Monday, April 23, 2012

Final Endorsements

Library Trustee

There are four candidates for 3 positions on this Board – Barbara Mason, Herb Voigt, Brendan McLaughlin, and Sheryl Fleitman.

Unfortunately we’ve heard little from Sheryl Fleitman. She did not appear at either the COA or MyTownMatters debate and I haven’t seen any literature.

I’ve known Barbara Mason since working with her on the Warrant Committee. She’s a very dedicated public servant who has served on numerous Boards and Committees.

When you enter Herb Voigt’s home you don’t travel very far before you see…books. This is more rare than you might imagine. An intellectually curious academic, brimming with good ideas, Herb Voigt would be an outstanding addition to the Board.

I don’t know Brendan McLaughlin. People who do know him, have spoken highly of him to me. His work on the Warrant Committee speaks to his public service instincts, and his performance in the debates was thoughtful and knowledgeable.

I think we have three good candidates for Board of Library Trustees.


This race features Jim Henderson and Bill Bennett. Mr. Henderson is running for the third time for this office and I support his election. The Assessor’s office is in many ways a stealth office in Milton town government. Most of the members of the board have been around for decades and there seems to be a general complacency to its functions and services. Mr. Henderson is focused on service issues, both with respect to making access to forms easier and promoting the availability of assistance to Milton taxpayers. His background as a tax accountant would be helpful to our senior citizens who I believe need more information on the Circuit Breaker Law when it comes to paying their taxes. Please join me in voting for Jim Henderson.

Get Out and Vote

Tomorrow is Election Day in Milton. This is a very important election. We have five town-wide races for Selectman, Town Clerk, Planning Board, Library Trustee, and Assessor. And we have a once a decade opportunity to elect all 279 members of Town Meeting. The outcome will greatly affect town politics for the next few years. I hope you'll support Denis Keohane, Mike Joyce, Herb Voigt, Cheryl Tougias, and Jim Henderson. And I hope Precinct 3 voters will give two of your votes for Town Meeting to me and my wife Nancy . Thank you.

Philip and Nancy Mathews seek re-election as Precinct 3 Town Meeting Members

Nancy and I have been Town Meeting members for over 10 years. We began representing Precinct 9 before redistricting 10 years ago moved us to Precinct 10. Now we, and a good number of our Precinct 10 constituents, find ourselves in Precinct 3.

We have lived in Milton for nearly 30 years. We raised our two children here and watched them graduate from our public schools. The excellent preparation they received contributed to what they are doing today – psychological counseling (Ben) and working for Partners in Health in Haiti (Katharine). We both feel that it is impossible to over value public education.

In addition to serving in Town Meeting we collectively served for 10 years on the Warrant Committee, each of us co-chairing the School sub-committee. Nancy has been a President of Glover PTO and Chair of the Glover Site Council. For a number of years she served as President of the Milton League of Women Voters. I coached basketball in the town league and for 7 years I’ve published a blog about town issues.

Milton is special. Most of us have known that for a long time, and now many people around the country know it. What keeps us special is an active, engaged citizenry that serves on elected and appointed boards and committees, as well as at Town Meeting. We have studied issues of education, town finance and development in Milton for a number of years. We would like to continue to serve our old and new Precinct 3 neighbors.

We respectfully ask for two of your votes for Town Meeting on Tuesday, April 24th.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

More Endorsements

Town Clerk

The three way race to replace Jimmy Mullen as Town Clerk is perhaps the most interesting one of the annual election. The assistant Town Clerk (Susan Galvin), a long time Selectman (Marion McEttrick) and a college graduate with some years of town government already under his belt (Mike Joyce) have each emphasized strengths they would bring to the job.

However, the defining issue of the campaign has become the Clerk’s salary. Mr. Mullen received between $84,000 and $85,000. This was after 36 years of service. Most community governments and many private employers establish salary ranges for various positions, with performance and years of service dictating where in the range the salary should fall.

It is only proper that with the retirement of a 36 year veteran the salary for a new clerk should be adjusted to the low end of any salary range. Mike Joyce took the initiative, rather than waiting for the Personnel Board or Warrant Committee to make a recommendation. He stated he would request a salary reduction to $50,000 if elected. The current recommendation of the Warrant Committee to the annual town meeting is $85,989.

Mike Joyce deserves a great deal of credit for this decision. It is the right decision. It keeps faith with the public, too many of whom are cynical about government servants and their motivations for serving. Now whether $50,000 is the correct amount can be discussed further. The 2012 Massachusetts Town Clerks Association salary survey of 221 communities found a salary range of $52,530 -$130,000 for communities of 25,000 residents or more. Of course this includes some cities where the salaries are higher. The $130,000 salary for was for the City of Worcester. For towns between 25,000 and 40,000 in population, the highest salary is just over $99,000 in the town of Lexington, where the salary range starts at $71,159.

Susan Galvin, who has worked in the clerk’s office for about 1½ years, insists the current salary is deserved irrespective of the length of experience. Marion McEttrick’s response was, “well, that’s an interesting idea about the salary, I have to say.” She went on to agree that a new clerk shouldn’t start at the top of the range and that she was open to discussion. But Mike Joyce is the candidate who raised the issue, pledged to seek a reduction, and quantified the significance of the reduction. We will never know if the issue would have been raised otherwise.

Susan Galvin touts her short stint in the clerk’s office as her primary attribute for the office. But a review of the taped mytownmatters debate at Fuller Village calls into question the value of her experience. In response to a question about Milton’s redistricting and the reduction of precincts from 11 to 10, she seems to confuse the legal requirement to redraw precinct lines with the number of precincts. The link to the debate segment appears below.

Marion McEttrick emphasizes her many years of experience as Selectman and her law degree. While I’m sure the long association with Town Hall would have some benefit for a short time, it’s hard to see how the functions of the clerk’s office would require a law degree.

Mike Joyce represents exactly what we need at Town Hall and in that office. He’s a break from the past. His comment at the debate about “institutional ossification” captures exactly what happens after 36 years under the same leadership. More than the other candidates Mike Joyce has the energy, ideas and youthful perspective to bring change and to contribute to a new culture at Town Hall.

Link to debate segment:

Planning Board

Cheryl Tougias and Mike Kelly are running for the seat formerly held by Peter Jackson.

Two years ago Ms. Tougias ran for a Planning Board seat as a little known candidate and lost to a long time incumbent by only 46 votes. It’s likely her highly relevant professional background accounts for her success as a newcomer. Since then she has served on the Town Warrant Committee and has gained insights about town government only possible by such service.

Ms. Tougias has a graduate degree in Architecture from Columbia University, one of the highest rated graduate schools for the subject in the country. She’s been a practicing Architect for over 20 years. She supports a revised Master Plan process as a way to ensure that development reflects the desires of the town and to avoid ad hoc responses to issues as they arise.

Her knowledge of architectural design would be a major asset to the Planning Board when dealing with proposed development. She has a range of experience in the special permit and site plan review processes. She supports sustainable development and the preservation of what she calls “the beautiful character” of Milton.

Mr. Kelly is a graduate of Wentworth Institute and works in the construction industry as a Project Manager for JF White. He is running to preserve the town’s quality of life and to protect residential neighborhoods. Mr. Kelly does not support a new Master Plan.

In fact, Mr. Kelly made this clear at the Fuller Village debate. He claimed that a new plan could cost as much $500,000. But this is wild exaggeration. A plan can be done for much less money than this. He also objected to utilizing a consulting firm on the project, describing it as putting the plan recommendations in the hands of someone else. To say this is to completely misunderstand the Master Plan process. Most communities hire experts to manage the process and ensure that the views of all residents are taken into consideration. The consultants don’t make the recommendations, they make sure that what the residents say shapes them.

Mr. Kelly made a somewhat unusual comment on zoning. He declared his opposition to overlay districts in the town. He wants to adhere to the original, underlying zoning laid out over 70 years ago. A lot has changed over the decades since zoning was introduced in Massachusetts. The society is different and lifestyles have changed. Without overlay districts, projects like 88 Wharf Street, 36 Central Avenue, and Mr. Connelly’s proposal at the Hendries Plant site would not be possible. Nor would the cluster development proposed for the Governor Stoughton land, in order to preserve a sizeable amount of open space, be possible. Mr. Kelly is a neighbor of that property. One has to wonder if that’s his reason for running.

I hope you’ll join me in voting for Cheryl Tougias for Planning Board. Her professional skills are obvious benefits to the function the Board undertakes. I particularly hope she can lend her thoughts to the establishment of a more rigorous, standardized process for site plan review.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Board of Selectmen

With a town election and Annual Town Meeting imminent, it seems like a good time to re-start my blog after a hiatus of too long a time.

Today, an endorsement and a comment about the Milton Times.

Board of Selectmen

Twelve year incumbent John Shields is being challenged by School Committee member Denis Keohane. They differ in political experience, temperament and their views on certain issues facing the town.

Shields should be commended for his 12 years of service, and many no doubt consider this experience a benefit. But excessive longevity can suffer from a political version of the law of diminishing returns, and may even become detrimental to a vibrant, forward looking governance.

Too many years in the same role breeds complacency. Reliance on a small core of advisors and supporters while the community around you undergoes change tends to distance you from segments of the population. You become less open to change. You look backwards for possible solutions rather than looking at problems with a fresh perspective. Experience becomes a straightjacket.

Denis Keohane is a breath of fresh air. He’s only been involved in town politics for 2 years but he’s lived here for 20 years, during which time he’s met and become friends with an amazing number of residents. In my nearly 30 years in Milton I’ve never seen a candidate whose friendships and associations cut across so many geographic, racial, political and socioeconomic lines. He will bring their voices and concerns to the Board of Selectman.

Key to Denis’ success with people is his temperament. He has his views, but his easygoing nature, and unfailing politeness make it possible for him to listen to others, and for them to listen to him. This is important to an executive board that needs to be inclusive, to seek various opinions and build consensus.

Mr. Shields, on the other hand, has the reputation for sometimes being short tempered, and sometimes personalizing political issues. Two famous examples involve his treatment of the Milton “No Place for Hate” committee and of our state Senator over the disposition of Ulin Rink. The latest example is our Police Chief. Mr. Shields voted against the last contract for Chief Wells citing conduct issues. But it is hardly a secret that he did not support the selection of Chief Wells in 2007 and has not been a supporter ever since. With an increase in criminal activity town-wide, we should be supporting a very effective Chief with a longer term contract and resources he requests.

I hope you’ll join me in supporting Denis Keohane for Selectman on Tuesday, April 24th. I’ve gotten to know Denis over the last month or so. We do not agree on all political issues. But he’s open to discussion and persuasion. His intelligence, business experience, respectfulness and openness make him the clear choice for our next Selectman.

Milton Times

A few years ago the Milton Times adopted a policy of not accepting letters in support of candidates during campaigns. The Publisher cited the difficulty in balancing views, and no doubt hoped the campaigns would be more likely to place paid advertising instead.

The years preceding this decision saw a large volume of such letters. They heightened interest in the election. Collectively they covered a wide array of issues. Sometimes they even touched on news not reported in the Times. (Who can forget the scandal in 2007 involving two sitting Selectmen that was covered extensively in the Globe and the Ledger, without a peep from the local paper of record).

So imagine my surprise to see two letters to the editor this week in support of John Shields. As far as I can tell there was no announced change of policy. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised though. The Milton Times has always had a particular political bias, which is why I saw the letters to the editor in a friend’s copy of the paper.