Meetings that Push Agendas Rather than have Thoughtful Critiques — Recently the Reuse of the Brown School

Push an agenda

Last year I worked on a national level to save the Affordable Care Act (ACA) from Republican repeal efforts. It was fascinating and not unlike local politics. And my experience in local politics helped me emotionally navigate this new political terrain.

I joined up online with a bunch of folks at Vox.com, the group is called “A Community for Obamacare Enrollees by Vox.com.”  And one of the things we did was organize people to go to Capital Hill for committee meetings on health care. I watched a ton of meetings on Capital Hill, and my frustration was immense. The meetings by the Republicans in February 2017 were completely choreographed to produce a result that promoted their agenda, it wasn’t about an honest discussion at all. Later in the year, there was actually a great series of health care committee meetings, and they were completely different. Everyone on both sides of the aisle listened to a variety of witnesses with very different viewpoints. They were rational, constructive and very informative and a really good example of governing. I was really impressed.

In Newburyport we are not immune from meetings that are what I call “push agenda meetings,” that have a specific end goal in mind and are not an open discussion of different possibilities and options. The first one I went to was a sub-committee on plastic bags, it was a nightmare, the process was so bad that I blogged about it.

I remember writing that the meeting seemed to me to be more about a homily to a plastic bag ban, than a how could we problem solve this together as a community. It was stacked with anti-plastic bag folks from Newburyport as well as folks from as far away as Boston.  There was a woman at that meeting, not from Newburyport, who had the gall to say that plastic bag lobbyists lived among our wards and were giving bribes to our city councilors – which was absolutely nuts. Did the folks who were running the meeting, who were City Councilors, bat an eye. No they did not. And any suggestion of having a nuanced approach was shouted down by people in the meeting. The meeting was completely out of control. I vowed I would never, ever go to a Newburyport civic meeting again. But I did.

I went to the public meeting on the 40R, it was a joint meeting with the City Council and the Planning Board. I had a lot of questions about the 40R and so did a lot of folks. My impression was that the meeting was stacked in favor of the 40R (and later a City Councilor quite proudly told me that yes indeed, the meeting was stacked in favor of the 40R, they made sure that it was). Lots of folks spoke in favor of the 40R and were warmly received. Anyone with questions, were dismissed. I walked out. Friends of mine who went, who had lots of very smart reservations about the 40R, asked me what was going on, they could not believe it. Unfortunately I said they were right. Any sort of practical or thoughtful critique of the 40R proposal was not part of the “agenda.”

The recent “neighborhood” meeting on the reuse of the Brown School was a stacked meeting for affordable housing. Anyone who knows me at all, knows that the fact that Newburyport has become so unaffordable really upsets me, and I am all for affordable housing with a big and small “A.” The meeting was not for the neighborhood to constructively discuss what to do with the Brown School and discuss what to do about affordable housing in Newburyport and at the Brown School. The meeting was to push an agenda for the Brown School by the current administration. I’ve been told that there were folks from outside the neighborhood (all well meaning) who showed up to speak in favor of all affordable housing for the Brown School, which is very different from what the city proposed in 2014And I’ve also been told that the neighbors who had reservations about the idea felt intimidated about speaking up. This surprises me not at all.

So, for the neighbors of the Brown School who would like a say in what happens (and it’s very complicated, I’m not saying it’s not), please email the mayor and all the Newburyport City Councilors with your thoughts, ideas and concerns. They will not be able to make an informed decision if they do not hear from you. The City Councilor’s contact information is here.

Push

Laroy S. Starrett – A Farmer, a Famous Business Man, an Inventor, whose First Patent was in Newburyport, MA

A friend of mine collects old tools and asked me to see what I could find out about Laroy Starrett and his time here in Newburyport, so I went on a hunt. And this is one fascinating gentleman.

Laroy Starrett, or L.S. Starrett as he eventually went by, was born in China, Maine in 1836. It’s possible that he came to Newburyport as early as 1855, but he definitely shows up on the 1860 Census. I found him listed as working for Mrs. Mary White Bannister Hale, the widow of Ebenezer Hale, at Mount Rural. He is listed as a farmer (and he was a very good farmer).

What is so cool is that in the 1851 map in the Archival Center at the Newburyport Library, there is a drawing of Mount Rural, the residence of Mrs. S.W. Hale, although it no longer exists today. And I can imagine young Laroy walking to the house looking for a job as a young man.

Mount Rural, Residence of Mrs. S.W. Hale, 1851 map of Newburyport
Mount Rural, Residence of Mrs. S.W. Hale, 1851 map of Newburyport

Mount Rural, Residence of Mrs. S.W. Hale, 1851 map of Newburyport

Mount Rural is where the Newburyport High School exists today, back then it was a little different.

Here is the the 1851 map with the house and the land.

The 1851 map with the house and the land, Mount Rural, Residence of Mrs. S.W. Hale
The 1851 map with the house and the land, Mount Rural, Residence of Mrs. S.W. Hale

The 1851 map with the house and the land, Mount Rural, Residence of Mrs. S.W. Hale

And here is an 1846 map of the land, Salem Deeds Online, Book 373, Page 211

1846 map of the land, Essex Deeds, book 373, page 211
1846 map of the land, Essex Deeds, Book 373, Page 211

1846 map of the land, Essex Deeds, Book 373, Page 211

And there is a mention of him in the newspaper, “Laroy Starrett—from Mount Rural” and a list of the “profusion of products” that he exhibited, “Carrots, Beets, Turnips and very large Jackson White Potatoes, also, three varieties of Wheat.”

From a 1860 newspaper mentioning Laroy Starrett
From a 1860 newspaper mentioning Laroy Starrett

From a 1860 newspaper mentioning Laroy Starrett

Historic New England has a wonderful photo of two men harvesting Mount Rural in 1880.

Two men harvesting Mount Rural in 1880, Courtesy of Historic New England
Two men harvesting Mount Rural in 1880, Courtesy of Historic New England

Two men harvesting Mount Rural in 1880, Courtesy of Historic New England

In 1861 Laroy married Lydia W. Bartlett, from Newburyport, her father and mother were Henry A. Bartlett and Hanna Bartlett. Lydia’s father is listed as a farmhand and her mother worked in one of the mills. I have this romantic image of how Laroy and Lydia might have met. When they lived in Newburyport they had three children. The 1865 Census lists Laroy as a farmer, married with two young children, Frank age three and Ada age one. Alice is born in Newburyport in 1867.

In the Newburyport City Directory, the Starretts are listed from 1864-1865 at “the little Turkey Hill farm.” What I am wondering is if Laroy was working or even at that point running the farm at Turkey Hill, which belonged to John Gardner Little. If so, the house exists to this day, it is 100 Turkey Hill Road. It was built by Colonel Moses Little of the Seventeenth Regiment in the Revolutionary War (John J. Currier and the Newburyport Historical Commission).

The house build by Colonel Moses Little in 1748, 100 Turkey Hill Road
The house build by Colonel Moses Little in 1748, 100 Turkey Hill Road

The house build by Colonel Moses Little in 1748, 100 Turkey Hill Road

L. S. Starrett is not known for his farming, he is known for his tools and as an inventor and as a very famous business man.

In 1866 the Starretts moved to 12 Tyng Street (lower Tyng Street near Merrimac Street), which could also be 16-18 Tyng Street, there is no way of knowing (the street numbers change over the years), but they moved from the farm into town, and that was because Laroy had invented a meat cutter in 1865.

16-18 Tyng Street and 12-14 Tyng Street
16-18 Tyng Street and 12-14 Tyng Street

16-18 Tyng Street and 12-14 Tyng Street

Here are the drawings for the patent.

The drawings of the 1865 meat cutter by Laroy Starrett
The drawings of the 1865 meat cutter by Laroy Starrett

The drawings of the 1865 meat cutter by Laroy Starrett

And here is one of the original meat cutters.

A meat cutter invented by Larry Starrett
A meat cutter invented by Larry Starrett

A meat cutter invented by Larry Starrett.

Laroy was making and selling the meat choppers at 103 and 105 Merrimac Street, which may well have been close to Tyng Street, or at least in walking distance . In 1867 and 1868 Laroy was advertising the meat cutter/chopper a lot in the local newspapers.

A 1868 advertisement for Laroy Starrett’s meat cutter
A 1868 advertisement for Laroy Starrett’s meat cutter

A 1868 advertisement for Laroy Starrett’s meat cutter

He was so successful that he left Newburyport to manufacture his inventions, which also included a washing machine and a butter worker, in Athol Massachusetts, which is in the upper western part of the state near Gardner.

Today L.S. Starrett is a multi-million global company trading on the New York Stock Exchange, all sorts of amazing tools and instruments whose headquarters are still in Athol Massachusetts. It is still influenced by the family (which is pretty cool).

L. S. Starrett Manufacturing Company plant, Athol, Massachusetts, 1905
L. S. Starrett Manufacturing Company plant, Athol, Massachusetts, 1905

L. S. Starrett Manufacturing Company plant, Athol, Massachusetts, 1905

This is from the Worcester Business Journal, “Big Business, Doug Starrett,” by Christina Davis

“Douglas A. Starrett may run a large global business representing more than $220 million in annual sales, but his management style and demeanor is more akin to a manager of a small 20-person office.

As he walks the snaking halls of L.S. Starrett Co.’s monstrous 555,000-square-foot headquarters in Athol, he greets employees by name. Many employees – some who’ve worked at the company producing precision measuring tools for more than 30 years – stop to chat, and to gently chide the boss about his recent decision to shave off his beard. His annual letter to employees and retirees contains as much in the way of business updates as it does down-to-earth charm – including the score from the Thanksgiving Day Athol football game.

He’s equally at home setting up operations in some far-flung location halfway around the globe as he is approving name tags for a semi-annual employee meeting.

“We’ve got a big breadth and scope, but I like to think we operate as a small business,” Doug Starrett said.”

This is a pretty amazing legacy for a farmhand on Mrs. Hale’s estate, Mount Rural, Newburyport, Massachusetts.