Monday, April 26, 2010

Decision Time or Yard Signs Don't Vote

Three years ago Kathy Fagan threw her hat into the ring for a seat on the Board of Selectman. Although she had been involved in town affairs, she was unknown to many Milton residents. She ran on a legitimate platform for change, responding to a clear groundswell of feeling that the most important Board of Town Government simply didn’t represent a town much changed over the last 20 years. She vowed to focus on tackling problems the town faces rather than trying to turn the clock back to a time that is gone forever.

She took this message to the voters in her intelligent, energetic and respectful way. They responded, and she won, defeating incumbent James Mullen in a close race. In the three years since she has begun to deliver on issues she campaigned on. That’s why I endorsed her three weeks ago.

But much remains to be done. And those who see change and progress as a threat are poised to attempt to defeat her. If we look at the campaign of her opponent, it differs in style but not content from her opponent three years ago. His campaign themes are meaningless (Putting the taxpayer first), contradictory (smart growth/ commercial development only in commercial districts), or code for no overrides (Be fiscally accountable). Supporter and loser in the race three years ago James Mullen attended the COA debate and in his loud way asked a question about the last override to make sure opponents of overrides got the message.

Rather than addressing any of the challenges we face in a thoughtful way, the Sweeney campaign has spread false rumors about Fagan’s stance on dense residential housing on the Governor Stoughton land. They’re trolling for votes on private ways telling people they going to lose free plowing, clearly an issue of monumental importance to the future of the town. And then there is Mr. Sweeney’s response to a question about diversity at the first Selectman’s debate. I print his answer verbatim.

“I fully understand your question, and I do believe there’s a minority population out there that feels a bit isolated. In my case, after about the second night of town meeting, I deliberately made an attempt to meet with some African American people who shared the same view as I did on the Temple issue and I talked to them in the back and I was really trying to lead them, to get them involved and to let them know there was certainly one town meeting member that welcomed their input, and recently I’ve spoken to an African American gentleman from Precinct 1 who’s upset about the issue and he’s a candidate for town meeting. So I think in terms of the issue of minorities I think we need to reach our hand out to them a little bit better. They’re part of the community, and they’re welcome so long as they do what the rest of us do –work hard, contribute, etc., and I think we could improve our relations in that area.”

Do we really want to go thru this again. I have no reason to believe there is a hateful bone in Mr. Sweeney’s body. But the sheer insensitivity, and blindness to prejudice that statement represents is astounding. Diversity is reduced to reaching out on condition of agreeing with him politically, and on not exhibiting traits he apparently associates with certain non-white groups.

Let’s focus on the serious challenges we face as a community, a whole community. Get out and vote for Kathy Fagan for Selectman on Tuesday.

Board of Assessor Endorsement

There are three candidates for this office. Last year I supported Todd Greenwood in his race against Thomas Gunning. This year he and Jim Henderson are running against Kathi Heffernan.

Todd is a strong candidate and if he were running against one of the other incumbents I could easily support him. His educational background and experience in Quantitative Analysis equip him for the job. A year ago he took the Assessors course offered by the Department of Revenue.

But he’s running against a bright spot on the current board. Kathi Heffernan is dedicated to a job she’s done for some time and done well. While opponent Jim Henderson seems to believe the Board should be “advocates” for taxpayers, Kathi properly understands the role as adhering to well prescribed procedures to ensure fair and accurate valuations of real estate, and to properly adjudicate requests for abatements.

I’m looking at a piece of literature from Jim Henderson’s campaign. It asks, “Frustrated with your tax assessment?” and goes on to suggest a vote for change. Is Mr. Henderson promising lower assessments? Just for those who vote for him, or everyone? Does he have some reason to believe there is a problem with assessments? As a CPA he touts his knowledge of taxes. But a CPA is paid by a client to use the tax code to minimize tax payments. That is not the job he is running for. A member of the board of Assessors has certain limited power affecting individual Milton residents. They can neither be advocate for nor against any taxpayer. Kathi Heffernan’s appreciation of this important point explains why she has never taken political contributions while serving in this role.

I hope Todd Greenwood runs for the Board of Assessors next year. This year, I hope you vote for Kathi Heffernan.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

School Committee Endorsements

With four candidates seeking two seats we certainly have a spectrum of choices for the school committee. The school committee post is challenging. Complex problems of education, finance, management and personnel continually confront anyone who takes on the challenge. I’m supporting the two candidates who I believe offer the best skills and temperament for the job. I’m endorsing Glenn Pavlicek and Denis Keohane.

Both Glenn and Denis are staunch supporters of the French Immersion program. While all of the candidates responded “no” to a question at the League of Women voters debate about whether they would ever agree to do away with the program, that is not in my view a commitment to safeguard it from misguided political pressures that could affect the program without eliminating it. Let’s understand that the value of this program accrues not just to the students in it, but to the entire school system and town as a symbol of educational excellence and innovation.

Glenn Pavlicek

Glenn is an extremely valuable member of the School Committee, bringing a wide range of skills and knowledge to a multi-faceted and complex role. He is not a single issue candidate seeking office to advance a specific cause. He has always worked to improve every aspect of the system to serve every student in the system.

As Chair of the Warrant Committee and member of the School Building Committee Glenn has had a key role in the construction of our new schools. He was a member of the citizens’ group “Fair Funding for Milton” that helped secure over $500,000 a year in Payments In Lieu of Taxes for the town. His work on Special Education includes working with the Department of Education on compliance issues, and supporting changes in instruction and curriculum that permitted a 20% reduction in out-of-district placements. These students are now educated in their home town, as they should be, and the system saves money doing so.

Three years ago Glenn pledged during his campaign to improve the level of communication and the openness of the school system. Today we have a stellar team of administrators running our schools. They work tirelessly to inform, educate and explain what’s happening with education in Milton.

The current economic crisis presents a serious challenge to educational excellence. Federal Stimulus money will cushion the blow somewhat for the coming fiscal year, but beginning the following year deep cuts are in the cards.

As an educator with long experience in town finance, Glenn is uniquely qualified to meet this challenge. He recognizes there are no easy solutions of the kind that make for great political slogans. He will do what he has always done, work quietly and effectively to get the job done.
Please support Glenn Pavlicek with one of your two votes for School Committee on April 27th.

Denis Keohane

Denis is a successful, self-made businessman. I was first struck by his obvious commitment to education, exhibited by his own decision to attend college as an adult and while building his business- not an easy thing. He “wanted to lead my children by example” he has said.

He has announced his intention to focus on the business side of the committee’s activities-- budgeting, management and negotiating. Not only is this his expertise, but he understands that educational strategy and policy are the province of the Superintendent, with committee input.

We’ve all heard business executives who’ve claimed that if government or education were run like businesses we’d be better off. Of course businesses and government are entirely different undertakings and skepticism of such remarks is warranted. But Denis is not saying that. He is saying that to have a member with his perspective on the committee improves it by adding skills while not losing sight of the uniqueness of an educational mission.

I know some people have expressed concern with the strength of some statements Denis made at the Milton League of Women Voters debate. He is a political novice after all, and I think he was simply trying to distinguish himself and emphasize his areas of expertise.

We have a very experienced committee membership at the moment. It’s a good time for someone with a deep passion for the power of education and a different professional background to come on board. Denis Keohane is offering his service to the town and I think we should accept his offer.

I hope you’ll give your second School Committee vote to Denis Keohane.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Planning Board Endorsement

This is a difficult endorsement. Difficult because the incumbent, Ed Duffy, is a good man. We’ve been on the same side politically often, and occasionally on opposite sides, as with the Tucker Village proposal. Between his employment and years on the planning board, he’s given half a century of service to the town he was born in and loves. He deserves our sincere thanks.

As I watched the debates for this office, Ed’s refusal to consider any change to our basic zoning struck me as wholly incompatible with the approach we need to consider to keep Milton strong in the future. The zoning worked well for a time, but doesn't serve our needs going forward.

It was about 75 years ago that Milton developed its zoning laws. These laws and the effort to write them are treated with almost religious reverence by those who adamantly oppose any commercial development outside of the present commercial districts, ever. Based on original Euclidean zoning principles, land uses were strictly segregated, with residential zones separated, isolated, from the other uses. These other uses were much more likely to be industrial or manufacturing. It made good sense to separate homes from the noise, pollution and sometimes noxious fumes factories often produced.

Today, far fewer jobs come from smokestack industries and protection from their effects is less important. The three small commercial zones might have served a good deal of the needs of a pre-WWII community when the automobile was far less prevalent and the population 10,000 less than today. But times have changed. Milton probably has as many automobiles today as it had people in the 1930’s. The culture of work has changed, with two earner families now the norm. The pace of life has so accelerated that convenience now commands high value, especially to families with young children. Local amenities that save time are in demand, as people have no time to drive to the other side of town, or out of town, for things they need. Nor does it help traffic problems that now manifest themselves in almost all parts of Milton when a substantial car trip is needed to buy almost anything.

Oddly enough, many who hold the 75 year old zoning ordinance sacrosanct describe themselves as supporting “Smart Growth”. Current Selectman John Shields did in his campaign four years ago. Current Selectman candidate Sweeney proclaims as much as he declares support for commercial development in the three established zones only. One has to wonder if they’ve read anything about Smart Growth-- two of the core principles of which are mixed use development, and the creation of walkable neighborhoods. How do three small commercial districts located on the periphery of the town accomplish that?

Cheryl Tougias represents a different perspective on key planning issues and would bring to the board an appropriate skill set. Cheryl is a registered architect, who obtained her Masters Degree in architecture from Columbia University. She owns and operates an architectural firm. She has many years experience designing and taking through the approval process numerous types of projects. She is committed to sustainable design and historic preservation.

Cheryl is an impressive woman. Her design background is diverse, and she has worked with a large number of approval authorities. She understands the value of building consensus and the vital role planning can play in laying the necessary foundation for it. The Planning Board would benefit from what she has learned from dealing with other planning organizations, and the Town would benefit from her professional credentials in a job that should take on even more importance in the years to come.

I urge you to support Cheryl Tougias for Planning Board on April 27th.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Campaign Politics

From the day Robert Sweeney announced his intention to run against Kathy Fagan for Selectman, there was a suspicion among many that Mr. Sweeney was motivated primarily by the future of the Governor Stoughton land that abuts his neighborhood. Now he appears to be attempting to win the election by completely misstating Ms. Fagan’s position on that very issue.

Over two years ago the Board of Selectman appointed a committee to study and recommend potential land uses for the Town Poor Farm, consistent with the will of Governor Stoughton. Robert Sweeney was co-Chair of that committee. Their report was issued in December with the single recommendation that an endowment fund of $5 million be established, with three alternatives for raising such a fund. One of those alternatives involved developing the property for affordable housing.

During the last few weeks the Sweeney campaign has been telling voters that Kathy Fagan supports high-density affordable housing on the Governor Stoughton land. This claim is completely false. Understandably it hasn’t been made publically in literature, or in debates. In politics there is often an underground campaign waged simultaneously with the public one. Unfortunately, in Milton it’s been raised to an art form over the years. Using the ancient network of the rumor mill, you can communicate what you wouldn’t want to answer to publically over the back yard fence, at sporting events, while dropping the kids off to school or wherever you meet fellow residents. If you’re lucky, the campaign is not discovered until it’s too late for the truth to overtake it.

Kathy Fagan opposes high-density affordable housing on the Governor Stoughton land. In fact, she opposes high-density housing anywhere in the town because she believes the costs associated with providing town services, especially school costs, would outweigh the benefits. If you’d like to see it in Kathy’s own words, click on the link to her website on the left.

Now, let’s focus our attention on the broad portfolio of issues we have every right to expect our Selectmen to deal with. We’ve begun to make real progress on some fronts during a frightful economic period. A single issue candidate motivated by an issue with a personal interest on the Board of Selectman would be a step back.

If you think your friends might be victims of the underground campaign, forward them a link to this blog or to Kathy’s website. While you’re visiting Kathy’s website, take a look at the debate segments posted there. I think they speak for themselves about who is best equipped to deal with the many issues we face.

You can see the complete League of Women's Voters debate for all positions here:

Monday, April 05, 2010

Beware Complacency

It’s April, which means it’s election time in Milton. Ordinarily, any endorsement I might make for a candidate comes just before the election. Not this year.

Kathy Fagan is running for re-election to the Milton Board of Selectman. In contemplating this fact, I recalled the Spring of 2007 when Kathy won election against a Milton political institution. I reread posts I made during that campaign. As I did so, the emotions—concern, frustration, embarrassment, and sadness --came flooding back.

I also recalled what a breath of fresh air Kathy represented to the status quo. A status quo that just in the weeks leading up to the election recommended a cut in trash sticker fees in the midst of a major budget deficit; disparaged the work of a town employee publically; dismissed a racist letter to Milton No Place for Hate; and made irresponsible last minute changes in a $1 million plan for the Central Avenue business district funded by a state grant.

The choice was a stark one. We could continue to muddle along ignoring, or failing to recognize, important risks to Milton’s future. Or we could begin the difficult and lengthy process of identifying and facing these risks. We could find our vision for Milton in the present and near term future, or in the rapidly receding image in the rear view mirror.

How different is the Spring of 2010. Kathy’s impact on the Board of Selectmen and the town was immediate. Acrimony has been replaced with civility and respect. The Town’s agenda items are completely different. No longer do we spend time on a quixotic effort to preserve a 100 year old town structure, or roll back taxes at a time we desperately need revenues, or fight old grudges with actions that cost a major Milton institution hundreds of thousands of dollars. Instead we’re enjoying new restaurants that will also provide a small stream of revenue to the town. We’re embarking on a wind turbine project with town revenue measured in the millions of dollars. Construction is underway in the Central Avenue business district. We’ve opened a wonderful new library that is smashing all records for patronage. Bulk purchasing of things like energy is saving us thousands of dollars. And we can even pay bills on the town’s website.

All of this would be an enviable record in the best of times. But the last 3 years have not been the best of times. The country is just beginning to emerge from the worst economic crisis since the depression. Despite plummeting state aid, we were able to preserve most of our services while resisting any temptation to tap the rainy day fund. Thus our bond rating remains stellar and borrowing costs minimized. All of the things we continue to do to make Milton a great place to live rewarded homeowners with one of the lowest impacts on real estate prices in the state.

So why an early endorsement? Well, in part because of the excellent job Kathy has done. But also in part because I’m not getting the sense that people realize how far we’ve come from the Spring of 2007. There seems to be a high level of complacency for both the progress we’re starting to make, and for Kathy’s re-election campaign.

Kathy’s opponent is well financed and starts the campaign with some ready- made constituencies, some eager to turn back the clock. If you want to see continued progress on issues that matter to you, you need to get involved. Kathy is having a fundraiser this Friday night, April 9 at the View Restaurant and Tavern, Presidents Golf Course. Drop in and say hi. Relax, have a drink, talk with interesting people like yourself, and drop off a check to help the campaign. Can’t make the date? Then use the secure link at to donate or send a check to The Committee to Elect Kathy Fagan at 78 Capen Street, Milton, MA 02186.

Let's not take a step backwards.