Letter To The Editor: Rash Remarks Due To A World Turned Upside Down

Photo: Belmont public school

To the editor:

I am a member of the Belmont Warrant Committee, a long time Town Meeting member and parent of three children who have been educated in the Belmont School system, two of whom have graduated in recent years.

Last week at the Committee’s first meeting since the Coronavirus emergency, I made some rash statements regarding the teachers in the Belmont Schools that I would like to apologize for.

I expressed my frustration with the lack of speed that the Schools have taken to set up learning structures and recommendations for students, based on my own students’ experience thus far. I should not have expressed these frustrations in a way that maligned Belmont teachers or implied that teachers were not spending time planning for online teaching and learning.

I appreciate that our teachers are dedicated to our students. I apologize for these comments. I am from a family of teachers. And, as people who know me are keenly aware, I have been a long time supporter and advocate for the Belmont Schools and their appropriate funding during my time as a Warrant Committee member and as a parent volunteer.

My family, like everyone else’s, has been turned upside-down by this pandemic; one of my daughters is losing her final semester at college and her graduation, and my spouse is working in a hospital ICU. Our family had a particularly rocky day on the day of the Warrant Committee meeting – no excuse for my comments, but I wanted to provide that context.

I will be more constructive in my expressions in the future.

Thank you, and stay well during this time of crisis.

Chris Doyle, Warrant Committee

‘Farewell and thank you, Belmont’ – Town Meeting Member Bids Adieu

Dear Precinct 1 Belmontians:

Thank you for the opportunity to serve on Town Meeting these past three years. I’m grateful to have worked with such intelligent and committed public servants, and for the tireless work and dedication of everyone who contributes to our town — and I’m proud of what we accomplished these past three years. I am graduating from college this May and may soon be moving out of Belmont, so I am not running for re-election.

I look back on the victories — whether it be the moment we stood up for undocumented immigrants with the overwhelming passage of the Welcoming Town resolution, the many votes we took to turn the new Belmont High from concept into reality, and smaller victories such as whenever Don Mercier moves a question. I’m proud to be born and raised Belmontian, and I’m grateful to have worked with such committed and passionate community servants to play a small role in moving our town forward.

Reflecting on the past three years as a Town Meeting Member, and my time involved in this community since childhood, I am proud of the direction our town has gone: From the corruption of the Monahan days to an increasingly diverse and forward-thinking town government, from underfunding our schools when I was in Chenery to 76% of voters approving the new Belmont High last fall.

Splitting this Town Meeting term between my teens and my twenties, I’m grateful to only once have had a Selectman mistake me for a custodian and tell me to throw out his trash. But in all seriousness, I’m glad to have brought a youth perspective to the table, whether in conversations regarding the future of Belmont schools, immigrant protections, affordable housing, or environmental policies — young voices form a perspective that’s needed now, more than ever, in our town and in our country, and I hope that Belmont expands opportunities for students to engage in local advocacy and town government.

I’d like to thank my Belmont Public School teachers from kindergarten through 12th grade. Their tireless work and dedication was fundamental in building my desire to engage in advocacy and public service, and in driving me to where I am today. I am proud to be part of a community that values and invests in its public schools.

I want to recognize the Belmontians who are no longer with us, but who mentored and shaped me growing up. I first met Dan Scharfman when he knocked on my door while running for School Committee when I was in 7th grade. No one had ever cared what I thought, but he took the time to ask and to listen — and in doing so, inspired me to start engaging in advocacy around town. That year, when my teachers were at risk of being laid off, I wrote a cringeworthy but well-intentioned Citizen-Herald op-ed about the 2010 override and held signs outside Precinct 1’s polling place for the first time. I would also like to thank Trish Lohmar, who mentored me about progressive advocacy and civic action as I grew up. I’m inspired by the dedication of Dan and Trish to bettering the Belmont community, and more importantly for being incredible welcoming and supportive people.

There have also been harder moments. When I was canvassing during my campaign for Town Meeting, a person first said they would vote for me, then asked me if I am Jewish, and then told me they would probably not vote for me because of my religion. That interaction demonstrates the importance of staying vigilant for antisemitism and other forms of prejudice and white supremacy in our community. Addressing complaints as a member of the Belmont Human Rights Commission and answering the civil rights complaint hotline for Attorney General Healey’s office provided reminders that antisemitism and racism are more common in our community than most people realize, and must be fought accordingly.

I said this when I first ran for Town Meeting, and it is still just as true as I finish my term: Never be satisfied with the status quo. Question, innovate, and embrace bold ideas. These past few years have reinforced my belief in the importance of never listening to the tired arguments that “Belmont isn’t ready” or “it’s too difficult” or “it’s too controversial, people will be angry.” I’ll be the first to acknowledge the many issues facing our town — but local government has reminded me to never be deterred by entrenched institutions. Particularly in the Trump era, local government has enormous power to lead the way, stand up for our values, and fight for justice and progress.

Belmont’s successes leave gaps that must be addressed by thinking big and acting bold. With federal inaction and a state legislature that has failed consistently to pass adequate climate legislation, it’s up to local government to lead the way on addressing the climate crisis by adhering to and expanding on the emission reductions in the Belmont Climate Action Plan. Watertown, for instance, just became the first city to mandate solar panels on all new commercial buildings. Belmont could send a bold message of climate leadership by being the second. We must face the reality that single family zoning in affluent suburbs like Belmont has consistently facilitated socioeconomic inequality and racial disparity, and contributes to the region’s affordable housing crisis. We must support lower-income residents by continuing to build safeguards for those who cannot afford the increasing tax burden, and ensuring adequate affordable housing through zoning reform to allow for increased density. We must increase awareness of issues of racial justice and immigrant justice in a relatively homogenous environment that is conducive to facilitating ignorance about race and inequity. To grow and strengthen our town, it’s important to face these hard truths by acknowledging and then tackling them head on.

There’s a lot of work to do, but I’m confident that we have a strong group of Town Meeting Members and a strong Selectboard, and I look forward to both bodies continuing to become more forward-thinking, diverse and representative of our community in the coming years. The choices on April 2nd are clear.

And to Belmont’s students and young people: this is your town, too. Raise your voices, demand they be heard, and ensure that our generation has a seat at the table. Get involved in town government and advocacy. Run for office. Not only do your voices matter, it’s critical that your voices are heard and elevated in decisions on town and school policy.

It has been my honor to serve Precinct 1 in Town Meeting these past three years, and to be part of the Belmont community while growing up. One thing is certain: I’ll always be grateful for everything I’ve learned from our town community these past 21 years, and I will fight for racial justice, economic justice, environmental justice, and education justice wherever I end up.

Thank you, Precinct 1, for the opportunity to serve you these past three years. Thank you, Belmont.

Daniel Vernick

Town Meeting Member – Precinct 1

Letter To The Editor: Vote Roy Epstein, For A Shared Vision

Photo: (from left) Elizabeth Dionne, Roy Epstein, Lisa Gibalerio

To the editor:

We are two Belmont women who are voting for Roy Epstein for Selectman on Tuesday because we believe in a vision for our town that is shared by both of the major candidates.

Look at the platforms of the candidates — check out their websites. Each wants successful building projects, awesome schools, diversity and transparency, safe roads and sidewalks, less traffic, environmental progress, affordable senior housing, a community path, and sustainable budgets.

We want that too! It’s a vision shared by many people in our community. (It’s funny that there is such heated debate on social media—the candidates basically agree!)

We bet you agree with these laudable goals as well.

Since we all agree on the goals, the question really becomes: what’s the best way to reach these goals? Which candidate is best equipped to help us move forward toward accomplishing these goals?

Here the answer is clear: Roy Epstein.

Roy has a decade of experience working through all the ins-and-outs of a complex town structure (regulations, by-laws, arcane procedures, etc.). He has also accomplished things that no one else even thought of: the DPW/Police Station renovation, the Flanders Road electrical substation siting, and so on. To anyone who knows the town’s recent history, Roy’s accomplishments are staggering.

We are first-hand witnesses, we have watched Roy in action. While others sit in meetings, pontificating about “the best path forward,” Roy quietly takes out a ruler and a pencil and visits the sites at issue. Where others might skip down to the summaries, Roy pores over the budgets line by line. Roy investigates, he looks deeply. He’s the Sherlock Holmes of town government: he not only solves the case, but his process is brilliant, and his conclusion is beyond what anyone was considering.

The other major candidate is certainly accomplished, and we appreciate her many contributions to Belmont, but her field, her experience, is in communications and marketing—not governance, not finance. With a $295 million school underway, many other capital projects ramping up, and a fiscal storm the likes of which we haven’t seen in years about to hit the town, we need the person with the most profound financial skills and the deepest relevant town experience sitting in the driver’s seat. That means Roy.

So, precisely because we share this vision, because we want that common vision of a thriving Belmont to come to fruition, we’re voting for Roy!

We hope you will too. Thanks!

Lisa Gibalerio, Campaign Chair; Elizabeth Dionne, Campaign Treasurer

Committee to Elect Roy Epstein

Letter To The Editor: Bennett Will Be ‘A Tremendous Asset’ To Selectmen

Photo: Jessie Bennett (photo from http://www.bennettforbelmont.com/about-jessie/)

To the editor:

I’m writing to express my enthusiastic support for Select Board candidate Jessie Bennett. Having worked with Jessie on many projects around town, I am continually impressed by her level of commitment and experience, her ability to build consensus, her outstanding people skills, and her financial pragmatism. She is a tremendous listener and actively seeks out opinions and perspective from others, particularly those who may not always feel heard.

She is a frequent attendee at Belmont High School Building Committee meetings, traffic meetings, Planning Board meetings, Business Study meetings, Selectmen meetings, and likely countless others that I’m not there to witness (and attended these before she decided to run for the Select Board). She is dedicated to pedestrian safety/safe streets and traffic calming, senior services, affordable housing, environmental sustainability, and is a well-known champion for our exceptional education system. I’ve seen firsthand the work that she’s put into these issues and know that she will bring that tireless energy and perspective to the Select Board table.

Jessie was instrumental in getting the high school project passed, and I’m confident that she will be a key player in the success of the project going forward. Her experience in leadership, collaboration, and financial matters will be a tremendous asset to our Select Board. I look forward to voting for her on April 2.

Remember, local elections matter – please take a few minutes to learn about each candidate across all races, and show up on Tuesday!

Emma Thurston
Baker Street
Precinct 1 Town Meeting Member

Letter To The Editor: Joint Endorsement For Jessie

Photo: Jessie Bennett at the Belmont League of Women Voters’ debate

To the Editor: 

Jessie Bennett is the selectman candidate we should vote for.  She is fiscally responsible and an enthusiastic civic leader. Jessie Bennett is the candidate who understands the needs of our town because she mingles with the citizens and listens to differing points of view.

Jessie steps out publicly to address problems. She led the fight to make walking to the Burbank School safer. She has joined the Transportation Advisory Committee and the High School Traffic Working Group in order to make sure that our new high school does not overwhelm the surrounding neighborhoods.

When building a new high school was on the horizon, Jessie jumped in to help with the project. She not only worked to pass the debt exclusion, but she has also been a presence at the Building Committee Meetings to participate in the discussions.

Jessie doesn’t come into the process in the middle of deliberations, she is there from the start.

Experience is valuable but what kind of experience do we need? Jessie has had experience in the world of work, from banking to marketing and communications as well as working in the non-profit sector. Her kind of experience leads to good decision making for all the citizens of Belmont. In the debates, Jessie has demonstrated her knowledge of the varied aspects of the issues and how they present opportunities for the Town of Belmont.

Selectmen do not make decisions in a vacuum. They have the assistance of professional employees who make the town work on a daily basis and also advise the selectmen on issues of finance. They provide information and background materials that lead to good decision making. A selectman is not just an individual, she is also part of the team.

Jessie Bennett is one of us. She knows how the ordinary people rely on the schools, the recreation activities, the Council on Aging, the work of the Department of Public works, and the Board of Health.  Her decision making will not only be financially sound but it will also be informed by broad input. Let’s put a smart hardworking woman on the Board.

Fred and Anne Paulsen

School Street

Letter To The Editor: Selectmen Need Epstein’s Creativity and Collaboration

Photo: Roy Epstein at the Belmont League of Women Voters debate.

To the editor:

Successfully completing major capital projects in Belmont requires high levels of cooperation among many boards and committees. Roy Epstein knows how the system works. He helped to save the Town at least $40 million.

Finally fixing the police station and DPW facility began with conversations at the Warrant Committee and the Capital Budget Committee. The approach gathered steam when the Major Capital Projects Working Group formed an unusual solution to address both buildings, in place. The DPW/BPD Building Committee refined the creative thinking of prior groups to present a plan which Town Meeting enthusiastically supported.

Not only is the work happening after years of inaction, but it’s also being done at a price that does not require a debt exclusion. This solution required great creativity and collaboration. Consultants repeatedly told us that new DPW and Police facilities would cost at least $50 million. The dedicated work of the many volunteers on multiple committees produced an excellent plan that should cost the Town only about $10 million.

Roy was a key contributor, working with all these groups in that evolving process. His analysis, out-of-box thinking, and financial expertise propelled the various groups to the present moment – both facilities are now out to bid.

Roy is a cooperative and creative team member. Please help elect him to the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, April 2.

Anne Marie Mahoney

Precinct 1

Letter to the Editor: Enthusiastic Support Of Amy Checkoway For School Committee

Photo: Amy Checkoway’s campaign poster

To the editor:

I am writing in enthusiastic support of Amy Checkoway for School Committee member.

Amy is an outstanding choice for a School Committee member. She is an intelligent, devoted candidate who will do an exceptional job helping the School Committee navigate the challenging road ahead — building a new school and the reorganization that will follow. Amy is an excellent communicator and she is a consummate professional. I can think of no one else better suited for this role than Amy.

I have known Amy for more than five years as we served together on the Wellington PTO Student Care Board together from 2014 through 2018. I had an opportunity to see Amy and her tireless efforts for the benefit of the Wellington community. Now she is ready to dedicate her time to ensure that the Belmont Public Schools are the best they can be for our kids, the educational professionals, and the community.

Working with Amy has taught me a number of things about her. First, Amy is very bright and is able to appreciate complex situations at multiple levels; she understands the finer details but is able to keep the larger goal in mind. Second, Amy is a highly effective communicator and she understands the importance of clear, open dialog with the community. Further, she has experience as an education professional and therefore knows how to communicate with others in the education field. Third, she is about as organized and dependable as one can be. Amy is the type of person that you know will get the job done, and get it done well. Finally, Amy is extremely ethical, professional, and dedicated to any endeavor she undertakes.

While Amy is just about one of the nicest people you will meet, that doesn’t mean she won’t stand up to do what she believes is right for our schools, our children, and our community. I completely trust that Amy will always do the right thing for Belmont Schools.

Please join me in voting for Amy Checkoway for School Committee member on April 2.

Brooke Bevis

Cedar Road

Letter To The Editor: An Appeal For Donated Socks For The Homeless

To the editor:
We are all acutely aware of the effects of this cold time of year – and the homeless amongst us even more so. BOSTON HEALTHCARE FOR THE HOMELESS is an amazing agency, caring for those less fortunate in so many ways. Now, they have teamed up with the BOSTON RED SOX to address one of those needs: clean, warm socks. The lack of the ability to keep feet warm and protected leads to many cases of frostbite and amputation  – sad realities that are so easily preventable through distributing clean socks to those in need.
As a podiatrist, I know the importance of proper foot care – and so my office and I are looking to work with you all to help. During this winter season, I have put out a box in my waiting room to collect new white socks (any size, as long as they are new and white.) For every two pairs of socks you all donate, I will add an additional pair. Boston Healthcare for the Homeless will be contacted as they come in, and they will be then distributed to the people that they serve so well.
Bring your socks donations to my office at 1 Oak Ave. between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, come into my waiting room and place the socks in the donation box. You will get a fine greeting and “thank you” from my staff and myself, as you have helped someone in need to stay warm and keep their feet healthy.
Dr. David Alper
Oak Avenue

Letter To The Editor: A Better Diehl For Massachusetts

Photo: Geoff Diehl on the campaign trail.
To the editor:
Our community is a special place. We deserve a senator who cares. I have been disappointed over the past 6 years with Senator Elizabeth Warren. Putting politics aside, she really hasn’t done her job. She has written books and gone on all the shows, but she has not put in the time for Massachusetts.
The office of senator should be to represent us. Warren has ignored us.
That’s why I am voting for Geoff Diehl for U.S. Senate. He led the successful fight to repeal automatic gas tax increases. He has saved drivers a ton of money. Warren has done nothing for us.
Geoff is committed to serving the full six-year term. He wants to be our Senator. I am going with the better Diehl.
Matt Sullivan   
Hammond Road

Letter To The Editor: Until There Is Accountability, A ‘No’ Vote On New High School

Photo: A No until accountability

To The Editor:

I am not going to argue whether we need a new school. I am concerned about the people on the committee and our past debacles.

Wellington Elementary School
1. full before it was finished being built.
2. Neighbor Noise issues (as a side the building committee rolled there eyes even thought the residents were correct and the town eventually after finally listening did something about it).
3. Sound proofing – the school was finally fixed this year for the noise between classrooms and it actually caused a new sound issue in the principals office that has to be corrected.
4. It’s made of wood and is already in need of repair.

Trash Dumpsters
For some reason the committees never take this into account. There was an issue at the Burbank. At the Chenery the solution was to line up barrels in the hallways until the fire chief said it was a safety issue

This is the third high school in 75 years I believe. And the in-all-seriousness Bill Lovallo, the chair of the building committee made a comment that this school should last 50 years. Now I am sure it was said with the best of intentions but with proper maintenance and upkeep, shouldn’t a building last more than 50 years?

Speaking of upkeep, what is the maintenance plan for this building? Are estimated costs for the future? For example, what is the boilers life span? Will there be money in replace [them] when the time comes and not let them be fixed with band aids?

Did you know the building committee decided to take down the [White] Field House in front of the hockey rink? The one where just a few years ago people donated to have new lockers put in with name plates? Not to mention the decision was made without consulting the Recreation Department who uses an office there (and to my knowledge had not been told of their new location) or that that building is also use for IT equipment for wiring around the field and rink (sorry I don’t know the technical terms).

Now I completely appreciate the time and effort that the people on these committees make but its the same people committee after committee. Who picks them? The Town Moderator. I am curious if anyone has been turned down from a committee or if truly no one else has asked to be on it. What we need is an actual plumber, HVAC and general contractor on the committee as they know the codes and can pick things up when reviewing plans. To me not having those on the board is irresponsible.

Finally, one of major concerns is the fiscal responsibility of the committee. Once the money is received from the Massachusetts School Building Authority and from the town, the committee has oversight. The committee does have have to answer to anyone else, not the town administrator or the town selectmen. How long has the Wellington been done and the board is still in existence and still spending money (granted it is to correct problems but really, should it have taken this long).

Until I can get assurances that we are not going down the same road we always do, whether we need it or not, I will vote no.

Lisa Boyajian