I meant to link to this interesting article in the Sunday Globe about how to make cities greeener by “retrofitting” existing infrastructure. The piece, by Michael Fitzgerald, points out that, while there might be lots of innovation out there on new envirornmentally friendly technologies, many aren’t well suited to fully built environments like Boston’s. At the same time, cities don’t have the money or inclination to “tear down blocks full of drafty old structures and start from scratch” — either with their built environment or their networks of electrical conduits, gas and water mains, etc. But that doesn’t mean that our hands are tied. Belmont has its own climate action plan, which is well thought out. But Fitzgerald has a number of cool ideas here, some of which may be accessible to near-urban suburbs like Belmont, as well. Among them:
+ Smart grid – Fitzgerald focuses on smart metering for homes and businesses so that consumers can understand how much power they’re consuming and take steps to cut it down by shutting off or replacing power hungry appliances. He also mentions peak pricing — charging consumers more for using electricity during periods of high demand. Presumably, consumers would cut back on use during these times to avoid the higher fees. Both ideas are ones that Belmont, which owns its municipal power station, could try. Belmont Municipal Light Dept. has generally set a low bar on green initiatives, but I’ll follow up with BMLD Chief Tim Richardson to get an update on plans for doing this at the town level.
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The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office is inquiring into the doings of an informal, private gathering of some of the Town’s top elected officials with questions about whether the group, which has been developing recommendations for consolidating and streamlining the Town’s government, ran afoul of the State’s Open Meeting Law, according to the Belmont Citizen Herald.
According to BCH, a letter, dated June 18, 2009, was sent from Assistant District Attorney Robert Bender and addressed to members of the so-called Officers Group: Board of Selectmen Chairman Dan Leclerc, three members of the town’s Warrant Committee: Phil Curtis, Patricia Brusch and Elizabeth Allison, and two members of the School Committee: Ann Rittenburg and Leslie Walker.
According to the letter, the DA’s office was notified by a Belmont voter who inquired about the activities of the group which “have met as a group for several months this year to form proposals for better administrative or financial operation of town government, with the apparent intent to advance favored proposals by presenting those at meetings of your respective committees…”
The BCH story, by editor Anthony Schinella, indicates that the paper had previously inquired about the propriety of the group with both Warrant Committee Chair Phil Curtis and former Board of Selectman Chair (and Officers Group member) Angelo Firenze. “Both stated that they did not feel that the group’s meetings were a violation of the Open Meeting Law because there was not a quorum of each committee attending the private meetings and the group was not setting policy.” The group was “discussing with department heads and others, how the town was being managed, and how department heads would build their organizations if they could start from scratch,” the BCH reports.
“Consolidation” has been the Holy Grail of elected officials in Belmont for longer than almost anyone can remember. By consolidation, we’re talking about streamlining the Town’s budget by finding efficiencies within both Town and School Dept. operations. Do we really need two separate ground crews with two separate payrolls: one to mow the lawn in front of Town Hall and the other to mow the lawn in front of the High School? You get the idea.
Various committees and subcommittees have studied both the in-town and regional consolidation question from different angles over the last two decades and produced reports on their findings. Some have borne fruit: the town has found ways to share its special education costs and fuel costs with other towns. But its also true that many of the larger-scale reform plans are collecting dust down at Town Hall. The nice thing, though, is that you can go down there (or go online) and read them. On file are also the minutes of the meetings of the committees that assembled the reports: who was involved in the discussions, what outside opinions were considered, what issues wrestled over and which compromises reached.
Not so the latest plan for consolidation of services between the School Department and Town. That plan, articulated in a memo that was approved by the Warrant Committee last week, is the product of an informal and closed door group of the Town’s senior elected officials: the heads of the Warrant Committee, School Committee, and Board of Selectmen, which some have dubbed the “Officers’ Group.” This group has been meeting privately and is something of an open secret in Town. Since being elected to School Committee, I’ve had a number of constituents as well as fellow elected officials ask me about what it was up to, so I decided to ask.
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