Recently, I found myself defending Mayor Brindle during a discussion with another concerned citizen regarding the town of Westfield 2019 budget review and the budget priorities for 2020. “I thought we were voting for and getting HBO,” she said. To which I replied, “That’s exactly what we got. Promises made, promises kept.”
Shelley Brindle’s former employer has been described as a “hidebound institution,” where “decisions are made slowly and by consensus; longtime employees guard the network’s lucrative, award-winning status quo.”
To be fair, Mrs. Brindle was a senior executive with her former employer, but was not in charge of, nor formally responsible for, leading a business culture that missed out on growth opportunities while talk-talk-talking themselves out of their own jobs. Mrs. Brindle has earned the opportunity for building her own business culture and to lead Westfield using her own vision. However it is also fair to suggest Mrs. Brindle may have brought the business culture and the near-sighted vision of her former employer to her first public sector opportunity.
Westfield should be further along in its recovery by now. The previous administration had already invested hard-earned tax-payer money into identifying the issues standing in the way of our downtown’s success, as we sought to pivot from an old economic model dependent on retail transaction toward a new model that embraces consumer services and personal experiences. Nearly three years have passed since the previous administration began acting on ideas recommended by the Mayor’s Downtown Task Force and their subsequent report.
Unfortunately, after their big election victory, the Brindle administration chose to put action on hold for more consensus building. The advice of the DTF was deleted from the town website. Experienced public servants were moved closer to the exit, toward the far-end of their own new and inclusive conversation, or were literally cut out of the picture altogether. Now, with our surplus balance appropriated exceeding our surplus amount generated, the Brindle administration is just beginning to settle in, spending money on ceremony and celebration, while collaborating with more consultants on the future of Westfield.
Instead of executing from the blueprint that called for removing government as an obstacle to private sector investment, reinvesting in the Westfield brand and growing our surplus so Westfield can participate in the RVL- Gateway conversation from a position of strength that is only earned with adequate financial capital, the Brindle administration chose to: make local government the solution, outsource community investment to their political action committee and exchange the town’s financial capital for their own social capital.
Instead of encouraging our downtown real estate oligarchy to re-invest into Westfield by offering the market a more appropriate building height and permitted use limitation by adjusting the local zoning code, the Brindle administration is trying to steer the Rialto saga toward a lose-lose outcome for both the town and the property owner.
Instead of removing some unproductive assets from the balance sheet of our local government, by selling the wasted vertical spaces above our north-side public parking lots to the many growth opportunities in the private sector, the current administration is currently talking about bailing out the landlord oligarchy with taxpayer-funded parking garages in the center of our struggling downtown. (Selling the vertical space, 15-75 feet above our north-side parking lots, to the private sector for commercial or residential purposes solves a lot of problems with our downtown. Too many benefits to fit in this LTE. But, I’ll be back!)
Instead of building turf fields (with lights, of course) and our hockey rink above a newly renovated two-tier transit facility at our south-side train station, moving our sports culture closer to the heartbeat of our local economy (I’ll be back!), Brindle’s team is offering: more surveys that enlighten us to the obvious, lighted turf fields to cover our existing green spaces that project unwanted light and noise into our homes and giant hockey tent installations along the edges of our neighborhoods.
Instead of creating relief for the current residents of Westfield, directing her economic vision toward liberty and promoting more tax-neutral options for our residents, Mayor Brindle has published her checklist for spending money and a plan for increasing the population of Westfield by almost 20 percent.
The 2016-17 Mayor’s Downtown Task Force was a bipartisan effort that was explicit in its analysis of the problems facing our local economy, and offered implicit ideas for what the private sector could be doing for Westfield once government got out of the way. The effort and the resulting public document were a blueprint for action. Elections do have consequences, however. After a decade of not voting locally, Mayor Brindle reintroduced herself to Westfield by replacing a culture of confident leadership and action for her own culture of consensus building and talking. Westfield got exactly what we voted for; a growth impairing administration talk-talk-talking Westfield down a path toward the near-sighted limits of their Westfield 2020 vision.