Board of Selectmen: awards, block grants and human relations

A weekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, May 13, started at around 7:15 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations. However, the meeting attracted many people who came for the annual awards to police officers and several people interested in a proposal to replace the human relations commission.

Leadership: In a brief, afternoon open session before vanishing into a two-hour executive session, the board elected Kenneth Goldstein as chair for the coming year. Mr. Goldstein is a former, long time member of the Planning Board. Newly elected member Benjamin Franco, a former Advisory Committee member, joined the board–replacing Richard Benka, who did not run for another term.

Awards: Chief of Police Daniel O’Leary presented awards to three police officers for distinguished service: a commendation to Noah Brothers, a public service award to John Bradley and an award for police officer of the year to Douglas Dunwoody. Officer Dunwoody was noted for service in several difficult incidents, including one last year near the intersection of Lee St. with Route 9, when the driver of a car transporting illegal drugs was disarmed of a pistol.

Announcements: The Department of Public Works is holding a public meeting to answer questions about its services Wednesday, May 14, starting at 7:00 pm in the first floor south meeting room at Town Hall, 333 Washington St. The department also offers an “open house” Tuesday, May 20, from noon to 6 pm, demonstrating its services and equipment at the Public Works Center, 870 Hammond St. The department provides services for parks, roads, sanitation, water and engineering. The Bicycle Advisory Committee will hold an annual bicycle parade Sunday, May 18, starting at noon from Amory Park, near the corner of Amory and Freeman Streets.

The Brookline Neighborhood Alliance will hold a forum on town meeting issues Wednesday, May 21, starting at 7:00 pm in the sixth floor meeting room at Town Hall. The Driscoll School Council will host a discussion on proposals to renovate the school Friday, May 16, starting at 8:15 am in the school auditorium. The Council on Aging and other organizations host a discussion on “elder care”–home-based services and residential options for older people–Thursday, May 15, starting at 5:30 pm at the Brookline Senior Center, 93 Winchester St.

Block grants: Joe Viola, assistant director for community planning, presented the fiscal 2015 community development block grant program. It will bring in over $1 million in federal funds to serve disadvantaged people and neighborhoods. Brookline’s eligibility stems from the former Redevelopment Authority, which carried out two major projects from the early 1960s through the mid-1980s. In the early 1970s, the Nixon administration convinced Congress to replace redevelopment project funding with block grants.

This year’s program has four large elements at around a quarter million dollars each: assisting acquisition of houses on Beals St. for homeless people, a contribution to the town’s housing trust fund used to subsidize housing for low-income and moderate-income residents, demolition of the pedestrian overpass near the corner of Route 9 and Washington St., and grant administration. Several smaller projects fund security systems in public housing, youth employment and training, and other social services. Total funding is $1.334 million.

The pedestrian overpass was built in the early 1970s by the former Redevelopment Authority, connecting its Marsh Project and Farm Project sites, on the north and south sides of Route 9. Poor visibility of pedestrians from below led to assaults and vandalism, and the overpass was blocked off in the late 1970s. In the early 1980s town meeting authorized demolition, but until now that has never been carried out for lack of funds. A development project at Brookline Place is expected to reimburse the cost of demolition, restoring block grant funds for use in other programs. The Board of Selectmen voted unanimous approval of this year’s program.

Construction noise: Representatives for Claremont Companies of Bridgewater, MA, presented a request for a waiver of noise control to demolish the former Red Cab garage at 111 Boylston St., where Claremont plans to build a 130-room hotel. The building abuts tracks of the Riverside branch of the MBTA Green Line. Demolition can only be performed during very late night and very early morning hours, when trolleys are not running. Claremont estimates 40 nights of work spread over two months. They will be operating excavators, front-end loaders, a crane and a Brokk demolition robot but will not operate manual jackhammers or transport debris or heavy equipment at night.

Neighbor Mike Bukhin of 46 White Place described experiences with a recent, much smaller project, restoring a dilapidated exterior wall. After getting a waiver, he tried notifying nearby residents by e-mail, with mixed results. He said erratic MBTA scheduling made the work take far longer than anticipated and predicted similar problems for Claremont. The Board of Selectmen approved a waiver for Claremont for 60 days, Sunday through Thursday nights between 1:15 and 4:45 am, starting in June or July, provided Claremont notifies the town at least ten days before starting and maintains an e-mail list to notify neighbors, day by day.

Human relations: Yet another long discussion ensued over replacement of the current Human Relations Youth Resources Commission by a proposed Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission. Among those present were Harry Bohrs and Michael Sandman, chair and subcommittee chair of the Advisory Committee, Mariela Ames, chair of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, Barbara Scotto, vice chair of the School Committee and Jean Berg, chair of the Committee on Town Organization and Structure. There were several other members of boards that have become involved in the issue.

The change is being proposed by a selectmen-appointed “diversity committee.” In the fall of 2012, the human relations commission disclosed that the 26 departments reporting to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner and the Board of Selectmen lacked even one minority person as a department head and had not had one for over 40 years. The Board of Selectmen reacted by appointing the “diversity committee.” However, rather than investigate hirings and promotions, that committee proposed to abolish the human relations commission. They want to set up a new community relations commission, but it would be unable to investigate complaints involving Brookline personnel.

Nancy Daly, a member of the Board of Selectmen who chairs the “diversity committee,” described its latest revisions, developed after reviews by the other boards. The situation has become an unusually tangled set of disagreements that could lead to six or more competing proposals set before town meeting. The Board of Selectmen was not able to reach consensus and will reconsider the matter next week.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 14, 2014

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