Baghdady Pins Selectman’s Post; Pool Passes Swimmingly

The Baghdady’s knows a bit about being tough on the wrestling circle – two from the extended Belmont family fought their ways to state wrestling championships – and on Tuesday night, April 1, Sami Baghdady took to the political mat and battled his way to the close victory to succeed the retiring Ralph Jones on Belmont’s Board of Selectmen at yesterday’s annual Town Election.

At 8:30 p.m., Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman announced that Baghdady, who is a member of the Planning Board and Warrant Committee, beat Energy Committee Co-Chair Roger Colton, 3,033 to 2,784, as nearly 6,000 voters, or about 32.9 percent, took out ballots on a beautiful, sunny spring day.

Baghdady joins his former Planning Board colleague Andy Rojas and current Selectmen’s chair Mark Paolillo on the board. Tonight, Wednesday, April 2, the board will vote on this year’s chair and committee representatives.

In the co-main event of the night, the $2.9 million debt exclusion to pay for the majority of the $5.2 million new Underwood Pool proved to be extremely popular, approved overwhelmingly by Belmont voters, 3,377 to 2,093, as taxpayers decided to pay an extra $43 (for a house valued at $777,000) in the first of the 15 years of the bond, falling a dollar a year over the term of the loan.

In the other competitive race, newcomers Kathleen Keohane and Gail Mann beat out incumbent Matt Sullivan for the two open seats on the Board of Library Trustees in a close race: 35.6 percent for Keohane (2,908 votes), 34 percent for Mann (2,787 votes) and 30.3 percent (2,475 votes). But each of the candidates were “beaten” by the 3,718 voters who didn’t mark their ballot for either of the three challengers.

So, What Is a ‘Belmontonian’?

Belmont now has a daily independent media outlet covering the “Town of Homes.”

The Belmontonian – a word used by several local writers to describe someone living within Belmont’s five-square miles – is dedicated to comprehensive, consistent local coverage based on honest journalism, without agenda or partisanship.

Well, that’s all well and good, but why does our “small” town – which is the 75th largest community in the Commonwealth so it’s not really that tiny – needs a new outlet?

To put it bluntly, Belmont is too interesting a community not to have one. The Belmontonian will be the local venue for news and all things media.

More than ever, Belmont is in the midst of fundamental change on such far-ranging issues from financing basic government and its world-class schools, the growing diversity of its population and the need to pull commerce into town.

And there are neighbors who all have a story to be told, teachers and students who are doing exciting things in and out of the classroom, families and parents seeking interesting events and activities.

With other local media outlets are undergoing rounds of cuts in coverage and staff or moving dramatically to publishing articles with little or no Belmont content, the Belmontonian is a response to public demand for hyperlocal news that others can no longer produce.

The Belmontonian will endeavor to embrace our entire town from politics, arts and culture, business, education, and sports; if it is about Belmont, you can see it here. And each morning, those who sign up for the morning newsletter will receive a list of the most recent stories and other media in your email.

The Belmontonian brand will include extensive use of social media such as the already popular “Belmontonian” Facebook page, Twitter, a Youtube channel and anything else I can get my hands on.

I’m a three-decade Belmont resident (still referred to as a “newcomer” by some), a proud parent of a child (“The Boy”) who spent 13 years in the Belmont School District, a dozen years as a hockey dad, an award-winning journalist and editor (including at the Belmont Patch for nearly four years) who can be found at my three home offices: the Starbucks’ in the Center and Cushing Square and in the library.

The web page will undergo improvements and design changes as technology and as my own tastes change but it will remain the go-to site for all media concerning Belmont.

But this site will only grown with your involvement: sending story ideas, telling me interesting facts, spending time talking at “the office” and, or course, advertise and sponsor those businesses which (hopefully) will place ads on the site.

Thanks for taking the time and bookmark the site right now!

Franklin B. Tucker, Publisher and editor, The Belmontonian.

New Harris Field Price Tag Discounted

Want some good news, Belmont taxpayers?

The price to renovate Harris Field, the turf and track athletic facility used by Belmont High School and youth teams, will likely to be cheaper than first thought.

Maybe lots cheaper.

Action during Belmont High School's Grils' Lacrosse's 2014 season opener with Newton North.

Action during Belmont High School’s Grils’ Lacrosse’s 2014 season opener with Newton North.

David Kale, Belmont’s town administrator, announced at Monday’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting, March 31, that Quirk Construction of Georgetown, Mass. submitted the win bid of $815,300 for replacing the artificial turf field, refurbishing the track, repairing cement walkways and putting up new fencing at the major sports facility in town.

The amount is far below the $960,000 the special fall Town Meeting in November, 2013, set aside for the job.

Kale said the town received three bids for the project which Quirk – which has done work at schools in Weston, Newton and Marblehead – “gave the town a very favorable rate.” Kale added that the price tag does not include a contingency that could increase the cost of the project.

Because the town is accepting the bid now, the work on the field and track will start on June 16 with an expected finish date of August 15, a week before fall sports practices begin.

“This is a good deal for the town,” said Selectman Andy Rojas.

Like Clockwork: Board, Town Bids Jones Farewell as Selectman

On special occasions, Belmont Selectman Ralph Jones takes out and wears a very practical 1939 Elgin wristwatch.

Nothing special, a little out-of-style, maybe worth a few hundred dollars.

But for Jones, that watch represents a standard of dedication to detail.

Jones’ father was a watchmaker and due to the great care he took in maintaining and repairing the watch, “it has not been fixed or regulated since he died more than 25 years ago … and it runs perfectly,” said Jones to dozens of town employees, residents, family and friends on Monday, March 31  in the Belmont Town Hall auditorium.

So it was appropriate that the retiring two-term member and former chair of the Belmont Board of Selectmen who was dedicated in maintaining the high standards of the Board received a “splendid” mantel clock inscribed with his term of service from the town he well served.

“This will go nicely on our new mantel in the new house,” said Jones, who also served on the Warrant and School committees during his time in town government.

Jones, who matriculated at DePauw University and received his doctorate from Harvard, is the managing director and co-founder of The Cadmus Group, a consultancy to the federal government and utilities. He has also been an instructor and assistant professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design as well as a research associate at the Joint Center for Urban Studies of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Known as the “policy person” on the board, Jones said since college, he has been “less interested in policy itself then how policy actually effects the citizens at the street level, in their homes and in their daily lives.”

“Every time someone calls with a complaint, that’s an interesting problem; I can either solve it, sometimes, or have David (Kale, the town administrator) or I can try to figure out how something went wrong and I could make some suggestions on how we do things better,” said Jones, who thanked his wife, Terri, and family for “tolerating” him spending nights away from home doing the town’s business.

Jones’ dedication to the board was praised by his board colleagues.

“You are the smartest policy guy I have ever worked with,” said Mark Paolillo, chair of the Board.

“You always made decisions that were balanced, that were the best for the community. I’ll miss that input but now I can meet with you outside and talk (without a quorum),” said Paolillo.

“His calm demeanor, his thorough analysis of everything; there is no better person to delve into (policy) and come out with a good answer,” said colleague Andy Rojas, who added that we will think of “how Ralph would have done this” during his tenure on the board.

State Rep. Dave Rogers presented a Massachusetts House of Representatives’ citation honoring Jones’ dedication to Belmont.

“Communities don’t work unless people get involved and you have been such a stellar advocate for this town. And to see the warmth, the admiration and high esteem you are held is pretty remarkable,” said Rogers

While Jones will continue to have a hand in town government – as the board’s observer on the advisory committee of the Belmont Light Board and running for Town Meeting representative (he was outside the Beech Street Center Tuesday, April 1, holding his own homemade sign) – his wife made it clear that she had first dibs on him.

“I’m taking him out of town,” she said.

Belmont Club Rugby Hits Season Running

It was the first chance for Head Coach Greg Bruce to see Belmont High School’s Club Rugby’s First XV (a team is made up of 15 players) in action. And while the game was with a very young team from Kearsarge High School from Sutton, NH and the final score, 52-0, fairly indicated the difference in depth, Bruce liked what he saw.

“The boys looked good but there is a lot of work that we need to do. But for the first real contact of  the year, the guys handled themselves real well. They showed a lot of energy tonight, they tackled well and its a good start,” said the always reserved Bruce of this team which won the state’s Div. 1 state championship in May.

Next up for the club (the team can no longer be referred simply as Boys’ Club Rugby as they have a female member) is a match against Xaverian Brothers High School in Westwood on Wednesday.

“That will certainly be a big step up in competition,” said Bruce.

No Fooling: Belmont Votes Today, Tuesday, April 1

Today, Tuesday, April 1, Belmont voters will be casting ballots for town-wide office holders, town meeting representatives and on a $2.9 million debt exclusion for a new Underwood Pool.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Who can vote

Any resident registered  to vote: this is a non-partisan election; any party members can vote.

List of the candidates on the ballot

Check out who is running on the sample ballot provided by the Town Clerk. Precinct 7 voters will have some extra writing to do as they will have the opportunity to add six names as write ins as only six neighbors are on the ballot. Write-in candidates must be Belmont residents so don’t write in people such as Edward Snowden or Vladimir Putin in the ballot.

2014BelmontAnnualTownElectionBallot

Transportation to the polls

Rides to the Polls will be provided by the Belmont League of Women Voters. If you would like a ride to a Belmont polling place, please contact: rides@BelmontLWV.org, or call 617-771-8500. Please include your name, address, precinct (if you know it), phone number, and what time you would like a ride.

Questions about or during voting

Most questions – including who is eligible to vote in Belmont – that arise during voting can be answered by the precinct warden at the polling station. Other questions should be addressed to the Town Clerk’s Office at 617-993-2600.

Voting Info

Polling locations: To find polling locations and precincts, click here.

Where do I vote?

Some questions voters may have today:

I’m listed as a voter, but it says “Inactive” next to my name. What does that mean?
Inactive status merely means that you did not return this year’s census which is mailed to every household in Belmont, per Massachusetts General Laws AND the voter did not return the pre-paid postcard notifying individuals of the change from active to active status.

Can I still vote even though I’m “Inactive”?
Yes, an “Inactive” voter may still vote but first must provide adequate identification proving the voter’s identity and current place of residence.

How do I return to “active” status?
There are two ways to convert from Inactive to Active Status. One at the polls on Election Day and one by appearing in person at the Town Clerk’s office at least 20 DAYS BEFORE Election Day. Whichever the voter chooses, proper identification must be shown and a form must be completed. Signing and returning the yearly census is the easiest way to keep your name on the active voter list.

The Library Book That Returned Home Four Decades Late

The book returned to the front desk of the Belmont Public Library last week was like no other waiting to be placed in the stacks; “Lorenzo De’Medici & The Renaissance” by Charles Mee did not have a bar code or a classification number.

When the librarian opened the book, there were two pieces of documentation. The first was printed on a single sheet of paper: “It appears that I am late returning this book. My apologies.” The other was an old-style library slip with the due date stamped on the top: Oct. 15, 1979. The book was overdue for 34 years, 5 months and 12 days or 12,582 days.

“We have no idea who returned it and no way of finding out because we haven’t used the ticket system for years,” said Reference Librarian Corinne Chan, who said every library has a book that shows up sometimes decades later.

And if you are trying to calculate the fine on the tardy borrower, the library would have fined the scofflaw the maximum $5 for overdue books despite the lateness of the return.

“We’re just happy that it’s back,” said Chan.

Wet Start for Girls’ Lacrosse

The good news from Friday’s season opener for the Belmont High School Girls’ Lacrosse against a talented Newton North team on March 28 was that the Marauders played the Tigers to a draw in the second half – in fact, outscoring Newton until a Tiger goal in the final 10 seconds of the 30 minute half.

The bad news was that a young Belmont team dug themselves a 10 goal deficit in the first half, trailing 12-2 at half time, ultimately losing 17-7 to Newton North in the first game of the season.

One bright spot for the Marauders was a willingness of the forwards to take goal scoring shots as six players scored with Elena Bragg pocketing two goals.

The team takes on Newton South today, Monday, March 31, at 4 p.m.

The Week to Come: Town Election, Great Music,
So Long Mr. Jones

It’s a busy week ahead for Belmont residents as voting, music and sporting events crowd the calendar:

• The annual Town Election is Tuesday, April 1 with polls opened from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. There are competitive races for Selectman, the Board of Library Trustees, in most of the precincts for representative to Town Meeting and there is the $2.9 million debt exclusion vote for a new Underwood Pool. Stay connected to the Belmontonian for up-to-the-minute results and analysis of the vote on Tuesday after 8 p.m.

• Music lovers, rejoice! Two great events are occurring this week: Tonight, Monday, March 31 at 7 p.m. at the High School is “Jazz Night” featuring the Belmont High Jazz Collective along with the Chenery Middle School Jazz Ensemble. The special guests at tonight’s concert is the Quintessential Brass and tenor sax extraordinaire Jim Repa.

Cruzamente (which means “crossroads” in Portuguese), a Boston-based, all-female band led by lead singer Maria ‘Lutchinha’ Neves will be preforming a variety of musical styles of Cape Verde as part of the Library’s  free “Music on Saturday” series on Saturday, April 5, from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the library’s Assembly Room sponsored by the Friends of the Belmont Public Library.

• The Powers Music School is celebrating its half century of providing musical education to Belmont and Boston with the 50th annual Mildred Freiberg Piano Festival Student Concerts, Each concert will feature a special short performance by a regional teaching artist. The concerts are 

Saturday, April 5 and Sunday, April 6 at 1:30 p.m., 3 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 6 p.m. and  7:30 p.m.

The concerts are free and will take place at All Saints’ Church, 17 Clark St.
Concert admission is free.

• The town will be holding a retirement ceremony for Selectman Ralph Jones today, Monday, March 31, from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the Town Hall’s Board of Selectmen’s Meeting Room. There will be cake.Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 1.48.00 AM

Selectmen Candidates State
Their Positions In One-Minute Increments

 

But at the Belmont League of Women Voter’s annual Candidates Night held at the Chenery Middle School on Monday, March 24., the charges being hurled at the end of the Q&A session between Board of Selectmen candidates Sami Baghdady and Roger Colton did not come from the candidates themselves but from a segment of the audience which felt that Colton was not receiving his full 60 seconds to answer questions and from Baghdady supporters who took that charge as a slight to their man.

While the ever-so-slight uproar was going on in the   on the stage, the men – who were quite cordial – seeking to replace the retiring Ralph Jones on the three-member board were quite cordial who did have one common advisory: the stern hand of moderator Anna Whitcomb Knight who kept answers under a strict one-minute limit.

Knight’s proclamation: “Stop please!” at the end of 60 seconds left many of the candidate’s statements hanging out over the audience mid-sentence to the amusement of some attending.

With eight days before the town election on April 1, the question and answer session – there was no chance for the pair to debate issues facing the town – did reveal at times differing approaches each man would bring to the three-year term.

While stating that Belmont is a wonderful place to live, “[it] has many serious problems that need to be fixed,” said Colton, the co-chair of the Energy Committee, in his opening remarks.

The biggest issue facing the town is “we simply must start planning for the long run both by improving the existing ways we do services and finding innovations that save money and improve the quality of services,” Colton said.

Baghdady, who is a current and past chair of the Planning Board, is on the Warrant Committee  said that he was “running for selectman to maintain what we love about our town and change what we don’t.”

” … but Belmont also faces challenges. We must find the means to revitalize our [town] squares, repair our streets and sidewalks, renovate our high school and keep Belmont a place where we can all afford to live,” he said.

Both candidates highlighted their skill sets and accomplishments along with practical accomplishments during their tenures on town committees and boards; the reuse of surplus fire houses and promoting affordable housing by Colton and Baghdady including public concerns into the planning decisions of the Cushing Village development and the Wellington Elementary school.

During their 45 minutes on the stage, the candidates agreed on several topics – a reluctance to increase the commercial real estate tax rate as being harmful to small business creation, being supportive of greater “green” initiatives, and finding resources to repair the town’s notoriously poor side streets – including what will likely become the hot button issue later in 2014; the possibility of a Proposition 2 1/2 override to assist in financing the town’s long-term obligations. Baghdady said an override to meet the capital needs facing the town “is on the table with me” while Colton said an override would be “in the tool box” that the selectmen and town must have to resolve the “undeniable fact” of revenue shortfalls to resolve maintenance issues.

Yet there were times when the candidates took diverging directions on topics of general concern among residents.

Increasing student population: Baghdady would accommodate increases in student population temporarily with modular classrooms but his long-term solution would be increasing the size of a renovated High School to accommodate five rather than four grades – 8th to 12th – with the Chenery Middle School taking in 4th to 8th graders with renovations to two of Belmont’s four elementary schools; the Butler and Burbank, that will house the 600 new students expected in the schools in the coming decade.

Colton said the primer issue to come up with a long-term plan to “bring the town’s financial house in order” that will allow the hiring of teachers and support staff (such as the return of librarians) to fill rooms that are empty due to an insufficient number of teachers.

Affordable housing: Colton is supportive of using $375,000 in Community Preservation Committee funds to help up to three families whose incomes are below the area’s medium rate to subsidize the purchase of  homes in Belmont, noting the effort Belmont had committed to affordable house in the past decade, despite the relatively small number, allowed the town to receive $16 million in state funding for the Trapelo/Belmont Corridor reconstruction.

Baghdady noted that Belmont will need to create 624 units of affordable housing to reach the state’s mandated 10 percent level of moderate housing to be exempt from the state’s 40B requirement allowing developers to construct housing sites that sidestep town zoning restrictions as long as they have a certain number of affordable units set aside. He does not believe the subsidize blueprint is not a wise use of taxpayer’s money. Rather he hopes the state would give Belmont credit for the hundreds of below-market cost apartments in the Waverley Square district towards meeting the state’s affordable housing mandates.

Town Planner: When asked if Belmont should replace Planning and Economic Development Manager Jay Szklut who resigned in 2012, Colton was respective to the proposition noting that the sites of many former businesses have been replaced by financial institutions,

“Belmont is becoming not only a town of homes and potholes, it’s becoming a town of banks,” he said.

Baghdady said as Planning Board chair, he had asked the town’s Community Development Director, Glenn Clancy, and the Planning Coordinator Jeffrey Wheeler, if a planner was required and the answer came back as no.

The New Underwood Pool: Baghdady said while “strongly supporting” an Underwood Pool which is an important community resource. However, he said, the $5.2 million being spent on the pool “is a lot of money” and he has been hearing a lot of questions on the pool’s design, the cost and the required debt.  If elected, Baghdady said he would “try to find a way to give residents options when they are asking so many questions on a project like this.”

Saying the options are clearly voting yes or no, Colton is in the affirmative, saying the facility will not simply be a pool “but a community gathering spot … that will be an asset to the town.”