Town Meeting Votes To Move Forward On Community Path Review; A New Court Coming To Winn Brook

Photo: The easement along the north side of the MBTA commuter rail tracks adjacent the French/Mahoney property off of Brighton Street.

An attempt by a prominent Belmont resident to kill off funding for a next step review of the proposed community path was beaten back by Belmont Town Meeting on Monday, June 7 showing the at times controversial project continues to hold wide support in town.

The amendment submitted by Frank French to return $200,000 to the Community Preservation Committee was defeated handily, 64-192, coming after a wild debate that saw French’s attorney make what appeared to be not so subtle threat the town is likely to face millions in legal judgments if it pursued the path project. That was followed by Belmont’s long-time state senator Will Brownsberger informing Town Meeting that it was French who wasn’t holding up his end of a decades-old bargain with the state that allowed his family to build on an old railroad right of way.

In fact, according to town officials, the engineering firm working on the path submitted a revised plan Monday morning that no longer required any forced taking which French was opposing, rendering his amendment – which took nearly two hours to debate – effectively moot.

Monday’s meeting – the second of four nights in which members would debate budget and financial issues – followed the script of the first in which a single binding article dominated the nearly four hour session as the meeting took up four projects presented by the Community Preservation Committee. Two projects, transferring $250,000 to the Belmont Housing Trust to initiate affordable housing partnerships and $35,000 in design costs as part of the renovation of Payson Park, breezed through with little trouble.

It didn’t come as a surprise the $200,000 sought by the Community Path Project Committee to determine the right of way for phase one of the path – from the Clark Street bridge to the Cambridge line at Brighton Street as well as a pedestrian tunnel under the MBTA commuter rail tracks at Alexander Ave – was set to begin a lively discourse as French filed his amendment to put the brakes on the project placing the path’s future on hold and effectively in doubt.

A great primer of the community path project can be found here.

Russ Leino, the chair of the Project Committee, told the assembled members (attending over Zoom or viewing on community television) the funds would be used by Nitsch Engineering to prepare a detailed Right of Way (ROW) plan as part of the requirements to obtain federal Transportation Improvement Program money that will pay for the majority of the construction.

The work will determine if any private property will be impacted by the construction, most likely that will be temporary and minor such as access to the property to complete the design work, said Leino, although there could be permanent impacts such as repairing retaining walls and at pinch points “but will not actually run over the property.” Owners can “donate” that access to the town or have an appraisal done to determine a fair dollar compensation which will require another Community Preservation Committee request to fund. ROW work isn’t new to Belmont as the town did a similar project when the state renovated Belmont Street and Trapelo Road and the recent completed Welling Safe Routes to School project. The plan is critical as the federal government and state will not move forward funding without it.

Saying his committee – as well as the town and Select Board – are committed to minimizing impacts to private property, Leino noted a project of this magnitude will effect someone’s lands. “The funding by this appropriation really has to be completed in order to fully understand and quantify … those impacts for the Town Meeting to decide what you want to do with that information,” said Leino.

French, Precinct 2, said he and the Mahoney family that jointly owns the land at the corner of the Brighton and the commuter rail tracks and from where they run their businesses, have granted an easement to the path but are opposed to any permanent takings. French mentioned the long-stand complaint by those opposing the path that it should have been placed on the south side of the commuter tracks (more on that to come). Because there was the likelihood of an eminent domain taking, the families have “consulted” attorney and Belmont resident George McLaughlin.

McLaughlin initially came before Town Meeting not forwarding his client’s claim but his own experience of 37 years of successfully litigating Eminent Domain lawsuits winning millions for his clients. When McLaughlin returned to the amendment at hand, he spoke at length that in his opinion, Belmont has “vastly underestimated” the potential damages from this path to residential property along Channing Road.

This line of argument apparently was far afield from a pre-meeting agreement with Town Moderator Micheal Widmer on what would be discussed. That consensus quickly blew up as Widmer and McLaughlin took issue with how much leeway would be given in arguing the amendment.

”Mr. McLaughlin, as we’ve discussed before this meeting. Eminent Domain is beyond the scope so I’ll repeat, you need to talk about the path,” said Widmer.

“What I’m trying to inform the Town Meeting members is that if they go ahead with this plan, I think they are pursuing a plan that explore exposes the town to, you know, $4 million in damages,” claimed McLaughlin.

While saying that McLaughlin’s general point on eminent domain was “fine” to bring up, Widmer requested the attorney to “please adhere to my request that you stay with the scope of the discussion,” noting he had done so three times. The back and forth continued with both men saying they had grown frustrated with each others stance with McLaughlin claiming Widmer had “changed the rules” of the debate.

As Widmer attempted to wrangle McLaughlin in – with little success – Town Meeting members began bombarding Town Clerk Ellen Cushman with Point of Order claims noting McLaughlin was well outside the scope of the matter at hand. Widmer pointed out that a town meeting could not be run by those citing rules violations.

While French and McLaughlin spoke on the town taking a portion of the property, Leino presented an “11th hour” development in which Nitsch determined on the previous Friday that the latest design no longer required taking a permanent easement of the French/Mahoney property. “It can be done there on the existing easement. I was happy to see that as a positive development,” said Leino.

And Brownsberger turned French’s claims on their head by reviewing the context of how French’s secured the site in the first place. Brownsberger said in 2008, French – who Brownsberger called a friend who he respects – approached Brownsberger seeking his support in building his business office on the site knowing the right of way would bisect the property. French building sits on a historic railroad right of way, used as far back as the 1870s as the Fitchburg to Lowell connection until passenger service ended in 1927 and commercial rail halted in the 1980s. State statutes requires anyone attempting to build on a rail road right of way to first obtain a determination of inapplicability from the Department of Transportation.

In 2009, Brownsberger helped French get the process rolling to build but only if the Mass DOT which regulates rail right of ways would preserve the possibility of building a bike path from Brighton Street to Belmont Center and not give away the entire right of way which it did.

“So the point is that MASS DOT gave the ability for Mr. French to build … but retains the right to build a bike path through it,” said Brownsberger. While he was allowed to build up to the easement, French also crossed into it to install a stone sign, curbing and parking with the hope that a possible bike path would never be built.

“Now I was chagrined when I learned that Mr. French was upset about this process,” said Brownsberger. While acknowledging that previous design plans from Nitsch appeared to violate the decades old compromise between the state and French, Brownsberger “is very relieved that the discussion over the past week … that there is no need” for any additional land taking in the latest engineering blueprints.

With French’s concerns apparently addressed, “I look forward to continuing to support this path,” working with the state so to “keep solving problems and keep moving this fast forward,” said Brownsberger. “As an elected official, I am absolutely committed to making sure this works within the easement.”

Select Board Member Mark Paolillo next spoke in greater detail how town officials and representatives from Nitsch would keep the path within its prescribed easement. He also addressed the need for the route to travel along the northside of the commuter tracks as being due to the reluctance of the owner of an essential rail spur to negotiate with the town.

With debate open to the public, members sentiments ranged the gambit of why the French amendment was allowed to move forward if the “problem had been solved” to Stephen Rosales from Precinct 8 expressing his support for French via the lyrical talents of Kenny Rogers.

”You got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away and know when to run,” Rosales said, not sung. Despite the Yeoman efforts by the town, “the time has come. Belmont can no longer hold them,” he said noting that the CPC will “ante up” $1.7 million in studies and engineering work without any guarantee of federal or state funding.

Mark Kagan, Precinct 8, said roadblocks such as the French amendment is the reason that popular infrastructure projects are delayed or killed off. Having lived in bike happy the Netherlands, Kagan said cycling is the wave of the future as it promotes safe, fast transportation that is climate friendly. “Let’s vote this down this amendment and move on Belmont, the greater Boston area and the United States into the future,” said Kagan.

The question was called and the subsequent vote on the Amendment was an overwhelming defeat for French. The debate on the $200,000 allocation for ROW costs was anticlimactic and speedy with the article passing, 200 to 50.

Tennis plus one at Winn Brook

Town Meeting voted to add a single tennis court to the existing facility adjacent to the Winn Brook Elementary School playground and the Joey’s Park Playground.

Jon Marshall, the assistant town manager and recreation director, said an additional court was suited to the site because 1. the town can always use more courts, and 2. an additional tennis court will make for a total of five which is needed to hold regular season and tournament contests by the Belmont High School tennis teams.

Opposition to the new court came from two camps: nearby residents and those who wish to see courts on the high school campus. Melissa McIntyre, Precinct 8, opposed the article, not so much the courts being placed in the neighborhood but the public process the Recreation Commission undertook in approving the location. McIntyre said the strip of green space between Joey’s Park and the courts which will be reduced is an important place that is a place to take a break from the hurly burly of the playground and sport fields. Kathleen “Fitze” Cowing, also Precinct 8, asking why unlike other park and recreation projects the tennis court didn’t go through a two-fpart approval process with a design phase followed by CPC construction funding.

But by 10:45 p.m., the meeting had little energy to go against the CPC’s recommendation and there will be a fifth court at the Winn Brook by the start of the varsity tennis season next April.

‘Extra Innings’: Belmont Town Meeting Reconvenes Wednesday With A BRAVE Act Taking Center Stage

Photo: Town meeting (non virtual)

When Betsy Vose asked her fellow Financial Task Force members Friday morning how the first night of the reconvened Town Meeting had gone Wednesday night, she was caught by surprise when she was told that after nearly four hours the meeting had voted on a total of two articles which included a non-binding resolution.

“So we’re already in extra innings!” said Vose, now expecting with most observers the three subsequent meetings in the next week will be going late into the night.

In the past decade, the budget/expenditure articles before Belmont’s annual Town Meeting are lumped together in what is called Segment B. And due to the near-automatic approval of nearly all the articles during that time, you wouldn’t be that far off to label the segment as B for boring.

But not this year as the 2021 Town Meeting made its return on Wednesday, June 2 (and will continue on Monday, June 7, and Wednesdays June 9 and 14) The second coming of the town’s legislative body – Segment A was completed last month – saw members absorbed in debating the articles in such detail and with a lack of urgency that it is almost preordained the remainder of the meeting is destined to slouch towards Bethlehem.

After an appetizer of the Department of Public Works/ Belmont Police Department Building Committee presenting a report and video of its successful renovation of the police headquarters and DPW building, the first of the main courses were presented in amendment 11, a non-binding resolution for Fossil Free New Construction sponsored by the Energy Committee. Marty Bitner, Precinct 8 and co-chair of said committee.

The article was originally scheduled to come before the 2020 Town Meeting but was pushed back from a year before due to the pandemic when the article was a bylaw change, following a similar change passed by Brookline in 2019 that required all new construction to be fueled by electricity, banning oil and natural gas as options. The Brookline bylaw was later found by the Massachusetts Attorney General to be illegal as the state has the only authority to alter the state’s building code.

Monday’s aspirational resolution seeks to change the state building code to mandate fossil-free construction, direct the state Department of Energy to create a zero net energy “stretch code” requiring buildings to have electrical fuel systems and revise the state gas law to give towns the authority to restrict future gas permits on new construction.

Bitner pointed out passing the article would have Belmont joining 18 other municipalities who are seeking fossil fuel mandates and it will demonstrate Town Meetings commitment to reaching both the town and state’s net-zero carbon emission by the self-imposed 2050 deadline. Opponents, such as Stephen Rosales, Precinct 8, said they want to have choices on what energy source to use, that non-binding resolution reduces Town Meeting to “student government – if you want a community discussion, organize a community forum” and non-binding resolutions can become “gospel” over time. The article passed 188-57 with 8 abstentions.

After the usual 9 p.m. break, Aaron Pikcilingis, Precinct 6, presented his citizens petition (Article 7) dubbed The Brave Act, made up of four provisions. First, town employees who are fulfilling military obligations would be paid to the same extent that state employees are eligible for such payments; second, the town will design and establish a voluntary property tax workout program for veterans; third, the town will provide tax credit and exemption eligibility for disabled veterans who live in and pay taxes on a home that is owned by a trust for their benefit; and fourth, the town will add a tax exemption for Gold Star parents and guardians who lost a child serving during war time.

While not having served in the US military, Pikcilingis felt compelled to submit the article after learning a Belmont employee was using his own vacation time to pay for his service creating infrastructure in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic while putting themselves and their families at increased risk.

“I believe we should do all we can to support them now and beyond the pandemic as they continue their service where it is needed,” he said.

The first provision would do two things. First. provide full town pay for up to 40 days of paid military service during which service members receive both their town pay and military pay. Currently, depending on the contract, Belmont doesn’t pay for any days or only 17 days if they are either police or fire personnel. Second, the new provision would add differential pay for military service. So, let’s say if an employee’s military pay is less than their town pay, Belmont will pay the difference for those unpaid military days. Currently, four employees would be impacted by the new provision, with the expected annual expense per employee between $4,500 to $18,000 or about $11,300 on average. So four employees would cost the town an extra $45,200 with the range being $18,000 to $72,000.

The other three provisions were straight forwards with the voluntary work program and home owned in a trust each with a very small cost while the Gold Star provision costing $10,000 to $16,000 with a total cost of between $28,000 to $88,000 a year. The act would be reviewed annual and can be ended by Town Meeting vote after three years.

While each provision received general approval, it was the Gold Star tax exemption that produced the most push back including a 3-12 vote by the Warrant Committee against favorable action. Some supporters of the entire article believed those who opposed the provision as it could attract parents who lost children in combat to move to the Town of Homes for “tax-free living for their lifetime” as tone-deaf.

Peg Callanan, of Precinct 7, said that while the town voters did defeat an attempted override in April,
“it is my strong belief that the service and sacrifice of our veterans … should never be measured against a sum of money” then quoted Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Miller who said, “let us never forget those who have given their tomorrow’s for our todays.”

The four provisions passed and the article was accepted.

League of Women Voters’ Segment B Warrant Briefing This Thursday, 7PM

Photo: The budget will be discussed this Thursday at the Warrant Briefing

Town Meeting members and the public are invited on Thursday, May 20, to attend the 2021 ‘Zoom’ Warrant Briefing on all things budget for next week’s resumption of the annual Town Meeting .

The meeting is cosponsored by the town’s Warrant Committee and the Belmont League of Women Voters.

Residents and members will have the opportunity to ask questions of town officials and department heads about the budget articles and amendments prior to the annual legislative gathering on Wednesday, June 2.

Laurie Slap, chair of the Warrant Committee, will preside.

  • Please click the link below to join the webinar by computer, tablet or smartphone:
  • To join by telephone, call: 1 (929) 205 6099. When prompted, enter:865 8991 9600 # When prompted, enter #
  • Follow along live on Belmont Media Center Gov/Ed TV. Watch in Belmont on: Ch 8 – Comcast or Ch 28 – Verizon
  • Watch from anywhere on

Town Meeting, Segment A: A Resounding Yes For Indigenous Peoples’ Day Article

Photo: Belmont approves changing the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day

On the last night of Segment A of Belmont’s Town Meeting, members overwhelmingly approved the article to rename the holiday on the second Monday of October from Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day to honor the Native Americans who lived centuries in the Americas and what is known as Belmont.

The final vote taken virtually after three hours of debate on Wednesday, May 5, was 212 yes, 32 no with 13 abstentions.

When first presented by two Belmont High School students – Alex Fick and Lora Ovcharova – in the fall of 2020, Indigenous Peoples’ Day appeared to have wide support as it became a non-binding article at the annual Town Meeting.

But a grassroots campaign alleging the article demeaned and offended Italian-Americans created a lot of debate weeks before the meeting, making it one of the more contentious measures to come before members since the McLean development plans of the late 1990s. The sticking point for many was the article’s preamble which listed in great detail Columbus’ atrocities to indigenous tribes during his voyages and his contribution to bringing the slave trade to the Americas.

Yet members stood fast behind the original article, rejecting two amendments, one supported by Ralph Jones, Tommasina Olson, and Judith Feinleib, which would have kept Columbus Day as a celebration of Italian-American heritage while providing an alternative day in August for honoring Indigenous People.

“We are proud to be able to say that Belmont is moving forward in alignment with its promise of anti-racism,” said Fick after the vote. “There is much more work to be done in Belmont, but this is a big step towards making Belmont a more welcoming, inclusive community for everyone.”

“We want to thank all of the Town Meeting Members who voted in support of Article 10 unamended, everyone who signed our petition, and everyone who helped us along the way, especially Stephanie Crement and Emily Rodriguez,” he said. 

Belmont Select Board Chair Adam Dash opened the meeting supporting the original language of the resolution.

“Article 10 is about unity. The unity of Belmont residents standing up against racism and discrimination,” said Dash. “Passing this article will be forceful to those who scrawled swastikas on our schools and hurl epithets at our neighbors of color.”

“Tonight is the night that we face the question; are we serious about combatting racism in this town or not?” Dash said, asking the members to follow the lead of a growing number of towns – Arlington Town Meeting approved a similar measure this week by a vote of 222 to 1 – and states and “stand on the right side of history.”

Dangerous stereotypes

Fick and the article’s co-creator, Lora Ovcharova, spoke on the reason why they campaigned for the change. “The celebration of Columbus Day continues to perpetuate dangerous stereotypes about indigenous people and contributes to their erasure from American society and history, rather creating a positive day for the celebration of Native Americans by renaming Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day will help us begin to make amends for the past and honor [them],” said Ovcharovsa.

Guest speaker Mahtowin Munro, chair of United American Indians of New England told the nearly 265 members that designating the new name will “spark conversations and educate about indigenous people, our history, our resilience, and contemporary cultures.”

Supporting the Jones/Olson/Feinleib amendment, Diane Modica of the Massachusetts Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America (whose headquarters is on Concord Avenue) said while her group supports recognizing native Americans and their history, it should not come at the expense of well over a century of the close association of Columbus with celebrating Italian American pride and culture.

“Christopher Columbus became a symbol through which Italian Americans have celebrated their ethnicity and it’s the only legal holiday that recognizes the heritage of an estimated 18 million Italian Americans,” said Modica, and it is “imperative that we do not thoughtlessly, unnecessarily, and unfairly take away from one group for the misplaced purposes of another.”

Speaking for his amendment, Jones believed the article’s preamble laying at the feet of Columbus a long list of atrocities was “unnecessary.” Seeking a middle ground, he suggested following a 1982 United Nations resolution on the Declaration on the Rights Of Indigenous People which observes Aug. 9 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, while allowing Columbus Day to remain as a symbolic day for Italian Americans, possibly by another name.

Seeing more than Columbus

While not absolving the abuses committed, Jones said there is an emotional bond between Italian Americans and Columbus. “A professor at Queens College in New York put it this way: ‘When I see Columbus on a statue, I don’t see Columbus. I see my grandfather’.”

The Select Board’s Mark Paolillo said while feeling conflicted about whether to support the Jones et al amendment, a second one from the Select Board’s Roy Epstein or the unamended version, he sought counsel on this political issue from his 27-year-old son.

“He said, ‘Dad, it’s a difficult issue be we absolutely have to lift up and support indigenous people who have been brutalized, marginalized and discriminated against for decades and still are today’,” said Paolillo. While he wanted some acknowledgment of the contributions Italian American’s have made, Paolillo would support the original amendment. “As a proud second-generation Italian American, I would not feel diminished by doing that because I know that we will continue to celebrate in this town, in this state. and country Italian heritage and culture.”

The majority of comments and questions from Members indicated a level of support for the un-amended article that would hard to defeat. Karen McNay Bauerle, Precinct 6, recalled her own childhood in Georgia where the United Daughters of the Confederacy, whose eternal suffering was “the loss of their heroes and their way of life,” funded memorials to the Lost Cause throughout the US. That shameful celebration of Southern heroism is no different than hailing the accomplishments of Italian Americans by commemorating the voyages of Columbus.

“There is so much to celebrate but we cannot celebrate together when our national mythologies that precedence over the experiences of indigenous people and Black and Brown bodies in this country,” said Bauerle, adding that approving the article “is a good symbolic beginning.”

Precinct 1’s Kathryn Bonfiglio said she was one of many Italian Americans who support the original article. “I am not anti-Italian. I’m anti Columbus and I’m proud giving indigenous people the lead on what changes they need to begin restorative justice on this issue.”

Lisa Carlivati, Precinct 5, said while Columbus is a point of pride for many Italian Americans, “what I’m hearing is that Columbus is causing a great deal of pain to indigenous people.” She said the amendment if approved would honor native people in August outside the school calendar while the conversation at Belmont schools in October would be about Columbus.

“What should happen on the second Monday in October is a conversation about the Massachusett and Wampanoag tribes … and the people who were the caretakers for that land for centuries,” she said.

The Jones et. al amendment was defeated 77-190 with 3 abstaining.

The second amendment by Roy Epstein which would add a paragraph to the article:

Columbus Day was established to recognize the discrimination and injustices
experienced by Italian Americans as well as their invaluable contributions to the United States,
and the creation of Indigenous Peoples Day in Belmont as a counter-celebration to Columbus
Day would in no way deny that history or diminish its significance.

Epstein said his addition was “that we the most mild of edits to remember that Columbus Day really did have originated in an admirable purpose to combat discrimination [of Italian immigrants.]” With its attempt to show the holiday was just as much a recognition of heritage as a man, the amendment received some greater level of acceptance, but it could not reverse the trend of night, being defeated 97 for, 171 against and 1 abstained.

For the student authors of the article will add a new voice to advancing civil rights in Belmont.

“We are grateful that Town Meeting came together to vote with vindication to listen to Indigenous Peoples in replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. The rejection of amendments properly centers the voices of Indigenous Peoples’ and sends a signal to marginalized communities that we care about fighting injustice and that we will listen to them,” said Fick.

Light Board Goes Independent After Vote At The First Night Of Town Meeting

Photo: The first night of Segment A saw a change in the governance of Belmont Light

The first night of Belmont’s annual Town Meeting held Monday, May 3, attended virtually had a few hiccups – final vote results were delayed, members forgot to unmute themselves and one rather loud commuter rail whistle was picked up by Town Clerk Ellen Cushman’s microphone – but, all in all, it was a successful start of the yearly gathering.

In the big vote of the night, Belmont will have another list of candidates to vote for at the next Town Election in 2022 after the meeting voted overwhelmingly to support a five-member independent board to manage Belmont Light, the town’s electrical utility.

The final tally was 223 for the article and 43 against with a few “emergency” votes.

Article 2 was rather straightforward with those supporting the article were seeking to transfer oversight of the department from the current Light Board which is made up of the members of the Select Board. The Select Board’s Roy Epstein who spoke in favor of the article said due to the lack of expertise the select board has in running a modern utility, the Light Board has been increasingly reliant on the advice of the Municipal Light Board and Light Board Advisory Committee made up of appointed volunteers many with real-world utility experience. It would be best to have a group of experts beholden to the electorate to run the utility, said Epstein.

“The Light Board does require considerable technical expertise in running a utility,” Epstein said. “This is not just something that lay people can do easily. This does require a genuine expertise” in areas such as renewable energy and sustainability, conservation policies, strategic electronification of homes and other industry topics “that were never issues in the past.”

Select Board Chair Adam Dash presented the “no” position, asking “why change what’s not broken” as Belmont Light was been winning praise for its green power initiative and quick response to local outages. “This is a bad time to be introducing structural inefficiencies into town government when we just had a failed override and we have a Structural Change Impact Group doing just the opposite.”

Dash also warned an independent board – like the school department or the library trustees – doesn’t need to coordinate with the town on anything under its purview including increases in electric rates, the future use of sale of both the incinerator site and the former headquarters of the Light Department adjacent to the newly-renovated Police Station and possibly reducing or outright rejection to make the annual $650,000 PILOT to the town.

“What do you want more from Belmont Light that you’re not getting now?” said Dash.

When debate was opened to members, it was clear early on the “yes” argument was trending upward.

Steve Klionsky, Precinct 6, who for five years was the chair of the Advisory Committee, said he saw the Select Board being “stretched so thin with all its other duties to the town that they just did not have the time or expertise need to make decisions on certain matters.” Since his committee had no really authority to institute reforms and changes without the Light Board’s consent, “it was very difficult for Belmont Light to work through complicated issues.”

Having worked in the utility sector of 40 years, running a municipal electric company is much more complicated than it ever has been, said Klionsky, “I believe it’s time we acknowledge that complexity and put in place a governance structure that provides the needed assistance and oversight to Belmont Light. An elected board would be a huge step forward.”

Paul Roberts, Precinct 8. said the current reliance by the Light Board of the Advisory Committee has a detrimental impact on the running of Belmont Light as the department has two competing bodies – the advisory committee which it works closely on creating policy and the board which has ultimate control – it must heed to. Roberts alleged the lack of the clear leadership forced out General Manager Chris Roy from Belmont Light in the midst of his modernizing the department’s infrastructure and strategies.

Bonnie Friedman, Precinct 2, countered the “yes” enthusiasm by favoring an appointed rather than an elected board based on reading 10% Less Democracy: How Less Voting Could Mean Better Governance (2020) by economist Garett Jones, in which Jones found that elected light boards are more concerned often with being elected arent as necessarily more professional. Cosmo Macero, Precinct 6, joined Friedman in opposing electing members as the board becomes a political office. He suggests creating an expanded appointing committee – made up of more than just the Select Board – to select the “men and women of different walks of life who can bring that expertise to this kind of body.”

David Webster, Precinct 4, said if the new board moves in the direction Dash was worried – not making PILOT payments or allowing the former Light headquarters to fall into disrepair – “I think the voters will be holding them accountable.”

Article 4 Changing the Composition of the Capital Budget Committee

The debate on changing the membership of the Capital Budget Committee didn’t come down to who was coming onto the board, but rather, who is doing the placement.

The measure passed 174 to 77 with 6 abstentions and three emergency votes.

The article is fairly simple: after a number of years it was determined that the representative of the Planning Board on the seven-member committee is “not really essential to what the committee does,” said Anne Marie Mahoney, chair of the committee. Instead, a new at large member would be selected by the Town Moderator to replace the Planning Board’s delegate.

While seemingly a non-controversial issue – Stephen Pinkerton, chair of the Planning Board, agreed with the change – the major area of concern would be the influence of the Town Moderator on the reconstructed board as he will be selecting a majority (4) of the body.

Micheal McNamara, Precinct 7, said by adding another at-large member “now the moderator is now essentially in power” over the committee. Joining McNamara was Paul Roberts who worried that the majority of members will likely be reappointed to the board without the chance of new members being selecting until the three years are over.

Kate Bowen, Precinct 4, said “This is not the right time to make a change the Capital Budget Committee.” She pointed to the recently formed Long Term Capital Planning Committee, and wants that group’s work completed before making any alterations to Capital Budget.

Article 6 Cushing Square Road Modification and Property Conveyance

The new owner of the gas station at the corner of Trapelo Road and Common Street wants to take nearly 1,000 square feet of a public way to allow an awning over the pumps at the gas station. The Zoning Board of Appeals is OK with it so all that needs to be done is covey the land to the owner at cost.

201 yes, 38 no and two emergency votes.

Some members expressed the concern that the town should hold on to its stake in the land for reasons. Round and round the comments went for a conveyance that both sides agreed to. Roy Epstein said this push back to the article could be a prime example why Belmont is perceived to be at least somewhat hostile to businesses.

Previewing Segment A: First Part Of 2021 Annual Town Meeting Highlights A Change In Who Runs The Light Department


Traditionally the first half of Town Meeting – known as Segment A – is a multiple night affair with speechifying from long lines of Members on a menagerie of topics. Who could have thought in 2019 that increasing the Town Moderator’s term to three years would prompt an uproar, or citizen’s petitions on snow removal and yard sales could cause a ruckus and creating marijuana districts and the transfer of liquor licenses would stretch meetings past the 11 p.m. witching hour.

Fast forward to opening night at this year’s virtual event of the Annual Town Meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, May 3 and the entire segment could be finished before Rancatore’s shuts its doors. With only two articles set for debate – one on May 3 and the other May 5 – the meeting could see the rare incident of where there are no more members in line to speak on a subject when the article/amendments are called.

First some facts about this week:

  • The Annual Town Meeting will be held May 3, 5, 10, 12 [Segment A] and we’ll take a pause and will return June 2, 7 and 9 for Segment B. All sessions begin at 7 p.m. There are 22 articles on the warrant, only 11 will be taken up in Segment A, the remainder will be taken in Segment B.
  • The Special Town Meeting will be held Wednesday, May 5 starting at 7:30 p.m. and is expected to conclude early, allowing the meeting to return to the business of the annual.

For the Monday, May 3 session of the Annual Town Meeting, the articles will be:

Many of the articles will be of the housekeeping kind or will be made moot – in the case of the citizen petitions articles 8 and 9 – leaving two which will be brought before the legislative body for a vote. With Article 8, it is the intention of the sponsor, Adriana Poole, to move to dismiss this article while the intention of the sponsor of Article 9, Alexander Corbett III, will move to dismiss this article.

ARTICLE 2: Municipal Light Board change in governance

This article will create a separate five-member Municipal Light Board. Currently, the Select Board members are also the Light Board.

Both the Select Board and the Light Board voted two for and one for the article. The aye votes – Roy Epstein and Mark Paolillo – point to nearly 80 percent of municipal utilities in Massachusetts have similar voter-approved entities with members who will have a background in or great interest to provide electrical power to the community rather than a Select Board who are, as they admit, not that well versed in the subject.

Adam Dash, the nay vote, said there are two issues that prevented him from coming on board with his colleagues. The first is the outstanding manner that the Light Department is performing, noting Boston Magazine named it “the greenest municipal light department.

“I think we’re doing really really well and I’m puzzled as to why we’re going to mess” interfering with our green energy initiative,” he said.

And as it will be elected, it will be independent to do as it pleases with its assets and policies without the interference from the other town boards and committees, said Dash.

“It’s going to cost the town money: in the future of the Belmont Light Building in Belmont Center, the post closure use the incinerator site, and PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) payments. I think a lot of that could just go away if there’s a separate Light Board. I’m concerned that the PILOT payment goes away and blows a $650,000 hole in our budget.”

Paolillo said he believes the Select Board will have the same relationship with this new board as it does with the School Committee and the Library Trustees, based on “a collaborative working relationship … and there’ll be accountability as it relates to the residents.”

The Select Board and the Light Board will report on this article.

Town Meeting Warrant Briefing Set For Thursday, April 15 at 7 p.m.

Photo: Poster for the April 15 Warrant Briefing

The Warrant Committee and Belmont League of Women Voters will co-sponsor a Warrant Briefing for Town Meeting Segment A to introduce Town Meeting Members to the articles in the warrant for the first section of the annual 2021 Town Meeting on Thursday, April 15 at 7 p.m.  

For new Town Meeting Members, the warrant is the legal notice of the Town Meeting, showing the agenda that will be discussed and voted by the Town Meeting assembly beginning Monday, May 3. 

The Warrant Briefing is not an open debate or detailed discussion, nor is it a replacement for the full debate/airing that must take place at Town Meeting. It’s an opportunity for the Warrant Committee Chair Laurie Slap to briefly explain the goal of the article and Town Meeting Members can ask a question to help everyone better understand the intention of the sponsor of the article in putting it on the warrant. It’s a very valuable meeting to attend, this year exclusively by Zoom.

The Zoom viewing options are: Zoom meeting ID: 865 8991 9600

Live broadcast: Belmont Ch 8 (Comcast); Ch 28 (Verizon) Livestream or on-demand:

The warrant and all associated documents will be emailed to Town Meeting Members either Tuesday or Wednesday. If you are newly elected and have not provided a contact sheet with your current email for Town Meeting please do so right away so you don’t miss the mailings.