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Q & A: What makes Marty run?

Martin Thrope misses town government. At 65 years old, the retired manager and longtime Arlington resident is not interested in slowing down.

"I want to serve," Thrope said during an interview with at Panera Bread on Monday, April 2. Sitting at a table with a view of Mass. Ave., Thrope was soft-spoken but had a lot to say about why he's running for assessor against longtime incumbent Kevin Feeley.

Thrope, whose town government experience includes Town Meeting and 14 years on the School Committee, has been out of town government for five years. "From time to time, people would say to me, 'We miss you,' and this is something different — something fresh," Thrope said of the Board of Assessor's position.

Thrope got his zest for public service from his late father, who was involved in leadership at the family’s Lowell synagogue and spent many nights out at meetings. "It imprinted on me," Thrope reflected.

Thrope said he also brings to the job his professional experience in managing computer-based businesses. Thrope has lived in Arlington since 1974. He and his wife have four grown children.

During the interview, Thrope answered these questions:

Is there any specific reason why this particular office interests you beyond wanting to take a role in service?

The work of the assessors is probably more technical than other work in town, and I think it's a good match for my skill set. I am process-oriented; I am a detail person; I have a financial and management background. I know town finances from my years in town government — as a Town Meeting member and as a [former] School Committee member. It's something that I think I can do well.

How would you reduce barriers for tax relief for those who may be qualified for tax relief but don’t know how to go about seeking it?

Websites are not the "be all and end all," so this only goes so far. But, in researching and comparing the Arlington assessor's Web page to surrounding towns, I found some things that other towns do a whole lot better. I think it was — either Lexington or Bedford — has a booklet that lays it out in plain language, and what we have is legalese and off-putting language. I think there needs to be a welcoming presence. It’s a degrading thing to have to go asking for help. It's a very difficult thing to do, and it should be as easy as possible. And particularly, if someone goes down the route on a Web page, if they find what they're looking for, and then they wade their way through the stilted language, and then they click on the link to the application, and they have, "page not found," it's just not right.

So you would hope to address that?

The technical issues of the website need to be solved, but I would want to confirm that the overall approach to service for tax relief is a welcoming one and an accommodating one as opposed to, "Gee, I hope they don't actually apply, because that would keep our numbers down."

Do you think Arlington needs a higher commercial tax rate?

There are those who think that we could raise the commercial tax rate; the fact that people think that means to me that the question needs to be asked. I’ve heard the argument on the other side —  the longstanding argument — that we don’t have enough commercial property to justify it. That may be true, but it also may be true to stretch it a little bit without screwing up our commercial environment, which is pretty fragile to begin with. We need to revisit that question on a regular basis, because over time, conditions may change, and the answer may change.

What about the residential tax rate? Do you think Arlington homes are fairly assessed at this point?

Taxes are high. It is unfortunate that they are high. If they are high — and they are compared to some surrounding towns — they need to be fair. The burden needs to be fairly shared. And again, the question of whether they are fair and equitable across the board needs to be checked out. Maybe we can’t do much about high, but we sure can control fair.

Do you think town finances should be consolidated?

If you want to make things work smoothly across departments, the way you do that is by having good working relationships, not by boxes on an organization chart. Yeah, there are probably some things we could do better, and things we could coordinate better. But concentrating control in a nonelected official — particularly in a town like Arlington, which has such a small-town feel — I don't think that's the way to go, because that would undermine very valuable checks and balances.

Anything you’d like to add that you’d like voters to know about your candidacy?

I have always been, in my 14 years on the School Committee, in particular, an open and responsive public official. I will continue to do that. Any questions or comments, I will be open to those, and I think it's particularly important that the people understand what the assessors do. Because if people understand, they are far more likely to have confidence in the process and a sense of trust than if they don't understand. When people don't understand, sometimes they think the wool is being pulled over their eyes, and perception becomes reality. So there has to be more information about what they do and how they do it.

2012 Town election information: Town website | YourArlington

This story was published Thursday, April 5, 2012.

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