Arlington, MA: A Model for Westfield on Proposition 2 1/2 Overrides?

So how did the Town of Arlington pull it off? How did they convince their citizens to provide extra funding to their local government? News reports and Arlington's pro-override website,, offer many clues:

  • They had buy-in from town leaders. The school committee chair and town selectmen publicly and actively supported the measure.
  • The community was mobilized around the issue. The pro-override campaign said they had 500 volunteers.
  • There was something in the override for everyone. It contained funding for schools, libraries, DPW, fire, and police. This broadened the appeal of the measure for everyone.
  • They held a special election for the override vote. Voters who turn out for special elections tend to be more motivated and therefore better educated about the issues.
  • The override was part of a longer term budget plan presented by the town leaders. By demonstrating this wasn't reckless tax and spend policy, they made it easier to sell.
  • Town leaders committed to not having another override vote for several years. Again, this helped demonstrate to citizens they were taking a long-term approach to the budget crisis.
  • They educated the public about the financial crisis. Leaders took the time to explain how funding from state and federal sources have dried up.
  • The community had a long time to prepare for the override vote. After the first override vote in 2005, they knew another override vote would be coming several years later after the town's 5-year budget plan expired.
  • The override vote was presented to the public as a way to maintain level funding and avoid cuts. They made it clear this wasn't going to new water fountains and amenities but for fundamental needs and services.

Even with the great job Arlington did selling the override to the community, it won by a slim 53 to 47, margin. It was a very hard fought battle. 

Unfortunately, Councilor Flaherty is leading Westfield to take the exact opposite approach as Arlington:

  • He has not sought buy-in from other community leaders. He can't even win the support of the school superintendent and yet he still wants to proceed.
  • He wants to make the vote all about the school department. That means we can be reasonably sure that those who have no children in school will be voting no for an override.
  • He has suggested that we hold the vote during this year's general election, the absolutely toughest way to win an override vote, and with only about 2 or 3 months time to build support for it.
  • He hasn't presented the vote as part of a long-term solution.
  • He isn't educating the public about the underpinnings of our budget woes. Instead, he continues to scapegoat workers despite the very meager pay raises workers have received the last few years.

Add in everything that is wrong with Flaherty's approach to the fact that Westfield's median household income is 61% of Arlington's and you'll quickly realize what a disastrous failure a Proposition 2 1/2 override vote would be in Westfield. A Proposition 2 1/2 vote is not an option that should be used as a "Hail Mary" pass to stave off cuts. Just like Arlington did, Westfield needs to get a careful strategy in place before placing such a measure on the ballot. Even then, it will still need to work like hell to convince a very anti-tax constituency to raise taxes on itself.

Save Westfield Schools urges the Legislative & Ordinance committee to not follow Councilor Flaherty's very poor blueprint for holding an override vote.