Monthly Archives: May 2014

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

School Committee: celebrations, programs, policies and test scores

A regular semimonthly meeting of the School Committee on Thursday, May 8, started at 6:30 pm, mostly held in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Topics included committee leadership, new school programs, policy reviews and scores on state tests at Brookline High.

Celebrations: Welcoming celebrations for newly elected committee members and farewells for departing ones were not on the agenda but took about the first 45 minutes. Previous committee chair Alan Morse did not run for re-election, and new leadership was expected this year. To compensate for time spent on celebrations, the committee deferred review of the school technology program to its next meeting. At least 50 members of the public were present during the celebrations, but only four stayed for the rest of the meeting.

Leadership: Following current tradition, the previous vice chair, Susan Wolf Ditkoff, was elected committee chair for a year and can serve for a year beyond that. She is a partner at the investment firm Bain & Co. and has been a committee member since 2008. Barbara Scotto was elected vice chair. She was employed for 25 years as an elementary school teacher in Brookline, joining the committee in 2009 after she retired, and has been a Brookline town meeting member for more than 40 years. Committee votes for the new leaders were unanimous.

For many years, the School Committee has organized standing subcommittees that review ongoing issues. Those now include capital improvements, curriculum, finance, government relations, negotiations and policy. Ms. Ditkoff announced three changes. David Pollak replaces Helen Charlupski chairing capital improvements. Helen Charlupski replaces Barbara Scotto chairing curriculum. Benjamin Chang replaces outgoing committee member Amy Kershaw chairing finance. Rebecca Stone continues chairing government relations and negotiations. Abby Cox continues chairing policy.

Programs and policies: For capital improvements, Helen Charlupski said a proposal to renovate Devotion School has been sent to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, with an initial response expected by mid-May. She recounted that the capital subcommittee of the Advisory Committee, chaired by Carla Benka, had recommended against funding a feasibility study for Driscoll School. Actually, subcommittee members were unable to achieve a majority on any approach to the issue, a rare event.

However, the full Advisory Committee voted to recommend $1 million to town meeting, under Article 8, Section 25. Ms. Stone asked about the expected number of added classrooms. Dr. William Lupini, the superintendent, said four more classrooms are now expected in a new addition, plus two more classrooms from rearrangements inside current buildings. There is a separate project for Lawrence School pending under Article 7, which has also proved controversial. $1.5 million recommended for Lawrence by the Advisory Committee and Board of Selectmen supplements $2.5 million previously appropriated. The project builds an addition with four more standard-size classrooms. For details, see the warrant report for the 2014 annual town meeting.

For curriculum, Barbara Scotto described a pilot math program at Devotion School managed by the principal, Jennifer Flewelling, using four iPad computers per classroom. She also described new first-grade reading instruction that uses computers, managed by Jillian Starr at Devotion. Currently, she said, not enough computers are available, even for small groups. She described a “child study model” begun at Baker School, using “instructional intervention” in trying to avoid assigning students “who aren’t being successful in the classroom” to special education. The Web site for Public Schools of Brookline currently has nothing about the first two programs and mentions the third only in a 2012 improvement plan for Heath School, under the heading “educational equity.”

For government relations, Rebecca Stone characterized an Advisory Committee approach to a proposed new community relations commission, replacing the current human relations commission, as being “neutral on schools.” Reviews of Article 10 for the May town meeting, proposing the new commission, have turned complex and heated. The Advisory Committee’s approach does expect that the new commission would review hirings and promotions at all Brookline agencies, including schools, but it advocates cooperation rather than legal requirements to provide information to the commission.

For policy, Abby Cox reported on “community use of school buildings.” Those uses extend from child care and supplemental education to occasional meetings of organizations. Changes are being proposed, she said, in a “policy manual” regulating scheduling, fees, liability, safety, accessibility, special events and large gatherings. However, she did not describe any changes, and no such proposals could be found on the Web site for Public Schools of Brookline. Ann Turner of Toxteth St., representing Brookline’s extended day programs, spoke up during “public comment,” saying, “Waiting lists are getting longer.” She urged the committee to “work together to build trust, and make space available to after-school programs.”

Continuing policy reviews with larger issues of how schools educate students, Dr. Jennifer Fischer-Mueller, the deputy superintendent for teaching and learning, described a proposed new “strategic plan” for the school department. The current version was adopted by the committee in 2009. Only an “executive summary” of the 2009 plan could be found on the Web site for Public Schools of Brookline. The proposed new version changes the plan’s “vision,” “mission,” “core values” and “goals.” The proposals were flashed on a projector screen during the meeting, but they could not be found on the Web site for Public Schools of Brookline.

Dr. Fischer-Mueller invited members of the School Committee to recite statements from the proposed new plan aloud. Although committee members went along, that extended ritual would surely have looked odd to veterans of School Committee meetings over the past several decades. Nothing similar comes to mind. The statements sounded ambitious and idealistic yet somewhat vague. Proposed titles of “core values” remain the same as in 2009, while some of the revised “goals” seemed less specific. Discussion followed over how performance could be measured against goals. New committee chair Susan Wolf Ditkoff said, “The system is not captive to MCAS scores.” New vice chair Barbara Scotto went farther, saying, “I’m not sure I want to live in a society where everything is measured.”

Test scores: With Deborah Holman, the Brookline High School headmaster, and Harold “Hal” Mason, the assistant headmaster, presenting, the committee reviewed a “competency determination report” for the High School. Ms. Holman came to Brookline High from Newton North two years ago, replacing Dr. Robert “Bob” Weintraub, who left to become a professor of practice at Teacher’s College, Columbia University. Mr. Mason, an English teacher, came to Brookline High from the New York City High School of Art and Design five years ago.

Ms. Ditkoff’s outlook notwithstanding, the “competency determination report” appeared entirely based on the state’s standardized tests. They have functioned in graduation requirements since 2001. No other “competency” was mentioned in the report–notably none involving practical and prized skills such as organizing, selling, inventing, managing, debating, report writing, estimating, translating, complex problem solving, community awareness, music, art and mechanical design. School Committee members had copies of the report at the meeting, but no such reports for any year could be found on the Web site for Public Schools of Brookline.

“Competency determination” is required for public school students by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education under state regulations inspired by the Education Reform Act of 1993. The format of the report being reviewed by the committee is unique to Brookline schools and was developed during the Lupini administration. Copies of the recent document were made available to reporters. It can be obtained on request to Beth McDonald, Administration and Finance administrative assistant, at the school department offices in Town Hall, 617-730-2425.

Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests produce “scaled scores” ranging from 200 to 280 and rankings named “advanced,” “proficient,” “needs improvement” and “warning/failure.” Students scoring in one of the upper three ranks on English language, math and at least one of the four science tests meet the state’s graduation requirements. The Brookline “competency determination report” focused on students scoring in the top two ranks. Those students need not be evaluated individually by Public Schools of Brookline, to prepare “educational proficiency plans” in the subjects of tests at issue.

The latest “competency determination report” compares groups of Brookline High School students identified as “white”, “Hispanic” “Asian,” “African-American” and “multirace.” In past years, High School administrators maintained internal reports also comparing METCO students and students living in Brookline public housing. The latter groups were not mentioned in the latest report, which surveys the most recent four years. The report did not compare Brookline High with any other high school in the state or compare MCAS with any other tests–such as the National Assessment of Education Progress, whose 12th-grade results for last year were recently announced.

Overall, MCAS test rankings for Brookline High School students have been strong and rising. For English language, 89 percent of those tested were in the top two ranks in 2010, rising to 98 percent in 2013. For math, results increased from 91 percent in 2010 to 93 percent in 2013. For science, results increased from 81 percent in 2010 to 87 percent in 2013. The report offered no breakdowns by science subject.

Mr. Mason told the committee that all this year’s seniors received high enough scores to graduate. However, some encountered problems and had to participate in retests. The report mentions problems for students with “limited English proficiency.” According to Ms. Holman and Mr. Mason, the high school has many students coming from foreign countries and many speaking languages other than English at home. The report mentions tutoring offered to low-scoring students.

The report shows percentages of “Hispanic” students in the top two scoring ranks increasing in English and math–approaching those for the total student body. However, a substantial gap remains in science. For “African-American” students, trends in English are also rising, but more slowly. For math and science, the most recent year saw a substantial drop in “African-American” students scoring in the top two ranks–from around 80 percent to around 60 percent in math and from around 50 percent to around 40 percent in science.

Bhs10thGradeMathMcas2010to2013

Source: Brookline High School, MCAS Competency Determination, 2013-2014

Questions from School Committee members focused on declines for “African-American” students in science and math rankings, which Ms. Stone described as “breathtaking.” Ms. Holman and Mr. Mason did not offer clear explanations. Ms. Holman said it was partly a “surprise” and there had been lapses in “tracking” student progress. They and Dr. Lupini committed to more frequent reviews. Possibly that also means more counseling and tutoring, but if so no one spoke about it.

Instruction and assessment came across as main interests of the committee, including “calculus for Latino and African-American students,” but motivation was hardly mentioned. In particular, no one spoke to the obvious: that transition to a new headmaster might have some effects. “Dr. Bob,” as he was often called, was famous for knowing nearly all students and staff by name and taking keen interest in students from disadvantaged backgrounds. If those shoes can be filled, that is not likely to happen overnight.

Surprisingly, committee members did not ask about the fraction of school resources diverted into coaching for tests in mainstream classes and into test-oriented counseling, planning and tutoring. They also asked few questions about testing students with learning disabilities, including ones in special education programs. In past years, these have been controversial topics.

New testing regime: Dr. Lupini mentioned he is to make a decision before July about whether to adopt new PARCC tests as a base of assessment, instead of MCAS. They are oriented to the so-called “Common Core” curriculum being promoted by the U.S. Department of Education, under the Obama administration. The state’s education department has said it will not change to PARCC before 2018.

PARCC looks high-risk for Brookline–partly because of a very complex and fast changing curriculum, partly because of differences in test administration. MCAS uses conventional, paper-and-pencil tests. PARCC is electronic and uses interactive computer software.

A more drastic difference is that PARCC tests have been strictly timed. MCAS began as a timed test but offered “accommodations” to students with learning disabilities. For practical purposes, it evolved into an untimed test. Decades of experience show that strictly timed tests put students from foreign-language and low-income backgrounds at severe disadvantages.

Tests are usually couched in dialects that tend not to match those of foreign-language and low-income home and community settings. With enough time to understand questions, students from those backgrounds often do better. With strictly timed tests, those students are placed at well known risks of lower scores. Because many are Latino or African-American, some critics have protested the practice as racial discrimination.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 12, 2014


Correction, May 15, 2014. Sentence added about Advisory subcommittee position on funding for Driscoll, a rare instance when a subcommittee reported no recommendation.


Bella Travaglini, Panel raises questions on PARCC, Boston Globe, April 12, 2014

David B. Tyack, The One Best System: A History of American Urban Education, Harvard University Press, 1974

Casino gambling: who supports it and who opposes it?

So far, this year’s crop of candidates for state offices turned in a dismal performance on casino gambling. An initiative to repeal a Massachusetts law authorizing casinos brought the topic back to the front burner. Some candidates can’t take the heat and are trying to stay out of the kitchen.

Since at least the Revolutionary War, gambling has been a “fourth evil” for governments in the U.S., along with alcohol, tobacco and firearms–historically policed by a bureau of the U.S. Treasury but now by the Department of Justice. Unlike classic evils, for which the prescription became to tax and regulate, a common approach to gambling was to ban and prosecute, at least as written in the law books.

Anti-gambling laws were always hypocritical, with huge exceptions carved out for bingo, beano, horse racing and sometimes lotteries, and with enforcement that proved whimsical when not plainly corrupt. In the older states of the Northeast, there was at least a “bookie joint” for every urban neighborhood, often doing double duty as a tavern, as a barber shop or, in more recent times, as a pizza parlor. It was probably the small scale and ordinary character of these enterprises that kept fires banked instead of raging.

Like alcohol and tobacco–and, over the past century and a half, like recreational drugs–for some people gambling readily becomes addictive, wrecking careers and households. As with alcohol, tobacco and drugs, addiction becomes more likely as activity becomes more glamorous, intense, convenient and frequent.

The country’s engagement with Prohibition from 1920 to 1933–thanks to the former Anti-Saloon League–opened new opportunities for importers and home-delivery services. Those were quickly seized by criminal gangs–notably the Mafia, operating out of most large cities. Criminal gangs had long been running the “numbers racket” and “bookie joints.” Mastery of some illegal trades led to taking over another that became far more profitable, until the country came to its senses early in the Franklin Roosevelt administration.

With the end of national Prohibition and, over time, with the repeal of state and local “dry” laws, gambling resumed a role as the biggest source of Mob income. It became the everyday cash cow that helped to fund “loan-sharking” operations, “protection rackets” and “shakedowns” preying on local business. While there had been early, state-authorized lotteries, amid the post-Civil War campaigns against evils of alcohol and drugs, those lotteries were shut down before 1900, and stiff federal anti-gambling laws were enacted to keep them closed.

Light finally dawned in some dim corners of state governments during the 1960s. The insight was that a permanent state lottery could be a “win-win” proposition: to raise money for a state government and to take money away from criminal gangs and weaken them. New Hampshire, eager to avoid traditionally despised income and sales taxes, went first. In 1963, the state legislature authorized the New Hampshire Sweepstakes, using horse races at Rockingham Park in Salem as the arbiter of a lottery, to dodge federal anti-gambling laws of the time.

New Hampshire cities and towns had options, voted in a special election, to accept or reject local ticket sales. At first only 13 of then 211 communities chose to participate. That was enough to get started, and it was enough to get attention. New York followed suit in 1967, New Jersey in 1970. New Jersey created the first popular modern state lottery: large numbers of outlets, frequent awards and a high fraction of sales paid out in awards. The rule of thumb in “numbers rackets” had been 60 percent; New Jersey offered 70 percent.

Massachusetts followed a New Jersey pattern, starting sales in 1972 with 50-cent tickets, 70-percent payouts and weekly awards, arbitrated by drawing numbers from a tub at a public event. Then and now, tickets have typically been sold in small “convenience” grocery stores. Although local “numbers runners” maintained some business for a while, providing confidential services, they dwindled. Within a few years, the largest source of criminal income had collapsed, and the Mob became increasingly vulnerable to law enforcement.

The Massachusetts State Lottery had a dark, founding genius in Robert Q. Crane, a Democrat and former state representative who served as state treasurer from 1964 to 1991–by statute the Lottery Commission chairman. In 1974, during Mr. Crane’s watch, the Lottery introduced an original “product”: the so-called “scratch ticket.” At first, The Instant Game proved unpopular. Gamblers learned it paid out only 30 percent of sales as awards, most just a dollar or two.

In 1979, the Lottery Commission hired a new marketing manager, James “Jimmy” O’Brien–more recently at Scientific Games International near Atlanta, GA. Mr. O’Brien raised the payout percentage and used the added outlay for mid-range awards, $40 to $100. There were enough of them to generate a “buzz,” according to former Washington Post columnist David Segal. Mr. O’Brien doubled the number of retail outlets, mainly by allowing retailers to pay for tickets after they had been sold rather than in advance.

Mr. O’Brien also began “scratch ticket” promotions, including entertainment themes and holiday themes. Those changes attracted much more gambling. Ticket sales grew from $54 million in 1980 to $1.6 billion in 1995. “Scratch ticket” sales have now reached around $3 billion a year–more than two-thirds of state lottery revenue–although growth slowed during the past decade.

Mr. Crane and his successors as treasurer focus almost entirely on the “top line” of gambling: the state’s net income, sales revenue less direct expenses. They fail to weigh the hidden costs–personal, social and financial–from gambling addiction. Those include heavy impacts from family disruption and increased crime, as well as acute medical care, mental health services, substance abuse services, unemployment insurance, child protective services, domestic abuse services, public safety and prisons.

Profs. Earl L. Grinols (U. Illinois) and David B. Mustard (U. Georgia), well known as experts on social economics of gambling, have shown that hidden costs from gambling addiction are often at least three times the total benefits realized by states from gambling. When a state sponsors more gambling than it takes to suppress criminal gangs, the state loses rather than gains. Huge hidden costs paid by residents for increases in gambling absorb much more than the employment and government income provided by gambling operators.

Casino promoters tout job gains, but those can easily be outweighed by hidden job losses. As gamblers divert funds that would have been spent on ordinary goods and services into relatively high casino profits, ordinary businesses cut staffing or fail to grow it. The higher the profit margin of a casino becomes–often through monopoly licensing–the more likely the overall effect of the casino will be to reduce rather than increase total employment in its market area.

Flush from the “success” with the first popular modern state lottery, in 1977 New Jersey authorized casino gambling in Atlantic City. Since the nineteenth century, that had been a domestic industry limited to Nevada. Within Nevada, gambling addiction and its precursor, so-called “problem gambling,” were somehow tolerated as burdens borne to support the state’s unique industry. New Jersey provided a new lure into gambling for the far more populous states of the Northeast.

Casino gambling is the most intensive form of gambling now allowed in the U.S. and has the most potential to stimulate addiction, although so-called “gaming parlors” with slot machines and the newer video machines are also highly hazardous. As the Massachusetts development of “scratch tickets” shows, gambling promoters usually see themselves as business people rather than moral lepers. Like marketers of tobacco, they scheme and labor over ways to attract people into habits likely to harm them. Despite some pretentions, they are clearly unconcerned.

Gambling addiction is a major financial advantage to casino operators. As Prof. Grinols showed in a book published in 2004, around half of casino-gambling revenue typically comes from addicts and “problem gamblers.” Without that income it would likely be unprofitable to run luxurious casinos. Experience has shown that fairly plain state lotteries are enough to choke off gambling revenues from flowing to criminal gangs. There has been absolutely no valid social reason to allow gambling casinos.

Facts and reasoning about casino gambling appear to mean little or nothing to many of this year’s candidates for Massachusetts state offices. Consider those running for governor. The only vocal opposition to casino gambling comes from Dr. Donald Berwick, originally a pediatrician in family care and now a professor at Harvard Medical School–considered at best a long shot.

Among the other Democrats, Martha Coakley, now the attorney general, personally blocked from this fall’s election ballots an initiative to repeal the state’s casino law. She is being challenged in the state’s Supreme Judicial Court. Like his predecessors since Mr. Crane, Steven Grossman, now the state treasurer, has become a gambling promoter. He sounds oblivious to huge social costs caused by increasing state income from gambling.

Republicans are not encouraging. Charles D. Baker, Jr., former head of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, looks likely to become the nominee. He says maybe Massachusetts should allow only one casino rather than three. Some other candidates have kept quiet on the casino gambling issue. However, Democrats Juliette Kayyem and Joe Avellone and Independents Evan Falchuk and Jeffrey McCormick are on record as supporting casino gambling.

Democrats seeking to replace Martha Coakley as attorney general differ on casino gambling. Warren Tolman, a former state senator from Watertown who sought the Democratic nomination for governor in 2002, is on record as supporting casino gambling. Maura Healey, a former assistant attorney general supervising consumer protection, fair labor, ratepayer advocacy, environmental protection, health care, insurance and financial services, civil rights and antitrust, opposes casino gambling and has been making her opposition to casino gambling a campaign issue.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 9, 2014


Edmund Mahony, [Former, jailed New England Mob boss Raymond "Junior"] Patriarca pleads guilty but denies Mafia tie, Hartford Courant, December 4, 1991

Dong Kwang Ahn and Elizabeth Cardona, Massachusetts State Lottery revenue distribution, Interoffice memorandum to Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, May 10, 2010
“Currently the Massachusetts State Lottery is regressive because poor constituents spend a higher proportion of their income on lottery compared to higher income consumers….”

David Segal, Gambling’s man, Washington Post, February 15, 2005

Earl L. Grinols, III, and David B. Mustard, Business profitability versus social profitability: evaluating the social contributions of industries with externalities and the case of the casino industry, Managerial and Decision Economics 22(3):143-162, 2001

Earl L. Grinols, III, Gambling in America: Costs and Benefits, Cambridge University Press, 2004 (in PB, 2009) See pp. 175-176 (in PB) summarizing social benefits versus social costs.

Shirley Leung, Gubernatorial candidates reflect on casino law, Boston Globe, December 4, 2013

Carolyn Robbins, Candidates Maura Healey and Warren Tolman differ on state casino law, Springfield Republican, April 16, 2014

Town elections: an appeal for more diversity turned down

Voter turnout for 2014 town elections May 6 was fairly low: around 11 percent town-wide. In the only contest for a town-wide office, incumbent Nancy A. Daly and challenger Benjamin A. Franco won for Board of Selectmen. Challengers Brooks A. Ames and Arthur W. Conquest, III, made a joint appeal based on increasing diversity in Brookline’s work force. However, unlike Mr. Franco, who advertised endorsements from Brookline PAX and from many well known current and former office-holders, they did not campaign vigorously and finished well behind.

In the uncontested elections for other town-wide offices, incumbents tended to finish ahead, but there were no large margins separating candidates. Slates of town meeting candidates won in Precincts 1 and 6. Those contests were partly stimulated by Thomas J. “Tommy” Vitolo moving from 1 to 6. He campaigned tirelessly in his new precinct, where there was a single open seat, and led the vote count. Newly minted Dr. Vitolo, a B.U. systems engineering grad who is now at Synapse Energy Economics, has been described as eager for a seat on the Board of Selectmen, perhaps as soon as next year.

As in several past elections, Precinct 6 proved dynamic. Unofficial results from election evening indicate challengers Brian R. Hochleutner and Jocina D. Becker displaced incumbents Arthur W. Conquest, III, and Kerry O’Donnell. In Precinct 3, challenger Heather A. Hamilton appears to have won a town meeting seat, displacing incumbent Gregg D. Shapiro.

Otherwise, and as usual, incumbent town meeting members mostly won re-election. In the other town meeting contests, the following new candidates appear to have won: Bettina Neuefind in Precinct 1, Eric D. Berke in Precinct 4, David J. Knight in Precinct 5, Edward L. Loechler and Jeanne A. Mansfield in Precinct 8, and Carol B. Caro, Francis G. Caro and David Micley in Precinct 10.

Spirited contests for town meeting stimulated voter turnout. Precinct 6 was at the top with 20 percent. Precincts 5 and 16, which usually see high turnouts, were next at 16 percent and 14 percent. Precincts without town meeting contests tended to have low turnouts. At the bottom were Precincts 2 and 11 with 7 percent and Precinct 7 with 8 percent.

Election losses by Mr. Ames and Mr. Conquest, who also lost a seat in town meeting he held since 1997, should probably be read more as a reflection on Brookline’s election campaign customs than on the platform they promoted at Candidate’s Night, April 16. Diversity in town employment has been a perennial issue in Brookline since at least the 1960s. Progress has been slow, with the schools achieving somewhat more than other local agencies. Surprisingly, however, they did not mention that issue in a postcard mailed to voters.

An issue-oriented campaign has occasionally made headway. In 1971, for example, Haskell A. Kassler won for Board of Selectmen, promising to make rent control effective. Usually though, as seems to have happened in 2014, vigorous personal campaigning proves to be the winning card.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 7, 2014

Planning Board: house improvements and a common driveway

A weekly meeting of the Planning Board on Thursday, May 1, started at 7:00 pm in the northern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Topics were four applications to the Board of Appeals for exceptions from zoning requirements. This was a typical working session for the Planning Board and Department, who sometimes act as mediators in issues involving Brookline real estate.

When a property owner or an architect, a contractor or a landscaper working for one wants to build, demolish or make changes on a Brookline property, a first effort is often to seek a building permit. The Building Department checks proposed plans against the town’s regulations. When there is a zoning, neighborhood conservation, environmental conservation or historic preservation issue, an applicant will get a referral to the Planning Department, the Neighborhood Conservation District Commission, the Conservation Commission or the Preservation Commission. There are occasionally proposals involving more than one review.

The four proposals reviewed on May 1 were to build a porch, replace a garage, add a new entry way and install a common driveway for more than one dwelling, Each proposal needs approval for some exception to zoning requirements and should soon go to the Zoning Board of Appeals. The appeals board looks to the Planning Board and Department to evaluate a proposal and sometimes to negotiate a satisfactory approach.

At 45 School St., the applicant seeks to build a new back porch, but there is an issue with minimum depth of the rear yard–a so-called “setback” requirement for the T-6 two-family zone. The Planning Board found the proposal reasonable in light of circumstances and is recommending approval to the appeals board.

At 87 Colchester St., a homeowner wants to replace an existing garage but proposes the new one be attached to the adjacent house rather than free-standing. That means the replacement will not be “grandfathered” under zoning, because it is considered a different type of structure having different “setback” requirements within the S-10 single-family zone. However, the new garage is designed to match the appearance of the house, with stucco rather than metal sides and with tile coping around its roof.

Several neighbors came to the hearing to support the proposal. Those included Fred Lebow, a former Massachusetts general contractor, former Brookline town meeting member and former resident of Colchester St., who said he traveled from New Hampshire to speak in favor of the proposal. The Planning Board is recommending approval to the appeals board. However, the property is located in an area of historical interest, listed on the National Register. An application to demolish the existing garage will need to be submitted to the Preservation Commission, and there could be a delay of up to 18 months.

At 17 Baker Circle, a homeowner wants to add a new entry way and extend the room above it. The small amount of added floor space would make the “floor area ratio” to the lot area become 0.36, as compared with a maximum of 0.35 for the S-7 single-family zone. The Planning Board found the proposal reasonable in light of circumstances and is recommending approval to the appeals board.

To the south of houses at 21 and 39 Sears Rd. is an expanse of unbuilt land that belongs to owners of the houses. The total lot area of about 621,000 square feet–where there are now two houses–could be enough to satisfy land area requirements for about 15 detached, single-family houses, even though the S-40 single-family zoning district has Brookline’s lowest residential density.

A developer seeks to install a common driveway that could serve five additional houses. It was not clear how much of the land the developer is including in sites to build housing and how much of that is actually eligible for the use. Parts of the area appear to be wetlands and may be subject to conservation restrictions. Questions from the Planning Board brought out that the land has not yet been “replatted”–subdivided into lots for houses. It was not known whether requirements of the Massachusetts subdivision control law would apply–Sections 81K through 81GG in Chapter 41 of the General Laws.

If the developer goes ahead with the proposal, it might require subdivision of land into at least five new lots, each enough for a detached, single-family house. The developer might otherwise invoke so-called “cluster zoning” to build attached or semi-detached houses–Section 5.11 in Brookline’s Zoning Bylaw. An appropriate configuration for a common driveway could depend on the approach chosen.

Planning Board members seemed puzzled at lack of project definition, but their questions were oblique. Polly Selkoe, the department’s assistant director for regulatory planning, was more direct, saying, “It doesn’t make sense to put a common driveway in an area that’s not yet a subdivision.”

Neighbors were clearly unhappy. Joseph Freeman of Lee St. compared the proposal with what he called “pork-chop development” outside Brookline. He said the proposal “does not meet requirements for the special permit” and called to the Planning Board’s attention a special permit application “denied ten years ago because of lack of appropriate access.”

Robert Allen, Jr., a Brookline lawyer, represented some abutters. Mr. Allen said that the application “should trigger subdivision control laws” and that “problems with conservation zoning have not been resolved.” Like others, he criticized vague plans, saying Brookline has never allowed a common driveway “without knowing where that drive is going.”

Mr. Allen and several neighbors said no meetings had been organized by the developer about the proposal in the neighborhood. Mark Zarrillo, an architect who chairs the Planning Board, announced that the review would continue at a future meeting. He recommended the developer meet with neighbors about the proposal.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 2, 2014

Hazards of rail transport

When we encounter news of railroad crashes involving oil and fuel tankers–such as the disaster last summer that took the lives of 47 people in Lac-M├ęgantic, Quebec–we probably don’t imagine anything like that in Brookline. We don’t even have freight rail here.

However, we once did. In the early 1850s, the former Charles River Branch Railroad was built from Needham through Newton and Brookline to Boston. For about twenty years it hauled millions of tons of gravel and sand to fill the largest parts of the Charles River’s former saltwater mudflats. Those once extended from what is now the east edge of the Public Garden to what is now the Charlesgate channel of the Muddy River and westward to what is now Kenmore Square. Since the mid-twentieth century, such a massive project probably would not happen. No one could likely get environmental waivers or permits today.

The former freight railroad is now the Riverside or D branch of the MBTA Green Line, since 1959, and the filled parts of Boston are the Back Bay neighborhoods. Unlike the rest of the Green Line, the Riverside branch was a first-class, heavy-duty railroad–a twin-track with fully separated crossings. After days of hauling gravel ended, the former Boston & Albany bought it to run a commuter-rail service into Boston. Passenger carriages were originally pulled by coal-fired steam locomotives, standard for the day.

A long-running controversy about the so-called Carlton St. Footbridge–passing over tracks of the former Charles River Branch Railroad and connecting Colchester St. and Carlton St. with the Riverway and Olmsted Park–has origins in the 1890s, when Longwood-area residents asked selectmen to install it as a convenience. It served a whistle-stop on the former B&A commuter-rail branch between Needham and Boston.

Unlike handsome stone bridges designed during park construction under Mr. Olmsted, Sr.–whose son chaired Brookline’s first Planning Board–the Carlton St. bridge was a makeshift. Brookline highway workers assembled it from steel shards, beams and fasteners. Under Article 5, a special town meeting November 17, 2009, appropriated $1.4 million, using a rare roll-call vote, to rehabilitate the rusted-out relic, which has been closed to public access as a safety hazard since fall, 1975. So far, the project has not been completed.

The city of Revere is not so fortunate as Brookline to be distant from its freight-rail history. Branches of the former Boston & Maine–some transporting freight under successor Pan Am Railways–provide a potential corridor connecting interstate rail to large oil depots along banks of the Chelsea River. In 2011, Global Partners, owner of the largest tank complex, proposed to bring grain alcohol from the Midwest into Revere and East Boston, using rail tankers. Revere residents and city officials became alarmed.

Most rail tankers in widespread use today to carry flammable liquids were designed in the 1950s, as much for capacity as safety. Of more than 100,000 type DOT-111 tank cars built, over sixty years around a third have been involved in rail crashes. Even when traveling at low speeds, hundreds have split open, starting massive fires. These tankers carry about 30,000 gallons each, or about three times the fuel carried by each of the jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001.

Global of Revere proposed to bring in one to three trains a week, typically 60 cars each–a total that could reach around 200 million gallons a year of fuel-grade ethanol to be blended into gasoline. That would probably travel through eastern Massachusetts at night along the route of the MBTA Fitchburg Line commuter rail–through Lowell, Cambridge, Chelsea and other communities. Global has been shipping ethanol by rail from the Midwest to Providence and then by barge from Providence to its tanks in Revere. Eliminating barge shipping could save money.

Revere residents approved a ballot question opposing rail shipment of ethanol. They joined with people from several other communities, pressuring the state legislature. Considering potential hazards from multiple perspectives, the General Court attached “outside section” 81 to H. 3538 of 2013, the fiscal 2014 appropriations bill. It likely matters that Robert A. DeLeo, the House speaker, represents Revere and has his district office there.

Section 81 did not attack rail transport of ethanol. Instead it would have altered Chapter 91 of the General Laws, regulating waterways, by blocking new licenses for facilities that store or blend large amounts of ethanol when located within a mile of a census tract with a population density above 4,000 residents per square mile. As soon as its current licenses expire, that might have put Global out of business in Revere. At best, the company could blend ethanol elsewhere and bring in pre-blended gasoline, raising costs.

Governor Patrick used a so-called “line-item veto” against Section 81. Mr. Patrick, a former corporate lawyer who is not a candidate for re-election this fall, proposed that the General Court instead forbid using rail tankers to bring ethanol into Revere or East Boston before August, 2015. He promised to have the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency develop a “comprehensive ethanol transport response plan.” However, a few days earlier Global had announced it was suspending plans to transport ethanol by rail.

Gov. Patrick issued, at best, a disingenuous statement. Unlike many among the public, he and concerned state legislators would have been well aware that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation had just published an “Ethanol Safety Study.” In Chapter 4, Report Findings, it frankly states that “movement of [ethanol or other hazardous materials] is regulated at a federal level, and it cannot be regulated in any manner at the state or local level.” By acting to force Global of Revere to change its plans, close or relocate, the General Court was exercising powers it does have to head off potential disasters.

Rail tankers do not seem likely to become much safer very soon. There is a somewhat sturdier design approved as a Canadian standard, in the wake of Lac-M├ęgantic: type CPC-1232. However, that design might not be enough. Recently another rail tanker crash occurred in downtown Lynchburg, VA. Three tank cars loaded with petroleum split open and ignited, but no one was reported injured. Associated Press news writers stated that the National Transportation Safety Board knows of “several accidents in which cars built to the new standards ruptured.”

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 1, 2014


Dave Riehle, Runaway Quebec train, source of so much heartache, began its journey toward disaster years ago, Workday Minnesota, July 24, 2013

John Laidler, Ethanol transport raising concerns, Boston Globe, August 4, 2011

Seth Daniel, Screeching halt: backed into corner, Global withdraws ethanol train plan, Chelsea Record, July 4, 2013

Alan Suderman and Michael Felberbaum, Associated Press, Rail tankers carrying oil derail and catch fire in Virginia, New York Times, May 1, 2014