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Second in series.

A friend of mine, an accomplished economist, was once testifying before a regulatory body. The opposing lawyer, in an attempt to question his credentials, noted that he had listed membership in the American Economic Association. “What does it take to be a member of the AEA?” the lawyer challenged. My friend replied, “About 50 bucks a year,” producing a good laugh as everyone in the room realized that the issue was not germane.

What does that have to do with NewCAL? Well, we need to be alert that assertions used by the Administration in its advocacy for this project, while possibly true, are not germane. Here’s an example from the frequently asked questions posted on the NewCAL website.

Why is NewCAL important? Part of the answer given is that “Newton has been designated as an age-friendly community and as such we have committed to combat ageism, isolationism, and barriers that prevent Newton’s seniors from aging in place.”

Did you know that we had been designated as an “age-friendly community?” Who did this, and what does it mean? It turns out that the idea is a product of the AARP, a form of self-designation to which communities can subscribe. Among other things, it “supports AARP’s goal of being recognized by elected officials and others as a leading resource for how to improve the livability of communities for people age 50+ and their families.”

Somebody in Newton applied for this designation in 2016. Was it the previous mayor, acting on his own? Was there a City Council vote? I find no record of an official act of the City government or its population in support of this designation. [Update: I note with gratitude that John Pelletier offers the following correction to these points below: “This was led by the Council on Aging, an appointed board with membership approved by the city council, the department of senior services, and the city council at the time.”]

In any event, there is nothing about the designation that requires anything to be done with regard to the specific plan of a particular senior center.

Look, I’m not disagreeing with the desire to combat the problems of ageism, isolationism, and the like. As a 69-year-old deeply involved in efforts to build affordable housing for seniors and having run a hospital with a large geriatric population, I get those issues and believe in working on them. Having better senior services and facilities in the city is a good idea. Where I disagree with the Administration–and find its approach to be cynical–is the use of a vacuous designation in support of the process, program, siting, and construction of a particular senior center, not to mention the capital and operating costs needed to carry out that program.

Can we please focus on the actual issues surrounding the NewCAL proposal without making assertions that are not germane?