BREAKING: Belmont Asst. Police Chief MacIsaac Named Wayland’s Top Cop

Photo: Belmont Police Assistant Chief James MacIsaac.

Belmont Police Assistant Chief James MacIsaac will be named Wayland’s top cop, replacing Police Chief Robert Irving who is retiring after 15 years leading the department.

The Wayland Board of Selectmen had scheduled an executive session to discuss negotiation strategy in hiring a new chief at its Monday, Aug. 21, meeting.

“I have been offered the position of Chief of Police in Wayland contingent upon me passing the pre-employment screening and background investigation,” MacIsaac told the Belmontonian in an exclusive interview.

“Becoming a police chief has always been a goal of mine. A few years back, I made a list of communities where I would be willing to work if the opportunity should arise. The Wayland job opened up, and I applied,” said MacIsaac.

MacIsaac praised Irving on leadership in Wayland, noting the department received in 2015 a state certification from the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission. 

“Achieving Certification is no easy task, and it’s a tribute the Wayland police personnel and their command staff. I also like that the public safety, police, and fire, operate out of a building that was constructed in 2003,” he said.

A lifelong resident – who has lived all but two years in Belmont – MacIsaac joined the Belmont Police in 1999 and was appointed Belmont’s assistant chief in July 2012.

“I have been fortunate to have Chief [Richard] McLaughlin as a mentor as I do not think I have met a person with as much dedication, integrity, and empathy as Chief McLaughlin,” said MacIsaac.

While achieving a chief’s appointment is a milestone for those in law enforcement, MacIsaac said it is bittersweet leaving a position in his hometown’s police department.

“I can easily say that this has been one of, if not the most, difficult decision I have ever made. I truly enjoy working and living in Belmont. My experiences in Belmont have helped to make me a better person and better police officer. I have benefited immensely from growing up, living and working in Belmont and I will always be grateful to the residents, fellow police officers and town employees who have helped me along the way,” he said.  

MacIsaac – known by his friends as ‘Jamie’ – grew up on Grant Avenue with his parents and five brothers and sisters, graduating from Belmont High School in 1985. He and his wife, Joanne, have raised their three children in Belmont. 

He also founded in 2015 the Belmont Junior Marauders, successfully reviving the football program for 7th and 8th graders at the Chenery Middle School. MacIsaac was also an assistant football coach at Belmont High School for several years.

MacIsaac earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Massachusetts Boston in 1990, and his master’s from Western New England College in 2000. MacIsaac also graduated from the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy, in Quantico, Va. in 2009.

MacIsaac is heading to a town of half the population of Belmont, about 13,400, that according to the website Neighborhood Scout (using FBI statistics) was the safest community in the state in 2015 with a mere seven total crimes including one violent assault. In comparison, Belmont had 162 total crimes in 2015. Recently, the most newsworthy event involving the police was a bear wandering through the town back in June. 

Power Outage 2.0: Tuesday’s Lights Out Set For 11 PM

Photo: Out goes the lights.

A wide swath of Belmont including Belmont Center to the Waverley Square neighborhood will experience a second “eclipse” in as many days.

But the blackout on   will occur when Belmont Light switches off the power to 67 streets as the municipal electrical utility starts the process of transferring the current electrical delivery system to one fed through the new Blair Pond substation which was commissioned earlier this summer. 

The streets impacted by the outage can be found here.

Belmont Fire and Police departments and other emergency service have been coordinating with the utility to ensure that the public’s safety will be met.

Call Belmont Light at 617-993-2800 with any concerns or questions.

Updates can be found at Belmont Light’s web page and on Facebook and its Twitter feed.

15th Annual Meet Belmont Set For Next Tuesday, Aug. 29

Photo: Exhibitors at last year’s Meet Belmont

Residents, new and old, and those thinking about moving to Belmont are invited to learn more about town departments, local government, schools, nonprofits and volunteer opportunities at the Meet Belmont Community Information Fair taking place on Tuesday, Aug. 29, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Chenery Middle School, 95 Washington St.

The 15th annual event is free of charge and fully accessible.

While designed to introduce new residents to community resources, all residents are encouraged to attend.

More than 90 exhibitors will be on hand, along with local government representatives and others. The Town Clerk’s Office will be registering people to vote. Everyone is asked to support the Belmont Food Pantry by bringing a non-perishable food or toiletry item.

The Meet Belmont Community Information Fair is presented by the Belmont Vision 21 Implementation Committee, also producers of Meet Belmont “Talk of the Town” and the Meet Belmont podcast series.

The fair is co-sponsored by Belmont Public Schools with support from Belmont Light and Belmont Car Wash. For more information about Meet Belmont find us on Facebook at or email

135 Years Later, Belmont Town Hall Drawing Finds A Home in Town Hall

Photo: The illustration of Belmont’s Town Hall, circa 1881.

While some people like to spend their vacation sitting by the pool or hiking on far off trails, this July Selectman Adam Dash took some of his time away from work to hit the internet with the goal of seeking out items for sale with a Belmont theme.

“I’m interested in seeing what’s out there,” said the first-term selectman who lives on Goden Street.

Dash said during one of his treks online; he happened to “stumble upon” something that immediately caught his eye: a hand-colored single-page illustration of Belmont’s Town Hall with a detailed floor plan of the building’s first floor as depicted in the Aug. 6, 1881 issue of “American Architect and Building News.”

“Somebody 135 years ago must have felt that this was worth some architectural significance because they put it into a national publication,” said Dash.

The magazine that ran the image began in 1876 before changing its name to “American Architect” in 1909. It ceased publication in 1938 when it was absorbed into the “Architectural Record” which today is one of the leading architectural monthlies in the US.

Not many issues of the “Building News” survive and most of those editions do not have color illustrations “so this is a rare find, probably the only one in existence,” said Dash.

The drawing of the familiar landmark off Concord Avenue shows that the building hasn’t changed much since it was constructed in the early 1880s although its uses have: the Selectmen’s Room was the town’s reading room while the town administrator’s office was the book room. Dash speculates that the counter likely where books were checked out by the public.

A seller from Minnesota had put the drawing up for sale for a price “that wasn’t going to break the bank,” said Dash. 

“I showed it to Phyllis [Marshall, the interim Town Administrator] and said ‘That belongs in the Town Hall.’ So I said ‘I think I’ll get it and donate to the town.'” Which Dash will do at the Board of Selectmen’s meeting on Monday, Aug. 21.

“I figured it would be nice for the public to see,” said Dash.

Come To Belmont’s Eclipse Viewing Party Monday

Photo: The poster for Monday’s Eclipse Viewing Party.

Looking for a place to see the (unfortunately for us in Belmont will be a partial) solar eclipse that’s happening on Monday afternoon? 

Then head to the front steps of the Belmont Public Library, 336 Concord Ave., as the library is holding an Eclipse Viewing Party on Monday, Aug. 21 at 2:15 p.m.

The staff will have official eclipse glasses, star candy and other celestial snacks to celebrate this rare heavenly event with town residents and patrons.

Belmont’s Resident Astrophysicists Ready For Monday’s Big Eclipse

Photo: Belmont’s resident astrophysicists, Steven Saar and Andrea Prestwich, ready for Monday’s solar eclipse.

Andrea Prestwich is approaching viewing Monday’s total solar eclipse of two minds. As an astrophysicist at Harvard’s Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory who explores the vastness of space through an orbital x-ray telescope – the Chandra X-ray Observatory – the coming eclipse is, well, disappointing ordinary.

“The rational part of me is underwhelmed. This whole event is just a shadow, after all!” said Prestwich, who is a member of the Belmont School Committee. “It is nowhere near as significant as, say, the discovery of gravitational waves or cosmic X-ray sources.”

But by Monday afternoon, Prestwich said she’ll revert to her five-year-old self who first discovered an interest in the heavens.

“The kid in me is wildly excited! I get to see the [sun’s] corona with my own eyeballs!”

Monday will be a special day for Prestwich and her husband, Steven Saar, who happens to be the other astrophysicist in the family – working at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics – as it will be the first time either has witnessed a total solar eclipse.

For Saar, the blotting out of the sun Monday is something akin to his line of research as a member of the Solar and Stellar X-Ray Group, researchers who study solar and stellar atmospheres.

Saar and Prestwich joined the Belmontonian via e-mail from Boone County, Missouri, to discuss the upcoming solar eclipse.
Belmontonian: What’s happening on Monday afternoon, Aug. 21?
Saar: A total eclipse of the Sun, when the moon completely covers the disk of the Sun for at least some viewers on Earth. It is the first total eclipse to pass over the US since 1991, where one clipped Hawaii. Before that, you have to go back to 1979 to find one hitting the continental US (and then only in the Pacific Northwest).  
It doesn’t happen very often, because the moon’s orbit around the Earth is slightly inclined to our motion around the Sun, and so not only must the Earth, moon, and Sun all line up, but the moon must also be at this “crossing point” in its orbit. In Belmont, we are a little off from this perfect alignment, [so] the Sun will still be about 60 percent covered, and look like a crescent.”
Belmontonian: Have you seen a total solar eclipse before? What are your memories? 
Saar: I’ve seen several partial eclipses like what [will occur] in Belmont … but the only total eclipse I tried to see was in Helsinki, Finland in 1990. Unfortunately, it was totally cloudy. I did get to see the shadow of the moon rushing across the sky from horizon to horizon, and hear the crickets start chirping, thinking night had fallen. 
Andrea: This is my first total eclipse! My research is more X-ray astronomy/black hole populations, and I haven’t ever needed an eclipse to do science.
Belmontonian: As astrophysicists, is the run-of-the mill total solar eclipse interesting compared to black holes and the creation of galaxies?
Saar: Since eclipses come fairly rarely, each new one is a chance to try out newly developed instruments and equipment that can do and see new things that were impossible in previous eclipses. For example, in this eclipse, some members of our solar group at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics located in Cambridge are flying a brand new instrument aboard a NASA jet to measure the magnetic field in the solar corona. The magnetic field is what confines the corona’s hot, electrified plasma into the beautiful filaments you see sprouting out from the Sun during the eclipse, but they are very weak and have not been measured directly before.   
Andrea: Total eclipses are very interesting from a historical perspective. In 1919 the British astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington used a total eclipse to measure the positions of stars near the sun to show that light was being bent by the sun’s gravity, a key prediction of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. On occasions when eclipses are mentioned in ancient texts, they can be used as a chronometer to pin down the exact date of the event which otherwise can be open to interpretation.
Bemontonian: What will expert scientists be looking at that most sky gazers might miss?
Saar: Since it will be my first “total”, I will be enjoying the sheer beauty of it like everyone else: the flower-like corona, Bailey’s beads (a string of glowing dots caused when the last bit of sunlight before totality sneaks past the edge of the moon in lunar canyons and craters seen on edge), the diamond ring (when these beads merge into a thin ring with glowing “jewels” where more Sun is getting past).  There will also be several planets visible during totality: Mars Venus, Mercury, and Jupiter will all pop into view once the blinding Sun is covered. And I might steal a glance at the ground during totality; I’m told that you can get some faint shimmery effects due to diffraction around the moon, but this has been hard to capture on film.
Prestwich: I’m looking out for all of the above and the expressions on our kid’s faces!
Belmontonian; What would you advise people to experience or keep in mind when they see the (partial) eclipse in and around Belmont?
Saar: Never look at the Sun directly without the protection of certified eclipse glasses!  Normal sunglasses are NOT sufficient. You can permanently damage your retina!  Noone wants a sun-sized blind spot permanently etched in their field of vision. Learn how to make a simple pinhole camera (plenty of websites give details, and practice beforehand!). This can be a very effective way of seeing the eclipse. 
The [peak] of the eclipse will be about 2:45 p.m. in Belmont, but the duration of the lunar passage will last about two-and-a-half hours altogether.
Prestwich: I thoroughly recommend the Smithsonian Eclipse App, available free for IOS and Android. This app was put together by colleagues at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and includes cool stuff like an interactive eclipse map, views of the sun from solar observatories, and NASA live stream of the event.
Belmontonian: Where will you be? 
Saar: In Columbia, Missouri with our family. We’re having an eclipse holiday!  
Belmontonian: What if it’s cloudy?

Saar: The day before we will study the local weather carefully, and be prepared to drive a bit to a clearer spot if needed.  If we can’t get to one, we will pout a lot, but still, enjoy the natural phenomena that are still visible.

Prestwich: We’ll watch it on the SAO App! 
Steve to Andrea: Nerd.

Planning Board Accused of Violating Open Meeting Law In Day School Case

Photo: Members of the Belmont Planning Board in June.

The town of Belmont has received a formal complaint from a resident who alleges the town’s Planning Board violated the state’s Open Meeting Law during the design and site plan review of a new building and roadway proposed by the Belmont Day School.

Tim Duncan, who lives across Concord Avenue from a proposed road leading into the private school, filed the complaint with the Town’s Clerk alleging the Board employed small “working groups” to supersede critical discussion that he believed should have been held during the public hearing process.

“[W]e need to make sure the rights of citizens to open, fair and transparent government are protected and respected,” said Duncan, an attorney who filed the complaint on Friday, Aug. 11, three days before what was expected to be the Aug. 14 meeting which the Planning Board was prepared to make its final ruling on the Day School’s proposal.

“The Planning Board’s actions were intentional,” he stated in his complaint to the state, saying residents and groups “with separate and equal interests” were “completely excluded” from participating in the three working groups between the Planning Board and the Day School. 

While he has taken his complaint to the town, Duncan is threatening to file with the Massachusetts Attorney General if the Planning Board does not “do the right thing and go back as necessary to address the problems and issues created by the working group meetings.”

If the Planning Board decides without having “properly” addressed the issues, Duncan will ask the state to annul the board’s decision as provided by the Open Meeting Laws.” 

The result: “That would likely mean that the entire site plan review process begin anew if the school still wanted to pursue its plan. It would also likely leave the parties in limbo until the Attorney General’s office makes its decision –  which could take some time,” he said.

The board has 14 business days to respond to the substance of the complaint.

In April, the private K-8 school brought to the town plans to build a 25,000 sq.-ft. Gymnasium and classroom space dubbed “The Barn” and a driveway/road running from Concord Avenue to the school, traveling adjacent to the town’s Highland Meadow Cemetery.

“It’s every bit as essential on the local level as it is in Washington and no person or organization should be able [to] maneuver or dance around the rules,” said Duncan, who has lived at 699 Concord Ave. for the past seven years.

Decision on Aug. 31

The Aug. 14  Planning Board continued the meeting to Thursday, Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. at the Beech Street Center.

“I felt it was prudent under consultation with [Town Counsel] George Hall and [Senior Town Planner] Jeffrey [Wheeler] to continue the substantive Belmont Day School meeting until we address the open meeting complaint,” said acting Planning Board Chair Barbara Fiacco at an abbreviated meeting Monday at the Beech Street Center.

Fiacco said the board would respond to the claim at the beginning of the Aug. 31 meeting before moving to the public meeting.

The complaint comes as the Planning Board was wrapping up its four-month long review of the project which many abutters and neighbors are highly critical, focusing their objection on the roadway which will create a second entry to the school. Complaints include safety concerns and gridlock worries caused by the one-way driveway, while supporters and those who own burial plots in the cemetery 

A staple of many governmental boards and committees in Belmont, a working group is a small appointed ad hoc group made up of a representative of the town body and the applicant to study a particular question. In most cases, the issue is quite specific; working groups in the Day School application focused on the landscape between the roadway and the cemetery and the construction and upkeep of the road. Once completed, the issue is brought back before the entire board for discussion.

Work Group: Efficient or In The Dark

In past conversations, representatives from town governing boards told the Belmontonian working groups allows subject-matter experts to “get into the weeds” on issues. In the landscaping working group, the board’s Karl Haglund who has a masters degree in landscape architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design met with the Day School’s landscape designer to discuss in detail what is needed to create a natural barrier that would satisfy the demands of the board.

While the working group allows for an efficient resolution to sometimes small issues between the two parties, the question of openness has been brought up in the past. In most cases, the working group is made up of only one or two governmental officials, which is less than a quorum which is the minimum number of members that must be present at any of meeting to make the proceedings of that meeting valid.

Also, while working groups are open to the public, many are not included in the public meeting calendar.

In Duncan’s view, the working groups created to discuss Day School issues violated the state’s Open Meeting Law (MGL 30A) because there were no public notice or any official minutes and, Duncan alleges, “the group meetings were not open to the public except for specific individuals who were invited … by the Applicant.”

“What I found most disturbing and problematic about the use of the working groups was that the time and locations of the meetings were not disclosed, and the public and other town officials were forbidden to attend these meetings, while Belmont Day School was apparently welcome to secretly  invite whomever they pleased,” he wrote to the Belmontonian.

In his complaint, Duncan said the closed nature of the proceedings allowed the board member in the working groups to “strongly influence the [Planning Board] in its thinking and direction” which defeats the idea of the group making the decision.

Also, Duncan also notes that quorum requirements were not met in any of the working group deliberations. He pointed to the AG’s Open Meeting Law Guide which he alleges views all working groups as “a separate Public Body” that must adhere to state law which requires open meetings and quorums. 

‘There are a very small number of very limited exceptions to the requirement that all meetings be open to the public and procedures that must be followed before a public body can close the door on citizens and I don’t see any indication that these were met or even considered,” said Duncan.

In Duncan’s view, the Day School proposal which impacts not only neighbors and abutters but also a town asset, the new cemetery, “[t]he Planning Board can’t and doesn’t have the resources to perform their designated role while also advocating and negotiating on behalf of the town on these matters.”

“It’s essential that the town designate other officials to work with town counsel and negotiate the matters separately with Belmont Day School, provide information to the Planning Board to inform the board’s decisions and take action as necessary to protect the town’s and residents’ interests,” he said.

Wednesday Night’s Power Outage Set For Large Section Of Belmont

Photo: As Pat Travers would say, “Boom Boom, Out Goes the Lights.”

Get out the candles and flashlights; at least you know Wednesday night’s power outage is coming.

At 11 p.m. on Aug. 16, the lights – and television and everything depending on electricity – will be going out for up to an hour as Belmont Light, the town’s utility will begin the process of transferring the current electrical delivery system to one fed through the new Blair Pond substation. 

The streets that will be impacted by the outage can be found here.

The work required to connect the substation “has been carefully planned, and Belmont Light does not expect any complications to occur over the approximately one hour period of the outage,” according to a statement from Belmont Light.

Belmont Fire and Police departments and other emergency service have been coordinating with the utility to ensure that the public’s safety will be met.

Call Belmont Light at 617-993-2800 with any concerns or questions.

Updates can be found at Belmont Light’s web page and on Facebook and its Twitter feed.

After Violent Weekend, Belmont Stands with Charlottesville

Photo: Belmont Stands in Solidarity with Charlottesville event Monday, Aug.14

In the growing dusk of Monday evening, Belmont residents came together to light the way back from fear towards hope.

After a weekend of violence and death in Charlottesville, Virginia that shook the nation and on the night a 17-year-old suspect vandalized a glass panel of the Boston Holocaust Memorial, more than 200 residents came to the front lawn of the First Church Belmont at Concord and Common on Monday, Aug. 14 to raise their voices in prayer and song to start a collective healing and understanding.

“Belmont is a safe and welcoming community, and its citizens stand in solidarity against injustice and hate,” said Donna Ruvolo, founder of The Stand-up Campaign which organized the town meeting “Belmont Stands in Solidarity with Charlottesville” in less than a day with the assistance from Belmont Against Racism, the Belmont Religious Council, the town’s Human Rights Commission and the Belmont Police.

“That’s our town. That is who we are,” she told the gathering.

Ruvolo said the disturbing images from Virginia where an organized force of alt-right and white supremacist clashed with counter protesters after a decision by the city to remove the statue of Confederate Gen Robert E. Lee from a park in the center of the city. 

“The events from this past weekend were so disturbing to me and everybody in Belmont,” said Ruvolo. 

“We needed to connect and felt that in a very short time we could get the word out and bring people together in solidarity with Charlottesville,” she said, noting that while Stand up seeks out proactive events – its first action was Hands Around The Pond this past December  – “it was imperative that we took a stand on this one.”

After a poem was read by Wellington 4th grader Hazel Donner and a musical solo from clarinetist Marguerite Levin, Rabbi Jonathan Kraus of Beth El Temple Center spoke on how to respond when confronted by the “darker side of our humanity” present over the past few days.

Krause said people should remember the wise words of those who had faced “tests of faith, humanity and hope,’ such as Martin Luther King who said ‘Hate can not drive out hate, only love can do that.’ When confronted by those who are “yelling, ugly hateful words,” one must “keep your humanity while others have abandoned theirs.” 

“Believing the world can be better, that we can be better, to look with compassion, to open our eyes to the ugly, often disturbing face of fear and anger and somehow not turn away, but instead with compassion, give a piece of ourselves,” said Krause.

While scary to do so, “it’s also a measure of courage, patience and, yes, faith. The faith of keep showing up to light a candle in the darkness.” 

The night’s event ended with Carolyn Howard of First Belmont’s choir leading everyone in stanzas of the civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”

Ruvolo said the outpouring of support from those at the event and from those who could not attend was “overwhelming.”

“To see this number of people was outstanding,” pointing out the diversity of the crowd, “from those with differing religious backgrounds, cultural and ethnic background, different ages from people who brought babies to our seniors,” she said. 

“It’s a testament to who we are in Belmont that there was this outpouring of support to stand against hate and violence.”

Belmont Candlelight Vigil Supporting Charlottesville Monday, 7:30PM

Photo: Candlelight memorial in Charlottesville (WTVR)

A candlelight vigil will take place Monday, Aug. 14 from 7:30 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. at First Church Belmont, Unitarian Universalist on Concord Avenue across from Belmont Center that organizers are calling Belmont Stands in Solidarity with Charlottesville.

The campaigners are asking the Belmont community to stand together against the violence and hate that occurred over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia after clashes between white supremacists and members of the alt-right and counter protesters left three people – a counter protester and two Virginia State Police officers – dead.

This event is nonpartisan; all are welcome.