In Mike Widmer’s Final Election For Moderator, A Challenger Emerges For The First Time

Photo: Mike Widmer

Mike Widmer will have a challenger – his first ever – in his final campaign to return as Town Moderator.

Filing his paperwork with the Town Clerk’s Office on Feb. 5, former school committee member Michael Crowley will seek to replace one of Belmont’s longest-serving public officials in what Widmer told the Belmontonian will be the last time his name will be on the ballot.

First elected to the one-year term in 2008 when he ran to fill the open seat previously held by Henry Hall, Widmer has been unopposed in 15 subsequent town elections. Before his current post, Widmer has been a member of the Warrant Committee from 1993 until 2008 – three years as chair – and a Town Meeting Member since 1981.

Crowley was a school committee member for four years, eight years on Town Meeting, and six years on the Warrant Committee. He also served on the Long Term Capital Planning Committee, which drafted the recommendation to form the Comprehensive Capital Budget Committee.

Mike Crowley (courtesy photo)

One of the best descriptions of Town Moderator’s functions is by Town Meeting Member Paul Roberts in his “Blogging Belmont” preview of the 2023 town election.

“In addition to presiding over the annual Town Meeting, the Moderator plays a critical role in setting the agenda for Town Meeting – working with the Town’s various committees and professional staff, residents and Town counsel to set the warrant.”

“In Belmont, the Moderator also has substantial appointment powers. They appoint all members of the Warrant Committee – the Town’s main financial oversight committee – as well as three members of the seven person Capital Budget Committee, a majority of the Bylaw Review Committee and members of the Permanent Building Advisory Committee. The Moderator is also tasked with appointing members to special purpose committees, such as [building committees].”

Breaking: School Committee Chair Resigns In Policy Dispute

Photo: The Belmont School Committee: (from left) Susan Burgess-Cox (Chair), Andrea Prestwich (Secretary), Michael Crowley, Catherine Bowen, Amy Checkoway, Tara Donner. (Belmont School District)

Less than a week after a school committee member said he would ask for the committee’s officers to step down to allow for a vote for a new chair and secretary, Chair Susan Burgess-Cox abruptly resigned from the committee effective, today, Tuesday, April 21.

“It has been a pleasure serving the Belmont Public School with an administration and staff who have a strong commitment to teaching and learning and continue to create a community of engaged learners,” said Burgess-Cox in a letter to Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman.

Burgess-Cox’s resignation comes less than a week after fellow member Micheal Crowley said he would ask the officers – Burgess-Cox and Andrea Prestwich who is the current secretary – to relinquish their positions at the next school committee meeting on April 28 as part of an earlier conflict over the reorganization of the committee.

The issue was brought up at the school committee meeting on April 14 as the group discussed what is usually a perfunctory annual exercise of the selection of the committee’s chair and secretary. Under the rules, the leadership team is voted by the committee after the town election.

But with the annual election delayed to late June due to COVID-19 pandemic, just how the committee would move forward became an issue of debate. Crowley made a motion that the committee should simply move forward with the reorganization as prescribed by the town bylaws which allows for an annual election of officers. He noted the Select Board had voted its reorganization the day before.

“We need a timely transition and it was not clear when that would definitely be happening,” Crowley told the Belmontonian on Tuesday.

Burgess-Cox felt the committee should follow the three school committee policies pertaining to electing officers which would require what many saw as a time-consuming exercise. Burgess-Cox said to do otherwise would be setting a perilous precedent in which future committees could suspend policies for any reason. She also said that no candidate for either the chair or secretary had come to her to express their interest.

While no member seconded Crowley’s motion, several on the committee appeared to give Crowley’s argument more credence, especially as the district was and will continue to be under the strains of the lengthy school lockout due to COVID-19.

Matters came to a head two days later, on April 16, during a joint meeting of the School Committee’s Finance Subcommittee and the Education Subcommittee of the Warrant Committee. During a conversation between school committee members, Burgess-Cox again raised procedural issues on whether to allow the entire school committee to vote on officers at its next meeting on April 28.

Admittedly frustrated that it appeared the committee would not have a leader selected likely in the late summer or early fall “that we need to have someone involved with what could be a difficult school year,” Crowley said he would bring a motion on April 28 for all officers to step down so the committee could make their selection.

Five days later, Burgess-Cox resigned.