Photo: Ralph Jones
Venerable town official Ralph Jones returns to the public stage after being appointed to fill the final five months remaining of Andrea Prestwich’s term on the School Committee.
Jones received five votes from the combined members of the Belmont Select Board and School Committee, outdistancing resident Jeff Liberty who garnered three votes at the joint meeting held on Wednesday, Nov. 10.
“I am prepared to serve as required and anytime it is necessary to get the job done,” said Jones.
Jones was also emphatic that he will not use the temporary five month post as a springboard to a full term.
“It takes a big person to take on this job in this climate,” said Adam Dash, chair of the Select Board. “You’re basically parachuting onto a ship that is in the middle of a hurricane.”
Jones’ extensive town experience was a chief factor in his selection, having once chaired each of the “Big Three” governmental bodies in town; the Select Board (then known as the Board of Selectmen), and the School and Warrant committees. Jones’ selection is a return for him to the committee he served on for three terms and also headed two decades ago.
“I understand the authority and responsibilities of the committee,” he said, noting his role in creating past budgets and twice leading bargaining between the committee and the teachers’ union. “I believe that my experience in negotiating those contracts would be a contribution to the committee as it enters into that final negotiation process.”
Jones said starting a conversation on diversity, equity and inclusion would be a priority of his with the hope that the hiring of Chon’tel Washington, the district’s first DEI director will bring immediate improvements to the issues.
A majority of the committee and board agreed a successful candidate needed the necessary background demonstrated by past successes. Select Board member Mark Paolillo said looking at the skills and experiences the group said it would consider, “which candidate … meets all of these expectations, understanding the issues facing the school committee and has the communication skills … the only conclusion I reached is Ralph Jones.”
”[If] you have a round hole, [Jones] is the round peg that fits in the hole at the moment to do what needs to be done,” said Dash.
And Jones’ long-standing political mentoring of many residents just entering town politics was noticeable as both Dash and the School Committee’s Meg Moriarty reported before the deliberations Jones had held important positions in their most recent election runs – as campaign manager for Dash and Treasurer for Moriarty’s successful 2021 committee run – while the Paolillo noted Jones was also his campaign manager in the past.
The night started with nine candidates in the field as three dropped out and later two more did not answer the call to the gate with seven remaining. In addition to Jones and Liberty, Alessandro Miglio, Frances Leighton, Glen Robertelli, Jung Yueh and Amy Zuccarello finished off the field.
In the first round of voting to see who would go into the five questions and answer portion of the selection process, Liberty and Zuccarello each received the maximum of eight votes with Jones at seven. Yueh took in six with Leighton and Robertelli tied for the final slot with four.
Liberty’s background as a principal and district leader in Boston and now a consultant proved an interesting mix for those looking to bring change to the town.
Mike Crowley said while areas such budgets and union negotiating are some of the most important, the committee and district needs a candidate who will bring a more holistic approach to educating Belmont’s children. “Jeff was a harsh critic during this past year, but I’ve found him to be extremely thoughtful, intelligent and he’s experienced design educational matters beyond measure.”
“I think we need Jeff,” said Crowley.
When the Q&A section ended, it was clear from the remarks from the joint group that the temporary seat would either go to Liberty or Jones. It appeared the board’s familiarity with Jones as the three Select Board members voted for the former Selectman. And it was the School Board’s newest members – Moriarty and Jamal Saeh – who backed Jones providing him the margin needed to claim the seat.
Jones’ decision not to run will likely result in a wide-open horse race for the three year term up for grabs in April.