Saturday, April 28, 2007

Milton Women’s Club

The Milton Women’s Club has offered to donate its function hall at 90 Reedsdale Rd. to the Town. The Club has found it difficult in recent years to operate and maintain the facility, and hopes by giving it to the town to preserve the building as a community resource while being able to use it for its meetings.

The facility sits on just over an acre of land with about 6000 sq. feet of built out space. The assessed value is just over $1 million. As a non-profit, the Women’s Club pays no taxes on the property.

The Selectmen have scheduled a Special Town Meeting within the Annual Town Meeting to discuss an article requesting authority to acquire the gift from the Women’s Club. The Warrant Committee has made no recommendation as it waits for more information on the proposal.

All sides seem to agree that accepting this generous gift must be coupled with a mechanism guaranteeing financial self-sufficiency. The town simply doesn’t have the money to fund the operational costs of running the center or for immediately needed renovations and repairs. Nor does it have the financial resources for ongoing maintenance over the years for this 75 year old structure. We struggle with adequate maintenance of our current town buildings.

One idea being floated is accepting the property and leasing it to MPEG Access Inc. This is a private, non-profit entity formed to take over the running of the local cable access services. Currently these are required of Comcast as part of their license to operate in Milton. They wish to extricate themselves from this requirement. To do so they must provide the town with a substantial benefit. It’s hoped that such a benefit would be a sum of money sufficient to undertake necessary renovations, [$150,000-$200,000] and provide a stream of revenue to cover the annual operating expenses of the building.

The problem is that no agreement with Comcast yet exists. Nor is it likely to exist by the Special Town Meeting. I think the town meeting needs to see a well constructed pro forma which convincingly shows that sufficient upfront revenue and ongoing revenue exists to make the enterprise financially viable on its own. I don’t see how this can be done in the next week or so. Perhaps it would be better to put this off until a possible Fall Special Town Meeting.

I’d also like to know what alternatives to MPEG might be financially viable. Some of the current tenants utilize a temporary liquor license for events. As we’ve discovered with the Council on Aging, the costs and complications of doing that once it is owned by the town might preclude such use and decrease the center’s attractiveness for certain events.

Even under the MPEG scenario, would they require the entire 6000 sq. feet for their operations? It seems too bad to not utilize the large, commercial kitchen and the performing stage for other town uses. It would also provide additional sources of revenue.

The Warrant Committee will be meeting this week to discuss this issue further.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Changing of the Guard

Kathy Fagan’s utterly exciting and necessary victory in yesterday’s Selectman’s race is being described by the Boston Globe as an upset. I suppose the outcome fits the conventional definition of an upset. But what occurred yesterday is merely the culmination of a process that has been underway for some time now.

Marvin Gordon got it right in his comments at the beginning of the election coverage on Bernie Lynch’s show: Milton has been undergoing a transformation in its makeup that is affecting the political landscape. Twenty years ago, ten years ago, perhaps even five years ago, there would have been no upset.

For many of us who have been working on campaigns in the last decade this process has been apparent. Successful attempts to build new schools and renovate our library, long neglected town assets, were signs of movement. It was also clear that the change was systemic and thus inevitable. What wasn’t clear was the timing. When would we reach the tipping point? I believe we have. It’s arrival may have been hastened by our good fortune in having a candidate like Kathy Fagan; a decent, capable and respectful woman with the heart of a lion.

It now seems clear, based on the last three town-wide elections [June 2006 override, November election, and yesterday] that when the voters turn out in good numbers, say 45% minimum, there is a majority for what I would call a progressive agenda. There is nothing radical about this agenda. It does recognize, however, that the status quo is dangerous to our town’s future. It understands the need for investment in our infrastructure. It clearly sees the threat from a systemic fiscal problem that is likely to increase our taxes significantly, or force severe service cuts, or possibly both. It embraces our growing diversity and values people for who they are, not how many generations their families have lived in town. And it appreciates the history of this town. Indeed, ensuring a future that is as good constitutes the entire foundation of this progressive agenda.

As I looked around at the 200 or so people gathered last night to celebrate a campaign victory, I made note of the group’s composition. What a collection of creativity, talent and energy. A true juggernaut. There were long time Milton residents in their 60’s and 70’s. A significant number of baby boomers. And a large contingent of 30 somethings, many who played lead roles in the campaign. It was a microcosm of Milton progressives, some of long standing, and many having been here long enough to decide that they could shape events, not just be affected by them. Once a majority recognizes its new status, it’s next to impossible to keep them down on the farm.

Limburger and Lilacs

Limburger to the current Selectman whose behavior on last evening’s broadcast of election results was very revealing, and no doubt will be remembered by many for a long time.

Lilacs to James Mullen who came to the Fagan campaign party to congratulate his victorious opponent.


Monday, April 23, 2007

It's In Your Hands

It's often claimed that political campaigns, whatever else they might accomplish, reveal under the glare of attention much about the candidates. Muskie's crying, Eagleton's depression, Nixon's sweat, Ford's "free" Poland, Dan Quayle's JFK association: these all represent, fairly or not, aspects of those candidates that had an effect on the way voters perceived them.

Our own little campaign here in Milton has developed a theme of its own. That theme is arrogant disregard of Massachusetts laws.

Some weeks ago the Boston Globe advanced a story begun by the Patriot Ledger. The story dealt with what seems clearly to be a violation of the Massachusetts open meeting law when Selectmen Mullen and Shields conducted an executive session meeting under false pretenses. The Norfolk District Attorney's office is now investigating this matter. Here is the link to the Globe story. I would give you the link to the Milton Times coverage but for the fact they have deliberately buried the story. Does anyone think that paper would miss the opportunity to cover even an innocent violation of the same law by the School Committee?

Yesterday's Boston Globe brings us another troubling issue. Apparently candidate James Mullen caused a letter of support to be circulated among employees at Town Hall. Some of those employees have told Selectman Marion McEttrick they felt pressured to sign. This would appear to violate conflict of interest laws and a complaint will be filed with the State's Ethics Commission.

Here is a link to yesterday's Globe story.

Tomorrow you can stay home and hope things turn out right, or you can make sure that you and everyone you know gets out to cast a vote to ensure that things are put right.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Selectman's Race

Selectmen’s Race

This year’s Selectmen’s race presents as complete a contrast in candidates as one could imagine. Incumbent and career politician James Mullen is being challenged by Kathy Fagan, an Attorney who has held elective office and numerous volunteer posts in Milton. This contrast is reflected in their respective campaigns.

Ms. Fagan’s campaign has sought to draw attention to long neglected problems and to offer ideas to address them. She understands that the long term quality of life in our town depends on our getting control of our financial situation. New sources of revenue other than overrides alone must be found. Ways to control the growing costs of government need to be part of the solution

She begins by advocating an updated Master Plan. You remember this phrase. It was much bandied about in last year’s campaign, even figuring prominently in the literature of John Shields. Absolutely nothing has been done. This is a crucial first step to identifying possible opportunities for diversifying our tax base in a manner consistent with our town character.

She also makes a very sound recommendation for a town-wide traffic plan. Consider the number of problem areas in town: Highland Street, Thatcher/Canton Avenue, the intersection of Adams, Canton and Randolph, the Fruit Center neighborhood in East Milton. We’ve taken a piecemeal approach to these locations, but need a comprehensive study to understand how they are related and what future steps we might need to take.

The Fagan campaign has offered many other ideas such as multi-year budgeting to avoid yearly surprises, and specific ideas for revenue enhancement and cost control. As important as anything else, she’s pledged to return civility and respect for all to the Milton public square. The many people who have meet Kathy during this campaign are struck by her decency and positive attitude, and her willingness to listen and engage on issues. The imperious and vindictive attitude currently characterizing town affairs must end.

The Mullen campaign, by contrast, is characterized by a near total lack of content. I haven’t seen a single idea proposed. There is no apparent clear understanding of what our problems are. Most striking, after 6 years on the Board of Selectmen the campaign has not claimed a single accomplishment in its communications to voters. Even his supporters seem to struggle for endorsement content. We’re told he loves the town. I’m sure he does. We’re told he’s experienced and has made countless contributions. Perhaps, but what are his plans for now, for the future? We’re not looking for philosophical platitudes. We’re looking for competence and ideas.

At this point in our history we require something more substantial than love of town, length of residency, and the ties to the old boy network as sole requirements for the job of Selectman. Ms. Fagan will bring energy, ideas, and a refreshing commitment to problem solving to the Selectman’s job. She offers a clear choice over an incumbent who has a lifetime of paid political service. And by the way, Kathy loves Milton too! I ask you to support Kathy Fagan on April 24. And I ask you to vote. This needs to be a choice of the entire town. If you stay at home, someone else will be speaking for you.

Planning Board

In this race Pete Jackson is challenging Dr. William Dolan. Dr. Dolan has served the town well for over 30 years as a Planning Board member. Such long service is admirable. But this is a town board that has had very little change in many years, with most current members working on multiple terms. I think its time for new energy and new thinking.

Pete is a landscape architect. He designs parks and is involved with planning and design of open space and recreational areas. He has served on both the Columbine Cliff Neighborhood Association and the Milton Village/Central Avenue Revitalization Committee. He has spoken eloquently and with insight at Planning Board Meetings, recently pointing out to the board a mistake in the drafting of an article dealing with the Milton Falls development.

Pete has already proven his value to the planning process in Milton and would make an excellent member of the Planning Board. For more information about him, click on his website under my links list. I urge you to vote for him next Tuesday.

Precinct 10 Town Meeting Member

After much deliberation and study, I’m endorsing myself for the two year seat for Town Meeting in Precinct 10.

For anyone wondering about my views or understanding of town issues I can only refer them to the nearly 70 articles I’ve published in the more than two years since I established this blog.

I confess that I’ve been busy during this campaign and have done nothing to campaign for the town meeting seat. Furthermore, my opponent has received the endorsement of James Mullen, not only current Selectman, but as Town Clerk the person in charge of Milton elections. Mullen apparently introduced her at his non-fundraising fundraiser and announced she was running against a “bad person”. This must be Mr. Mullen’s new way of describing people who have different views than his, a replacement for the term he used two years ago, those who were not “the real people” of Milton. I guess I’m a twofer.

All I can do is ask those readers of the blog who live in Precinct 10 for their vote, and ask other readers who know residents in the precinct to recommend me to them.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Various Election Races, More Sad News


Current Moderator Brian Walsh is being challenged, once again, by Diane Agostino. This is Ms. Agostino’s 7th run for this office, I believe. In the past her campaigns have been characterized by attacks on Warrant Committees, Selectmen and others. She’s blamed her losses on “factions”, although describing the majority of voters in 7 straight elections as a “faction” is somewhat puzzling. This year she appeared to be running for School Committee, trumpeting simplistic claims about Milton’s school budget allocations for administration.

Brian Walsh is completing his 5th year as Moderator. He’s introduced some innovations at Town Meeting which are improvements. The meetings are run with a good balance between members’ rights to be heard and members’ desire to not drag the meetings out unnecessarily. Most importantly he has the temperament necessary for the impartial managing of town meeting and appointment of able town volunteers to numerous town committees. Please support Brian Walsh on April 24.

Board of Health

There are two candidates for this position, Barbara Mason and Anne Fidler. I worked with Barbara on the Warrant Committee. She is a dedicated volunteer for the town who returned for a partial year on the Warrant Committee this year when unexpected departures created openings. I’m sure she would make a good contribution to the board. But in Anne Fidler we have a very rare opportunity of tapping an exceptional level of training and experience. Her educational attainments and long career in public health at the national and regional levels would be important assets to the Board of Health. I urge your consideration of her candidacy. For more information about Ms. Fidler, click on the link below.

Park Commissioner

Incumbent Barbara Brown is being challenged by Rick Dunn. Ms. Brown has served in this post for a number of years during which important strides have been made in the maintenance of athletic fields. Mr. Dunn has worked with the youth of Milton for two decades as coach of various sports, Program Director and President of the Milton High School Boosters. His close connections at the grass roots of town sports in such a broad range of activities would provide a useful perspective on the Board, which is why I will vote for him.

Board of Assessors

Incumbent Kathie Heffernan is being challenged by Douglas Lantigua. This race, frankly, is one of the more troubling campaigns this year. Mr. Lantigua claims that there is a “practice of lowering the high end properties assessments thus thrusting the tax burden on the under $750K housing market.” This is a ridiculous claim. Such a “practice” would require the active participation by Ms. Heffernan, Thomas Gunning and M. Joseph Manning, along with Assessor Jeff D’Ambly, in a conspiracy to create such a result. The Department of Revenue, which certifies town assessments, would have to be asleep at the switch. And you would expect to see large numbers of successful abatements, including appeals of rejections to the Appellate Tax Board. You can check the link below to see that not a single case from Milton has been appealed to the Appellate Tax Board in the last 8 years.

Kathie Heffernan has served on the Board of Assessors with honesty, fairness and care, as she has in so many other volunteer roles for the town. She is state certified as an assessor. Please join me in returning her to office on April 24.

Another Hate Crime

Sadly, haters have struck again in Milton. On Saturday morning, congregants of Temple Shalom arriving for Shabbat services were greeted by swastikas painted on the front sign and on the parking lot door. The crime was reported to Milton Police, who are investigating.

Perhaps this time some of our town leaders will exercise leadership in sending the clear message that such crimes, far more destructive to psyche’s than buildings, are simply not tolerated in Milton. I’m reprinting a letter from Paul Etkind, President of Temple Shalom and urge all to get involved in any community-wide solidarity effort that might be planned.


Letter from Paul Etkind, President of Temple Shalom:

"It is with a mix of profound sadness and fury that I report to you that two swastikas were painted on Temple Shalom. They were first noticed by congregants as they came to the Temple for Shabbat services this morning. One was on the front sign of the Temple and the other was on the parking lot door to the Social Hall.

This despicable act was reported to the Milton Police. They came immediately, took pictures, and have begun an investigation. The Milton Interfaith Clergy Association was notified and we are gratified by their immediate and vigorous support. They will be informing their congregants tomorrow from their respective pulpits. Some town officials were called and various people stopped by this afternoon to see the symbols of hatred.

The swastikas have been cleaned off of the sign and the door. The door was painted over so there is no physical evidence of the offense. However, we will not stop at simply cleaning and painting. We would like to have a community-wide observance of solidarity among the faith communities, town officials and the general public. We are checking calendars for next Sunday, April 22 perhaps in the evening. We will confirm this with you as soon as possible. The officers will be working with the Rabbi, the other faith communities, and with area officials to plan the event.

It is our hope that this incident will give all good people in and around Milton the opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with us at Temple Shalom in order to confront prejudice and reaffirm a sense of solidarity with the best that is within us, the attributes of decency, mutual respect and good will."

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Opportunity Lost

The great Israeli statesman and diplomat Abba Eban once said: “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Eban’s observation about those nations with whom Israel was trying to negotiate peace also characterizes recent action by the majority of the Board of Selectmen on the Central Avenue Revitilization Plan.

The $1 million state grant obtained by the town presented a wonderful opportunity to conceptualize and realize a substantial transformation of the Central Avenue district. Together with the overlay zoning which permitted the consideration of three largely residential developments, it offered the promise of a pedestrian focused, safe, and attractive area. It would create a “sense of place”, an attribute that the Urban Land Institute noted was missing in the area today.

The key component of a new Central Avenue business district was traffic calming. The current area is an ode to the post war, auto worshipping era with a cavernous mass of blacktop through which vehicles traverse at high rates of speed without the benefit of traffic controls, properly sited crosswalks or clearly defined traffic lanes. A successful revitalization requires a shift of focus from the auto to the pedestrian. The business focus will change from a predominant servicing of the quick pick-up-and-go auto customer to a significant business by pedestrians from the neighborhood, including the residents of nearly 100 units of housing planned to be built there. Both the town’s residents and the area businesses benefit substantially.

That is the vision that drove the planning begun under former Town Planner Aaron Henry and supported by former Town Administrator David Colton. The product of that effort, now known as Plan A, has three strategies for addressing the current auto-centric reality of the area.

“Bump outs” in front of the Wine store and Central liquors to reduce the amount of roadway in the square and better direct the flow of traffic through it.

Properly positioned cross walks that permit drivers to see other vehicles and pedestrians at all roads converging on the square.

Stop signs, sited according to common sense safety rules just before the crosswalks.

Plan A was opposed by Frank O’Neil, owner of the building housing the businesses on the south side of the district. The proposed location of the crosswalks and the bump out in front of Central liquors eliminates three parking spaces. Two of these spaces are made up for by a new space in front of Central Laundry and one directly across the street. The number of lost spaces in front of this building has been consistently mistated by opponents of Plan A.

Reacting to the opposition of Mr. O’Neil and his tenants, the Board of Selectmen had an alternative plan hastily drawn up. Plan B keeps the three spaces in front of Central Liquor by abandoning all three strategies crucial to the district's transformation. The Planning Board opposed it. The traffic consultant could not approve it because it included the ridiculous plan of placing a stop sign after a crosswalk. The neighbors vociferously opposed it as an abandonment of the vision for this area. And yet James Mullen and John Shields voted for it. Shields claimed the lost spaces [one space was lost] would hurt the businesses. Mullen claimed to fear loss of the state grant due to threats from O’Neil to fight the plan, a threat which could only be assured of success if it meant a lawsuit.

So the opportunity to miss an opportunity was seized, all for a single lost parking space directly in front of the businesses, despite the fact that Plan A provided more total parking spaces in the business district. It is difficult to comprehend such a lack of vision, such wrong-headedness. No business is going to suffer from one fewer space in front of their very door, when more spaces are created such a short distance away. Does Mr. O’Neil really believe the alternative for customers – driving a further distance and still dealing with parking problems—is more attractive? Have his customers lost the ability to walk ten or twenty steps after parking in one of the new parking spots?

No Selectman can be expected to possess the myriad skill sets necessary to manage a modern day community. That’s why experts are employed, people whose training enables them to actually know what they’re talking about. In this instance the board not only rejected the advice of professionals, their discussion made a mockery of the expertise of those who drew up the original plan. Who will forget Mr. Shields petulantly insisting that the town can place a stop sign anywhere they wish, or claiming with a straight face that the placement of a loading zone would require a walk of “a hundred yards”, which happens to be the length of a football field. Similarly, Mr. Mullen’s insistence that the town couldn’t use its enforcement powers to successfully prevent delivery trucks from ignoring the delivery zone sounds more like a rationale justifying no change.

The inability to appreciate or understand the importance of planning simply can’t continue. As Selectman Marion McEttrick noted, to prevent the failure of this revitalization we will likely have to correct this shortsighted blunder at a later date, on our own nickel. How many other opportunities are we missing because of a failure of vision, an unthinking adherence to the status quo? And for how long will be go on accepting it? The answer to that question is up to the voters of Milton.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Sad Day for Milton

No one who cares for our community could have felt anything other than sadness upon opening the Boston Globe this morning and reading Matt Carroll’s story. For those of you who missed it, it can be read here:

The beginning of the story is not new. Last September, at the end of a report by the Co-Chairs of Milton’s “No Place For Hate” committee, Chair of the Board of Selectmen James Mullen attacked one of the Co-Chairs for a letter to the Globe she had written-- two years prior-- disagreeing with Mr. Mullen on an issue of voter registration. Mr. Mullen claimed this political disagreement was an example of “hate”. He equated it with the type of hate being combated by the “No Place for Hate Committee” For more information:

A few weeks later, two members of the Milton clergy requested a private meeting with the Selectmen, obviously concerned about the impact of the actions by Mr. Mullen and Mr. Shields. A private meeting for this purpose violates Massachusetts law. Therefore, Mr. Mullen announced to the public that a private, “Executive Session” would be held at the end of a regular meeting to discuss “"the deployment of security personnel and devices." This was not the purpose of the session. Mr. Mullen knew this was not the purpose of the session. How does Mr. Mullen square this with his statement before the League of Women Voters last night that he has never lied to the residents of Milton?

What transpired at the meeting, held after Selectman Marion McEttrick reminded the other two Selectmen that it was an illegal meeting and then left, is reported by the Globe. The only disputed point is whether John Shields said the attack on the No Place for Hate member would actually help Mullen and Shields politically in some parts of town. He claims that was not what he said. David Colton, in a memo recap of the meeting written afterward, and Rev. Parisa Parsa both agree that those were the words used.

As bad as all of this is, it gets worse. Also at the private meeting a hate letter sent to the leader of the No Place for Hate committee was shown to Selectmen Mullen and Shields. Part of the letter read: "Your committee is nothing but reverse discrimination against the white people in this town. We totally support Jimmy Mullen and John Shields 100%. Why don't you get out of the kitchen and take the blacks in Milton with you??? "

During the Globe investigation Mullen was asked about the hate mail and responded that people have been known to perpetrate hate crime hoaxes. "People themselves did these things to get sympathy." Mr. Mullen went on to say that he wasn’t accusing the recipient of the hate mail of writing it herself. Of course that raises the question of why he said it.

Mr. Mullen’s response should have been an unqualified condemnation of the letter’s contents and whoever sent it. Instead, he raised the specter of a hate crime hoax. Certain extremist groups in this country have long exaggerated the phenomenon of such hoaxes. They often use it in their ideological wars to support their, er, antiquated views on race in America. For Mr. Mullen to resort to it in an attempt to distance himself from his role in the whole affair is at the very least an example of a deaf ear with respect to real hate in society.

Jokes about Jews and Blacks are no longer tolerated in decent society. But the true bigots are still among us, as the writer of the hate letter proves. They’ve been driven underground, often spewing their venom in anonymity. They must do so because society for some decades now has used one of its most powerful tools against intolerance and prejudice –social ostracism. Society now considers these views to be so dangerous that people of all political stripes treat those expressing them as social outcasts.

Occasionally they surface. Some event triggers a response. Someone in a position of authority says or does something which rightly or wrongly convinces them that they’ve found a kindred spirit. Emboldened, they act from the perceived safety of anonymity. I think this is what Rev. Arthur Wright meant when he urged Mullen and Shields, according to David Colton’s memo, "to take some responsibility for a response to the hate letter since the author had mentioned their names in it and since it followed the exchange they had initiated". And yet sadly, both men seem more concerned about carrying on their petty political antipathies.

Hatred and intolerance of people who are different from us is a devastating menace which, in its public and most dangerous form, we have been able to restrain like the proverbial Genie in a bottle. It is the responsibility of leaders to act decisively and unambiguously whenever they see a revival of this scourge. And when they do not, it is up to the rest of us to do so. Mr. Mullen and Mr. Shields should want to let the writer of the hate letter know that they do not support him 100%.