Selectmen Candidates in Testy Exchanges at League’s Night

Photo: Adam Dash (left) and Guy Carbone at the League of Woman Voter’s Candidates Night.

Over the past decade, political debates nationwide have become more course and acrimonious with sophomoric name-calling – remember last year’s “Lying Ted”? – and accusations are thrown around with little merit to any facts.

On Monday, March 20, at this year’s League of Women Voters’ Candidate’s Night, the national debating trend arrived in Belmont, when a candidate for the open Board of Selectmen seat accused his opponent of being … a “dilettante!”

Pass the smelling salt, Lovey. I feel the vapors coming!

While the dustup which occurred during the question and answers section between first-time Board of Selectmen candidates Guy Carbone and Adam Dash was nowhere near the rowdy nature of recent Congressional constituency meetings seen nationwide, the interaction between the two residents revealed different approaches each would take if elected to the three-member board in April.

For Woodfall Road’s Carbone, his experience in local (terms as selectman and on the school committee in Watertown) and state (Commissioner of the former Massachusetts District Commission) government and his long career as an engineer and attorney is the perfect mix to meet the challenges facing Belmont in the near future, specifically in capital building projects such as construction of a new high school, police station and public works buildings.

“I think I’m a natural for this,” he said. “For me, this is a busman’s holiday.”

Carbone said he would review the town’s critical spending needs with the ability of property owners to pay for them. “We have to be careful not to ask our residents for more than they are capable of providing.”

“Belmont needs balance,” said Carbone.

Goden Street’s Dash pressed his work expertise – many years working in and with Somerville and Belmont including on the Warrant Committee and Zoning Board of Appeals – to “bring action” to repair “a broken town process” and end “the sad cynicism” so many feel about local government

Dash told the audience many important municipal department buildings such as the Public Works and Police Headquarters “are not acceptable” and only by wisely phasing in projects and seeking private funding and applying for federal and state grants, “can address these capital needs without overburdening our taxpayers.”

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Adam Dash

He pointed to his work on the Underwood Pool Building Committee where he led the process where Community Preservation Committee funds, private donations and a town debt exclusion to bring about a project that is “staggeringly popular.”

“I have the current Belmont specific experience to transition onto the Board of Selectmen seamlessly,” said Dash.

During the Q&A, Carbone saw himself as having the practical hands-on experience that would benefit the town. When asked his view of the proposed Community Path running through Belmont,  the renovation of Belmont High School and increasing sidewalk repairs, Carbone said will review projects “with an engineer’s eye” then listen to all sides of the issue.

“I will ask the right questions at the right time,” said the former Army Corp of Engineers officer. 

But for Dash, Carbone’s construction expertise would best be used seeking another town position.

“I am not running for town engineer. We have a good one,” quipped Dash, who said his leadership style of bringing people together in a bottom-up approach was the most efficient avenue to avert the missteps of projects such as solar power net metering or the controversy of the Loading Dock liquor license transfer from happening again.

“Had they been done process-wise differently would not have blown up and had been as divisive. We’re a small town. We should not be at each other’s throats. We should be working together,” he said.

Testy exchanges

While both men will seek to use their slot on the board to support climate initiatives, one policy area the two diverged was how Belmont should meet the challenge of nearly $150 million in unfunded financial obligations facing the town. 

Following a question from current Selectman Jim Williams on how they would deal with the town’s pension and post-retirement health payments, Carbone said all the town has to do is “just listen to Jim Williams” as the selectman “is right on target” in paying off the obligations upfront rather than over several decades under the existing policy.

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Guy Carbone

Dash agreed with Williams’ advocacy to revisit the town’s current payment plan but would stick with the current blueprint – paying off the pension in 2029 then use the same revenue stream to begin paying down the OPEB debt – “is the way to go.”

It was a question on Carbone’s town administrative experience in Belmont that resulted in the most controversial moment of the Q&A. When Carbone said it was his careful examination of legal documents that ended a potentially costly litigation on the renovation of the historic fire station in Belmont Center, Dash noted that Carbone represented the contractor who “screwed up the fire station” which eventually cost the town in settlement fees. 

“It’s not necessarily a positive for the town,” said Dash, who said being a Town Meeting member and working on building committees and town boards showed his dedication to the community “and a lot of people I worked with these committees are supporting me.”

Carbone was not going to let Dash’s broadside go unanswered, saying he was “getting tired of what I’m hearing in this campaign,” insinuating that Dash was misrepresenting the facts.

“I’m not going to let anyone attack my client when my client was the only who had no problems. And I have to hear this?” said an increasingly upset Carbone. “I’m getting sick of this from this candidate” before Debbie Winnick, the night’s moderator, put a halt to the line of inquiry. 

Later, after Dash said after being immersed in the critical financial issues and trends he would be better able to handle town affairs “if things go wrong,” Carbone responded that his expertise of working with project consultants in the past will be vital to the town rather than having a “dilettante who has been involved with zoning.”

In closing, Dash said speaking to residents; he discovered that they not only want potholes fixed, “but to have a voice in town government. And I will provide that voice. If we work together, we can get things done.” 

Carbone asked, “if you are not happy with the ways things are going in Belmont than you should vote for Guy Carbone for selectman.”

“I don’t have to talk about all the problems. I know what they are. I am a problem solver,” he said.

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Comments

  1. Mike Crowley says

    Pension liabilities were not included in Belmont’s 2007 financial statement as part of the calculation of Belmont’s net position. The presentation is different in 2016, so comparison of the two year’s financial statements without including changes in the valuation of pension and OPEB liabilities isn’t meaningful. Also, 2007 isn’t a good year for historical comparison because of the effect of the Great Recession in 2008. That said, the town has adopted the right incremental approach to dealing with the town’s long term liabilities. I deeply appreciate Jim’s concern for these long term liabilities. Without continued attention, we might let these things become bigger problems. I would say, however, from just my perspective on the Warrant Committee, that I don’t see that happening.

    • jim williams says

      My friend Michael Crowley’s comment holding that the comparison of the Town’s financial condition from 2007 tp 2016 “Isn’t meaningful” is at the heart of the matter of which I speak. Witness that just because the pension liabilities weren’t on the balance sheet in 2007 doesn’t mean they didn’t exist in 2007 and weren’t known to anyone curious enough to read the statement footnotes. Similarly, just because the Town’s actuarial accrued liability of $171 million in OPEB liability isn’t reported in full on the 2016 balance sheet, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist In fact, it too will come on balance sheet as of 2018 and the Town’s net position will finally be reported as negative by ~ $50 million. Of course, this doesn’t mean that Town’s net position in 2016 is a positive $7 million as reported. Instead, it means is that, if you read the 2016, footnotes you’ll know the town’s net position is already a negative $50 million. This, I consider to be meaningful by any definition on a $210 million balance sheet. The three member Board of Selectman has always been and is now responsible under our Town Meeting form of Government to propose solutions to address these challenges which threaten our solvency and ability to meet our existing and prospective capital needs, I have outlined how we might be able to do just that in my opening reply to Franklin’s article. However, time is of the essence as Michael agrees that “continued attention” is necessary to prevent these matters from becoming “bigger problems” than they already are.

  2. jim williams says

    Really great coverage of the Selectman’s debate!

    Since both candidates are bona fide public servants and, of course, attorneys who advocate and litigate positions now by habit, let’s let the “dust-up go. If one is informed about the fire station matter, Adam’s remark leaves a false impression because Guy was part of the solution even though his client was not part of the problem. Similarly, if one knows anything about the pool project, Guy’s remark leaves an equivalent false impression that something controllable went awry whereas that was not the case and Adam’s role in the remedy is well known and widely appreciated. Also, consider that It takes courage and effort to pull papers, organize a campaign, raise $25,000, campaign, and then win to become a Selectman for the next three years of one’s life. It’s also a 24/7 job and I personally respect anyone who puts themselves and their families out there for election or appointment to any public office. You don’t do that unless you want to win and do the job even though It can be a blood sport at times.

    That said, both of these candidates are able public servants as their resumes demonstrate, yet the next three to five years will largely determine Belmont’s foreseeable future given the $250 million in capital budget projects in the queue and the equivalent unfunded employee benefit liabilities the Town has allowed to grow on its balance sheet since 2009. In fact, Belmont’s net position has been reduced from $95.7 million in 2007 to $7..1 million as of 6/30/2016 and will likely go negative by 6/30/2018. It’s my view that Belmont needs to refinance its existing long term liabilities including its pension obligation within its current cashflows to meet its capital budget needs including the high school . Belmont also needs to begin an OPEB funding program that is based on our actual healthcare costs instead of the token amount currently appropriated by referencing free cashflow. Finally, Belmont needs to manage itself under Proposition 2 1/2 instead of “from override to override” as seems popular amongst the Town’s political cognoscenti. More simply put, annual budgets cannot increase greater than 3% growth annually. Last year’s local election turnout was 22%. I’m hoping this year’s turnout will be greater than 51% because as Franklin points out each candidate is coming to the office with a different viewpoint. I know I can work with them both, but the choice should be made by Town ballot with a majority turnout of the `Town’s nearly 18,000 registered voters, not just 22%. Local elections are probably the most important of them all since they affect our daily lives and wellbeing as a community.

    • Mary Lewis says

      I have to disagree with Mr. Williams that both Adam Dash and his opponent are equally able public servants. Only Dash has extensive and relevant Belmont-based government experience. He will be able to seamlessly move from Vice Chair of the Warrant Committee to Selectman with no learning curve.

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