Roll Call Bylaw Motion Likely To Send Special Town Meeting Late Into The Night

Photo: Town Moderator Mike Widmer

If a recent public meeting is any indication of the feelings of both sides of the issue, Belmont Town Meeting Members would be advised to bring their pillows and mugs of coffee to the night in mid-November the Special Town Meeting takes up revising the roll call bylaw.

Not that the discussion on the three changes to the bylaw at the meeting held Tuesday, Oct. 15 at the Beech Street Center could be described as contentious – this is Belmont – but rather the depth of personal conviction by several members would lead many to forecast a long night of hearing countervailing arguments on a long list of amendments to the article.

“The idea [of bringing the article to Town Meeting] being to have a full democratic debate, reach whatever decisions that are the will of the Town Meeting and then put the issue behind us,” said Town Moderator Mike Widmer whose state goal was an attempt to make roll calls more efficient in its application.

There has been a universal push to “improve” the bylaw since the annual Town Meeting in May when requests for a roll call on several amendments were viewed as having alternative motives rather than the stated intent of increasing transparency of the town’s represented body.

The argument for and against greater use of the roll call option comes down to protecting members from “vote shaming” versus the right of the public to know how their representatives cast their votes.

The changes of the bylaw involve making certain votes automatic roll calls, the number of members needed to call a roll call and who can make a request for reconsideration.

Anthony Ferrante

Anthony Ferrante (Precinct 8) said unlike “real” politicians, Town Meeting members are “normal townspeople.” While he has sponsored unpopular amendments that were destined to “go down in flames,” that is not the case with the majority of the 290 members. “It’s hard to get up in public and vote the minority view,” he said.

Ferrante particularly points to call a roll call on an amendment or motion that passes with an overwhelming majority, referencing a vote on climate change at the annual Town Meeting earlier in the year when the votes against the measure were reduced from the aggregate vote and the roll call.

“The only reason to call for a roll call is to shame the few people who don’t” vote with the “right” side,” said Ferrante. “I want those people to be able to vote their conscience and if they don’t want to admit they are doing it, great. They are representing the minority view in this community.”

“I’d rather know that they’re out there than have people keep quiet,” said Ferrante.

Jill Clark

Jill Clark (Precinct 7) countered Ferrante, noting “I’m concerned that we’re missing a fundamental principle of a representative democracy which is transparency.”

Saying that residents deserve to know how each member voted on amendments, Clark said, and can deny them re-election if they vote against their interest “[a]nd they can’t do that if they don’t know how they voted.” She contends with electronic voting, results are quick and easy – there are no “time sucks” as there were before e-voting so all votes should be roll calls.

“I fail to see the abuse,” said Clark going to Ferrante’s argument, “I’m really concerned about throwing around the word ‘bullying.’ Bullying implies a differential in power that does not exist between equally represented officials.”

“When I look at the counter arguments to me, none of them stack up against the need to have transparency,” said Clark.

Other participants spoke on procedural themes such as Jack Weis (Precinct 2) who said rather than take a second vote on a close decision – a measure passing by 10 or fewer – just use the technology available with electronic voting to reveal how members voted initially.

“It just seems to me that people shouldn’t be able to change their vote based on whether or not that will be recorded as to how they vote,” said Weis.

Surprisingly, it was two Town Meeting members with extensive backgrounds in IT who expressed the most apprehension of roll calls, not only the possibility for its more frequent use but also the technology that allows it to occur.

John Robotham

“I have to say that I think electronic voting was a huge step backwards,” said John Robotham (Precinct 2) as the technology is pushing Town Meeting to “enshire” all votes a roll call.

Robotham said before electronic voting, Town Meeting was more of a deliberative body and not simply a legislative one, where you could “actually learn stuff” about a measure from other members. He hopes at the Special Town Meeting there will be an effort to “walk back” the reliance on electronic voting.

Kevin Cunningham (Precinct 4) made a passionate case against the use of electronic voting as it foregoes “the sociology of Town Meeting.”

Before electronic voting, the focus of Town Meeting was on “the topic of discussion” and the rules were written to lead the town’s legislative body towards a consensus, said Cunningham. What the electronic roll call vote has introduced to the meeting is the politicization of how members voted.

“It’s all about partisanship and I’m just totally anti partisan. I can’t stand the partisanship that’s going on in the country, and I don’t like it happening in Belmont and I see it happening [here],” he said.

Cunningham said there are nuisances to casting a vote; “you could be voting ‘yes’ because you positively meant that or because you didn’t want this other consequences.”

“But people are ready to take your vote and say, ‘You voted for that and look we have the record.’ ‘And now let’s target that person,’ not ‘let’s argue the topic,'” said Cunningham. Roll calls have now personalize voting as opposed to focusing on on the truth thing which is what’s best for Belmont, he said.

Ranked 4th, Belmont Field Hockey Host N. Andover In Playoff Opener, Wednesday at 3:30PM

Photo: Senior Katie Guden on the move vs. Winchester.

The Belmont High School Field Hockey squad will be looking skyward during the upcoming playoffs, not so much for heavenly intervention than looking for dark clouds.

Ranked 4th in the Division 1 North Sectionals, the Marauders – which finished the season at 13-2-1 – will host the 13th seed Scarlet Knights from North Andover (8-4-5) in an opening round match to be played on Harris Field on Wednesday, Oct. 30 at 3:30 p.m.

While a much lower seed, North Andover plays in the competitive Merrimack Valley Large conference and have been on a roll, having not lost since Oct. 2.

As for the weather, the Marauders have discovered a drenching rain and its style of play is like mixing water and oil. Belmont’s two losses, against top-ranked Watertown (3-1) and Lexington (2-1), occurred during downpours when the Marauders’ strong defense and pass oriented offense were damped down by the wet weather. It didn’t help that the Marauders missed open chances in both games while in each match senior co-capt. Emma Donough hit the post on penalty corners.

From left: Sophomore Sajni Sheth-Voss, Guden and senior Emma Donahue attack the penalty corner.

“It really puts off our game,” said Belmont Head Coach Jess Smith, who has led the Marauders into the playoff for the seventh consecutive season and 13 out of the past 14 years.

So it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Belmont’s Senior Night game vs. Arlington on Oct. in a driving rain would be a close one. Despite defeating the SpyPonders 3-0 earlier in the year, Arlington have improved as the season has gone by securing its first playoff appearance since 2013 and coming into the game at 9-5-0.

While Belmont had only given up nine goals for the season, Arlington got on the front foot with three goals off break outs to lead Belmont, 3-2, at the half. But an early goal by sophomore attack Mia Meyers got the game level and Belmont would go ahead 4-2 by senior midfield co-captain Katie Guden on a scramble in the middle on a delayed call. Junior Goalie Kendall Whalen kept the Marauders in the lead on an outstanding boot save that landed into her pads before being swept away. Belmont finished the scoring with a tip by junior attack Emma O’Donovan off a blast from Donahue on the penalty corner after time had expired.

Senior Meaghan Noone prepares to start the penalty corner.

“This is a game that we needed. We didn’t panic when we were behind at the break and then took the play to Arlington,” said Smith.

After the Lexington loss, Belmont bounced back vs Winchester in a holiday matinee Oct. 14. In the bright sunshine, Belmont’s defense was stellar led by co-capt. defender Meaghan Noone who ran down and beat back countless chances. The Marauders scored early, the first from Donahue sending a rocket into the net from just inside the shooting circle off the penalty corner eight minutes into the game with the second coming three minutes later from O’Donovan

At 13-2-1, Belmont goes into the playoffs with its second best record in program history (the third time they held this mark) and a home playoff game in the bag and another if they win the opener. But there is still work to be done, according to Smith.

“I think we let our guard down a little bit when we’re ahead in games. I think we’ve been watching the ball a little bit too much and not really marking the kids down low and some easy goals are going in,” said Smith.

Junior Emma O’Donovan leads the attack vs. Winchester.

Winchester Couple Plans To Open Belmont’s First Pot Shop On Pleasant Street

Photo: A rendering of the proposed marijuana dispensary along Pleasant Street.

A Winchester couple has applied for a license and special permit to operate a recreational marijuana establishment on Pleasant Street.

Kelly and Stephen Tomasello have signed a five-year lease with Paul Tocci, Jr to turn a nondescript commercial storage site at 1010 Pleasant St. into Cal Verde Naturals, 3,600 square foot single story “retail wellness shop” with a large 2,100 square foot dispensary “providing consistent, high quality cannabis and cannabis products … at its proposed Adult Use Retail Marijuana Establishment,” according to the venture’s executive summery provided to the town.

The store’s proposed hours of operation would be from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The business will also “invest significant dollars into converting both the exterior and interior of the premise into a first class retail establishment.” That renovation will include repaving the parking lot, which will have 36 spaces, and add state of the art security surveillance “to develop a safe and comfortable environment for employees and customer.”

In addition, the business has hired former Rochester, NH Police Chief Michael Allen as Chief of Security and who has created an extensive security plan with three levels of access control inside the operation.

“Calverde [the store’s name would use two words] will ensure sustainable business growth for years to come and prove to be an exemplary business partner with the town of Belmont,” the Tomasellos said in the summery.

Note: Cal Verde translates from Portuguese to “lime green.”

Patrice Garvin, Belmont’s Town Administrator, told the Select Board on Monday, Oct. 28 that “our next step is to meet with Community Development [Department] and start a timeline” for scheduling public hearings as well as begin negotiations with the business on a host agreement, which is essentially a fee to offset the financial impacts the businesses could “reasonably” impose on the host community.

Under the state’s Cannabis Control laws, the host agreement can not last for more than five years with fees that cannot exceed three percent of the establishment’s gross sales, on top of a three percent state tax. Municipalities can also impose “donations” above and beyond the three percent fees.

Belmont’s marijuana bylaw prohibits customers under 25 from purchasing pot and the restricts all deliveries from the site. The bylaw also limits retail pot businesses to the south Pleasant Street commercial area.

This is the Tomasello’s first venture into the burgeoning retail pot market, a business which will see US sales grow from $9.1 billion this year to $15.7 billion in 2022, according to BDS Analytics.

Kelly Tomasello, who is the company’s CEO and president, has worked in retail as a buyer and manager in California before moving back to her native New England to manage two high volume restaurants. She notes in her company bio that her interest in alternative medicine and wellness began with the birth of the Tomasello’s son who later was diagnosed with special needs. Her search for better treatment options and therapies made her more aware and accepting of non-traditional ways of self care and healthy living.

A Reading native and a 1994 Tufts grad, Stephen Tomasello, who is the company’s VP, has a quarter century in retail real estate brokerage with Atlantic Retail Properties.

Calverde is being represented by Joseph Noone of the Belmont law firm Avery, Dooley & Noone on Brighton Street.

Letter To The Editor: Give To UNICEF During Treat Or Treating

Photo: Give to UNICEF this Halloween

To the Belmont community:

Are you trick-or-treating this year? Do you want to make a difference? This Halloween, the Belmont High School UNICEF Chapter is bringing Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF to the town once again!

What is Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF? Only one of UNICEF’s biggest fundraisers! UNICEF – the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund – is a worldwide organization dedicated to helping children in need by providing health care, education, food and water, and protection. Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF is an annual event held every Halloween where children will ask for donations as they go door to door. They will receive a special cardboard box from UNICEF to collect donations in.

How can it impact the world? You and your children’s donations are sent directly to UNICEF, which then uses the proceeds to make a difference. It doesn’t take much to go a long way:

  • $5 can immunize 10 children against measles and rubella,
  • $35 can supply 50 kids with pencils and books for a year of education,
  • $150 can provide a village with a hand pump for safe drinking water.

Since the inception of the fundraiser, kids have collected more than $132 million, making a major impact on the lives of many families and children. In short, encourage your kids to Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF to help improve conditions of many around the world, all while having a fun time this Halloween. Together, the donations will add up and help thousands of underprivileged children.Every dollar makes a difference!

Nina Todreas
Treasurer, Belmont High School UNICEF Club

Playoff Bound! Belmont Football Clinch Postseason Spot With 42-7 Pounding Of Woburn

Photo: Belmont RB Chad Francis runs for his third consecutive 200-plus yard performance against Woburn.

After a disheartening start to the season which saw three losses in close games, the Belmont High School football Marauders has put together a three game winning streak culminating in a comprehensive 42-7 beatdown of Woburn Friday night, Oct. 25 and securing a second consecutive playoff appearance for the Marauders.

Head Coach Yann Kumin

“It was just definitely one of those days where you know what we were calling seemed to be working. I’m just super excited for those guys,” said Belmont Head Coach Yann Kumin after the game.

With Billerica’s loss to North Andover, 35-0, the Marauders leaped over the Indians into the eighth and final playoff slot in the Divison 3 North sectionals. For the second year running, Belmont will head to Danvers to meet the undefeated Falcons in a quarterfinal matchup at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 1.

Zach Hubbard hauling in the catch on his way to the end zone.

The win marks the first time in Kumin’s tenure where the Marauders have produced a winning record against Middlesex Liberty opponents at 3-2 going into the playoffs.

While Belmont has resounding wins in the past decade, they usually were against non-league opponents outside of the playoffs. Against Woburn, which has defeated Belmont handily over the past decade, the victory Friday over the league rival was through and complete.

On offense, running back Chad Francis ran for this third consecutive 200+ yard game with 210 yards that included touchdowns of 3, 95 and 25 yards. Not to be outdone, senior co-captain Zach Hubbard gathered in three TDs on five catches for 143 yards, all coming from senior QB Avery Arno who was 8 for 11 for 174 yards.

For his performance, Francis was for the third consecutive week named a Player of the Week by one of the two major Boston media outlets: the first two by the Boston Herald and this week in the Boston Globe.

Arno was also named a Division 3 player of the week by the Herald for Friday’s achievement.

The defense, playing without capstone senior lineman Derek Brown due to injury, was stellar in the game halting the Tanners twice on fourth down attempts inside the red zone (at the 20 and 5) while taking down a timely interception in the second quarter. Once again, the hogs on Belmont’s D line were immense in their ability to put a clamp on the Tanners’ run game.

Belmont dominated the first quarter recovering a fumble on the opening kick off then seeing Francis blasting it in for 6 from the 3 yard line on the third play from scrimmage. The Tanner’s threatened on its first full possession but saw its attempt with 4th down on the 20 fail. Soon after taking control of the ball, Aron found Hubbard all alone down the right sideline and he sprinted in for Belmont’s second touchdown.

Tanners took the subsequent kickoff down to Belmont’s 10 yard line. But a pair of passes into the end zone were defended by junior DB Preston Jackson-Stephens to end that threat.

On the first play after getting back the ball, Francis found a seem on the left side of the line and rumbled 95 yards for his second TD with 25 seconds in the quarter which end with the Marauders on top, 21-0.

In the second quarter, after senior Justin Rocha returned a Tanners punt to the Belmont 44, it was just a matter of time before Francis capped his hat trick with a 25 yard sweep around the left end for the score making it 28-0.

With the Tanners playing catch-up, a long pass was intercepted by Jackson-Stephens who returned the ball 35 yards to the Belmont 40. A few players later, Arno spotted Hubbard in the end zone and completed a throw-and-catch to his WR for his second TD of the half.

Belmont would bounce into the locker room up 35-0 at the half. Game, set and match.

“We’ve taken some knocks but our attitude has been next man up this whole season. I give all my credit here to the positional coaches and the guys who are doing the day-to-day work, the grunt work and embracing that and understanding that your moment can come at any time,” said Kumin.

Booo-reaucrats! Halloween At Town Hall; Monday, Oct. 28

Photo: Flying monkeys and a scarecrow in the Town Clerk’s Office.

It’s scarier than your next property tax bill and more deadly than a night debating bylaw amendments at Town Meeting.

What could be this frightening? It’s the second annual Halloween Trick or Treat at Town Hall on Monday, Oct. 28 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Town Hall and the Homer Building will host children and their parents for a bit of pre-Halloween joviality. Employees are once again encouraged to dress up in the spirit of the day.

As with last year, we will have tables and space available in Town Hall for Belmont Light, the Belmont Public Library, Belmont Police and Fire, and Council on Aging so those employees can participate in the fun as well.

Fire Hits Trapelo Location Known As Home To Diners [Video]

Photo: Belmont Fire fighting a smoky blaze at 628 Trapelo Rd.

A late night fire on Sunday, Oct. 27 left heavily damaged a location known as the home to several diners over the past decade, according to Belmont Fire Department.

The blaze in the basement of Tropical Diner at 628 Trapelo Rd. near the intersection of Mill Street caused “extensive smoke … water and heat damage” to the establishment which opened in March of this year, said Belmont Fire Chief David Frizzell at the scene of the fire.

The 6,000 sq.-ft. restaurant and a two-family apartment occupy the site near Waverley Square and adjacent to the Beaver Brook Reservation.

A resident living in the apartment called 911 dispatch at 9:48 p.m. to report smoke coming from the diner’s roof, said Frizzell. Belmont Engines 1 and 3, Ladder 1 and Rescue 1 responded to the site within a few minutes of the initial call where firefighters discovered a fire in the basement of the diner. The blaze was extinguished within an hour.

Frizzell said an investigation has begun to determine how the fire started. Equipment from Watertown and Cambridge assisted at the scene. Frizzell noted that as of 11 p.m. no civilians or firefighters were injured.

The location has been home to diners since the mid-1970s when Andros Diner occupied the spot. Run by the Manetas family, the business was foreclosed by its lender in March 2011 owning the town $75,000 in back taxes.

A year later, in July 2011, Sweet Peach Diner opened, only to close in May 2015. The next occupant was the Phinix Grill that started in November 2015 before the owners turned their attention to operating a food truck and shut its doors late in 2018 followed by the Tropical Diner.

The long standing complaint among potential customers of all the diners has been the lack of parking, with patrons relying on a few off street space along busy Trapelo Road.

Booster’s Annual “B” Drive Is Happening This Sunday Afternoon, Oct. 27

Photo: The “B” drive is here.

The Belmont Boosters Annual “B” Drive will held on the afternoon of Sunday, Oct. 27, during which Belmont High School student/athletes will engage in a door-to-door fundraising campaign encompassing the entire town of Belmont. 

This is a major fundraiser for the Boosters, which provides financial support to the school’s athletic teams and programs individually as well as to broader capital initiatives in support of all teams and programs.

Proceeds support the Belmont Boosters LLC, a 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to promote and support the athletic programs and related educational programs of Belmont High School. 

Parent-volunteers (especially parent-drivers) are critical to the success of this fundraising event. You can sign up to drive as a parent/guardian at the Boosters website or sign up to drive as a parent/guardian here.

Boost In Free Cash Likely To See Belmont Avoid A Spring Override Vote

Photo: The money is rolling into town’s free cash coffers (Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository)

Belmont Treasurer Floyd Carmen is fond of repeating a cautionary catchphrase when speaking about the town’s unrestricted fund account.

Free cash isn’t free,” says Carmen.

While it may not be free, by bringing in a robust $8.1 million in its unrestricted account, Carmen’s work will likely help the town balance the fiscal year’s budget without the need of a Prop. 2 1/2 override vote that appeared all but a certainty just six months ago.

The $8.1 million is just short of the $8.4 million in free cash the town held in fiscal ’18, an amount that Carmen warned the Board last year would not likely be matched. While the state advises municipalities to have a free cash amount equal to three to five percent of its annual budget, Belmont’s account is slightly more than 6.25 percent on a fiscal year budget of $129 million.

Free cash is made up of receipts – taxes and fees – in excess of revenue estimates along with unspent amounts in departmental budget line items known as “turn backs” for the previous fiscal year, plus any unspent free cash from the previous year. Before it can be used, free cash must be certified by the state.

The Select Board applauded Carmen’s accomplishment on the haul of free cash.

“I have to say I’m delighted and also astonished that free cash came in so high,” said Select Board Vice Chair Roy Epstein.

Carmen attributed the results to the town’s “fairly conservative” budgeting, department heads who work hard to return monies not spent and a tax and fee collection rate that caused one Board member to explain “wow.”

“Our tax collection rate is 99.6 percent,” said Carmen, who praised his staff for reducing uncollected receivables from $1.7 million on May 15 to just under $200,000 today.

While good government advocates suggest a portion of free cash be restricted to paying one-time expenditures and funding capital projects, Belmont will use a major chunk of the monies to fill in an expected gap in this year’s budget.

Carmen told the Select Board that he suggested to town officials transferring $2.5 million of the $8.1 million and place it into the town’s General Stabilization Fund, a special revenue account where monies are appropriated and reserved for balancing the town budget.

Added with the current balance of approximately $332,000, the Fund will end up with around $2.8 million in the Fund, about the same amount the account held last year at this time.

This amount will make up the bulk of the funding needed to fill a $2.3 million deficit in fiscal year 2021 that was predicted in August 2018 by consultants for UMass Boston’s Edward J. Collins Center.

“Just about three weeks ago, I finally could say we will have this covered,” said Carmen about the revenue hole.

While the Prop 2 1/2 override is all but certain off the April 2020 Town Election ballot, it is increasingly likely the override will be before residents in November 2020 to find a longer term solution for the town financial structural deficit.

Get A Head(less) Start To Halloween With Horror House, Masquerade Concert Wed. Night At BHS

Photo: A couple prepares for a night at Belmont High

Boo! Looking for a little pre-Halloween festivities? There will be two spooky events taking place at Belmont High School to get you ready for All Hallow’s Eve!

The 6th annual Belmont High School House of Horror will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 23 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the high school’s cafeteria.

This year there will be a kids section with Halloween oriented crafts and games. There’s a $5 entrance fee for the actual Haunted House but we’d greatly appreciate it if you’d like to donate more than that as the proceeds will go to Samaritians.

Along with the Horror House, the Belmont High School Bands will hold its yearly Masquerade Benefit Concert. You’ll hear the haunting themes of ghosts and goblins mixed in with the music of your favorite superheroes and Disney characters. The band will be dressed in their Halloween-best, and we encourage audience members (young and old) to wear their costumes and help set the mood for the evening.

Admission to the concert is FREE. The concert program will begin promptly at 6:30 p.m. – a half hour earlier than usual – to accommodate families with younger children.