Opinion: What’s Happening With Our State Government?Massachusetts’ Secret State House And How To Fix It

Photo: Massachusetts State House (Wikipedia)

By Maya Chandrakasan, Sherman Street

In a few months myself and my fellow Belmont High School seniors will walk across a stage and receive our diplomas. It’s safe to say this past year has been difficult for all of us. But these challenges are only the beginning of what lies ahead for my generation. As we enter college and the workforce in a world ravaged by the coronavirus, government inaction will be blamed on “partisan gridlock.” Federal legislators may use their precarious majority to defend themselves, but for Democrats in the state house there are no excuses for inaction. 

The Democratic party holds a veto-proof supermajority in the Massachusetts state legislature which they have had for more than three decades. So why haven’t we been able to pass any significant climate legislation since 2008?

Despite being a relatively progressive state, Massachusetts has one of the least transparent statehouses in the country: bills die in committee, the public has little time to object to a bill before it is voted on, and recorded floor votes on legislation are not guaranteed. 

Massachusetts is in a minority of states in the country that do not publicize or disclose how legislators vote in committees. While that may seem like a technicality, most lawmaking is done in legislative committees, and most legislation is killed in committees. A popular 100 percent Renewable Energy bill, which took six years to write, was killed in committee without ever making it to the House floor for a vote. All of these barriers inhibit action and change: our democracy is dying behind closed doors. 

This isn’t to attack some of the great state legislators, many of whom truly care about their constituents. This is about a broken state house rules system that both blocks constituents from holding their reps accountable, and reps from countering powerful house leaders for fear of retribution.

Last month, myself and other constituents in the 24th Middlesex district joined our state representative, Dave Rogers, on a call asking he sign onto the following three transparency amendments:

• All votes held in legislative committees be publicly disclosed so that constituents have the opportunity to see how their representatives are voting.

• Each bill be made public 72 hours prior to a final vote (extending the current 24 hour window) to ensure that anyone who wants to discuss the bill with their representative has that chance.

• The threshold for a vote to be publicly-recorded in the House of Representatives be reduced to eight from the current 16 representative requirement so that more bills can be publicly voted on. 

Unfortunately Rogers has not yet given a public commitment to voting for these transparency amendments. In the past, Rogers has proven himself to be a progressive legislator responsive to constituent concerns. We are fortunate to have a legislator who will disclose his committee votes despite House rules. However, just because Rogers votes the right way does not mean that other reps will, and in order to pass a veto-proof bill we need more than just his vote; in other words, to actually pass the legislation he cosponsors and introduces, we need transparency. 

In the coming days, the statehouse will vote on a new set of rules for the upcoming legislative session. The various crises of this past year have proven that state and local governance matter. From comprehensive police reform to climate bills to eviction moratoriums, there are numerous life-saving policies that can be implemented on the state level. Unfortunately, none of those have, or will be passed without serious change and accountability. 

The rules voted on will be law for the next two years and will influence what can get done in this crucial time. As we turn the page on a bungled federal response to the most pressing issues of our time, we must begin to repair our government from the bottom up. That begins with a transparent Massachusetts statehouse. 

I urge anyone who cares about virtually any issue to contact Rogers by email (dave.rogers@mahouse.gov) or phone (617-722-2637) and ask him to vote for these three transparency amendments to state house rules for the next legislative session. Learn more about our broken state house at https://actonmass.org/the-campaign/ and join our district team to get involved in our final push for a more accountable state legislature. 

We Are All In This Together: Coexisting with COVID-19

Photo: Team work will get us through

By Lisa Gibalerio, Prevention Specialist, Wayside Youth and Family Support Services and Corinne Jackman, Belmont High School Nurse

It’s been almost two months now.

Two long months of physical distancing, of adhering to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s stay-at-home advisory, of working from home while assisting our kids with online instruction, of acquiring and wearing masks, and of keeping a distant but worried watch over our own parents, many of whom fall smack dab in the middle of the most vulnerable age group.

Most of us have been managing at least some level of anxiety. Over the health of loved ones, over the harrowing plights faced daily by front line workers, over the stress of an overwhelmed health-care system, job insecurity, safely acquiring groceries, and of kids who are also scared, missing meaningful milestones, longing for their friends, and adapting to a virtual school world they never signed up for.

How much longer will we need to do this?  

While experts are working around the clock to develop a safe and effective vaccine, we are told it could be mid-to-late 2021 before that vaccine is ready to inoculate seven billion of the planet’s inhabitants.

Does this mean we stay hunkered down for another year or more?

Most likely no; it’s not sustainable on almost every level, e.g., economically, emotionally, educationally.

The best strategy that seems to offer hope for a safe emergence back into the world includes wide-spread testing, isolation of those who test positive, and contact tracing. Countries who have employed this strategy have been successful because only those who test negative are allowed out in public; all positives are instructed to isolate at home. Wouldn’t it be helpful to know that everyone in line at the post office had tested negative?

Alas, the accessibility of widespread testing has remained elusive in Massachusetts, as elsewhere. So, here we are, collectively contemplating how we will tentatively peek out from under our shells, and wondering how we will navigate the next year.

To get some insight into how to manage long-term stay-at-home experiences, we reached out to a parent whose child spent nine months in isolation following a bone-marrow transplant. She offered the following advice to parents:

  • Live life one day at a time.
  • Keep a positive mindset; it can really impact your emotional wellbeing. 
  • Limit any media intake that focuses on the negative aspects of this virus.
  • Be creative with your time.
  • Keep yourself and your family busy by discovering new hobbies.
  • Learn new skills, or master ones that you’ve already been developing.
  • Be thankful for the little things, no matter how small they may seem.
  • Take time out for yourself – and don’t feel guilty about it.
  • Take turns with your partner in entertaining the younger one(s) while the other takes a little time off for themselves.
  • Remember: things could always be worse; this too shall pass and we will be back to normal before we know it.

As the state begins to open up in the coming weeks, many people have said that, while they may venture out to a backyard barbecue this summer, they do not expect to sit in a crowded movie theater, take in a game at Fenway Park, or ride the subway. Not until there is a vaccine.

In the meantime, remember, the best protection we have right now, and in the months to come, includes frequent hand washing, physical distancing, and mask wearing. It is also important to stay up-to-date with guidelines from reliable sources, such as the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. These steps offer protection for ourselves and also for our fellow community members.

As Eugene Robinson said recently in the Washington Post: “We are all in this together. Some of us may not like that, but the coronavirus doesn’t care.”

Opinion: Five Facts That Need Examination To Determine Route For Community Path

Photo: 2014 map of the proposed community path. (Town of Belmont)

By Jarrod Goentzel and Phil Lawrence, co-founders, Friends of the Belmont Community Path

Dear Belmont Selectmen and Town Leaders on the Community Path Project Committee,

We appreciate the Board of Selectmen efforts to maintain momentum on the Belmont Community Path by making decisions to facilitate the next phase of design. We acknowledge that the 2-1 decision at the Feb. 25 meeting to recommend the route on the south side of the tracks from Brighton Street to Alexander Avenue followed careful deliberation and support from the Community Path Project Committee. Given that significant uncertainties remain for that section, we applaud the Selectmen’s decision to make this recommendation contingent on further due diligence of the southern route and to confirm the viability of Contingent Route number one on the north as a ready alternative. 

This period of due diligence is crucial. Selecting a route that ultimately cannot be designed or built due to insufficient town funding, environmental risk, broad public backlash, or other issues may cause Belmont to miss the federal funding opportunity. The Selectmen’s decision justifiably emphasized the feasibility study and its recommendation, which Pare Corporation did not change at the February 25 meeting based on recent information. The Selectmen also had to rely on personal judgment for issues where the study was incomplete. We suggest that the board to quickly assess additional evidence as it arises given the urgency of the design funding request to Town Meeting in May. 

As part of this due diligence, we review below the evidence regarding five key points discussed on Feb. 25 to identify areas where the feasibility study is incomplete and where the Selectmen’s judgment must be applied. 

1. The feasibility study recommendation is based on a slim 76-75 difference in score between the Recommended Route (South) and Contingent Route #1 (North).

It is important to note that during the Feb. 25 meeting, the score advantage for the southern route was mistakenly reported as 70-63 (which are actually the scores for the E3b and E3a sub-sections, respectively). The difference in composite score, which considers the alignment of all segments along the route as the basis of the route recommendation, is only 76-75. This extremely narrow margin justifies the BOS confirmation regarding the viability of readily switching to Contingent Route number one if due diligence raises concerns with the recommended route.

2. The feasibility study did not consider acquisition and environmental permitting costs for the Purecoat North/Crate Escape location that are required on the southern route for an easement.

The feasibility study only estimated costs for construction, operations, and maintenance, which would almost entirely be covered by federal funds. The study did not consider the costs for right-of-way acquisition or environmental permitting, both of which must be borne by the town. Discussion on Feb. 25 revealed incomplete information regarding the options and associated costs. The Selectmen wisely made their decision contingent on further due diligence.

3. The feasibility study did not assess environmental risks associated with the Purecoat North/Crate Escape location on the southern route.

Excavation for the path poses an extremely high risk for Chapter 21E environmental cleanup at the only location in Belmont tracked by the EPA as a toxic site. Belmont taxpayers deserve clarity on the potential costs and future risks associated with the recommended route and clarity on how the board would fund these incremental costs given the town’s financial constraints. The Selectmen wisely made their decision contingent on further due diligence. 

4. The feasibility study could not consider utilization of the Belmont High School property while under redesign.

The southern route runs through the high school campus, resulting in many positive aspects noted on Feb. 25. However, there are potential opportunity costs in using this property (e.g. lost field space or parking) and operational costs (e.g., security monitoring of a public pathway through the open campus). The Belmont School Committee has not yet taken a vote on this route. The Selectmen wisely incorporated approval by the School Committee as a contingency. 

5. The feasibility study recommendation and the recent Pare Corporation review of recent information ignore persistent public concern with the railroad crossing and state agency preference to avoid the railroad crossing.

The feasibility study analysis of the at grade Brighton Street crossing (segment E4a) did not distinguish a northern route crossing of the STREET ALONE from a southern route crossing of the STREET AND RAILROAD. This distinction is important for two reasons:

  • Public opinion: The study assumed double weights for all User Experience criteria based on clear public input. Recent public feedback centered on the difference in User Experience of a railroad crossing. With no distinction in scoring for E4, the feasibility study fails to incorporate persistent public concern with the at-grade railroad crossing.
  • The study assumed any MBTA rejection as a fatal flaw. Although he stopped short of rejecting the railroad crossing during the January 28 meeting, John (Jody) Ray from the MBTA stated: “the MBTA would always prefer that every crossing was a separated crossing, either below or above the tracks.” Michael Trepanier from MassDOT echoed this sentiment, saying “one fatality is always one too many”. With no distinction in scoring for that crossing, the feasibility study fails to incorporate the clear preference for the northern route Brighton Street crossing by the MBTA and MassDOT.

The Board of Selectmen’s judgment should consider that, given the feasibility study’s emphasis on User Experience and MBTA perspective, the composite score for the northern route would have scored higher and been recommended if there had been distinct scoring for the Brighton Street crossing.

The Selectmen recommended the southern route with contingencies regarding unknown right-of-way property issues and school preferences. The 60-day contingency period may not allow for proper due diligence with property owners to determine realistic acquisition costs or reasonable environmental risk assessment. The Board of Selectmen should only proceed with the design of the southern route if they can disseminate sufficient evidence to address the budgetary and environmental risks for Belmont residents and the safety concerns for future users whose federal taxes would build the path. If proper due diligence cannot be completed prior to the Town Meeting in May, then you should not stall momentum on the Belmont Community Path with further delays to gather more information. 

Meanwhile, there is no reason to delay. Evidence indicates that the contingent northern route is not only viable but also preferential when incorporating public and state agency opinion regarding the railroad crossing. With no right-of-way acquisition or potential EPA cleanup, the cost for Belmont is lower. We recommend that you reduce risks, lower costs, and avoid delays by promptly exercising the northern route contingency.

Note: To date, the Friends of the Belmont Community Path has focused on providing information to educate and encourage discourse among Belmont residents. Given the high priority for MassDOT to add this critical link in the Mass Central Rail Trail and use of federal taxpayer funds to build it, we plan to invite engagement with the wider community in advocating for a safe, off-road path.

Opinion: Working To Keep Teens Safe Over The Holidays

Photo: Keeping teens healthy over the recess.

By: Lisa Gibalerio, Prevention Specialist, and Laura Kurman, Program Director

Wayside Youth & Family Support Network

With the holiday season underway and the opening of retail marijuana shops in Massachusetts, adults are urged to pay close attention to teenagers’ behavior concerning alcohol and other drugs in the days and months ahead.  The Belmont Wellness Coalition is working collaboratively with many partners across town to reduce underage use of alcohol and other drugs. Please be part of the solution and do what you can to reduce youth access to alcohol as well as marijuana products.

As we know, teen alcohol use can lead to unsafe behaviors that put our kids’ health and safety at risk. If we work together, we can help to ensure that our kids stay healthy and safe!  (By the way, for each year that a teen does not use alcohol, the odds of lifelong dependence decrease by 15 percent.)

Retail recreational marijuana shops are opening around the state. In Belmont, although there are no licenses or special permit applications at this time, the town could approve up to two retail marijuana establishments within certain zoned areas. While shops in Belmont would not be allowed to sell marijuana to people under the age of 25, teens may nevertheless find ways to access these products.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), administered several years ago in Belmont, revealed that approximately one-third of teens reported that they are drinking.  Most are getting alcohol from older siblings, older friends, or home.  In many instances, students said, their parents do not know they drink, or do not know how much they drink.

Often, due to their developing brains, when teens drink, they tend to drink too much. Teens who drink put themselves at risk for alcohol poisoning, car crashes, injuries, violence, or unprotected/unwanted sex, and, if they are athletes subject to the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) regulations, they may lose the privilege to participate in sports.

As a parent or guardian, you can and do make a difference!

Here are some tips to reduce teen drinking and use of marijuana:

  • Keep alcohol in a secure location, preferably in locked cabinets. Even if you trust your teen, their friends may be tempted by what’s available in your home.
  • If you are hosting a party, do not leave unsupervised alcohol around where it is accessible to underage guests. Tell other relatives not to serve alcohol to your child under the age of 21 as well.
  • Let your child know what you expect. Tell your teen that adults may be drinking during the holidays, but under no circumstances is he/she allowed to drink alcohol.
  • If your child is attending a party, check on the details. Find out if there will be parental supervision, and be sure no alcohol will be available at the parties that your teen will be attending.  Wait up to greet your child when he/she/they arrives home at curfew time.
  • Never serve alcohol to anyone under 21, and don’t allow children to serve alcohol to others. It is illegal to serve or provide alcohol to underage youth, or to allow them to drink alcohol in your home or on other property you control.  See Social Host Liability Law: http://www.mass.gov/essexda/prevention-and-intervention/juvenile-prevention/social-host-liability.html
  • Do not to leave your teenagers home alone if you go out of town. Word gets out quickly and a drinking party can develop – sometimes without your child’s consent.
  • Do not relax your family rules with your own teens during the holidays. It can be difficult to return to previous expectations.

The Belmont Wellness Coalition welcomes your input!  Please consider joining us as we work to keep our kids safe and healthy – it really does take a village!

The BWC, along with Wayside Multi-Service Center, wishes you a peaceful, safe, and happy holiday season.

If I can be of support to you or your teens, please contact me at: Lisa_Gibalerio@WaysideYouth.org

Opinion: Solar Power The Best And Brightest Use For Incinerator Site

Photo:

By Martin Plass

We as the town have to decide soon on the future use of the incinerator site. The Board of Selectmen discussed this in their meeting on Thursday, June 7 and there will be a meeting for public input on June 18 at 8 p.m. at Town Hall. I urge the public to attend and voice their input and concerns.

One thing that concerns me is the temptation to find a commercial usage for the property that will maximize the income for the town instead of using the opportunity to enhance the beautiful natural conservation lands that surround the incinerator site. We as the town are already working on improvements to Rock Meadow with an agricultural consultant. With the McLean Barn upgrades being considered on the south end and the incinerator site on the north end of Rock Meadow we can further develop this area into a beautiful park and recreation land that integrates into the Western Greenway with Lone Tree Hill and Habitat to the East and Beaver Brook to the West. (By the way: I would love to see the McLean Barn turn into a café or beer garden, maybe with artist lofts spaces and a visitor information center that could provide some income to the town and would be a great place to enjoy a refreshment after a walk).

One proposal that has come up is to use the incinerator site for an anaerobic digester that would turn organic waste (food leftovers, etc.) into methane gas that would be burned on site and generate electricity (think Deer Island). I am concerned about this usage and worry that it could seriously interrupt the natural beauty of the area by bringing undesirable odors, noise from the generator, exhausts from burning methane, and heavy truck traffic to the site. While the prospect of making money with such a plant and providing renewable energy to Belmont is tempting, we need to make sure that such a use is in harmony with the areas around it and has none of these negative side effects. For the same reason, I am opposed to developing any parcels for housing. This would convert natural recreational space into private restricted space, something that could not be reversed.

Instead, I can see a community-owned solar array as a possible compromise usage which would generate some income for the town and fit with our climate action goals. Solar would not produce any noise, traffic, smells or other negative effects on the site and could be set-up to allow vegetation underneath and secondary use in combination with it. I like the proposal from one interest group that combines a community solar array with a bike park, a skateboard park, some DPW containers and a boardwalk for nature viewing as well as parking to serve as an additional access point to Rock Meadow and the Western Greenway.

I hope to see many Belmontians turn up for the June 18th meeting and look forward to seeing other proposed uses. To me, the overriding criteria should be to use the site to enhance our recreational nature areas for the enjoyment of the entire community.

Martin Plass lives on Stanley Road and is a Town Meeting Member representing Precinct 3

Opinion: Belmont’s #MeToo Problem

 

By Wendy Murphy

In the throes of relentless news stories about the #MeToo movement, Larry Nassar’s sexual victimization of more than 250 girls, and widespread abuse of women by celebrities, businessmen, lawmakers, etc, it seemed an appropriate time to examine the status of females in Belmont. So I asked several young people to comment because they are in the midst of developing core ideas about what it means to be female in Belmont and beyond.

Here’s the gist of what I heard.

1. The boys treat the girls as if they get to decide who deserves their attention based on who is willing to do sexual things.

2. The girls who kiss up to boys are the ones boys pay attention to.

3. The boys basically rank the girls as good or bad based on how willing they are to do what they want. Girls who stand up for themselves are called bitchy, and ugly.

4. I think girls should start ranking boys, and telling the boys they’re not worth anything unless they do whatever we tell them to do – so we can show them how it feels to be treated like a servant.

5. This starts in Middle School but nobody ever talks about it – teachers and principals know it happens but they never talk about it as a bad thing.

6. It was great that the high school had a community gathering when a racist Instagram message was sent last year, but how come they never do anything like that when boys call girls sluts, or bitches, or worse?

7. Sexism is such a huge issue at the high school and when we try to talk about it, it isn’t respected.

They (and some parents) also talked about other things they see as unfair:

1. The cheerleaders suffered many concussions last fall, but nobody made an issue about it. There are so many stories about football players suffering head trauma. How come cheerleaders’ head trauma gets no attention.

2. Female athletes were asked by the Boosters to help with a fundraising drive, even though the money was primarily intended for the press box and the press box is used almost exclusively for football. Girls are happy to help other school teams but they already see excess favoritism directed at football.

3. Female athletes were recently made to store their gym bags on the second floor, while male athletes were allowed to keep their bags with them on the first floor.

4. Male athletes who play hockey and football have their names on individual signs on Concord Avenue, but there are no individual signs for female athletes of any sport.

5. Cheerleaders are unofficially required to bake cookies for football players before the games.

6. When female athletes are on the turf at the same time as the football players, they often get pushed back to 25 percent of the field space.

7. Diversity week programming at the high school at the end of January ignored sex/gender as a category worthy of attention. There were events on race, LGBT, Armenian Genocide, and even a “medium” who talked about feeling the presence of dead people, but no program was dedicated to issues important to girls, such as sex discrimination, dating abuse, and harassment. [Belmont could face state and federal civil rights investigations, or lawsuits for money damages, for subjecting sex/gender to different treatment in this or any other context.]

Belmont is hardly the only community that isn’t getting sex/gender right. But we claim to be ahead of the pack on social issues. We became a welcoming community on behalf of immigrants, and we have a very active group against racism. We also expect young people to volunteer for community service projects. Why are issues related to women and girls invisible? They suffer far more abuse because they are female than does any other class of people suffer abuse because of who they are in society.

Belmont should aggressively be teaching students about women’s oppression and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Most people don’t even know that women are not yet equal under the United States Constitution. This is the result of a failed education system. Thirty-six states have ratified the ERA. Nevada ratified in 2017. When two more states ratify, women’s full equality will be established once and for all. Until then, females will continue to be abused with impunity no matter how many #MeToo movements we have, because equality – not hashtags – will prevent disproportionate harm against the underclass.

Between now and when equality finally happens, Belmont and all communities should make every effort to teach young people that sex discrimination, including harassment and all forms of abuse, is the same type of civil rights violation as race discrimination, and none of it is welcome here.

A copy of this was shared with Belmont High School Principal Dan Richards and John Phelan, superintendent of the Belmont School District. I met and communicated with both men about some of these issues, and I asked them if they wanted to respond before publication. I offered to include any such response in this piece. Richards indicated a willingness to meet with me, again, in an effort to address the issues, and he offered to speak with guidance counselors and others to obtain information from them about their views on the issues raised.

Murphy is a former child abuse and sex crimes prosecutor who teaches at New England Law/Boston. Wendy specializes in the representation of crime victims, women, and children. She also writes and lectures widely on victims’ rights and criminal justice policy. She also serves on the Belmont High School Parent Teacher Student Organization and Advisory Council and is co-President of the  Belmont Woman’s Club. 

Anyone who wants to share information or concerns can contact Murphy anonymously at: Wmurphy@nesl.edu

Commentary: Differing, Compelling Views on the ‘Welcoming Town’ Article

Photo: Jim Williams (left), Dan Vernick
Editor’s note: Below is an email conversation between Board of Selectmen Chair Jim Williams and Town Meeting Member Daniel Vernick. The exchange began when Williams wrote to the community why and how he would vote on Article 10, the citizen’s petition by Anne Mahon on making Belmont a “Welcoming Community.” Vernick responded to Williams statement which the Selectmen reciprocated. In a time in our country when contrasting political views are likely to result in flaming, profane comments, the viewpoints by each Town Meeting member were treated with respect and understanding.
Jim Williams
To the community:
The BOS  voted favorable 2-1 on Article 10 at the May 1, Board of Selectmen Open Meeting with myself casting the minority unfavorable vote. So, I’ve decided to report my vote and the reasons for it in writing in advance of the report of the BOS vote at Town Meeting for public consideration:
  1. I respect Anne Mahon and the idea that the Town should express its compassion on the  topic.
  2. I understand (and cheer) her right to put forth a citizen’s petition for consideration by Town Meeting.
  3. I understand what’s proposed is not what is widely understood to be a sanctuary city or even a welcoming city as both of these  can include resolutions concerning local enforcement of federal immigration laws, 
  4. I have a deep appreciation for  Anne and the Police Department Command for the work done by the public safety statements rendering them accurately factual, thus neutral politically.

However,

  1. Belmont has already declared itself a “welcoming community” in its Town of Belmont Comprehensive Plan 2010-2020 pps. 1, 5, and 22.
  2. Also, the Vision 21 Implementation Committee report dated April 2015 mentions the idea of welcoming 80 times in the document albeit many instances relate to the surveys reported therein.  
  3. The Town conducts its affairs within the rule of law, and the BOS conducts the general direction and management of the property and affairs of the Town not otherwise provided for law and the Town bylaws for the common good. 
  4. The inclusion of a reference to public safety procedures can create for some a false impression that Belmont has declared itself a sanctuary or welcoming city or town or has joined a network of sanctuary or welcoming towns that,  in fact,  is not proposed by the motion or article.
Therefore, 
  • I am unfavorable to the motion as proposed given its redundancy, the need for all parties and agents of the Town to conduct  Town affairs within the rule of law and the common good, and the probability of a false public impression about the intent of the motion of approved.
Instead, 
  • I would propose that the BOS  commits to Town Meeting that it will charge the Vision 21 Committee with the task of updating a 2020-30  Comprehensive Plan for the Town.
Best regards,
Jim Williams
Chairman, Board of Selectmen

 

From Daniel Vernick

Hi Jim,

Thanks for the explanation – a couple of points in response:

  • Anne Mahon is one member of a broad coalition of Belmontians pushing for this Welcoming Town resolution. It was written not only by Anne but also with the help of many other TMMs, as well as the Police Department, Belmont Against Racism, and others. You make many points about how you “respect Anne Mahon” – but this resolution is not about Anne Mahon. It’s about making sure that Belmont’s immigrant community feels safe and welcome, and there is a broad coalition of Belmontians from numerous groups across town that have been working on this. 
  • You mention the town needing to conduct itself “within the rule of law.” Not only is Article 10 within the rule of law, it simply reaffirms the standard BPD policy that has been in place for years. Passage will not change any policy but will send a message that everyone is welcome in Belmont regardless of race, ethnicity, or immigration status. 
  • I am confused about your claim that this creates a false impression that Belmont has declared itself a sanctuary town. I will be the first to tell you that Article 10 (unfortunately) does not come anywhere near making Belmont a sanctuary town. But it’s a step in the right direction. 
  • The Vision 21 report, as you mentioned, was in 2015 – that’s before the Trump administration’s immigration orders have caused widespread fear among immigrants and people of color, as well as a sharp rise in hate speech and hate crimes. This resolution is needed to publicly reaffirm Belmont’s policies and values so that no one who lives or works in our community has to feel unsafe or fearful.
  • Similar resolutions have been passed by many other towns, including nearby Waltham, Concord, Newton, and Arlington. Most of those resolutions have been far more comprehensive than Belmont’s resolution. Every nearby city and town that has recently considered a similar resolution have passed it. If the resolution fails, Belmont will stand out as the only town in Greater Boston to reject a Welcoming Town resolution. 
  • I am confused by this statement: “I am unfavorable to the motion as proposed given its redundancy, the need by all parties and agents of the Town to conduct Town affairs within the rule of law and common good, and the probability  of a  public false impression about the intent of the motion of approved.” The exact opposite is true; this is absolutely within the rule of law, is essential to the common good, and the impression it gives to the public is that Belmont welcomes immigrants and that no one should have to live in fear. I am confused as to what you are referring to in these sentences.
  • I wish that we had a far more comprehensive resolution that would have made Belmont a full-fledged sanctuary town, but unfortunately, that is not the case – this resolution is purely symbolic and does not change any existing policies. It does, however, send a message to immigrants who live or work in Belmont that their community supports them and that they are welcome regardless of race, ethnicity, or immigration status.
This is not and should not be a partisan issue – all sides should agree on this resolution, which is extremely watered down and purely symbolic, as simply a statement of Belmont’s values. 
I am happy to discuss this further. I hope that you understand how detrimental the failure of this resolution would be to the emotional wellbeing of our immigrants, people of color, Muslim community (for instance, Muslim students being bullied at Chenery), and to our reputation as a town. I welcome you to reconsider your position.
Best,
Daniel Vernick
TMM Precinct 1
Jim Williams
Hi Daniel
Thanks for your email. At least,  you care enough to engage. Otherwise, here is my initial reaction to your comments: 

  1. Amongst many other things, I am a Belmontonian as well, and I don’t agree with the motion for the reasons I’ve put forth in writing.
  2. It is always possible that well-intentioned people can be working on bad policy,  yet that fact doesn’t necessarily validate a particular point of view as history has shown over and over again. 
  3. Article 10 did not start out within the rule of law from what I know of it. The Police Command and Selectman Mark Palilllo worked with Anne (who we all know which is important to understand)  to bring the motion into a neutral political space for the common good and so the motion could pass without rancor.  
  4. Great strategy to enable all to vote unanimously in favor except that it will be predictably understood by the wider public to support policies it doesn’t support which does not serve   Belmont’s common good which I have sworn to uphold.
  5. Hence, my opinion and the elephant question of “why do it” at all?.
As for the rest of your commentary, you simply say because you disagree I should agree with you. I’m going to need more than your word on that. I think we need to have more dialogue when we can if you like as I always stand to be corrected. 
Best, 
Jim 

Opinion: Mark Paolillo, The Leadership Belmont Needs

Photo: Mark Paolillo.

By Ellen Schreiber and Sara Masucci

Leadership, experience and vision matter on our Board of Selectman.

Last year, we led the override campaign to protect our town – to keep the schools strong; to fix our roads, sidewalks, and buildings; and to avoid encroaching on other town services we all depend on.

This work is not done. Belmont is now facing some of its most exciting and most daunting challenges ever.

These challenges require Mark Paolillo’s strong leadership, experience and vision.

Mark believes in a community where individuals make a difference. He is a parent who “put his money where his mouth is” to guarantee the excellence of our schools. With Mark, everyone has a voice, every perspective is important, and a consensus is a worthy goal.  In Mark’s Belmont, unique places like the Underwood Pool, the Viglirolo Skating Rink, Butler playground, Joey’s Park, the emerging Community Path, and the Senior Center define this “Town of Homes.” He fosters the vision that we become a community when we serve our neighbors and strive together to be better.

Mark’s priorities are our priorities, including:

  1. Shepherding the renovation/rebuild of Belmont High School,
  2. Relieving the budget pressure caused by skyrocketing school enrollment,
  3. Extending the positive impact of the Proposition 2 1/2 override,
  4. Leading the implementation of identified revenue opportunities and fiscal discipline,
  5. Achieving consensus on the community path,
  6. Navigating the murky waters of the Minuteman High School project,

Plus many more.

Mark is uniquely capable of accomplishing these tasks.

  • Mark was a key architect of the override. The Financial Task Force he led performed the analysis that created the override proposal, and he was a primary advocate for passage.
  • Mark has always been a strong supporter of the Belmont schools as a parent and town leader.
  • Mark has 12-years of experience analyzing and optimizing Belmont’s complex, $100-plus million budget.
  • During his tenure as Chair of the Board of Selectmen, Belmont benefitted from Mark’s skill in consensus building and negotiation. Time after time, he demonstrated his commitment to listen to all residents as a key part of his decision making.
  • Mark has experience with building projects, as selectman during the construction of the Wellington School and the Underwood Pool.

We believe the effectiveness of the Board of Selectmen would be compromised without Mark.

  • Mark has a unique skill set on the board as a CPA, who leads a global accounting practice.
  • Mark is the only selectman with 12-years of Belmont budget experience, compared to the other selectmen who have 1-2 years of experience.
  • Mark’s institutional knowledge is irreplaceable on the board; he is well versed on every important issue that Belmont has faced for the last 18 years.

This is not the time for “change for the sake of change.” 

Of course, there are always things we can do better. A government is a work in progress. And none of us are perfect. We believe Mark sincerely regrets the vote that led to the contentious atmosphere surrounding the Belmont Center project, and he was part of collaboration that achieved a compromise.

Mark’s leadership has helped Belmont take huge steps forward. We wouldn’t have the override without Mark. Or the Underwood Pool. Or the new Minuteman agreement. Or the Financial Task Force. Mark is the “go-to” selectman to resolve Belmont’s most thorny issues.

There is no one more committed to Belmont’s children and seniors, homeowners and renters, businesses and employees, than Mark Paolillo. He is dedicated to serving this community.

In these exciting and challenging times, Belmont is lucky that Mark Paolillo wants to continue to serve on the Board of Selectmen.

Opinion: Invest the Money to Keep Waverley Station Accessible

Photo: Waverley MBTA Commuter Rail Station 

By Jim Williams

In September, MBTA General Manager Frank DePaola made a presentation at an open Board of Selectmen meeting concerning handicap accessibility at the Waverley Commuter Rail station. Public comments opposed closing the station and Sami Bagdadhy, chair of the board, stated the Selectmen’s position was that our existing stations should remain open and be handicap accessible. 

Subsequently, a proposed MBTA design charrette was expanded to an open public meeting now scheduled for Nov. 16 at the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St. Then, in late October,  the MBTA informed the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board of three possible outcomes including making Waverley accessible; closing Waverley; or leaving Waverley open and investing the $30 million estimated to make Waverley compliant with applicable State and Federal accessibility regulations into a system-wide project that would impact a significantly  larger number of customers with disabilities. 

I am standing to support alternative three above for the following reasons:

  1. The proposal of a third alternative defeats the logical fallacy (bifurcation) that only making the Waverley handicap accessible or closing it are the possible remedies when, in fact, there is in reality a range of options.
  2. The previous strategy of building a third station in Belmont and closing the existing two has objectively and overwhelmingly the least favorable cost/benefits profile of any possible solution.
  3. The Fitchburg line has been in existence for more than 125 years and was and still is integral to the economic development and well-being of Belmont.

So what can be done? First, get informed and write letters to the elected, appointed, or employed officials responsible starting with Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. This can make a difference. 

Second, attend the Nov. 16 meeting and let your voice be heard loud and clear. For the MBTA, I recommend working with Belmont’s Economic Development Committee and  Community Path Implementation Committee in addition to the Belmont Disability Access Commission in developing responsible solutions for this important initiative. For the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board,  I recommend exploring with the MBTA the acceptable alternatives that will impact the largest number customers with disabilities. 

In closing, I want to remind everyone listening: The railroad belongs to us; The State and Federal funding involved is our money; We get the government we deserve.  

Jim Williams, Selectman

Glenn Road

This communication is compliant with the State’s Open Access laws as I have not discussed its contents with either Baghdady or fellow Selectman Mark Paolillo.

Opinion: An Unfair Re-Do, Part One

Photo: Town Meeting.

If I were to come to you on some Belmont street with a petition in my hands protesting the results of the April override election, saying it was unfairly run, that it didn’t make financial sense, and what’s more that I didn’t realize it was such an important election so I didn’t bother to vote, you would laugh in my face.

You would tell me, “That election is over. You don’t get to re-do it just because you didn’t like the results.” Indeed, a number of people did have issues with the results of the election and the way the campaigns were run, and that response was more or less exactly what was said to them after the election: “It’s done; you don’t get to have a do-over on Town Meeting floor.”

Yet that it exactly what the proponents of the recent Special Town Meeting motion are asking for, a do-over of a decision that was rendered with complete propriety by the appropriate elected body acting in what they believe was the best interests of the town. Moreover, these proponents are asking that one town body, Town Meeting, vote to override the decision of another elected body, the Board, with dubious legal grounding and applying arguments that simply are not valid.

The reasons the proponents have put forth have varied depending on when they were protesting.

Collusion

First it was: “the vote by the Board was undertaken in collusion, and a certain elderly citizen was improperly influencing them.” This line of argument is now established as “fact” in the minds of many citizens, even though not a single shred of evidence has ever been put forward on the topic. Seriously, where’s the evidence? If there is any real evidence and not mere rumor-mongering, please publish it!

Many citizens were asked to sign a petition assuming this story, and who wouldn’t want to right a prodigious wrong? The problem was, the story simply wasn’t true. Later, something was said about the corrupting influence of backyard barbecues, but I confess to not understanding this line of reasoning. Are elected officials not supposed to mix with any citizens at all, under any circumstances, lest it have the appearance of influence peddling?

A secret sparsely-attended meeting 

Later, when the “old lady corrupted the Board” story became less politically acceptable – though the argument is still making the rounds and is believed by many – the argument changed to “the meeting was not advertised sufficiently, it was basically a secret meeting.” This argument, even if it had merit – it does not since the meeting was posted to all Town Meeting members – would be insufficient to invalidate the results of the Board’s vote in any case. The Board was under no obligation to hold any public meeting to get input. Even so, they held a meeting, and it was properly advertised. 

A variation of this argument was that the meeting was “sparsely attended” so it was invalid. First of all, it was not sparsely attended. The Beech Street Center is not a small venue, and many people filled the seats. In any case, it was the board’s decision to make, so attendance is not the issue. This was not a majoritarian vote: even if 90 percent of the people there expressed a certain opinion, it was by no means incumbent on the board to vote that way, even morally. A room can be packed with supporters of an opinion, but so what? Yes, town elections are based on sheer majority, however obtained. But the board’s decision is not based on mere poll numbers. We would be ashamed of them if they did not think for themselves, weigh alternate perspectives – especially minority views – and take into account subtleties that mass campaigning is incapable of. That is their duty as representatives of the whole town, and they performed it.

No, the proper question is whether they got good feedback, both in the meeting and out. As someone who attended the meeting, I can say that the attendees expressed a variety of opinions that covered many aspects of the issue. But here’s the important point: even if we disagree about whether they got good advice, that would not invalidate their decision, or their right to make the decision. We can all cite instances of elections, for example, where the electorate was woefully under-informed on the key issues, but we don’t throw out the results for all that. 

Town Meeting’s vote should be respected

Indeed, on the majoritarian point: a more recent argument suggests that, on principle, the Board should not have diverted from the majority vote of Town Meeting on the green space.

First of all, Town Meeting did not vote on the design, it voted on the money. Secondly, members of Town Meeting raised the issues about the green space at the very same meeting, concerns that were not negated before the vote but in fact corroborated. 

Thus, the Board was alerted by Town Meeting itself that this was an issue that needed resolution, and the Town Meeting vote was undertaken with the understanding that issues had been raised and were as yet unresolved. It is not unreasonable to assume that at least some people voted yes to the money on the presumption that the issues would be addressed. To assume the opposite – that every “yes” vote meant the green space issue was settled – doesn’t make sense. Town Meeting as a body voted yes to the money, and Town Meeting in its public deliberations noted the green space/access road as an issue. If anything, the Board was morally obliged to follow up, and they did; to do otherwise would have been to ignore the feedback from Town Meeting.

“We were misinformed about the meeting’s agenda”

Another argument claims that the announcement of the May meeting did not properly spell out the purpose of the meeting, and that many people were thus led to believe it was just a status meeting. Some even assert this was done on purpose to obscure the intent of the meeting.

All this just means that some people don’t bother to read their email. Here is the full letter to Town Meeting by the Board:

“The Board of Selectmen has scheduled a meeting on May 28th at 6:30 p.m. at the Beech Street Center to provide residents with an update on the Belmont Center Reconstruction Project. As part of this update, the Board will receive information on the current design and possible design alternatives of the “Green Space” located in front of the Belmont Savings Bank. This will be an opportunity for residents to provide feedback to the Board of Selectmen on this component of the project.”

Seems pretty clear.

“We agreed on a new Town Green”

Regarding the “Green Space” by the way: while I can imagine that the Traffic Advisory Committee and people in favor of reconstruction understood that the changes to the “Green Space” were actually part of a reconceptualization of that area as something of a second “Town Green” – an inviting centerpiece for a rejuvenated Center, as it were – that concept was never explicitly treated in either the September precinct meeting nor the November Town Meeting. The transcript bears this out. In other words, even in the most intense discussions of the green space, it was always discussed as an enhancement or restriction of green space, not as a change in the nature of the delta.

This is important because the proponents of the current Town Meeting case argue that it voted a certain vision of the Center. But if there was any vision explicitly stated in Town Meeting, it was only about an increase of square footage of green space. 

No doubt some members held the other vision, but that vision was simply not present explicitly in the discussions, so it’s not accurate to assert that we all voted with a new “Town Green” in mind.

Note: Part Two will be published on Wednesday, Aug. 5.

Kevin Cunningham

Town Meeting Member, Precinct 4