“What the hell is going on in Wellfleet?” is what we’ve heard in recent weeks from various readers. It’s a good question.
We’ve tried to look into the town’s financial situation, but there’s no budget yet for the new fiscal year that starts in seven weeks. And a critical auditor’s report that found “several major deficiencies” more than two months ago has still not been made public.
One clue to what’s happening might be found in an analysis by David Leonhardt in the New York Times this week, titled “A Misleading C.D.C. Number.” He asks why the Centers for Disease Control said last month that “less than 10 percent” of Covid-19 transmission was happening outdoors, when the real number is likely less than one-tenth of one percent. In fact, Leonhardt reports, “there is not a single documented Covid infection anywhere in the world from casual outdoor interactions, such as walking past someone on a street or eating at a nearby table.”
So why the C.D.C.’s “huge exaggeration,” as he calls it, of the risk of outdoor transmission? He attributes it to extreme caution, based on not wanting to make a mistake. But it has a terrible downside: “it has contributed to widespread public confusion about what really matters. Some Americans are ignoring the C.D.C.’s elaborate guidelines and ditching their masks, even indoors, while others continue to harass people who walk around outdoors without a mask.”
What does this have to do with Wellfleet? I’m not thinking about masks here. I’m thinking about what makes people decide it’s better to mislead than to make a mistake.
It seems to me highly unlikely that anything truly nefarious happened here. Wellfleet’s problems right now seem more like the kind that happen when people just aren’t doing their jobs. In that case, there will no doubt be some embarrassing disclosures. But the select board and town administration are so afraid of revealing mistakes and then being blamed for it that they won’t say anything at all. We’ve asked: they will not let us see the audit even though it is obviously a public document. Instead, they’ve invoked the delaying tactic of making us file a public records request.
The result of this extreme caution is that people are left to fill in the blanks, imagining things that are probably much worse than what has actually gone wrong.
At some point, Wellfleet needs to talk about how former Town Administrator Maria Broadbent was hired. Her dyspeptic view of the press, and of life in our towns, was clear when she told the select board that our purpose in calling up town officials was to trap people in “gotcha” scenarios. Broadbent is gone; her cockeyed ideas about journalists should be, too.