Remember the Town Green (and vote Adam Dash)

The original (Plan A) design for Belmont Center. The two Selectmen candidates have very different ideas about what went wrong., and what the Town should learn from the experience.

If you were as dismayed as I was two years ago, when the Belmont Board of Selectmen defied the will of Town Meeting and the voters by re-drawing an agreed upon and funded plan for the reconstruction of Belmont Center, fear not. You have a champion in next week’s race for Belmont Selectman: Adam Dash.

Of the two candidates running, only Adam stood up for honesty, transparency and accountability during the Town Center debate in 2015. All these months later, he is the only candidate who has absorbed the lessons of that confrontation, who is committed to honoring the will of Town Meeting in the future and who will make transparency and accountability cornerstones of his tenure.

Adam’s opponent, Guy Carbone, has admitted to not knowing the details of the Town Center dispute and appears to have missed the lesson about respect for process and for the institution of Town Meeting that the Town Green controversy threw into stark relief. Electing Mr. Carbone would, I fear, be a step in the wrong direction for Belmont and set the stage for more Town Green-style confrontations in the years ahead.

The Town Center/Town Green issue may be new to you or (more likely) you’ve blocked out the whole mess. The Cliff’s Notes version is that the Board of Selectmen presented and ‘sold’ Town Meeting on one plan to renovate Belmont Center, making bunch of promises and guarantees about that design to Town Meeting. Then, with funding in hand, it redrew those plans without any public input or review, at the behest of a Belmont VIP and éminence grise.

You can refresh your memory by reading articles and editorials like this and this. The whole affair resulted in a Special Town Meeting, at which Town Meeting members sided with the people: voting to urge The Selectmen to adhere to the original plans for the Town Center. That effort was to no avail: the Selectmen disregarding Town Meeting’s wishes, going ahead with a “compromise” plan that preserved much of their wrong headed and ill conceived revisions to the Town Center plans.

That sad incident still looms large in the minds of many Town residents. That is why Belmont Citizen Herald editor Joanna Tzvouvelis thought to ask the two Selectmen candidates about it during their Belmont Media Center debate on March 15. (You can view the video using this link. Skip ahead to the Town Center question, which comes at around the 8:00 minute mark.) Adam and Mr. Carbone’s answers couldn’t have been more different or more revealing.

For Adam, the Town Center was an example of “broken process” in Belmont, emphasizing that the will of Town Meeting should be respected by the Selectmen as co-equal branches of government. A member of the Underwood Pool Building Committee, Adam notes that the Pool project had a similar process to the one for the Town Center reconstruction. However, that project was bid and built by adhering closely to the plans presented to- and funded by Town Meeting. Going forward, “Town Meeting needs to be brought into the process,” Adam says, suggesting a forum for Town Meeting to confer with The Selectmen between Town Meeting sessions. That’s a sensible idea, in my opinion.

How about Guy Carbone? Well, to start, he admitted in the March 15 debate that he was unfamiliar with the “changes the Selectmen made.” That’s a shocking disclosure, given the high profile the dust-up had within Belmont at the time. Undeterred by a lack of familiarity with the facts, Mr. Carbone is round-about and vague. From what he does say about the Town Center, we can infer that Mr. Carbone would side with The Selectmen. He suggests (without citing any evidence and inaccurately) that “not enough” Town Meeting members had the drawings for the Town Center reconstruction and “knew what was going on.” In fact, the entire Town Meeting was shown the plans and engaged in a lengthy discussion of them prior to approving funding.

Continuing, Mr. Carbone emphasizes that construction projects are complex and “there’s a lot to it.” That’s true. And that’s one reason Town Meeting was anxious to move ahead with the vetted and funded plan for Town Center (Plan A) rather than Selectmen Baghdady’s last minute, slap-dash Plan B. Once again, lacking knowledge of the specific incident, Mr. Carbone gives the Board the benefit of the doubt. “There had to be something that caused the Selectmen to change it,” he notes. There was “something:” a sweet old lady with a petition. That’s all it took to upend years of planning. Mr. Carbone, in his answers, seems to miss that very important point.

This is important stuff. As Adam notes: the process of approving and building big things broke – badly – with Town Center. The problems that were raised by the incident have plagued other efforts to get things done in Belmont. (See also: The Community Path, liquor licenses, Cushing Village, the Marsh Street Development abutting habitat). Too often in Belmont, insiders, abutters, VIPs and FOB’s (friends of the Board) and a range of other “bright shiny objects” in the political firmament distract our elected officials from the straight and narrow path: moving forward on important projects and doing what they promised and what’s in the best interests of the whole community.

Incidents like the Town Green revealed a government in which process went out the window in order to bend in the direction of special interests, circumventing the transparent and democratic process on which our Town government is based. Fixing this mess requires understanding what went wrong in 2015. Adam proved in the March 15 debate that he has that understanding and is ready to put our Town’s government on a more sure footing. Guy Carbone didn’t. Join me in voting for Adam on April 4th.