A weekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, May 21, started at around 6:40 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations. As happened last week, several people attended who are interested in a proposal to replace the human relations commission.
Announcements: Next week, the 2014 annual town meeting starts Tuesday, May 27, at 7:00 pm in the High School auditorium, side entrance at 91 Tappan St. It continues on Thursday, May 29, on Monday, June 2, and for other sessions as needed. This week, the Brookline Neighborhood Alliance is holding a forum on town meeting issues Wednesday, May 21, starting at 7:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. According to board member Betsy DeWitt, it will review Articles 8 (budget), 10 (replacement of human relations commission), 11 (Toxteth neighborhood district), 15-19 (Brookline Place development), 21 (small-lot zoning near Meadowbrook Rd.), 26 (repealing sale of taxi medallions) and 28 (prompt snow clearance in business districts).
The Brookline VFW and American Legion post has organized site visits on Memorial Day, May 26. Bus trips leave at 8:30 am near the Veterans Post at 386 Washington St. An outdoor ceremony starts at 11 am near Town Hall, 333 Washington St. An open house will be held at the Brookline Senior Center, 93 Winchester St., on Friday, May 30, from 3 to 6 pm, showing the new fitness center. A full-length meeting of the Board of Selectmen is not scheduled next week, because of town meeting. However, the Advisory Committee schedules early evenings on town meeting nights, starting at 6:00 pm in Room 208 at Brookline High School. The selectmen will hold a short meeting at the same time Tuesday, May 27, in Room 209–mainly for change orders, budget transfers and other routine business.
Bonds, police, seniors: Treasurer Stephen Cirillo won authorization to sell $8.4 million in municipal bonds. The effective interest rate from the low bidder is 1.8 percent, he said. Most of the money will pay for building and grounds maintenance projects. The largest of those is $3 million for repairs to the former Lincoln School. Sewer maintenance receives $1 million. The town got a favorable interest rate because of its AAA credit rating, Mr. Cirillo said, awarded because of attention to long-term financial planning.
Since the new Lincoln School on Kennard Road opened in 1994, the sturdy, 1930s structure on Route 9 has been used repeatedly for temporary space during renovation of several schools, Town Hall, the health department building and the main library. However, with three schools now being considered for expansion projects, old Lincoln School may not be enough. The Board of Selectmen and the School Committee have each held long executive sessions recently to consider “leases.”
Other, long-term projects are being performed in stages and get only parts of funds from this bond sale. The municipal service center on Hammond St., just 15 years old, gets a major renovation. Its structural design proved inadequate for heavy equipment on an upper floor. Reconfigurations will move equipment to the ground floor, and the upper floor will be repaired.
Construction of Fisher Hill Park gets $1.2 million from these bonds. Brookline bought the 1887 Fisher Hill Reservoir, a project of the former Boston Water Board, from the state in 2008. It had been out of regular service since the 1950s. The new park is a late stage in a complex redevelopment. The reservoir’s historic gatehouse is to be restored.
Chief of Police Daniel O’Leary won authorization for nine student police officers. They will train at Lowell Police Academy, he said, and are expected to begin service in late fall. In a nod to the board’s renewal of concerns about workforce diversity, Mr. O’Leary noted that three of the nine are African-American.
Two of the student police officers, Mr. O’Leary said, are “legacies.” That is a code word for members of several families with long-term backgrounds as Brookline employees. From at least the middle 1800s through the 1960s, those families lived in Brookline and comprised much of the workforce.
Brookline’s Age-Friendly Cities program was reviewed by board member Nancy Daly, who chairs the Age-Friendly Cities Committee, with committee members Ruthann Dobek, the Senior Center director, and Frank Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member. Brookline was the first New England community to cooperate with the World Health Organization, a United Nations agency, in starting a program.
According to Mr. Caro, the committee is focused on pedestrians in urban Brookline and wants to reduce bicycle use on sidewalks. In the late 1960s, however, Massachusetts passed a law requiring bicyclists to use sidewalks outside business districts, where they are available.
License reviews: The board heard seven applications for food service, liquor and entertainment licenses. Five proved fairly routine, with no member of the public offering comments or objections.
Juan Carlos Hincapie asked for new food service (“common victualler”) and entertainment (radio, TV) licenses to operate Milky Way cafe on Cypress St. near the corner of Route 9, at the former site of Yobro cafe. Neighbors protested midnight closing hours Monday through Saturday. Mr. Hincape said he was seeking only what Yobro had. It turned out that while Yobro had applied for midnight closing, it was allowed only until 10 pm. The board approved the new licenses, with closing hours of 10 pm Monday through Saturday and 8 pm Sunday.
Lisa Wisel applied for an extension of liquor service hours at VineRipe Grill, housed in the Putterham Meadows golf clubhouse on West Roxbury Pkwy. Several residents of the area sent letters and spoke in opposition to pushing morning hours back to 8 am Tuesday through Sunday and 9 am Monday. Service hours now start at 10 am Monday through Saturday and at noon Sunday.
Regina Frawley, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, spoke of “neighborhood concerns,” saying, “If you need a drink at 8 in the morning, you’ve got a problem.” Cornelia van der Ziel, a Precinct 15 town meeting member, told the board, “10 am is early enough, drinking early in the morning is not a good sign of mental health.” She was seconded by Saralynn Allaire, a Precinct 16 town meeting member and member of the Commission for the Disabled.
Ms. Wisel explained that there had been requests for beer with breakfast, particularly during golf tournaments. Board chair Kenneth Goldstein sounded sympathetic, saying it was “part of the golfer culture.” Board member Neil Wishinsky said it was “not [his] style,” but he was “willing to give it a try.” That didn’t appeal to board member Betsy DeWitt, who said she could not support 8 am. Board members Nancy Daly and Benjamin Franco both said they were “uncomfortable with 8 am on weekdays.”
On a motion by Ms. DeWitt, the board voted to authorize a 10 am starting hour every day, only Mr. Goldstein opposing. That allows a two-hour extension to current hours on Monday. Mr. Goldstein then proposed the hours Ms. Wisel had requested, but that lost by a 3 to 2 vote, attracting support from Mr. Wishinsky.
Human relations: The board again considered Article 10 for next week’s town meeting, on which it was unable to reach consensus the previous week. That seeks replacement of the current Human Relations Youth Resources Commission by a proposed Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission. Mariela Ames, chair of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, and Sandra DeBow, the town’s Human Resources director, spoke about the issues, but most other officials present at last week’s review did not attend this one.
Earlier in the evening the Advisory subcommittee for the article met with the selectmen-appointed “diversity committee” chaired by board member Nancy Daly, which submitted Article 10. Later that evening, the full Advisory Committee reconsidered the article. Ms. Daly summarized what those committees recommended and proposed that the Board of Selectmen join with their views on several items:
• number of commission members to be 15 rather than variable, 11 to 15
• quorum to be a majority of members serving, with a minimum of six
• Board of Selectmen to appoint a non-voting representative
• chief diversity officer also to be director of the new commission’s “office”
• chief diversity officer not to be a department head or senior administrator
• chief diversity officer to report to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner
• chief diversity officer to have an option to take issues to the Board of Selectmen
• commission also to have an option to take issues to the Board of Selectmen
• commission office to be budgeted and located per the town administrator
• Brookline schools to be included among concerns of the chief diversity officer
The board spent about an hour on Article 10. Many arguments proved similar to those at previous reviews. Some board members indicated support for changes Ms. Daly described. However, Ms. DeWitt expressed skepticism over the Board of Selectmen appointing one of their number as a representative to the commission, saying it would cause “built-in conflict,” since selectmen are to hear appeals from the commission and chief diversity officer.
Ms. DeWitt noted that selectmen are not involved in the police complaint process because they act as an appeals board. The same applies to the Transportation Board, to which the Board of Selectmen do not send a regular representative. The selectmen did not appear to reach consensus on this issue.
Ms. Ames, the current commission’s chair, contended that the chief diversity officer should be appointed by the Board of Selectmen rather than the town administrator. It is common practice for the board to review and approve senior employees, likely to be followed here too. What can matter more is how and by whom senior employees such as the proposed chief diversity officer are recruited. For example, with Charles Flaherty retiring as director of the Public Library of Brookline, a screening committee was set up by the library trustees to seek and review candidates for a new director.
It has been clear that Ms. Ames and several other current commission members are concerned over a much diminished role for the proposed new commission in reviewing complaints. Ms. Daly, Ms. DeWitt, Mr. Wishinsky and Ms. DeBow all addressed that issue, emphasizing growth in the town’s responsibility for privacy rights since the original Human Relations Commission was established in 1970.
The board voted to support Ms. Daly’s proposals about number of commission members, quorum and inclusion of Brookline schools among concerns. While they voiced some support for proposals concerning a chief diversity officer and functioning of the commission, the vote they took did not explicitly refer to those matters.
Unsatisfied, Ms. Ames asked the board, “Do we now have an equal opportunity policy?” Ms. DeBow conceded, “There is no existing policy…that is, in many ways, how we got to this debate.” After the meeting, Ms. Ames said that proposals for a new commission, so far, would not produce an improvement over the current commission. What was mainly missing, she said, was action on recruitment and promotion of minorities “from the top.”
– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 21, 2014
Corrections, May 24, 2014. Third night of the 2014 annual town meeting is Monday, June 2, not Tuesday, June 3. The selectmen scheduled a short meeting for 6 pm Tuesday, May 27, in a room at the high school.