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Tue., Oct. 6
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Council takes hit


The City Council’s split vote last month to put it into the position of deciding who can live in certain houses in the city has suddenly drawn attention to Watertown from across America and overseas, where the English newspaper, The Daily Mail, described the vendetta against a young man and his fiancée who allowed other young people unrelated to them to live in the house.

The council changed the zoning law in early February by prohibiting transient roomers from housing in residential A neighborhoods, after one Thompson Boulevard neighbor objected to Travis M. Hartman’s living circumstances. The council decision came after several weeks of discussion, a different set of opinions from members of the city Planning Board and minimal public debate. The council’s action was subject of several newspaper reports, but it was not until a letter to the editor appeared in the Times that the story was noticed outside the north country.

The letter launched a mild torrent of criticism of the council for its decision.

Council members should not be surprised. They need only to remind themselves of actions they have taken or not taken in the past which are equally ill thought out. The dithering over the decrepit aviary at the Thompson Park zoo and the never-ending proposals to build something grander than anyone wants or needs. The failure to maintain the ice arena at the fairgrounds, the failure to collect rent from tenants using city facilities, overruling the Planning Board to grant a zone change on Washington Street and then reversing course by killing the proposal.

Little happens smoothly when Watertown’s City Council gets involved. Just look at the effort to add a tennis facility at the Fairgrounds Y. The mayor and the council are feigning surprise and thus indignation that the Y has not kept them in the loop on the plan, which would be financed by contributions — not tax dollars. The mayor ignores the fact that the council was invited to an early planning discussion on the project, but only Councilman Joe Butler attended.

Look at the council’s record on Mercy Hospital, which will be vacant in a matter of weeks. For two years they have known there would be an issue, but they have done nothing but muse about the fate of the abandoned hospital nursing home complex right in the city’s center.

The spotlight of criticism from Tweets and from overseas on the council should not surprise anyone. Until the council matures and focuses its attention on the detail of governing, these spates of ridicule are deserved and will not disappear.

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