It's not over until the Board of Selectmen says it is. That's what incredulous residents who voted for a $2.9 million school override at Town Meeting discovered Tuesday night.
It was then Selectmen Joe DiRocco and Cathy Richardson told those in attendance and watching on TV that only their board can authorize an override election. As you recall, the previous board had made known its displeasure all along with the school-board backed initiative.
Override supporters understandably were blindsided by this development.
However, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 59 stipulates a Proposition 2 1/2 referendum question can only be placed on an election ballot by vote of the "local appropriating body" -- which in Dracut's case is defined as the Board of Selectmen, not Town Meeting.
So Richardson and DiRocco convinced their colleagues to delay action until July 16, when they'll meet to discuss possibly reducing the Town Meeting-approved override amount from $2.9 million to $1 million.
Or they could decide to do nothing at all and let the override bid simply die.
So now the tug of war begins among the board and public opinion. Selectmen Tony Archinski, John Zimini and Bob Cox went along with delaying action, but all stated their reluctance to overturn the majority vote taken by Town Meeting.
It's interesting that Richardson and DiRocco are the two who have no qualms about reversing the overwhelming sentiment of the close to 1,000 voters who attended Town Meeting. Richardson recently won re-election, while DiRocco has indicated this will be his last term.
DiRocco said he's just looking out for the little guy in town -- apparently those who realized what was at stake at Town Meeting but couldn't be bothered to show up and vote.
What's just as likely? That it's payback for comments made by School Committee Chairman Michael McNamara leading up to the town election, that Town Manager Dennis Piendak and the selectmen are anti-education. DiRocco took that as a personal attack, and now we're apparently seeing his response.
Override supporters have a right to be upset at this 11th-hour selectmen sleight of hand. It's unfortunate the scope of the board's authority wasn't known at the outset.
But what's obvious to most residents is this -- whether they want to pay for it or not: Dracut's schools have been underfunded for years, to the point that close to $3 million is needed to reverse the damage. That could cost the average homeowner another $300 a year.
Town Meeting agreed, and voted to place a Proposition 2 1/2 override up for a special election. A selectman or two -- apparently unaware of their clout -- was directed to the Department of Revenue, which disclosed the board's standing in this matter.
Legalities aside, we believe it's a travesty of participatory democracy to overturn the will of Town Meeting -- in Dracut or any other community. All residents had a chance to have their say, and those who did should prevail.
As one irate Dracut resident's email stated, in part: "If you didn't go to the meeting, then you have no right to complain about its outcome."
We encourage those who supported the override at Town Meeting and those who respect the sanctity of this unique form of government to let all board members know -- especially Selectmen Zimini, Archinski and Cox -- that you expect them to abide by the will of the people.
That means that on July 16, set a date for a special election for the $2.9 million override, and put the fate of this referendum where it belongs -- back in the hands of the voters.