Somerville BOH Rejects Mandates

By Friends of Somerville

Covid Mandates and the lingering uncertainty of the City of Somerville Board of Health to enforce them

As members of the Board of Health in Somerville made a decision to reject the vaccination card mandate, via webinar of January 20, 2022, once again the Somerville Mandate Debate within the community rages on.

Before I begin my assessment of the unimpressive dialogue by members of BOH Somerville including city employees, I would like to first share my overall observation of what I believe is wrong about this process of city and resident engagement at meetings on and off line, in person or at any meetings and within the realm of internet social media outlets. 

First I must ask –“Where are all the critical thinkers?”

By definition, the characteristics of critical thinkers include the following: “Observation, curiosity, objectivity, introspection, analytical thinking, indentifying biases, determining relevance, inference, compassion and empathy, humility, willingness to challenge the status quo, open mindedness, awareness of common thinking errors, creative thinking, effective communicators and active listeners”. (source: entrepreneur.com)

My curiosity grew as to how people draw conclusions on issues of great concern and how it got me into writing. When I took college courses as an employee at a local college, I chose philosophy as one of my disciplines as well as English literature. I enjoyed writing because it taught me how to intelligently convey ideas and help me to create informed opinions.  I believe that we all struggle with inherit biases by nature, influenced during childhood and as young adults. It’s not until later in life after much experience, that we begin to understand forms of communication and how they affect us and those around us.

I’ve learned that critical thinking can shape and re-shape us in ways we don’t realize until we understand the world around us. How many people are aware of critical thinking and practice it?  Whether people agree with opinions or proven facts – it should not matter – it does not matter. The main objective is to get people to think about the issues and not to be consumed with trying to change the minds of others.

Using aggression in order to force individuals to accept the demands and opinions of others is behavior unbecoming and more importantly, undemocratic.  However, it appears to be common practice within our city administration, by certain employees as we have observed for the past two decades. I don’t see it becoming an improvement from the previous administration. I view it as ego driven which is deeply flawed, by individuals on a mission to harness freedom of speech in a way that just turns people off.  Specifically, towards certain members of the constituency who demand answers, yet who members of the administration vow to support . It’s as though we have become deeply segregated in such away we cannot find our way back to neutral ground. We see this behavior happening frequently, among elected public officials and city employees tasked to hold unproductive meetings – the outcomes achieve even more disappointment and confusion than during other past in-person meetings—at the podium on 2 minute timers accompanied by a loud game show type buzzer.  Instead of encouraging collaboration among residents to reach common goals—their approach and outcome was disturbingly destructive and punitive.

Why I was drawn to the mystery of philosophers’ writings, specifically the work of Rene’ Descarte, “Doubt is the origin of wisdom”, and “We do not describe the world we see, we see the world we can describe”, is because it helped me gain knowledge to see the world outside of my own. To question what I could not comprehend and be persistent until I found answers – whether they be satisfactory or otherwise disappointing. Truth can be a challenging element to acquire – at times invisible and staring you in the face, other times, it’s like looking for needles in haystacks. “What you don’t know can and will hurt you”, author unknown— and what you dig to find may indeed result in far worse consequences. But how do we know unless we try?

Philosophers took great risk to put it out there as crazy as some of their ideas appeared, some became my mentors because it was those unconventional ideas that made them successful and taught their students how to reach deductive reasoning and draw conclusions from issues that were difficult to solve.
Quite simply – It taught them to think outside the box. 

I’m using this as my introduction because I want readers to understand why my style of writing is much different from mainstream. I do my best to garner facts, but what if the facts are not presented? I am left with gathering information by attending city meetings which I have and many, but Covid has made it nearly impossible to communicate effectively. Do the facts of our true experiences no longer matter? We are succumbed to the throws of numbers and data – only? How can an experience that someone had not be true if it happened?

So how can anyone employed in a position of leadership claim that what they are proposing, enforcing, mandating is going to serve us well—when they continue shield us with a non-transparent form of government and proven many times during my observations while attending meetings, on and off line. I have no reason to lie, exaggerate – my dedication is to the people of our community. I want them to be informed about the activities and future plans for our city because so far, we have received anything far from full disclosure.

So we come to the realities of Our City of Somerville, where it appears that not only are a lot of people unable to think outside the box, they are thinking within multiple boxes which trap them and keep them from finding or sharing the truth. We have reached a place that is unrecognizable where there continues to be a growing division within our community over how to address Covid which is no fault of the many residents it affects.

We look to the public officials we elect to lead the way to provide us with valuable, properly vetted information so that we may assess the situation and pass it along to our family members, friends and neighbors who may need assistance with understanding the overwhelming burdens we now struggle with as we face the uncertainty of Covid.

I did not attend the webinar zoom meeting of weeks past, about the proposed mandate, revisited. However, I did attend the webinar of Thursday, January 20.  It was insulting to those of us who took the time, approximately one hour and 30 minutes to listen to what should have been an internal department meeting of the BOH – Somerville with their chosen guests, including city employees.

During the introduction of the latest webinar, it was immediately announced that CHAT ROOM would not be activated. In the right hand corner of the screen, I saw a comment by the moderator which displayed a message to viewers:
“No Chat Window – No Public Comment”
 So, why were an undisclosed number of viewers invited? I imagine it was the same repetitive dialogue heard during the previous webinar meetings open to the public.

Based on the experience of participants during the first webinar, who were attempting to voice their concerns of how businesses in Somerville would be severely impacted by the mandate to enforce vaccination cards for workers – their comments were met with immediate dismissal and classified as becoming too aggressive, even “violent”. Violent? Do they even know the definition of the word? “Using or involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something”.

Have they never joined a debate team in college? Doubtful

Speculation renders a suggestion as to why those opposed were quickly dismissed– obviously those who led the meeting cannot debate in healthy discourse. They are not trained to engage in healthy discussion which includes opposing views. Instead, they prefer to treat the dissenters as unruly children, when they were only trying to get ANSWERS.  Where is the leadership? Where is their conscience to allow a fair and reasonable debate? Why punish everyone who wished to engage in CHAT ROOM discussion for all to hear? Even if they set down new rules I’m sure most would abide by them. But dismissing residents from participation is something we are not accustomed to accepting, nor should we.

David Green, Chair of BOH, provided helpful content. The only comments he made where I would remain a skeptic, are of the data, studies, research, and conflicting statements and ideas on how to proceed with this dilemma our city is facing. I agree with his comment that more education about protecting the city’s population is key to keeping cases low. There was some discussion about reach out efforts to keep our immigrant population informed and encourage more vaccinations.

However, I cannot agree on this reckless approach by individuals in positions of so called leadership, who cannot make a decision that works for everyone affected by Covid mandates. To be perfectly honest – I struggled on how to even present what I experience just 2-nights ago when I felt trapped in a cyber-room-filled with people who were talking as though it was all scripted. As we sat in silence, I was becoming increasingly frustrated to how dull their presentation was during the 90 minutes attendees spent listening to them trying to convey something we didn’t even understand because it was clearly a waste of time.
Where is their critical thinking? How can we use critical thinking when we cannot believe the data because the truth is up to question? Who and what are their sources? Who is verifying the authenticity of data collected? Can we have names, dates, companies and full disclosure of compensated fees charged to taxpayers for research data? Is this another taxpayer funded venture which has no end date? Is it all run by data mining specialists hiding behind a keyboard? The number of cases appears to run like a bad stock. I’ve read both sides of the arguments until I can take no more. The meeting the other night was disastrous.

The only two points that Chair Green made I wished he introduced at the beginning of the meeting –
Regarding cases of Covid in the City of Somerville:
91% of Somerville’s residents have received the vaccine
82% fully vaccinated
33.3% have received 1 vaccination
15% tested positive
Based on the above without providing any sources of where the data was acquired, and varied equations I ask why they would even consider a mandate for a vaccination card by employees or patrons. The numbers alone suggested we are well protected at 91% vaccinated and 15% positive.

Another interesting comment made by Chair Green of BOH:
“……Cambridge did not pursue mandate”. So Mother Cambridge said no but Father Somerville claimed it was desperately needed. Maybe it’s time for a permanent separation.
Somerville should not be forced to exist in the shadows of Cambridge while pretending to be just like it—Cambridge can never be Somerville nor do the majority of Somervillian’s wish to be Cambridge. They have their own identities, always have, so they should just be left in the way they began. It’s become abundantly clear to those of us who have worked or lived in both cities – there is a merger and acquisitions type strategy that appears to be on the horizon since 3 large colleges continue to expand. This plan can no longer be denied.

Why have mandates at all?

Quite possibly, the taxpayers and officials of Cambridge grew concerned over the fact that their commercial tax revenue might take a sharp decline based on thousands of restaurants, take-out eateries, and many businesses students and thousands of college and tech-start up employees rely on while public officials would have to ensure were following protocol. Where’s the manpower for that challenging endeavor? Or for our city? Please let’s not go there. I’m guessing why ISD was called into question without details.
 
By Chair Green’s statement, are we left to conclude there are a different set of rules for Cambridge and Somerville?
I attempted to ask questions from the side bar in the right hand corner of my computer screen, which had an icon of a hand (to raise your hand), and type questions. I specifically addressed Chair Green for a response, while I noticed the moderator was visibly seen as reading comments, but they all went ignored. They should have taken the time to share with the audience since many of us listened attentively for 90 minutes. It was the very least they could do.

My questions:

“I have a question for Brian Green. Could you elaborate on why the City of Cambridge did not agree to pursue the mandate”?
No Response
“Also, mentioned was instead of workers forced to display proof of vaccination, patrons would be expected to show a vax card upon entering all businesses in Somerville, yet employees would not be expected to show a card. Please explain”.
No Response

“Has anyone factored in the loss of tax revenue if businesses would be subject to closure? What role will ISD (Inspectional Services Department), have on mandates? (as mentioned by BOH members) And if businesses close, will surrounding non-profit colleges benefit by acquiring the locations of closures and obtain federal grants to open new businesses”?
No response

Another common complaint from those who wanted to included in the webinar on Thursday, January 20 – after completing their registration to confirm attendance, their attempts at trying to get into the session were rejected without any explanation. It would be helpful in the future, if someone from city hall take over the internet related responsibilities to ensure that everyone gains access to important webinar and all meetings where the public at large especially, residents of the city have access. I would also like to request there be transparency as to the numbers of attendees who participate as listeners. It will show the community how many residents seek inclusion as to issues which may affect them.

I’m a bit confused about the fact that Sarah Lewis, Somerville City Planner has been tasked to manage some of the duties of BOH webinar meetings pertaining to COVID Mandates. I received my confirmation and registration information as well as a request for feedback via email for which I have none to offer. They had their chance and they blew it. They still don’t get it—we learn this as customer service representatives in positions within administrative leadership: the client is always right; they deserve respect and consideration and above all a VOICE.  Stay tuned……….

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