Who let the dogs out?

None of us should be surprised by the content of Tony Oberdorfer’s acid editorial in this week’s Belmont Citizen Herald. What many of us are wondering is “why was it printed”?

For those of you who haven’t read the opinion piece “Fiddling while Rome burns,” (and I’m not recommending you do), Oberdorfer throws a wheelhouse punch at everything that he perceives to be wrong in town. Those include: “so-called liberals,” the Senior Center, town administrators (there are too many of ’em) and, of course, “our beknighted School Department,” “compliant School Committee” and … wait for it… “greedy” parents. Oberdorfer accuses this last troika of a “conspiracy against suffering property owners.”

Anyone who’s a regular reader of the BCH’s opinion page has had to wade through Tony’s ill informed dreck before. What set this week’s editorial apart, however, were the very personal attacks on Town Meeting member Anne Mahon. Mahon’s crime: she had the temerity to suggest that Belmont’s excellent school system is a magnet for young families moving into town and one reason that property values in the town remain high. Not such a crazy idea, but for Oberdorfer, it’s heresy. Why, everyone knows that people move to Belmont because of its proximity to Cambridge — the same reason that they move to, oh…Chelsea, or Everett!

Who let the dogs out?

Who let the dogs out?

I’ve contributed to the BCH editorial page before and I’m an ardent supporter of using your editorial and op-ed pages to sponsor a healthy debate over issues before the town. Moreover, I know that editor Tony Schinella usually takes the time to work with contributors on their submissions — both to get them to length and to shape the message. That’s why I’m really confused and concerned about the fact that Oberdorfer’s personal attacks on Anne slipped by. At a minimum, I think that Tony O. should have been asked to cut the ad hominem attacks. Let’s face it: Anne’s not the only one suggesting that the quality of the schools and the desirability of Belmont as a destination town are linked. Attack the idea if you want, but not the person.

Second, Oberdorfer’s ham fisted attacks on “liberals,” “progressives,” and “greedy parents” were just over the top. We’ve got a free press and, of course, BCH can publish any opinions it likes, but this kind of stuff really poisons the well. At the end of the day, we all pay taxes in town (tax increases are borne just as much by parents of young children as by retirees). But I don’t think its too much to ask that, with so many critical issues facing Belmont and requiring the town to come together in the months ahead that the town’s paper should be doing what it can to foster healthy discussion and debate. Oberdorfer’s Op-ed does neither: it’s a rhetorical hand grenade tossed into the midst of an important public forum. — Paul

Weeks of Leaks: Nat. Grid says larger fix needed on Brighton St.

Residents in the neighborhood of Brighton St. who have grown weary of the smell of natural gas wafting past are going to have to hold their noses a bit longer: an earlier “fix” by utility National Grid did not stop a leak that cropped up in December, and the company now says that it will have to replace replacement of around 200 feet of gas line on Brighton Street to stop it.

Blogging Belmont reported on the leak earlier in January, at which point National Grid had stationed a truck to “watch” the natural gas leak and assuage residents concerned about the smell. More than a month later, the truck is gone but the leak — noticeably — is not.

National Grid media relations representative David Graeves says that the company repaired initial, “low grade” leaks but concluded that a larger repair was necessary to properly address the problem. He said the company was planning to replace around 200 feet of 16″ gas line along Brighton Street, close to the intersection of Brighton and Flanders Rd.

But National Grid’s claims to have fixed the leak don’t pass the “sniff” test — you can clearly smell natural gas leaking in the vicinity of the original leak. They also don’t jive with the Belmont Fire Dept. Dispatcher Pendergas, who said that the Department is receiving calls every day about the leak, prompting visits to the Brighton St. location in response. He says those reports started weeks ago, and have not abated, even after National Grid claimed to have fixed the problem. As it stands, BFD reports those calls to National Grid, but has no authority to force the utility to take action to fix it.

Graves of National Grid said that the company has been in the area completing its engineering studies and maintaining an onsite presence to deal with any other leaks that arise. He said work on the replacement gas main would begin this week — weather permitting.

LeClerc looking for compromise on budget, capital spending

With the town facing a swift economic contraction and the loss of state aid, even as it juggles multiple, competing spending issues, Selectman Dan LeClerc is hoping Belmont will steer a middle path: accepting some cuts in services while supporting important projects such as the construction of a new Wellington Elementary School and the preservation of teacher positions at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

LeClerc shared his thoughts with BloggingBelmont in a one-on-one meeting on Thursday, during which he laid out a possible compromise plan to address the most pressing issues before the town. That plan includes:

  • A vote on a debt exclusion to fund the reconstruction of the Wellington Elementary School on the April ballot — LeClerc said he has and will continue to strongly push for passage of the debt exclusion. “I’ve always supported the Wellington, and I don’t plan to deviate from that position,” LeClerc said. “This is a moral issue. Frankly, we owe it to the kids in that district, who have had to wait for the fire stations and the athletic complex and everything else.”
  • A smaller Proposition 2 1/2 override vote, possibly scheduled for a June vote, and possibly in the neighborhood of $2.5 million — far short of the amount needed to patch a structural budget deficit that is estimated to be closer to $5m annually.