Advise And Consent: Town Meeting Opens Budget Season With Roll Call Q&A

Photo: Mike Widmer, Belmont’s Town Moderator.

While the second half of Belmont’s annual Town Meeting is dedicated to all things budgets and numbers, the reconvened gathering of the town’s legislative body tonight, Wednesday, May 29, will have the opportunity to give its “advise and consent” on the contentious matter of roll call votes.

The evening’s appetizer is six questions presented by Town Moderator Mike Widmer to the approximately 290 Town Meeting members to obtain an “informal sense” of the body regarding the parameters and procedures for recorded votes.

During the first session of Town Meeting in April, roll calls were requested on a series of votes including several which the articles passed by sizable margins. While many seeking recorded votes said their goal was greater transparency by elected members, others viewed it as “vote shaming” (there’s an app for that) to point out those who made unpopular votes.

The answers to the questions will be “strictly advisory and non-binding” and used to inform Widmer, the Select Board and “others” whether to consider any potential articles on the topic at a future Town Meeting.

The questions include yes or no answers to when an automatic roll call should be used instead of anonymous vote (all the time vs only on close margins) and what is the threshold percentage or number of members needed to have a roll call and whether to use percentages or a member count.

“Town Meeting seems quite divided on the issue of roll calls, some arguing for roll calls on every article while others wanting to raise the 35-person requirement,” said Widmer.

“I have no way of knowing how many support which position and of course there are lots of alternatives beyond these two positions. I think it will be helpful to get a sense of [Town Meeting] in order to develop a proposal with the Select Board to be presented at the fall Town Meeting,” said Widmer.

While the objective of the pre-meeting Q&A is to find the sense of Town Meeting, the decisions could dampen or accelerate citizens petitions seeking to force the issue.

An article at fall Town Meeting on the future of the hows and whys of roll call voting will likely be driven by the Select Board. And so far the three-member board is keeping an open mind on the issue.

“We haven’t made any decision to take any action at this point,” said Tom Caputo, chair of the Select Board at Tuesday’s groundbreaking for the Belmont Middle and High School. “But we’re pleased that [Widmer] is putting those questions in front of town meeting and looking to get their feedback and we’ll take action from there.”

“I think the [Select Board] wants to make sure that we are helping to support town meeting and ensuring that we are both achieving accountability, but also minimizing some of the more acrimonious activities than we’ve seen in in the last couple of Town Meetings,” he said.

Town Names 15 Member Belmont High School Building Committee

Photo: Site of the new high school.

A mix of professionals and residents, officials and those experienced in constructing large projects were appointed to the newly-formed Belmont High School Building Committee, announced at the Board of Selectmen’s meeting on Monday, March 14.

Town Moderator Michael Widmar, who called the renovation “one of the most important and largest building projects in the town’s history,” selected the committee who were asked to dedicate a decade to the task.

“It’s a huge commitment on the part of these 15 people, and I want to publically on behalf of Belmont thank them for making that [decision],” said Widmer.

The members are:


  • Phillip Ruggiero
  • Jamie Shea
  • Robert (Bob) McLaughlin
  • Diane Miller
  • Joel Mooney
  • Pat Brusch
  • Joe DeStefano
  • William Lovallo
  • Chris Messer

Elected Officials

  • Sami Baghdady, Board of Selectmen
  • Thomas Caputo, School Committee

Town/School Staff

  • David Kale, Town Administrator
  • John Phelan, School Superintendent
  • Gerald Boyle, Belmont’s Director of Facilities
  • Dan Richards, Principal, Belmont High School

Widmer said Brusch, a member of the Permanent Building Committee would soon convene the newly-structured board where they would elected a chair and vice chair.

Widmer said Brusch, Mooney and Lovallo bring expertise as members of the Permanent Building Committee which will be important with the size of the project; McLaughlin is an attorney who is a member of the Warrant Committee while DeStefano and Ruggiero have backgrounds in construction and engineering.

Messer works for a large professional services firm and Shea and Miller both have graduated degrees from Harvard’s School of Education and volunteer their time, Shea as chair of the Foundation for Belmont Education and Miller with Joey’s Park. 

Also, many have children who are students in the district. 

The goal of the committee is to work in conjunction with the Massachusetts School Building Authority – which will provide between 30 to 35 percent of the construction cost of the estimated $100 million project – to bring to the town a proposal for a renovated high school facility which will include new construction. It will also be tasked with facilitating the development of the operational and educational components of the new building.

The MSBA selected the Belmont School District on Jan. 27 to begin the process that will result in the complete renovation of Belmont High School and the construct of a new science wing at the Concord Avenue campus.

Baghdady observed that the selection process was “a very inclusive selection process” with many hours Widmer spent speaking to officials and residents to find the right mix of residents and professionals.

Postponing Belmont’s Special Town Meeting Could Be A ‘Snow’-Day Decision

Photo: It will Town Moderator Mike Widmer’s (left) decision to postpone Monday’s Special Town Meeting.

The possibility of difficult traveling conditions and limited parking at the Chenery Middle School could put on hold Belmont’s Special Town Meeting scheduled to convene Monday night, Feb. 8. at 7 p.m.

With a Winter Storm Warning in effect for Eastern Massachusetts for all-day Monday and into Tuesday morning, Town Clerk Ellen Cushman has been in contact with Town Moderator Michael Widmer to advise him of state law regarding postponing Town Meeting due to inclement weather.

A new Massachusetts General Law from 2015 now allows the town moderator to declare “a continuation” of town meeting to a later date – within 14 days – after consultation with local public safety officials and members of the board of selectmen. 

“Mike is the one who will make the choice tomorrow [Monday],” said Cushman. “We will be in touch with Town Meeting Members and media tomorrow” after a decision is made, she said.

Even if the meeting is “postpone,” Widmer and Cushman must physically make their way to the Chenery Middle School – the site of the special Town Meeting – for the 7 p.m. “call the meeting,” so they can then vote to “recess” to a date certain.

Monday’s meeting is to discuss and vote on a new regional agreement with Minuteman Tech and vote to create a building committee for the high school renovation and new construction.