Lots of Choices on The Ballot – Here’s How I See It

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April elections can be sleepy affairs. Many voters who turn out for presidential- and state-wide contests stay home for local elections in April. That’s really too bad, as the people you elect to local boards and offices have a much bigger say in your day to day life than does, say, Barack Obama.

But this April in Belmont, we actually have some choices on the ballot and a good number of competitive contests – including in 6 of 8 precincts for Town Meeting. That’s amazing! It also leaves voters with many choices.

Quite a few of you have reached out to me in recent days for my thoughts, so I thought I’d use Blogging Belmont to talk about who I’m planning to vote for and why. In some cases, where a race is uncontested and/or I feel like I don’t know the candidate well enough, I’m going to keep mum and not say anything. As a rule, I vote proactively – so I vote for people who I like and whose ideas I support, not just because their name is on a ballot. That’s true even in an uncontested race. Blank is always an option. I know many of you do the same.

So, going down the ballot:

Moderator | Board of Select(wo)menTown Clerk | Board of Assessors | Board of Cemetery Commissioners | Board of Health | Housing Authority | Trustees of Belmont Library | School Committee | Precinct 8 Town Meeting

Moderator – Michael Widmer (unopposed)

My thoughts: Mike is running unopposed but deserves your vote anyway. Speaking personally, he was a huge asset to me, Bonnie Friedman and others over the summer when a dispute arose with the Selectmen over the Town Center Reconstruction. Mike was always very accessible and worked cooperatively to make sure the Special Town Meeting in August went off without a hitch. I felt like he heard both sides in the debate and kept discussion of the issue focused, even though tempers had flared on both sides. He’s done a great job introducing electronic voting to Town Meeting without going overboard (the technology has its pros and cons). I’d like to see more diversity in Mike’s committee appointments, with a focus on getting some new blood onto important committees like Warrant Committee, Capital Budget, Planning, etc.

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Board of Select(wo)men – Mark Paolillo and Alexandra Ruban

My thoughts: Alexandra Ruban is your choice here. I’ve written about why I’m backing her before, and invite you to read what I’ve written. In brief: she’s a mom, a businesswoman (MBA from Babson) and a problem solver by nature. I think she’s smart and insightful – a quick study who knows her mind and won’t get wobbly knees when confronting tough, politically fraught issues. Political insiders in town have decided that her lack of time in their company makes her unqualified, but history in our Town of Homes suggests otherwise: she wouldn’t be the first Selectman to bypass a route up through the various, powerful committees to the top office. Given the sclerosis that currently plagues our town government, that’s not such a bad thing.

Alexandra is bringing a fresh perspective and a fresh set of eyes to the job of Selectwoman – just as it took her fresh eyes to note (at much personal cost) the town’s decision to renew its solid waste contract without soliciting competing bids.

Given the myriad of challenges facing the town, among them: a continued structural budget deficit, a ~$200 million capital budget backlog and a fast growing student population – new ideas and a new perspective are very much needed on the Board. Everyone’s attention is focused on Belmont High (its a huge project) but the other problems pressing down on our Town of Homes won’t go away while we figure out what we’re going to do with the High School. Having a Board that can “walk and chew gum at the same time” (so to speak) will be a tremendous asset. Alexandra can get us to do that. Vote for her!

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Town Clerk – Ellen O’Brien Cushman (unopposed)

My thoughts: like Mike Widmer: Ellen runs unopposed, but you should vote for her anyway. She and her staff do a great job, and they do it with a smile. The town is lucky to have her on the job – and its not an easy job, by any stretch. Our town elections go off smoothly and communications to the community from the Clerk are frequent. The town has much more work to do bringing both new and historical data online and making it available in a format that is easy for residents to access and understand. We’re still too reliant on email and (alas) paper rather than leveraging social media and the web to their fullest potential. But Belmont’s not alone there, and its not Ellen’s job alone to make it happen – it needs to be a government/town-wide initiative. More on this later.

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Board of Assessors – Charles Laverty (unopposed)

My thoughts: This is one where I haven’t done as much homework as I should – in part because Charles is running unopposed. I leave it to readers to comment or provide their thoughts on this post and Charles as a candidate.

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Board of Cemetery Commissioners – William Chemelli (unopposed)

My thoughts: Another unopposed race without much information to go on. As with Board of Assessors:  I leave it to readers to comment or provide their thoughts on this post and William as a candidate.

Board of Health – Julie Lemay (unopposed)

My thoughts: I’m going to cast a vote for Julie for Board of Health. I haven’t had the chance to speak with her, but her background in environmental health and experience working on public health issues will be a big asset to the town and nicely complement the work and backgrounds of other BOH members!

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Housing Authority (5 Year Term) – Anne Barrington Mahon (unopposed)

My thoughts: She’s running unopposed, but I’m voting for Anne all the way. Housing Authority is a little noticed, but really important agency within town that oversees our affordable housing developments and stock. Given the importance of the job, aging house stock and fickle financial support from the State government, we need a staunch and outspoken advocate for residents and for Belmont taxpayers. Passage of the CPA has made more funds available to begin making improvements to our public housing, but the town also needs to make sure that its using its CPA dollars widely, while still demanding that state fulfills its obligations. Anne will be a huge asset. Vote for her.

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Housing Authority (3 Year Term) – Paul Rickter and Tommasina Anne Olsen

My thoughts: I’m voting for Paul Rickter in this race. Paul is a neighbor of mine in Precinct 8 and a super smart and competent guy. His professional background and experience are in software engineering and he’s shown an engineer’s mindset in this campaign: working with diligence and attention to detail, canvassing large parts of the town and becoming well versed in the BHA’s history, current status and future plans. His answers at the League of Women Voters night were balanced and insightful. Vote for Paul for Housing Authority.

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 Trustees of Belmont Public Library- Mark Carthy and Mary Donahue Stearns (unopposed)

My thoughts: Mark and Mary are running for the two open spots, so there’s no contest here. I’ll say that I liked Mary’s statement in the League of Women Voters publication quite a bit. She was alone in talking about the future (and future importance) of libraries as community information centers – a resource for students, seniors, the self employed and anyone in search of information but unable (or unwilling) to pay the hefty subscription fee that comes with it. Mark spoke about increasing hours and the library, especially on weekends, which I also support and about making the library a more accessible resource for school children. Vote for both Mark and Mary!

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School Committee (3 Year Term) – Sabri Murat Bicer, Kimberly O’Mahony and Andrea Prestwich

My thoughts: I’m voting for Murat Bicer and Andrea to fill the two, 3 year seats on School Committee. Both have impressed me with their resumes (Bicer is a venture capitalist, Prestwich an astrophysicist) and their thoughtfulness about the public schools and the job of School Committee impressed me. Prestwich describes herself as a serious nerd and numbers person who has rallied support in town for starting the High School day later to give students time to sleep late. The Belmont administration has indicated, along with other Middlesex districts, that they’re on board with starting the school day later, too, but the devil will be in the details, and we’ll need Andrea on the Board to manage those details. Murat seems both cautious and open-minded. His background in finance and business will be a huge asset on the Board, especially as the Belmont High project rolls forward, and as new negotiations with the various teachers and school employee unions loom. This is a no-briner: Murat and Andrea are your choices for School Committee.

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School Committee (1 Year Term) – Elyse Shuster (unopposed)

My thoughts: Elyse has been a tremendous asset to the Board for the past three years. Her youngest child is getting ready to leave the Belmont Public Schools, so she is running for an open, 1 year spot rather than re-upping for another full term. Having her experience on what will be a fairly new and inexperienced School Committee will be invaluable. Voter for Elyse for the one year School Committee position!

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Town Meeting elections happen every year, with one third of each precinct’s 36 members up for election each year – each serving three year terms, unless a partial (1 or 2) year term is open. I’m a Precinct 8 resident so I’ll be voting for a crowded slate of 18 candidates. Here’s how I see it:

Town Meeting – Precinct 8

We have what might be considered an “embarrassment of riches” here in Precinct 8, where its more typical that we have just enough candidates to fill the 12 slots. This year we have 18 candidates for those 12 positions – so it will be a tight race. There are a number of explanations for this: many P8  incumbents re-upped (me included). Other residents were activated by the Town Green dispute with the Selectmen this summer and owe their candidacy to that. The Community Path is also a big issue in 8, where it has great support (esp. the pedestrian bridge to BHS), but where it directly affects abutters on Channing Road.

Long and short: there are more than 12 great candidates for Town Meeting in P8 (the author included). Many I know personally or have gotten to know in the course of this campaign. I’d like to call out a couple who may be lesser known or who are “alphabetically challenged” and will appear down on the ballot. They are:

Gi Hyun Yoon-Huang, Winn Street –  I first met Gi this summer while we were working together to try to get the Selectmen to reverse their decision to restore the cut through road to Belmont Center. She was a quiet but insistent advocate for the original plan (Plan A), sitting patiently at late night Board of Selectmen meetings – often with young children in tow – to make sure her voice was heard. She’s a physician and a mom and would be an amazing asset to Town Meeting. 

Michael Crowley, Farnham Street – I hadn’t met Michael face to face until very recently, but he’s been a regular commenter to this blog. A 20+ year government employee, he spent much time in the Office of Management and Budget and has a great head for policy and an equally good head for numbers.He’s got a great command of many of the complex issues facing town – from the schools to the budget and pension obligations to the Community Path. He’d be a great addition to Town Meeting.

Steven Saar, Alexander Ave. – A longtime Belmont resident (he moved here in 1998), Steve is taking his first stab at Town Meeting, but he’s been politically involved for a long time. You may have seen him out with his chocolate lab, festooned with Yes for Belmont signs. A great guy, husband of School Committee candidate Andrea Prestwich and a Ph.D physicist for the Smithsonian.

Marty Bitner, Claflin Street – Marty is the father of two young boys (Bruno: 7 and Nico: 1) and has been very involved in the Winn Brook community. He’s also a Ph.D astrophysicist who is working as a software engineer. Super great guy focused on long term financial viability. Pro Community Path, pro Solar. A big “yes.”

The full list of awesome candidates for TM in P8 follows – this time in alphabetical order:

  • Kathleen “Fitz” Cowing, Cross Street
  • Christine Kochem, Jason Road
  • Anne-Marie Lambert, Chilton Street
  • Roger Read, Munroe Street
  • Paul Rickter, Cross Street
  • Paul Roberts (Me!), Cross Street
  • Ann Rittenburg, Farnham Street
  • Marty Bitner, Claflin Street
  • Michael Crowley, Farnham Street
  • Sonia Hraiz, Plymouth Ave
  • Melissa MacIntryre, Winn Street
  • Diane Beckley Miller, Statler Road
  • Steven Saar, Alexander Ave
  • Robin Whitworth, Cross Street
  • Gi Hyun Yoon-Huang, Winn Street

I’m happy to take other recommendations/endorsements from others (and other precincts) via comments or e-mail: paul (at) bloggingbelmont (dot) com.

Best,

Signature

 

 

Paul Roberts

Setting The Record Straight – On All Sides

 

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As you know, I wrote a letter endorsing Alexandra Ruban to be Belmont’s next Selectwoman. Alexandra is smart, and strong – she has a businesswoman’s eye for details and numbers, patience and a facility for absorbing complex matters quickly. She’s predisposed to action and problem solving, rather than talk and endless debate. I think Belmont – so very rich in “committees” and “task forces” and “study groups,” but lacking when it comes to concrete action – desperately needs that.

In my endorsement letter, which I cross-posted here and on the Belmontonian (and Belmont Citizen Herald), I noted that Alexandra’s inspiration to run for office came from her efforts learn about the Town’s solid waste recycling contract, which recently came up for renewal. After being told more than a year ago that the town was welcoming input from residents and considering other options in anticipation of the end of its current contract, Alexandra was surprised to learn that the town simply renewed its contract with its solid waste contractor for two more years in a process that did not include soliciting any competing bids.

I wrote in my letter of endorsement that the renewal without competing bids wasn’t without precedent, but had happened before in recent years. In my endorsement letter, that thought ended up as this line:

More outrageous: the Town has been doing so for more than a decade! Alexandra knew she could do better for the Town. A campaign was born.

That’s a fine bit of prose – my prose, to be exact…in a letter expressing my personal sentiments and reasons for endorsing a candidate.

Why does that matter? Well, subsequent to writing that letter of endorsement for Ms. Ruban, my neighbor Roy Epstein has pointed out in an op-ed to the Belmont Citizen Herald that six years ago, in 2010, the town issued an RFP (request for proposal) and solicited competing bids for the solid waste recycling contract. In the end, the town decided to stick with our current vendor in a contract signed in 2011. My language regarding the “decade of no-bid contract renewals,” therefore, was not accurate. There were competitive bids taken in the last decade – five years ago. I stand corrected and apologize. Accuracy matters – in reporting, in letters of endorsement and on the stump.

Having said that, it is important to note that the “more than a decade” observation in my endorsement letter was mine, not Alexandra’s. Ms. Ruban never made the “more than a decade” comment to me or anyone else. Nor has her campaign. The statement was based on my understanding of the history of the town’s dealings with its contractor, based on conversations that I had with individuals in town (not Alexandra) who were also interested in reevaluating the town’s solid waste and recycling program. One thing is clear: I was not quoting Alexandra, nor was I quoting her campaign.

So, while I am setting the record straight here on my “more than a decade” comment, it is also good to set the record straight on Mr. Epstein’s observation – in his letter to the Citizen Herald – that “Alexandra Ruban and her supporters have asserted that Belmont has used no-bid solid waste and recycling contracts for more than a decade and wastes the town’s money.” Simply put: that statement and others like it are inaccurate.

Let the record show that neither Ms. Ruban nor her campaign have ever mentioned “a decade of no bid contracts” nor has that claim ever appeared on her campaign web site.  Nor has Alexandra said that Belmont is wasting taxpayers’ money. Her position is that the town simply doesn’t know if it is wasting money or not with its solid waste contract, because in its most recent contract renewal, it did not solicit competing bids. So, while Roy and others might want to reassure the public that the contract was renewed at “favorable prices,” I’m not sure how he (or we) can know that, given that no other vendors were given the option of bidding for the work. Favorable – compared to what?

For the record, these are Alexandra’s exact words, from her position statement on Transparency.

“And I personally encountered this when I went looking for information about Belmont’s curbside recycling contract. While I was able to locate and speak to knowledgeable and helpful town employees, it wasn’t clear to me why the town had simply extended its contract with the recycling firm at a higher annual cost…without soliciting bids from competing firms. The reasoning behind the decisions of our professionals and elected officials and the steps that finally led them to sign off on no-bid contract was inaccessible to me as a citizen.”

Mr. Epstein might argue that attributing my words to Alexandra was an understandable oversight – that (of course) I speak for Alexandra and the campaign. But the fact is that I don’t speak for either. I speak for myself. This blog or letters and opinion pieces I write on the Citizen Herald or Belmontonian represent my words and opinions- nobody else’s.

Of course, it is entirely possible that Roy just got a bit carried away in his letter and took a rhetorical step too far. Maybe he should have given the letter to the editor one more read through before hitting “Send” to triple check his facts. I forgive him, just as I’m sure he’ll forgive me. It happens.

A Great New Belmont Tradition: Sign Up Now for the Becca Pizzi Family 5K

 

Becca during her victory parade in Belmont Center.

Becca during her victory parade in Belmont Center.

Like so many people in Belmont – and around the country – I was inspired by our town’s own Becca Pizzi when, a few months back, she became the first American woman to win the World Marathon Challenge. If you weren’t following it: that’s 7 marathons in 7 consecutive days on 7 different continents. As one of my friends commented on Facebook “how is this possible?” I think we all asked ourselves the same question.

But Becca did it. Now, to help continue the great work she started with the World Marathon Challenge, Becca has announced a 5K fun run to raise money to help fund scholarships for BHS seniors headed off to college. (A worthy cause.)

Here’s the critical info:

BeccaPizzi

The First Annual Becca Pizzi Family 5K Fun Run

Sunday, April 10th Belmont High School Track

Same Day Registration: 7:30 am | 5K Run: 9:00 am | 1 mile kids run: 9:05 am

Race Registration: https://racewire.com/register.php?id=6246

Proceeds: race proceeds will help fund The Becca Pizzi Scholarship fund, which will help BHS College Bound Seniors to be awarded at the BHS Senior Awards Day. Please join us for this special event as a Runner or Volunteer. 

Volunteers: Race Day Volunteers (50 needed): Parents, Students and Friends! Volunteers and Questions please contact: curtis.cole@cbre-ne.com or belmontMAboosters@gmail.com.

Sponsorship Opportunities: More info at Belmont Savings Bank Website.

Paul’s Over the Top Completely Shocking Endorsement of Alexandra Ruban for Selectwoman

I endorsed Alexandra and raised questions about the town's practice of granting no-bid contract renewals. What was I thinking??!

I endorsed Alexandra and raised questions about the wisdom of granting no-bid contract renewals. How dare I??!

Editor’s Note: What follows is a short (300 word) endorsement of Ms. Alexandra Ruban, a candidate for Belmont Selectwoman. It will appear in the Belmont Citizen Herald tomorrow and has already appeared over at Franklin Tucker’s Belmontonian, where it elicited a blistering and angry response from one of Mark Paolillo’s campaign chairs, Ralph Jones.

Alexandra Ruban is a mother and accomplished professional with a background in project management and corporate efficiency. I’ve gotten to know Alexandra and think she’s an amazing woman with a lot to offer Belmont.  I applaud her courage in standing for elected office and am backing her enthusiastically. You can decide for yourself by visiting her web site at alexandraforbelmont.org.

Best, Paul

 

VOTE ALEXANDRA FOR SELECTWOMAN

I will be voting for Alexandra Ruban to be Belmont’s next selectwoman. I encourage readers to do the same.

Alexandra is an accomplished professional and the mother of two children. She has a deep and personal investment in the continued excellence of our town’s public schools. Alexandra wants to make Belmont’s government work better for residents: opening its opaque operations to the light of day and saving taxpayer money that can be invested in the services we care most about: schools, roads, and public buildings.

Vote for Alexandra Ruban for Selectwoman!

Vote for Alexandra Ruban for Selectwoman!

Like many of us who have thrown ourselves into town politics, Alexandra was “activated” by curiosity, a sense of civic responsibility and the sneaking suspicion that something was amiss. In her case, the issue was the town’s relationship with its curbside recycling contractor.

She began asking questions of Town Hall and discovered that, rather than negotiating changes in its recycling contract, Belmont this year simply renewed its contract with the same firm without soliciting competing bids. More outrageous: the Town has been doing so for more than a decade! Alexandra knew she could do better for the Town. A campaign was born.

Mark Paolillo is a good and gentle man from an esteemed family. I count him as a friend. But elections aren’t about demeanor or personal style. Elections are about your record in office and your job performance.

On far too many issues: from the Town Center lawn debacle to annual budget deficits that have cut deeply into school and town services, Mark has consistently sided and voted with Sami Baghdady and other staunch conservatives on the Board – to the detriment of seniors and young families.

Alexandra has the right ideas for Belmont and, most important: the courage of her convictions. I ask you to join me in voting for her in April.

Paul F. Roberts
Town Meeting Member, Precinct 8