WHITMAN — Before the business got under way at Whitman’s annual Town Meeting Monday, July 27, Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski likened the task at hand to the lesson of the classic film “The Wizard of Oz.”
The meeting, held outdoors at the JV ball fields at WHRHS due to coronavirus concerns, required the 165 attendees to wear masks and maintain proper social distance.
“It’s a difficult time in this country and in this town and in this state, and it feels like I ought to be introducing a band and this would be a summer concert,” Kowalski said of the unusual setting for the meeting.
He acknowledged that it took courage and commitment for residents to even attend the Town Meeting this year, given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the heat emergency conditions of the evening.
Kowalski also said the far-reaching choices to make regarding the regional school district also took the commitment of those attending.
“I have every faith that we’ll weather those storms, as we usually do, and follow the values that were so clearly described in our citizens’ survey last year,” Kowalski said.
He alluded to a statement Finance Committee member Rosemary Connolly made at last week’s meeting regarding following her head and her heart in making budgetary decisions.
“It brought to mind something that has meant a lot to me for over 20 years,” Kowalski said, recalling a reading he came across about managing change, while he was on a sabbatical in Austin, Texas.
“All life has to do with how we manage change, and the key to doing so can be found in “The Wizard of Oz.”
Kowalski recalled his aunt taking him to see the movie when he was 10 years old. He noted how the film’s black and white opening underwent change with a terrible storm into a Technicolor world where she met strange people, including the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion.
“They all had qualities they were missing that they needed to find,” Kowalski said. “They didn’t think they had it inside themselves [to find those qualities]. They thought that a Wizard could give it to them.”
The film famously exposed the Wizard as a fraud hiding behind a curtain.
“They found out that they had these qualities in themselves,” Kowalski said. “We do, too. Whatever we accomplish tonight, will undoubtedly mean changes in the lives of Whitman citizens, particularly its younger ones.”
He said the meeting would talk it over, but he was convinced the Town Meeting would support the school budget request.
“We have the brains, we have the heart and we have the courage within each of us to do so,” he said. “So let’s tonight, use our heads, follow our hearts and act with courage.”
Kowalski also led the meeting in a round of applause for Town Administrator Frank Lynam, who is planning his retirement, on what may be his final Town Meeting in that office.