody, and I'm now sure it was the town at this point, took an appeal and that appeal went directly to the court of which I was by then a member. I didn't participate. There was another appeal by the town of Hanover on the list at the same time, and they objected to everything including the kitchen sink. I'm not sure when the proposal first came up. It might have been first started in 1969.
I do remember that the people who were in that development group and their advisors and professional helpers were as much establishment oriented Concordian types as the people who were opposed to it. This was not outsiders fighting insiders. It was a sincere effort, I'm sure, to try to solve the problem which, by the way, we haven't done very much about even now. But it happened to be (this I felt rather firmly) a very poorly selected site. We certainly would not have approved it for planning board subdivision unless they could solve the drainage problems. There was no way to solve the drainage problems until the Swamp Brook problem was solved all the way down to the Sudbury, and I think that now may have been. I think they somehow or other resolved the problem of septic systems and put some drainage in there, but I'm not sure if they put piping down from Sudbury Road all the way to the river.
It was one of those things you get into as town counsel. As a lawyer, your function is not to say I agree fully with my client or I'm going to quit. You take a position which is not unreasonable and, as a lawyer, you take that side and someone else takes the other side, and then there is a process by which the decision maker makes a decision. I felt no embarrassment in opposing this. We did not oppose it on the ground that there was no power in the board to overrule the town. We didn't oppose it on the ground we didn't want people to come here or anything like that.
This was somewhat a test of the anti-snob zoning, but as I remember it, the issues Concord raised were fairly minor and rather focused on the Concord problem and not a general challenge to the statute, the way the town of Hanover at the same time was making a challenge.
Back in December I spoke at the new temple on Elm Street about some of the characteristics of the town that are different from 30-35 years ago. At that time, I drew contrasts between the town as I knew it then and as I know it now. One of the things that we have in the town now that we didn't have 30 years ago is the rather more ostentatious manifestation of wealth. People who had, I suppose you would call it, "old money" weren't so demonstrative about what big houses they were going to have, big cars they were going to drive, and the kind of lifestyle they were going to have. I suppose that is just sort of a minor comment from a person who is on a public salary. I think we have a lot more expensive homes. I think prices of real estate have gone up proportionately here much more than most places, which is the result of the success of Digital Equipment and various companies along Route 128 and up toward Lowell. A lot more people, I think, now are living in Concord who are not oriented toward Boston as a place to go to work. When I first started commuting on the train in 1954, there would be a six or seven car train pull up to the station every 20 or 30 minutes, and large numbers of people would get on the train. Today far, far, fewer people are using the trains. Many people to be sure are driving that didn't drive before, but even so, what made Concord so popular is a reasonably good government, reasonably good schools, an honest and happy environment by and large. As a result, comments we used to make back when I was in town government that the policemen and firemen can't afford to live in the town are just doubly or triply true now compared to what it was then, although there are still some places perhaps in the town where that isn't so.
I suppose there is more of a diverse group here than there was, but as I said in December, I'm impressed at how relatively little we have of the full diversity that one sees in downtown Boston or in Harvard Square or the like. The number of blacks and minorities in this town is very low in proportion to the total, and it is attributable in some considerable measure to the cost of living here. I suspect there are also people who would perhaps prefer not to live in Concord because there are not enough people with whom they can easily identify. I think that is hard for me to be sure about, but that is a sense I have.
I deplore the demise of the practical shops and stores down in the center of town which is turning into something like an Osterville or a Chestnut Hill, with all the yuppie tourist oriented shops. If you want to get your shoes fixed or bicycle repaired or one thing or another, you don't find these places to the degree that, at least, I would like.
I mentioned the fact that problems are more regional now than they were. There is more state control and influence than there was some time ago. One point that's clear is there are more women in government. When I left the Board of Selectmen there had never been a woman selectman in the town of Concord.
I think there was a problem of the relationship between West Concord and Concord. I think the people of West Concord perhaps felt that people were looking down on them. I've been told a story, and I don't know if it's true, that at one town meeting some woman who probably lived on Lowell Road or Monument Street got up and said "Why are all the people from West Concord allowed to come to our town meeting?" In any event, several things have happened. A lot of good solid development has taken place in West Concord. We've ended up with this terrible road, Route 2, right down the middle. One of the great failures (and I must say I suppose I'm partly responsible), I tried very hard to make sure we got a dual highway out of this. We lost a neighbor when she and her husband crossed the road one night, a drunk hit them. We're going to lose more people. We are wasting a lot of time trying to get across Route 2, or interferring with people going down Route 2, with all those traffic lights so they still come down Elm Street or Main Street to get to Bedford. Although it would have been unpleasant to have a dual highway in some respects, I really think it would have been better had we bitten the bullet and gone ahead and done that. I know Ed True felt very strongly that way, and he was more qualified as a planner than I.
In 1960 the American Football League was established, and the Boston Patriots became one of the teams. They thought it would be good if they could practice in Concord because they were Patriots. They wanted to use Emerson Playground. Well, Emerson Playground in large measure, I discovered by looking things up, had been given to the town by the Emerson family with a restriction on what it can be used for and it did not include leasing for nothing to a professional athletic team. Unfortunately for my position, part of the playground had later been acquired by the town for playground purposes, and it is probably true that these people could be allowed to use it, although that was doubtful. In any event, there were three members of the board, John Finigan, John Damon, and Bob Sheehan, who thought this was a wonderful idea. I thought it was using public property for commercial purposes. I remember "Fighting" Joe Foss showed up. He had been a World War II pilot. He was the first commissioner of the league, and he had been governor of South Dakota. He bounced through the armory which they were going to use for a gymnasium. We all shook hands with Joe Foss. They discovered that the facilities weren't very good. One of the features that was supposed to be in favor of it was that the school students would be able to see these people practicing and that would inspire them. I always had some question whether seeing grown men playing a child's game was somehow or other inspirational in all respects. In any event, we voted 3 to 1 and then Harold Smith, the chairman, hadn't voted. I didn't know where Harold stood on this thing as I had not talked to him on it. So John Finigan perhaps thinking he was going to get another vote, because I think Harold may have played football in Illinois about the time of Red Grange, asked for Harold to vote. Harold firmly came out on the "no" side. He thought it was plainly bad. That was one of the few minority positions I remember taking on the board. So the vote was 3 to 2 in favor of letting the Patriots use the field. I think they only lasted for a year (even less than a year) because it really wasn't very convenient for them.
When I talked about the human rights proclamation (in December), I made the point that what was proposed was proposed to the Selectmen. They ran around in front and lead the people as to what ought to be done. But Mrs. Eleanor Moore, who lives right across the street (and others), worked very hard in generating that document. I don't know what's happened since we renewed it or reaffirmed it late last year. But it's the kind of thing that it doesn't do any harm to bring forward because a lot of people think that it is just window dressing. It frankly stands for an awful lot of things that, as a judge, I fully recognize are appropriately part of our constitutional system. In December 1989, it was the 25th anniversary of that proclamation.
I must say we did not draft it. It was brought to us, and we signed it. I don't recall that any of us really worked very hard on behalf of it. I don't want to play anyone down who may have, but my sense was that it was clearly the people acting, and frankly, as I said last December, is the very kind of issue where an elected official feels paralyzed, doesn't want to stir up trouble, doesn't want to generate reactions that may be not good reactions but they sometimes are generated. Therefore, the people can take this kind of thing and run with it an awful lot better than elected officials. This is being demonstrated in eastern Europe to a considerable degree in recent times.
The fact that my talk was at Karem Shalom, that the temple is here, and that there were sufficient numbers of people to warrant having, it is some indication of a change in the town. That's the kind of change frankly I don't particularly notice, I don't know what religious groups people belong to or where they go to worship, or whether they do or not.
There's one other thing I thought I might talk about. In 1975, as you know, we had the 200th anniversary of what used to be called the Concord fight but it has been upgraded to the battle of Lexington and Concord. I did not have a major role, as I was on the court by then, but I got a call from John Finigan. He said that after the president had left and the parade was over, we were going to have a luncheon in the armory, most of the big shots would have departed but some of the military and the British ambassador were going to stay around and would I preside at the luncheon at the armory. The anniversary was a very interesting experience that I think my kids got a lot out of it. I was impressed with the way the people in the town put together the whole process, I stood on the reviewing platform with the British ambassador. The People's Bicentennial was opposing something, probably the Vietnam War, but I don't know what else. They were very vociferous. It was fortunate the water was quite high because some of them were up on the Buttrick hill side, but they couldn't really get through to get at where President Ford was. It was interesting to watch the Secret Service deal with those people. I was also impressed, as I was standing there at the North Bridge, with the horses the National Park Service had brought in for crowd control. Someone would give an order, and all of a sudden the horses would just start moving back and forth very gently without seeming as if they were doing anything. All of a sudden the crowd would have been moved back. It was impressive.
The People's Bicentennial marched by with a big flag. I could see the British ambassador was a little nervous as to what kind of matter he might get tied up in. He had been up all night. I've forgotten where he had been before, but he had flown in and gone up to the Loughlin's house on Monument Street. He got to the parade and stood watching it. He and his wife and my.wife and I walked over to the armory. We had some military people there. We had two sort of head tables, one up on the stage and one right down below. We had music from the Air Force strings and various people made presentations to the town. I introduced the head table. Various people talked and the ambassador spoke. When he got through, I said I thought he probably was going to say something nice about the American Revolution because his job wouldn't exist if it hadn't occurred. He took that in good style.
I said this is a town party. The town ran this. The town saved the North Bridge. The town hasn't depended on Middlesex County, the state government, or the federal government. This is an example of how a town will work. A lot of the military people who were there had come from other parts of the country. They didn't even really know what a town was. They just didn't have them. They deal on a county basis. I think they got a sense that we have here a certain community spirit, a cooperation and a capacity to govern our own political, social, and public lives in a way perhaps that in other parts of the country doesn't come quite so easily.