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.
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:
- 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!!