Opinion: Schools To Pool – Colton Is The Choice For Selectman

Belmont will go to the polls on Tuesday to vote for a variety of offices, including Town Meeting in each precinct, School Committee, Board of Library Trustees. But its the race at the top of the ticket: for The Board of Selectman that is attracting almost all the attention. There’s a good reason for that: its one of the few competitive races on the ballot. Also: our three member Board of Selectman wields tremendous power and influence in town. It matters who sits on the Board. Big Time.

Roger Colton for Belmont Selectman

With that, I’m passing along some thoughts from an e-mail I circulated earlier today on why I am backing Roger Colton for Selectman over his opponent, Sami Baghdady.

First, let me say that I respect both men and the time, effort and initiative they have put into the race. Most of us sit on the sidelines. Both Sami and Roger have flung themselves into the breach and I’m thankful to them for that.

That said, I have heard from some close friends – close followers of the local political scene – that they don’t see the difference between the two men. The truth is: there are really big and important differences between the two and – whichever way you vote – you should do so with full knowledge of what those differences are.  


The Selectman candidates on our Public Schools

Roger and Mr. Baghdady have very different visions for the future of Belmont’s public schools.

  • Roger wants to invest in our schools and seeks long-term fixes to pressing problems like growing class sizes. Roger–whose daughter Ally graduated from BHS in the class of 2011–backs implementation of the BPS “Report from the Class Size Advisory Group” and has spoken about the financial burden that the town has placed on families with young children with the shift from town-funded services to fee-based alternatives.
  • Sami Baghdady prefers short-term, Band-Aid fixes rather than long-term solutions. He told the Belmont Citizen Herald that he’s in favor of using modular trailers as classroom space to ease overcrowding at the town’s elementary schools. At last week’s League of Women Voters debate, Sami proposed moving 8th graders to Belmont High School and he has proposed using technology-based at home learning (that is: Internet classes) for upperclassmen to free up space.Finally, anyone who has visited our elementary schools knows how crowded they are. Sami told the Citizen Herald he wants to see a ‘space utilization review’ to identify parts of our school buildings that might be used to hold class. Roger knows that a classroom is a classroom – not a cafeteria or a closet.

Belmont is estimated to add 600 students by the end of this decade. With the addition of high density development like in Cushing Square, the number could be higher than that. How the town addresses this demographic shift will have a large impact on the quality of instruction in our schools. You can see their responses here at the 110 minute mark.

The Selectman Candidates on the Underwood Pool

Let me put it in simple terms: a vote for Roger is a YES vote for rebuilding the historic Underwood Pool. A vote for Sami is a NO vote for rebuilding our town’s popular summer swimming pool. Period.

Here’s the background. This election, Belmont voters are being asked to approve a small debt exclusion to fund the reconstruction of the aging Underwood Pool, which has fallen out of compliance with state safety and health requirements. The Underwood currently operates only with year-to-year waivers from State officials who are awaiting action by the town to refurbish the facility. The cost of the debt exclusion to the average household will be about $4 a month in additional taxes for a period of about 15 years. That’s the price of a donut and some coffee. The new pool will be ready by 2015. Here, also, the candidates have very different views.

  • Roger is a strong supporter of the measure to rebuild the Underwood Pool. In the League of Women Voters debate, he stated clearly: voters are being asked to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for reconstruction of the Underwood, and he will vote YES and encourages others to do the same.
  • Mr. Baghdady has signaled that he is not in favor of the debt exclusion vote and does not support the current proposal to rebuild the Underwood. More concerning: he proposes throwing out the work of the Underwood Pool Building Committee -the product of hundreds of hours of volunteer effort by residents on and months of public hearings. Sami thinks the whole process should be rolled back and re-started so that “the people I’m talking to” can be given a new hearing. That’s never happened before in Belmont (for good reason) and would set a dangerous precedent.

You can hear the candidates voice their opinions on the Underwood Pool in this video of the League of Women Voters debate. The question comes at the 102:30 mark.

The Selectman Candidates on the Community Path: 

Once again – big differences. (And I would point you to the Belmont Citizens Forum Q&A for more details on the Community Path and other issues. Get the PDF version here.

  • While both candidates have said that the town should wait for the report from the Community Path Advisory Committee (which makes sense), Roger has said clearly that he backs the creation of an off-road community path connecting to the existing path to Alewife that will serve the entire community. The town should “protect the neighbors affected”  using “structural and design responses” to address any abutter concerns and neighborhood impacts.
  • Sami has indicated that he “generally supports a community path.” But Baghdady indicated he would likely side with a small, but vocal group of abutters on Channing Road if push came to shove, saying the path shouldn’t ‘divide the community.’  

While a compromise route along the tracks that makes everyone happy may be possible, the evidence from numerous public hearings is clear: the vast majority of residents in town (including abutters in Waverly Square) strongly support the creation of a Community Path along the train tracks. Sami’s stated inclination to disregard the work of expert Committee charged with making recommendations should they run contrary to a small group of vocal ‘insiders’ does not bode well for town governance should Mr. Baghdady be elected. More sclerosis on the Board of Selectmen is exactly what Belmont does not need.

What Belmont does need is strong political leadership. The town has never needed it more than it does today. Roger Colton will bring more than 30 years of experience as an attorney and economist to the job. Here in town, he has worked for decades as a valued volunteer on behalf of Belmont. Roger’s calm demeanor and inclusive nature make him the ideal candidate to serve as our next Selectman.

I urge you to join me in voting for him on Tuesday!!


Voter Alert: Local Candidates Face Off Tonight at 7PM – Be There!

Just a quick shout-out to the local politics nerds among my Blogging Belmont readers: tonight is the Belmont Candidates’ Night. Hosted by the League of Women Voters, it’s your best (and last) chance to see candidates for Town Meeting and town-wide office (Board of Selectmen, School Committee) before next week’s April 1st town wide vote. This is an incredibly important election for Belmont, with School Committee spots and a spot on the Board of Selectman up for grabs, not to mention a debt exclusion vote to restore the Underwood Pool. I really recommend going.

VOTEposterfinalThe event starts at 7:00 PM at Chenery Middle School Auditorium. According to the LWV web site, the evening will start with “informal discussions with the candidates for Town Meeting Member” in your precinct. That will be followed by an introduction of all candidates for Town Meeting Member. After that, candidates for te town-wide offices will make a formal statement and then answer questions from the audience.

The big race to watch is for Selectman, where Roger Colton is squaring off against Sami Baghdady. (Full disclosure: I’m a volunteer for Roger’s campaign and have endorsed him for Selectman.) Thus far, the race has played out on competing lawns and in the pages of the Citizen Herald, where the candidates have been responding to questions on issues such as school overcrowding and the fate of the Underwood Pool. This will be the candidates first (and only) opportunity to speak directly to each other and to take questions directly from voters. (You can find a copy of the full ballot here.)

Long and short: you should be there. Don’t miss it!

Tonight: Tell The Selectmen You Support The Community Path

Belmont bikers and walkers unite! After months (years? decades?) of hemming and hawing, Belmont’s Selectmen are moving toward a final decision on the question of whether to extend the existing bike path from Alewife to Belmont Center with a meeting this evening from 7-9 PM this evening (January 22) at The Beech Street Center. 

bike path

The recent extension of the Community Path from Alewife to Pleasant Street is beautiful – and heavily used by Belmont residents. (Photo courtesy of Boston.com)

The purpose of the meeting is to serve as an abutters’ forum organized by CPAC – the Belmont Community Path Advisory Committee. It will be the last public forum before CPAC submits their report to the Selectmen on the feasibility of an extension of the existing bike path from Brighton Street through to Belmont Center  (and beyond).

While there’s broad support in town for extending the bike path to Belmont Center – providing easy access by foot or bike to Alewife (and therefore Somerville, Boston and Cambridge), as well as The Minuteman Trail (with connections out to Concord), there is also considerable resistance by a tiny, but vocal minority of residents- almost all residents of Channing Road, which the path would back up to.

Concern about the impact of the path on quality of life for Channing Road residents is totally understandable, and tonight’s forum will be an important opportunity to hear those concerns and try to find a way forward. But it’s also important to make decisions based on facts, not fear. The event tonight is an opportunity for Belmont residents who support more infrastructure for walkers and bikers to come out and voice their support. Belmont has an unfortunate history of NIMBY-ism and I’m sad to say that we’ve turned away some fine proposals in the past because of fear of change or fear of the unknown. Let’s not let that happen with the bike path!

If you’re interested in getting involved, Sustainable Belmont has a great page that provides some links to resources, including the Friends of the Belmont Community Path Google Group and the Belmont Community Path Facebook group. Finally, there’s an online petition here to show your support!