Friday, April 28, 2006

“We campaign in poetry, but we govern in prose”.

This perceptive observation (variously rendered) by Mario Cuomo, a man who should have been President, is about to be confirmed right here in our beloved town. The condensed language form of poetry, the nuance and symbolism, and the multiple interpretations which result, must give way to more logical structures of language for the purpose of conveying clear meaning. In other words, we will now learn what John Shields meant when he talked about “putting the taxpayer first.”

After all, the taxpayer is not only the payer of taxes, but the recipient of the services those taxes pay for. Perhaps Mr. Shields was talking about services? Of course, our children do not pay taxes. So I suppose one could interpret Mr. Shields’ slogan as meaning that he wishes to put the taxpayers ahead of our children. We naturally shrink from such an interpretation. Didn’t Candidate Shields say “every child should have the best education available?” But as poetry becomes prose, all will be revealed.

What has emerged to date is a combination of fact and rumor. I offer them here because time is short and based on what is emerging, we need to decide whether we’re going to sit idly by while two elected officials make important decisions for the town, ignoring in the process the Town Meeting and the Warrant Committee.

The Selectmen will have an emergency meeting on Sunday evening at 7:30 to deal with the override question. Pressure is being placed on the Warrant Committee to develop a third budget, with a much lower override amount. Selectmen Mullen and Shields will refuse to place the Warrant Committee’s current recommendation on the ballot for the citizens to decide, irrespective of Town Meeting’s vote. An item has been placed on the agenda dealing with rescinding the trash sticker fee increase of a year ago, removing between $300,000 and $400,000 from the revenue stream, worsening an already serious situation. The Selectmen will seek a delay in consideration of the budget items until the second week of Town Meeting. This would effectively put off any override vote until after the end of school, and perhaps after many families have left town for summer vacations. And finally, it is rumored that an override of $1.5 million dollars might be considered, evenly split between the “town side” and the schools.

I have already written about the effects on town services of no override. You can review it by clicking on the article “Budget Blues” under the “Previous Posts” list to the left. When you’ve reviewed it, consider the additional effect of a rollback in trash sticker fees. The rumored $1.5 million override has the following consequences:

--It will raise taxes on Milton taxpayers

--Milton taxpayers will still see a significant decline in services, especially those with children

--We will be back in a similar budget crunch, likely next year, definitely by the following year

--We will almost certainly not be able to open the Collicot and Cunningham Schools in September of 2007

Why do we find ourselves in this position? More importantly, why are such severe consequences to the quality of life in our community so overwhelmingly in the control of two Selectmen?

The answer to the first question was clearly explained by Glenn Pavlicek 5 years ago as Chair of the Warrant Committee in the 2001 Town Warrant.

"The principal goal of any budget process is to balance the organization's expenditures with its revenue. Even looking at the problem at this large a level, we quickly find the fundamental problem that the Town of Milton is facing. Over the last few years, Milton has seen its revenues increase at a rate of about 3.5% annually. Indeed, if you examine the revenue chart inside the front cover of this warrant, you will see that, excluding the proposed override, the Town's revenue is again projected to grow at just under 3.5%. The problem is that, for Towns near Boston, this amount of growth is insufficient to maintain a constant level of service. The factor that the Commonwealth uses to maintain a constant level of service for Towns near Boston (a "Municipal Cost of Living Index"--if you prefer) is 4.7%. In simplest terms, this 1.2% differential means every year Milton's revenue comes up about $600,000 short of what is necessary to do what was done the year before."

We haven’t had an operational override in 5 years. At $600,000 per year in lost buying power, that comes to $3 million, just to maintain “a constant level of service.”

The answer to the second question should be deeply concerning to those who admire the Town Meeting form of government. In 1980 the citizens of Massachusetts passed Question 2, better known as Proposition 2 ½. This citizens’ initiative was a reaction to a decade of property tax increases averaging 7-8% annually. I think it was a reasonable reaction, although the 2.5% increase which became the standard was utterly arbitrary in its selection. The legislature had to come up with a mechanism for communities to trigger a vote of the citizens to increase taxes above 2.5%, since they recognized that such adjustments would be necessary. They determined that such a referendum should require the approval of the “local appropriating body”: and they then inexplicably named the Board of Selectmen as that body.

I say inexplicably because it was. For hundreds of years the dominant form of government in the New England states was the town meeting. It has been so in Milton for about 350 years. The Town Meeting decided all important matters for a community. Among these were all financial issues, including how much money would be expended and how it would be expended. In the last century or so the legislature required communities of a specific size to establish Warrant or Finance Committees, whose function is to study and advise on financial and other issues to be brought before the Town Meeting. So when the legislature placed the authority for calling override elections, as well as for the amount of the override, in the hands of Selectmen, it abetted the usurpation of hundreds of years of Town Meeting authority.

So today we are faced with the situation in which two people, elected Selectmen, can decide for the entire town if we have an override vote at all, how much the override will be, and even how those amounts will be allocated. Now this misguided section of the Proposition 2 ½ law doesn’t require that Selectmen ignore centuries old traditions of self-government. But it does give them the legal authority to do so. We can only hope that Selectmen Mullen and Shields, who make much of Milton tradition, can be persuaded to listen to the Warrant Committee and the Town Meeting and allow the taxpayers to decide whether they want to increase their taxes or cut services.

The rest of us have equally important decisions to make. The Town Meeting and Warrant Committees have to decide not to be bullied or have their prerogatives trampled. Citizens have to make their voices heard. As I studied the recent election results it appeared that some stayed home, including some school supporters. Need I say that it might be time to get up off the couch! This Sunday’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting will contain the usual portion of Citizen’s speak. I suggest you limit yourself to 3 minutes even though a majority of the current committee claims to not find such limits necessary.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Moderator Election

Brian Walsh has been Moderator for four years. In winning the post he succeeded an exceptionally able Moderator in Rick Ward. Rick, like a number of his predecessors, is an Attorney familiar with the law governing the conduct of Town Meeting. While Brian Walsh didn’t bring that knowledge to his new job, he’s acquired a good understanding of it in a short period of time.

The Moderator’s role has two major functions—oversee the conduct of Town Meeting and recruit/appoint Milton residents to a number of standing and special committees. Brian has performed both admirably. His rulings at Town Meeting have been considered, yet forceful. He’s drawn the proper balance between permitting Town Meeting Members to be heard on all the issues, and recognizing the importance of not letting the meeting drag on for many nights, as is often the case in other communities. His committee appointments, especially to the School Building Committee and the Library Building Committee have been very good. And while I disagree with Mr. Walsh, and his opponent, on appointing Town employees to the Warrant Committee, he’s done a good job recruiting members for this difficult job during a period of high turnover.

The voters seem to think he’s doing a good job as well. Last year, Walsh’s fourth campaign for the office, he received a higher percentage of the vote, nearly 60%, than in any prior election. Of course it is ridiculous that such an important office should be subject to annual election. I was happy to support my wife Nancy’s citizens’ initiative to change the term of office for Moderator to 3 years, a change that will take effect at next year’s election.

Walsh’s opponent, as has been true for the past 4 years, is Diane DiTullio Agostino. While it was refreshing to see Ms. Agostino run a campaign free of the vitriol that has characterized her prior campaigns for this office, she hasn’t offered any reason why Brian Walsh shouldn’t be re-elected. Mr. Walsh not only has a track record of success in performing this job, he has the proper temperament to perform a very important function during a coming period of difficult decision making. The voters will expect and hold him to a very high standard of objectivity.

I ask that you join me in supporting Brian Walsh for Moderator in tomorrow’s election.

Friday, April 21, 2006

What Is This Campaign About? Follow the Money!

When John Michael Shields submitted papers to run for Selectman on the final day for filing, many people were surprised. In the immediate aftermath Mr. Shields stated his reasons for running as a concern for the direction the town was heading in.

The campaign is now winding down and frankly, it has been difficult to discern just what candidate Shields means by wrong direction. He’s mentioned taxes, but his opponent has a track record of helping avoid tax increases to fund our operating budgets. He’s called for a small override while proclaiming, “every child should have the best education available.” These two things are not compatible.

Then there is the issue of development. His campaign literature treats this in general terms. He’s “concerned” about some plans for development around town. He’s for “Smart Growth”, a concept not violated by any of the proposals under discussion. And he engages in considerable political hyperbole by claiming to be an “urban planner” based on working for a developer for a couple of years. In the Milton Speaks debate he expressed his view that Central Avenue Business district plans were “too dense” and he criticized the RFP for the DPW Yard, indicating he would limit development to residential.

Could this be the wrong direction Mr. Shields is really talking about? This past Tuesday the candidates were required to release preliminary information on campaign contributions. Mr. Shields' information was notable for two reasons. First, the amount of money he was able to raise in a short time, approximately $20,000. More striking was the concentration and source of the money. Approximately half of all the funds raised came from 18 contributions of the maximum amount allowable under law --$500. All 18 of these contributions came from well-known opponents of any consideration of commercial development at the DPW Yard. Additional contributions of between $50-$500 came from 10 other opponents, meaning that more than 50% of all the money raised to date by Mr. Shields comes from this special interest group.

Why would this group give so generously to Mr. Shields? Let’s remember their agenda. They don’t just oppose the possibility of commercial development at the DPW Yard. They oppose the town even having the opportunity to look at commercial ideas and decide, as a whole, what would be best for Milton. In Mr. Shields they have a willing partner. He’s already declared that he would not vote to issue an RFP that includes commercial development. He apparently considers it perfectly fine to decide, along with one other selectman, what should be on the table for the town’s consideration on this very important issue.

If Mr. Shields thinks pursuing commercial development at the DPW Yard is wrong, that’s fine. If he thinks such development would be going in the wrong direction and that he wants to be the standard bearer for that position to the citizens of Milton, that’s fine. But what is not fine is to limit, with the help of his financial backers, the choices that should be examined by all of us before we make a decision that should take into account the needs of the entire town.


On another front, this week’s Milton Times contained a letter from Richard Shea. Mr. Shea is one of the leaders of the opponents to commercial development at the DPW Yard. The Shea family contributed $2000 to Mr. Shields, 10% of total contributions. In his letter to the editor he makes the following comment:

“Second, during Mr. McCarthy’s tenure as Selectman, the cost of the original school rebuilding projected(sic) has mushroomed from $100 million in 2001 to $150 million in 2006. While I don’t lay the whole blame for the $50 million increase at the feet of the incumbent Selectman, I am struggling to understand how this budgeting disaster is a step forward for Milton.”

This statement contains not only misstatement of fact, but demonstrates a lack of understanding of both the school building issue and the Board of Selectmen’s responsibilities.

Mr. Shea's purported $50 million cost increase includes $17 million of private donations to fund various enhancements to the schools.

During the period of construction, the entire construction industry was hit by a surge in inflation, one that was made worse by Hurricane Katrina. School building projects all across the state were impacted. This fact, and the fact that the state had stopped making inflationary adjustments to the per square foot reimbursement, was part of the reason we were recently able to add money to the project without a proposition 2 ½ override.

Finally, the Board of Selectmen has neither responsibility nor authority for the School Building Program.

Mr. Shea is running for Town Meeting Member in Precinct 9. Precinct 9 residents might wonder why Mr. Shea would make such irresponsible remarks without taking the time to study the issue.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

School Committee Election

The Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) says the following about the role of School Committees.

“A school committee must be responsive to its constituencies in governance, sensitive to the diverse needs of all learners, an advocate for students and learning before the people of the community and, as such, a vigorous ambassador for public education before all citizens.”

With respect to school finance the MASC says:

“Work to ensure that necessary funds are appropriated for the district and that a balance is maintained between needs and resources in the distribution of available monies.”

For me an “advocate for students”, a “vigorous ambassador for education before all citizens” who “ensure(s) that necessary funds are appropriated” represent the basic criteria for consideration as a member of a school committee.

This year’s election has three candidates running for two seats—incumbents Glenn Pavlicek and Mary Kelly, and challenger Lynda-Lee Sheridan.

I’ve known Glenn Pavlicek for some years now. We worked together on the Warrant Committee--during two years he was the Chair. I’ve never worked with anyone quite like Glenn. It doesn’t take long to figure out how intelligent he is. But unlike most people equally blessed, Glenn prefers to bring his considerable talents to bear on issues in a quiet, unostentatious way. For this reason, he is not a great politician. He hasn’t developed the knack for spending more time claiming credit for solutions than in actually developing them.

But develop them he has. Glenn doesn’t take a back seat to anyone in the contribution he has made to the soon to be completed school buildings our youngsters attend. He has worked tirelessly on three different committees on the financing, educational specifications and construction supervision of every one of these schools. When construction inflation threatened the building of the Collicot and Cunningham Schools, he was a vocal advocate of “Safe and Equal” schools. And when further inflation threatened the completion of the Collicot school as originally planned he not only supported more money to complete the job, he worked with the School Building Assistance folks and the Department of Revenue to make sure the added funds could be legally authorized under the levy limit. This eliminated the need for another override election.

Glenn is an educator by profession. He understands the importance of properly funding our schools. He also knows that money is tight. As a member of “Fair Funding for Milton” he helped the town secure a new stream of revenue, $500,000 per year, as PILOT money for the state owned Blue Hills land. Intelligence, a passion for education, a rare problem solver, and an advocate for our children—the reasons I’ll be voting for Glenn Pavlicek on April 25th.

I first meet Lynda-Lee Sheridan during election season some years ago when we were both running for Town Meeting member in Precinct 9. We both attended the same election night get- together (there was probably a school override vote on the ballot) and waited anxiously for the election returns. When the final tallies were announced, I was lucky enough to have won the final slot, one vote ahead of Lynda-Lee. I remember being struck by how gracious she was. And of course, she won a seat the next year, and her distinctive voice has been a welcome addition to town meeting.

Lynda-Lee is also an educator by profession. She has been a Special Education teacher in the Boston Public Schools for over 20 years. This expertise would be valuable in a school system striving to solve past problems in Special Education. She would be an asset as we seek to bring SPED students back into the Milton schools and integrate them into classrooms using Inclusionary Models.

She’s long been involved in education in Milton, as a long time member of the PTO and the School Site Council. She’s also rightly proud of her advocacy for every school building override. The school children of Milton will have no better advocate for their interests than someone whose caring and concern for young people is so palpable. That is why I will vote for Lynda-Lee Sheridan on April 25th.

Mary Kelly has served for three years on the school committee. As I thought about each of the candidates, there were two things about Ms. Kelly’s tenure that I just couldn’t reconcile with someone I could support for the Milton School Committee. The first was a statement she made at the League of Women Voters debate. She described herself as “the taxpayers voice” on the school committee. That struck me as odd. Shouldn’t a school committee member be the “children’s voice”? Aren’t there enough voices for the taxpayer, including every taxpayer, not to mention the elected Town Meeting members? Was the key point here “taxes”?

The other issue which concerned me was Ms. Kelly’s opposition to the “Safe and Equal Schools” override of $14 million to permit the reconstruction of the Collicot and Cunningham Schools. I find it unconscionable to have advocated for a no vote that would have conferred second class status on the Cunningham and Collicot school communities. Not only would they have been forced to attend schools significantly inferior to other elementary school students in Milton, but in the case of Collicot, a school rapidly approaching an unsafe condition.

Glenn Pavlicek and Lynda-Lee Sheridan are vigorous advocates for the education of children. They are educators. They will make the case for the financial needs of the school system, knowing that the taxpayers of Milton have the ability to make their own decisions on increasing taxes. Please join me in supporting Glenn and Lynda-Lee on April 25th.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Thoughtful Problem Solving

Charlie McCarthy’s tenure in town government both as Warrant Committee Chair and as Selectman has resulted in more progress for the town than we’ve seen in many years.

His well-known role in the building of our Council on Aging Center, our new schools, and the soon to be expanded and renovated library are only part of the story. Charlie has worked to streamline our town government, keep our costs down, and find new sources of funds. These kinds of successes require a thoughtful approach to problem solving.

Charlie’s opponent, John Michael Shields, has proposed as a key plank in his campaign a cooperative effort with neighboring towns to lower costs for trash removal. While this idea might have superficial appeal, if you look into the matter you’d find that no one in our region is doing it. Is that because no one has thought of it?

There would seem to be two ways in which a multi-town, cooperative approach could theoretically save money- bargaining power for tipping (disposal) fees or for collection costs. But volume of waste does not provide negotiating power because the supply of landfills and other disposal types is limited in Massachusetts. That’s why the city of Cambridge pays $91 per ton to Milton’s $80 despite having a much greater volume of solid waste. The city of Boston has divided the city into 11 separate districts. Each one is bid out separately with multiple contracts issued. They pay anywhere from $77 per ton to well over $80 per ton.

On the collection side, a cooperative approach presents operational issues that are almost impossible to overcome. Members would have to have very similar solid waste programs. They would have to recycle at approximately the same rates, and recycle the same types of items. Even the South Shore Recycling Cooperative, an 8 year old, 15 town cooperative has never attempted a joint bid for trash.

So problem solving is hard work. But in just the past 2 or 3 years Selectman McCarthy has been involved in a number of successful efforts. 1) the town changed to a self-insured program which has saved us $650,000 in the first two years on health insurance costs. 2) the most recent contract with 6 town unions kept pay increases to just over an average of 2%, substantially less than the most recent contract for state workers, for example, 3) re-organization of town government has saved the town $1 million, and 4) the town negotiated a $1.7 million mitigation payment from NSTAR. Compare this to the town of Stoughton, which originally negotiated a $250,000 payment. The negotiator of that deal and the three selectmen involved are all gone.

Some have said we need some new blood in Town Government. I’ve got news for you, in this election Charlie McCarthy is the new blood. He doesn’t believe that just saying no constitutes a vision for the town of Milton. That’s why I’ll vote for Charlie McCarthy on April 25th.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Budget Blues

The Warrant Committee has finalized the FY07 budget recommendation, barring revisions on Town Meeting floor. The news is bleak. Let’s start by looking at the macro picture.

FY06 Budget----FY07 Requests----FY07 Non-Cont----FY07 Cont


The column marked requests is somewhat of a misnomer. Yes, it includes all the departmental requests for budgets, but it also includes all the “bills”, such as benefits, retirement costs, general insurance and state charges. These items essentially have to be paid. The requests represent an 11 percent increase over the current year’s budget. They reflect an attempt by all town departments to recover from years of flat budgets caused by the recent economic downturn, and during which time we have not had an operating override to boost our revenue.

However justified these budgets might have been, our income permits us to appropriate only $1,886,201 more than this year’s budget, for the total you see under the non-contingent (no override) budget. The increased cost for the “bills” that I mentioned is just under $1.4 million. So that leaves approximately $500,000 of new appropriations to allocate to all the services we expect from our town government, the combined cost of which is $46 million this year. That’s barely a 1% increase.

The contingent (override) budget worked out by the Warrant Committee would mean an override of $2,982,712. Even with the override the FY07 budget would be $2.3 million less than the requests. The override amount is a reduction from what the Milton Times reported in Friday's paper. I should also point out that Selectman Candidate Shields has put out campaign literature saying that he is “opposed to the proposed $3.5-$5 million override.” Since there was never any such proposed override, such claims do a disservice to the voters of Milton.

The best way to judge the impact of a budget is to look at the impact on the services it provides. Let’s look at the consequences of the non-override budget for some of the larger departments based on reports provided by department heads.


The chief has said that all cuts will have to come from personnel. He anticipates he’ll need to cut 6 patrol officers. During the 16 hours comprising the night shift from 3:30 pm to 7:30 am, 3 platoons of 6 officers each patrol the town. With the cuts this will be reduced to 2 platoons to cover the entire town, a 1/3 cut in coverage. The chief said the proposed budget will “dramatically affect our ability to do our mission.”


The fire chief predicts he will have to cut 3 firefighters. There will be a reduction in engines (pumpers) from 3 to 2. East Milton and Atherton Street will have pumpers, while Central will only have a Ladder truck. The chief describes the budget as inadequate to do the job.


The head of the DPW underscored the severity of the cuts that would be necessary under his budget by sketching out “all personnel” and “all service” scenarios. Under the all personnel scenario, 15 employees would have to be cut. The department, for all practical purposes, would cease to exist in any meaningful sense, since its primary functions require people. The all service scenario would require the end of Yard Waste pickup, the cessation of Fire Alarm wiring, the shutting off of 2/3rd of the street lights, the elimination of the Hazardous Waste program and the closing of the recycling center. A more realistic approach would contain some of each of these, but any effort would likely include the ending of Yard Waste Pickup. Combined with the elimination of the Program Manager position, Fire Alarm wiring and ½ the street lights, 2 additional positions would be eliminated. If no streetlights are turned off, 5 additional positions would be eliminated.


The Superintendent indicated that the school system would have to shrink to make the best of a very bad situation. The 1909 Wing would be closed. Elementary students throughout the system would be re-distributed to the Tucker and Glover Elementary schools. Since there is not enough room for all elementary students in those schools, grade 5 would be moved to the Pierce Middle School. Pre-K and K would be at the High School. This consolidation would be accompanied by the cutting of teachers.

Level-----------Full Time-----------------Part Time



High School--------10---------------------------4


These staff cuts combined with a student population that is increasing would mean a substantial increase in class sizes.

A little discussed impact of this budget, beyond the obvious consequences to the quality of education for the next fiscal year, is the difficulty this will create for opening the Collicot and Cunningham schools in FY08. While consolidating permits you to efficiently create fewer, larger classes, opening the two new schools has the opposite effect. We will need more teachers to staff more classes at two schools. We will also have significantly greater operating costs than for the 1909 wing. A properly funded budget for FY07 along the lines proposed by the School Committee would enable them to absorb what would be a much smaller additional cost to open the schools in FY08. The non-override budget would create such a deep hole that a significant additional sum of money would be needed in FY08 in order to open the Collicot and Cunningham schools.


A $2.9 million override is a large override. Yes, it is larger on a nominal basis than any override we've ever had. However, any intelligent evaluation of that figure must take into account inflation. In 1990, during another economic recession, we passed an override of $1.98 million. Indeed, we passed it after having passed a $600,000 override the prior year. If you adjust the $1.98 million for inflation over the past 16 years using the Consumer Price Index, an equivalent override today would need to be over $3.1 million. So, in terms of real dollars, this is not unprecedented. What we as citizens will have to decide in the coming weeks is how much we value good education, police protection, fire protection and the maintenance of our roads and walkways.

Campaign News:

Precinct 5 readers should check out the blog put up by Robert Davis. Robert is running for Town Meeting member. Just click on his name in my link list. Also in Precinct 5, long time Milton resident and Town Meeting member Nancy Kearns is running for Town Meeting Member. Nancy was a Town Meeting Member from Precinct 10.