Commentary: Differing, Compelling Views on the ‘Welcoming Town’ Article

Photo: Jim Williams (left), Dan Vernick
Editor’s note: Below is an email conversation between Board of Selectmen Chair Jim Williams and Town Meeting Member Daniel Vernick. The exchange began when Williams wrote to the community why and how he would vote on Article 10, the citizen’s petition by Anne Mahon on making Belmont a “Welcoming Community.” Vernick responded to Williams statement which the Selectmen reciprocated. In a time in our country when contrasting political views are likely to result in flaming, profane comments, the viewpoints by each Town Meeting member were treated with respect and understanding.
Jim Williams
To the community:
The BOS  voted favorable 2-1 on Article 10 at the May 1, Board of Selectmen Open Meeting with myself casting the minority unfavorable vote. So, I’ve decided to report my vote and the reasons for it in writing in advance of the report of the BOS vote at Town Meeting for public consideration:
  1. I respect Anne Mahon and the idea that the Town should express its compassion on the  topic.
  2. I understand (and cheer) her right to put forth a citizen’s petition for consideration by Town Meeting.
  3. I understand what’s proposed is not what is widely understood to be a sanctuary city or even a welcoming city as both of these  can include resolutions concerning local enforcement of federal immigration laws, 
  4. I have a deep appreciation for  Anne and the Police Department Command for the work done by the public safety statements rendering them accurately factual, thus neutral politically.


  1. Belmont has already declared itself a “welcoming community” in its Town of Belmont Comprehensive Plan 2010-2020 pps. 1, 5, and 22.
  2. Also, the Vision 21 Implementation Committee report dated April 2015 mentions the idea of welcoming 80 times in the document albeit many instances relate to the surveys reported therein.  
  3. The Town conducts its affairs within the rule of law, and the BOS conducts the general direction and management of the property and affairs of the Town not otherwise provided for law and the Town bylaws for the common good. 
  4. The inclusion of a reference to public safety procedures can create for some a false impression that Belmont has declared itself a sanctuary or welcoming city or town or has joined a network of sanctuary or welcoming towns that,  in fact,  is not proposed by the motion or article.
  • I am unfavorable to the motion as proposed given its redundancy, the need for all parties and agents of the Town to conduct  Town affairs within the rule of law and the common good, and the probability of a false public impression about the intent of the motion of approved.
  • I would propose that the BOS  commits to Town Meeting that it will charge the Vision 21 Committee with the task of updating a 2020-30  Comprehensive Plan for the Town.
Best regards,
Jim Williams
Chairman, Board of Selectmen


From Daniel Vernick

Hi Jim,

Thanks for the explanation – a couple of points in response:

  • Anne Mahon is one member of a broad coalition of Belmontians pushing for this Welcoming Town resolution. It was written not only by Anne but also with the help of many other TMMs, as well as the Police Department, Belmont Against Racism, and others. You make many points about how you “respect Anne Mahon” – but this resolution is not about Anne Mahon. It’s about making sure that Belmont’s immigrant community feels safe and welcome, and there is a broad coalition of Belmontians from numerous groups across town that have been working on this. 
  • You mention the town needing to conduct itself “within the rule of law.” Not only is Article 10 within the rule of law, it simply reaffirms the standard BPD policy that has been in place for years. Passage will not change any policy but will send a message that everyone is welcome in Belmont regardless of race, ethnicity, or immigration status. 
  • I am confused about your claim that this creates a false impression that Belmont has declared itself a sanctuary town. I will be the first to tell you that Article 10 (unfortunately) does not come anywhere near making Belmont a sanctuary town. But it’s a step in the right direction. 
  • The Vision 21 report, as you mentioned, was in 2015 – that’s before the Trump administration’s immigration orders have caused widespread fear among immigrants and people of color, as well as a sharp rise in hate speech and hate crimes. This resolution is needed to publicly reaffirm Belmont’s policies and values so that no one who lives or works in our community has to feel unsafe or fearful.
  • Similar resolutions have been passed by many other towns, including nearby Waltham, Concord, Newton, and Arlington. Most of those resolutions have been far more comprehensive than Belmont’s resolution. Every nearby city and town that has recently considered a similar resolution have passed it. If the resolution fails, Belmont will stand out as the only town in Greater Boston to reject a Welcoming Town resolution. 
  • I am confused by this statement: “I am unfavorable to the motion as proposed given its redundancy, the need by all parties and agents of the Town to conduct Town affairs within the rule of law and common good, and the probability  of a  public false impression about the intent of the motion of approved.” The exact opposite is true; this is absolutely within the rule of law, is essential to the common good, and the impression it gives to the public is that Belmont welcomes immigrants and that no one should have to live in fear. I am confused as to what you are referring to in these sentences.
  • I wish that we had a far more comprehensive resolution that would have made Belmont a full-fledged sanctuary town, but unfortunately, that is not the case – this resolution is purely symbolic and does not change any existing policies. It does, however, send a message to immigrants who live or work in Belmont that their community supports them and that they are welcome regardless of race, ethnicity, or immigration status.
This is not and should not be a partisan issue – all sides should agree on this resolution, which is extremely watered down and purely symbolic, as simply a statement of Belmont’s values. 
I am happy to discuss this further. I hope that you understand how detrimental the failure of this resolution would be to the emotional wellbeing of our immigrants, people of color, Muslim community (for instance, Muslim students being bullied at Chenery), and to our reputation as a town. I welcome you to reconsider your position.
Daniel Vernick
TMM Precinct 1
Jim Williams
Hi Daniel
Thanks for your email. At least,  you care enough to engage. Otherwise, here is my initial reaction to your comments: 

  1. Amongst many other things, I am a Belmontonian as well, and I don’t agree with the motion for the reasons I’ve put forth in writing.
  2. It is always possible that well-intentioned people can be working on bad policy,  yet that fact doesn’t necessarily validate a particular point of view as history has shown over and over again. 
  3. Article 10 did not start out within the rule of law from what I know of it. The Police Command and Selectman Mark Palilllo worked with Anne (who we all know which is important to understand)  to bring the motion into a neutral political space for the common good and so the motion could pass without rancor.  
  4. Great strategy to enable all to vote unanimously in favor except that it will be predictably understood by the wider public to support policies it doesn’t support which does not serve   Belmont’s common good which I have sworn to uphold.
  5. Hence, my opinion and the elephant question of “why do it” at all?.
As for the rest of your commentary, you simply say because you disagree I should agree with you. I’m going to need more than your word on that. I think we need to have more dialogue when we can if you like as I always stand to be corrected. 

Belmont’s Annual Town Meeting Convenes Tonight at 7 PM

Photo: Town Meeting.
Legislative democracy is back in session tonight as Belmont’s annual Town Meeting convenes tonight, Monday, May 1 at 7 p.m. in the Belmont High School Auditorium.
Town Meeting will be broken up into two segments, A  and B. Segment A sessions will deal with the non-financial articles – except for the five projects being presented by the Community Preservation Committee – and will be held in May; Segment B sessions will deal with the financial articles and will be held in June.
This year, all sessions of Town Meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the High School Auditorium.
Tonight, Monday, May 1, Town Meeting will tackle Articles 1-7 in the Town Meeting Warrant. They include:
  • Article 1: Reports (there will be no reports this evening.)
  • Article 2: Authorize the Board of Selectmen to represent the town’s legal interests.
  • Article 3: That the Town accepts the provisions of Chapter 90, section 17C of the Massachusetts General Laws that reduces the speed limit to 25 mph in thickly settled areas of town. 
  • Article 4: A vote to amend the General Bylaws pertaining to Section
    60-320, ‘Demolition Delay’, proposed by the Historic District Commmision.
  • Article 5: Amend the Zoning By-Law pertaining to Sections 1.4, ‘Definitions and Abbreviations’ and 5.2, ‘Signs.’ 
  • Article 6: Amend the Zoning By-Law pertaining to inserting a new Section 9, ‘Marijuana Establishment Temporary Moratorium.’ 
  • Article 7: Individual votes on the five projects put forward by the Community Preservation Committee
  • Article 8: Refer to a study committee the article that would increase the membership of the Board of Selectmen from three to five members.
  • Article 9: Empower the Board of Selectmen to consider all options for waste management in the town, including waste metering such as pay-as-you-throw systems, as part of their ongoing role as financial managers of the town.
  • Article 10: Welcoming Town designation

On Wednesday, May 3, the annual meeting will close temporarily to allow for a Special Town Meeting to convene. The Special Town Meeting will have two articles requesting the state legislature to enact legislation to limit the transfer of licenses for the sale of alcoholic beverages.

How A 18-Year-Old Wants To Change Belmont Town Meeting For The Better

Photo: Here’s Devan at Candidates Night.

Devan O’Toole will be seeking higher office at Tuesday’s Town Election from his present position as president.

What’s that?

The presidency O’Toole currently holds – for the second-year running – is the Class of 2018 at Belmont High School. And if his door-to-door campaign for Town Meeting Member in Precinct 2.

And if successful on Tuesday, O’Toole will become the youngest Town Meeting Member in Belmont history at 18, breaking the age record of his good friend, Daniel Vernick, who was elected to Town Meeting from Precinct 1 last year. 

A real “townie,” – he’s always lived in Belmont and attended Winn Brook, Chenery and is a senior at Belmont High – O’Toole lives with his parents and sister, Angela, on Beatrice Circle. 

Known for his quick laugh and sunny personality, O’Toole is at the ready to volunteer or take charge of an event or cause. He says serving as his class’ president for the past two years has been his favorite role while a close second has been Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer at the annual Belmont Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony.

But will his success and accomplishments in high school translate to confidence by Precinct 2 voters to elect him to one of the 15 open seats available on Tuesday? The Belmontonian asked O’Toole about his vision and goals if elected to Town Meeting.

[The interview was cut for clarity and because O’Toole can talk up a storm.]

Q: Why is an 18-year-old running for town meeting? Should you be hanging out in someone’s basement rec room rather than spending three days in May voting on bylaw changes?

A: Sadly there is a lack of rec rooms in Belmont, so I decided that running for office was a good substitute. As much as I love spending my nights playing foosball in the basement of the YMCA, creating a better Belmont for everyone in our town is a higher priority. I knew that as soon as I registered to vote, I wanted to participate in the town government.

During high school, I tried to get involved with helping our town as much as possible. As the Senior Class President, I have coordinated community building events and fundraisers. Working with Belmont High School’s Building Committee, I have been able to work on educational policies for our school, hiring new staff, and creating plans for a new building. 

Although I have enjoyed these opportunities to work with the town immensely, I knew that serving in Town Meeting was the next step toward helping our town to a greater degree. It’s a passion of mine to create solutions to assist people with their problems. I hope to serve in Town Meeting because I want to represent the needs of the people of my precinct, and the people of Belmont, so that solutions can be created to benefit our community.

Q: What has been the reaction to your candidacy? What has been your family’s reaction?

A: Throughout this entire campaign, I have loved talking to the people of my precinct. It’s so interesting to see our neighbors’ different perspective on the current condition of our town, and what specific community issues each person prioritizes. Hearing these diverse perspectives has helped me learn about our town, and I hope to use this knowledge to create informed solutions to resolve these town problems.

Q: What issues are you running on?

A: First of all, I am a product of the Belmont school system, so maintaining and improving Belmont’s incredible learning environment is a key priority of mine. I have a little sister who will be a freshman at Belmont High School next year, and I want nothing but the best for her and all the other future Belmont High School students.

I also plan to increase transparency in this position. I truly believe that receiving feedback from the people of my precinct is a vital part of the job. I will constantly make myself available online and in person before voting begins in town meeting. In fact, if anybody is reading this wants to get in touch with me about community issues and discuss issues I should work on, please shoot me an email at devantownmeeting@gmail.comSome residents may suggest that since you are a dependent – a kid – you really don’t have a stake in town?

Q: Some residents may suggest that since you are a High School student, you don’t have a stake in running the town.

A: Belmont must be a place that supports the needs of all people in this town, regardless of age or any other distinction. I truly live and breathe Belmont; I had always tried to make myself aware of the problems our town faces, even before I decided to run for Town Meeting. I believe that there are no age restrictions on wanting to make Belmont a better place for everyone

It’s true that I don’t yet pay taxes myself, but since this position is all about representing the people of precinct 2 and the people of Belmont, I aim to represent them fully. Making myself available so that the people of my precinct can voice their concerns is vital, because that is the best way I can make a decision about how to vote for fiscal issues that includes everyone’s perspective.

Q: How has your youth helped/hindered your candidacy?

The people I’ve talked to seem to be happy that an 18-year-old is running. The median age of town meeting members is about 60, so a lot of the people in my precinct have told me that it would be good to have a youth perspective in town government.

My experience growing up in Belmont has given me a unique view into Belmont’s issues. For example, I’m just finishing going through the Belmont school system, so I have a firsthand look at some of the needs of our education system. There are a lot of people in Belmont that move here for our town’s schools. A lot of parents with children in Belmont schools that I have talked to seem to like the idea of a high school Town Meeting Member.

I have also heard numerous times along the campaign trail that people are concerned that there are too little changes in Belmont. Belmont has a little bit of a legacy of being opposed to change, so I hope that by providing a new perspective I can change this legacy to being a town that supports change that makes people’s lives better.

Q: Any funny incidents on the campaign trail?

A lot of people thought I was trying to sell them something when I first started campaigning. I don’t think they knew I was a candidate because I’m a teenager.

I was walking through a nice, quiet neighborhood when I heard a car roll up behind me. Apparently, the driver was worried by my clipboard because she leaned out her window and screamed “Solicitor! Solicitor! Everyone lock your doors and don’t look at him!” She then proceeded to run as fast as Usain Bolt up her stairs into her house, completely in a panic. I wasn’t even upset, I couldn’t stop laughing. She pretty much pulled a Paul Revere on me, and I guess she thought I was a Red Coat.

[This article has been revised with the correct age of the subject]

Town Meeting ’17: Four Citizens’ Petitions Include Welcoming Town, Pay-to-Throw, 5 Selectmen

Photo: Pay as you throw on the Town Meeting agenda.

Making Belmont a “Welcoming Town,” increase by two the number of Selectmen, placing the town’s cash into a particular account and making residents pay for trash removal. Those are the four citizens’ petitions that have been certified by the board of registers and will be before the 2017 Town Meeting in May.

“Welcoming” Town Designation (Anne Mahon, Alma Avenue)

After the election of President Donald Trump in November, Anne Mahon said she feared that the New York real estate developer and television personality would implement a series of campaign promises targeting immigrants for deportation and ban refugees and immigrants from majority Muslim nations from the country. In late January, Mahon’s trepidation came to fact as Trump signed a hastily created ban on people from seven Middle Eastern nations from entering the country. (That effort was successfully challenged in the courts).

Mahon, the president of the town’s Democrat Committee, felt that as a community Belmont could follow the lead of several municipalities to become a “sanctuary community” under which the town and its education and public safety departments would not cooperate with federal agencies involved with immigration.

Nearly 500 cities and towns are considered “sanctuary” communities, according to the Ohio Jobs & Justice Political Action Committee, which have tallied the number more than a decade.

After researching the issue and talking to others in the progressive community, Mahon decided to take a slightly different and less confrontation tack. The “Welcoming Town Designation” would reiterate Belmont’s history of “welcom[ing] immigrants from many regions around the world” who “enrich the fabric of this community.”

The petition reads that “[n]ational policies that discriminate against immigrants because of religion or country of origin run counter to our values” and so it should not assist those plans including from the federal agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE.

In many communities, local police will inform ICE they are holding a person with questionable immigration status and will accept and ICE  detainer warrant which is used to ensure transfer of a local inmate who has pending charges in the federal jurisdiction.

Under the petition, “Belmont Police Department will continue its long-held policy of not asking any individual about immigration status” when asking for help or are involved in a minor infraction while providing assistance and protection to all people despite that same status. 

The petition will seek Town Meeting’s solidarity with displaced persons and migrants from around the world and affirm its support for the police department’s current policy of not honoring ICE detainer warrants without a court order or a probable-cause warrant signed by a judge nor detain a person solely on the belief that the individual has committed a civil immigration violation.

Mahon said while she agrees that the police department and school district “are wonderful in how they treat all people in the community,” she continues to worry about “what’s coming down from [Washington] because it’s really frightening.”

My only goal here is to get this to pass, so it gives all people a sense of comfort,” said Mahon.

Increase the Board of Selectmen to five members (James Williams, Glenn Road)

Increasing the number of selectmen on the governing board which is responsible for the oversight town government is not a new proposal. Town Meeting rejected a pair of warrant articles to expand the board to five members in 2000 and 2002 while a few years later the League of Women Voters studied the issue but then did not to endorse the idea.

In 2009, a proposal by a Government Reform Committee would have overhauled the entire structure of town governance including giving more day-to-day power to the town administrator’s office with the selectmen adding two members and become a policy-making committee. But the plan did not reach Town Meeting that year.

In May, Town Meeting will see the return of the five-member body as Selectman Jim Williams

Under Williams’ petition, the board will increase to five members on Town Election 2018, with the election of two Selectmen for three-year terms and a member for two years.

Williams said the change would be in line with the past efforts to revamp the town administrator’s job – vacant due to the departure of David Kale – which will include removing day-to-day tasks from the board. 

While this proposal lacks the detailed governing overhaul blueprint from the 2009 Government Reform Committee, Williams told the Belmontonian that he has bandied “ideas [around] that may authorize increased responsibilities for directly-assigned functions” while eliminating the “matrix [of] duties where simply adding another layer of management to the organizational chart is not particularly useful and can be dysfunctional.” He has yet to present his proposal to the full board for its collective opinion.

Consider waste metering to save money and reduce trash (Kim Slack, Taylor Road)

Slack, who is a member of Sustainable Belmont, is calling on the Board of Selectmen as its role as financial managers to open its mind to “all options for waste management” including what is known as “pay-as-you-throw” systems. 

Familiar in with more rural and outer suburban communities – 145 municipalities out of 352 in Massachusetts that have adopted this approach, or about 40 percent – the concept is rather simple: residents pay a per-unit fee for disposal of the solid waste that they generate which incentifies recycling and reducing trash generation. 

This sustainable approach to waste removal is not a new one in Belmont; the most recent attempt to impose a PAYT system in town was 2010 when a committee suggested to the Board of Selectmen a plan where households would have free trash pickup of 39 gallons worth of garbage while being charged a $2 fee for additional bags.

But as with past attempts to include this “green” technique, you have to remember back to 1990 for context why a PATY system would be a hard sale to households

In that year, town voters approved a $2.1 million Proposition 2 1/2 operating override to pay for unlimited weekly curbside trash pick up. As the $2.1 million has grown by 2 1/2 percent annually, the override currently brings in $3.7 million this past year, nearly twice as much as the contracted cost for garbage and trash collection by F.W. Russell which is $1.8 million for fiscal 2017.

Simply put, why, asked residents, pay for a service that you pay for in your quarterly tax bill? 

But Slack says that the “needs and goals have changed since the 1990 override” and the selectmen “will be better equipped to align the town’s policies for waste with the current financial and environmental goals” which includes 2009’s Climate Action Plan. 

Transfer unappropriated available funds … a sum of money to the General Stabilization Fund” (Robert Sarno, Waverley Terrace)

This is pretty straightforward: Take a portion of the town’s certified “free” cash balance and put it into the town’s General Stabilization Fund.

The GSF was created after the town approved the $4.5 million 2015 Proposition 2 1/2 override and has managed to provide a financial safety valve for the town’s schools which have been under fiscal pressure by an unprecedented wave of enrollment.  

But the fund is quickly being drained. At the same time, the town’s “free” cash (also known as its Rainy Day Fund) account – typically includes actual receipts more than revenue estimates and unspent amounts in departmental budget line items for the year just ended – has been quite healthy coming in at:

  • $7 million in fiscal 2014
  • $6.2 million in fiscal 2015
  • $4.1 million in fiscal 2016

The free cash amount is one element in Belmont’s impressive AAA credit rating; in fact, the town’s rainy day fund could be lower without impacting the town’s gold star rating

And that free cash has come in handy over the past few years, paying for the renovation of Belmont Center ($2.8 million) and installing modular classrooms at the Chenery Middle School ($1.45 million.) 

For Sarno, the best place for some percentage of free cash is to “stretch as far into the future as possible” the money in the GSF, “thus delaying and limiting the need for a future operating override. And by placing the money there, it will be Town Meeting rather than town officials who will have the “opportunity to evaluate and vote on any proposed appropriation.” 


Town Meeting ’17: 25 MPH Speed Limit To Be Voted in May

Photo: The proposed new top speed in Belmont.

Belmont Board of Selectman Jim Williams asked a question to Belmont Police Chief Richard McLaughlin when the chief brought to the board a proposal establishing a 25 mph limit on nearly all of Belmont’s byways.

“Have you driven 25 mph on Concord Avenue?” with the inference that the speed would be a tad slow for many motorists.

The answer to that question will be left to Town Meeting members as the proposal was voted into the 2017 Town Meeting Warrant establishing the reduced speed limit throughout Belmont.

“The main thrust [for the change] is safety for pedestrians and bicyclists,” said McLaughlin – who last week celebrated his 10th anniversary as police chief – saying Belmont would be following area city and towns such as Arlington, Boston, Cambridge, Watertown, Lexington and Somerville which have switched to the lower speed limit.

Cities and towns around the state have moved to drop the speed limit since the implementation of the Municipal Modernization Act signed in August 2016, which grants local authorities the right to decrease local speed limits to 25 mph in “thickly settled” areas.

McLaughlin said three stretches of roadway that would be exempt from the new limit:

  • Concord Avenue from Robinwood Road to the Lexington town line.
  • Winter Street from Belmont Country Club to Route 2
  • Mill Street from Trapelo Road to Concord Avenue.

McLaughlin said the cost of implementing the new law would be putting up new signs at roads on the various town lines – such as Trapelo Road (Waltham), Concord Avenue (Cambridge) and Common Street (Watertown) – informing visitors of the limit. It will also require taking down signs such as along Pleasant Street with differing speed limits. 

Town Warrant Is Now Open for the Next Month

Photo: Town Meeting

The opening of the 2017 Town Meeting Warrant, which is the list of agenda items to be voted on by the 290 member body opened today, Monday, Feb. 6 at 9 a.m. close a month later at 3 p.m. on Monday, March 6. 

It will close a month later at 3 p.m. on Monday, March 6. 

During this time, the Board of Selectmen will include articles in the warrant that include everything from appropriating money to run the town to proposed bylaws.

Residents can place articles in the warrant themselves, known as citizen petitions. Those submitting a petition must secure at least 10 signatures from registered voters, although the Town Clerk advises petitioners to obtain 15 to ensure they meet the requirement.

The petition will then go to the Bylaw Review Committee which reviews proposals for bylaw changes to make sure they do not conflict with existing statutes.

For more information, contact Town Administrator David Kale at 617-933-2610.

Town Meeting Warrant Opens Feb 6, closes March 6

Photo: The seal of Belmont

The opening of the 2017 Town Meeting Warrant, which is the list of agenda items to be voted on by the 290 member body, has been set by the Belmont Board of Selectmen at its meeting on Monday, Jan. 23. 

The warrant will open at 9 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 6 and close a month later at 3 p.m. on Monday, March 6. 

Also, the Selectmen voted that the first day of the annual Town Meeting will be Monday, May 1. The meeting will be held in the auditorium of Belmont High School beginning at 7 p.m.

During this time, the Board of Selectmen will include articles in the warrant that include everything from appropriating money to run the town to proposed bylaws.

Residents can place articles in the warrant themselves, known as citizen petitions. Those submitting a petition must secure at least 10 signatures from registered voters, although the Town Clerk advises petitioners to obtain 15 to ensure they meet the requirement.

The petition will then go to the Bylaw Review Committee which reviews proposals for bylaw changes to make sure they do not conflict with existing statutes.

For more information, contact Town Administrator Davd Kale at 617-933-2610.