Category Archives: High school

Brookline High staff, programs and students

Board of Selectmen: back to the drawing board

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, June 30, rambled into unfamiliar territory, hearing an appeal from a decision of the Brookline Transportation Board. Arguments and discussions about the case took nearly half of a 4-1/2 hour meeting.

Last May 21, the Transportation Board had approved building a giant peninsula near the corner where Clinton Rd. branches away from Buckminster Rd. west of the High School. It would bloom out the sidewalk from the northeast sides of Clinton and Buckminster Rds. at the junction, pushing edges of those streets up to 35 feet away from their current alignments.

Peninsula at intersection of Clinton and Buckminster Rds.

BuckminsterClintonProposal20150630
Source: Transportation Division of Brookline DPW

The advertised purpose was to slow cars going westbound on Buckminster Rd. and bending onto Clinton Rd. Past the intersection, Clinton Rd. goes downhill, and cars sometimes reach 40 mph or higher. With the peninsula in place, cars would have to slow at the intersection and then turn right. However, no “traffic calming” had been planned for Clinton Rd., so speeds could rise quickly once past the intersection.

Most of the giant peninsula would sit in front of a house at 79 Buckminster Rd., obliterating its streetscape. Owners Michael and Tania Gray are less than pleased. On May 31, they called on the Transportation Board to cancel or radically shrink plans for the peninsula. When that board failed to act, they circulated a petition appealing the case to the Board of Selectmen.

Arguments: Although provided for in Brookline’s state enabling law since 1974, appeals from Transportation Board decisions to the Board of Selectmen have been rare. Neil Wishinsky, chair of the latter board, remarked, “We don’t have traditions for how these things are done.” He had decided to hear from the Transportation chair, then the house owners who brought the appeal, then more than 30 residents who came.

Joshua Safer, the Transportation chair, scoffed at the appeal, saying “I’m a little surprised to be here.” Perhaps he shouldn’t have been. Lack of concern for neighborhood impacts from Transportation initiatives has been raising hackles in other parts of town, too–a pattern for at least a few years. Dr. Safer made himself seem tone deaf, saying the dispute was only about “loss of a parking space or two.”

Mr. Gray painted a different picture, contending that a supposed safety benefit would become a safety hazard in winter, “a place for plows to deposit snow.” Blocked lines of sight could turn a difficult intersection into a dangerous one. On-street parking spaces that are “currently the safest parking on the street” would be replaced by “dangerous parking spaces” along the border of the proposed peninsula.

The house at 79 Buckminster Rd. shares a driveway with its neighbor at 3 Clinton Rd., including a sharp turn and a steep slope at the back. According to Mr. Gray, “The problems are now compensated by parking in front.” Those arrangements would be disrupted by the proposed peninsula. Mr. Gray, whose family has lived in the house for over 20 years, commented, “We would not have purchased the home with the Transportation plan in place.”

Since the May 21 Transportation meeting, Mr. Gray had examined conditions and regulations said to justify the Transportation proposal. He said they did not stand scrutiny. Fewer than half the federal standard of 20 peak pedestrians per hour, justifying a new crosswalk, had been tallied. Crash records showed less than a tenth the frequency of five or more per year needed to identify a “dangerous intersection.”

Comments: Roberta Winitzer of Beacon St., a former Library trustee, described herself as an aunt of Mr. Gray and a frequent visitor at 79 Buckminster Rd., calling the Transportation proposal “overkill.” Judy Meyers, a Precinct 12 town meeting member and former School Committee member, said it was “not fair to approve a plan that has such an adverse impact on the Grays.”

In a preview of comments to come, Ms. Meyers claimed, “The Transportation Board has a strong bias in favor of [altering] streetscapes, as opposed to [using] signs and paint.” The board “should have a comprehensive plan,” she said. Their current plan would not stop Clinton Rd. from being used as “a speedway.”

Not all neighbors sounded convinced. Andrea Bleichmar of 3 Clinton Rd., whose house shares a driveway with 79 Buckminster Rd., said she had “listened to the engineers.” Conditions near the intersection were “an accident looking for a place to happen,” she claimed. George Tolis, who lives two houses away, agreed. Dr. Tolis, a heart surgeon, said he had rearranged his operating schedule to be present. “Maybe,” he asserted, Brookline “should make Clinton Rd. one-way uphill.”

Residents farther down the hill on Clinton Rd. proved less supportive. Most remarks suggested that a pause in speeds at the intersection with Buckminster Rd. would not prevent their part of Clinton Rd. from continuing to be used as “a speedway.” Even Todd Kirrane, Brookline’s transportation administrator, seemed to back those views. He estimated the average speed entering Clinton Rd. at the intersection would be reduced from 23 to 15 mph by the proposed peninsula, not much of a difference.

Beth Epstein of 111 Clinton Rd. protested faulty public notice. She described herself as a resident for 20 years, bringing up five children on the street, saying “I was kind of appalled.” A notice came on a Saturday for a hearing the next week, she said. It provided “no drawings or plans.” For occupants of the many “houses beyond this intersection,” [the proposal] “will not solve their problems.”

Review and decision: During their review, members the Board of Selectmen sounded sympathetic to concerns of the Grays. Nancy Heller said the proposed peninsula was “harmful to a family.” Nancy Daly said, “I don’t know of any place in town where we’ve stuck something like this in front of somebody’s home.” She was also “convinced that there needs to be traffic calming” downhill along Clinton Rd.

Ben Franco called for Public Works to “delay the Buckminster [repaving] project,” which had started a process leading to the peninsula proposal. Peter Ditto, the engineering director, said, “We’ll do Buckminster this year but not the intersection.” Ms. Daly turned adamant, saying, “I’m not approving a [roadwork] contract unless we know that the current proposal is not part of it.”

In the end, members of the Board of Selectmen voted to “remand” the peninsula proposal to the Transportation Board, with instructions to “examine another solution for the intersection.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 1, 2015


Craig Bolon, Transportation Board: tone deaf, Brookline Beacon, June 19, 2015

Craig Bolon, Transportation: good intents, cloudy results and taxi rules, Brookline Beacon, May 23. 2015

2015 annual town meeting: budgets, bylaws and resolutions

Unlike last year, Brookline’s 2015 annual town meeting rolled along at a brisk pace and needed only two sessions–Tuesday, May 26, and Thursday, May 28–both starting at 7 pm in the High School auditorium. The generally progressive tones of Brookline civic engagement remained clear, and some of the musical theatre of years past returned for an encore. This is the one-hundredth year for Brookline’s elected town meeting.

Budgets: Disputes over budgets that roiled the winter workups to town meeting had evaporated after voter approval of a major tax override at the Tuesday, May 5, town election. Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, the moderator of town meeting, mentioned “controversy” over a three-word amendment to one special appropriation. The Advisory Committee proposed two changes to the “override” financial plan as proposed by Mel Kleckner, the town administrator.

In the traditional presentation of an annual budget, Sean Lynn-Jones, newly elected as chair of the Advisory Committee last winter, called 2015 “an interesting year.” He noted that new revenues were going to be involved in maintaining a stable budget, singling out parking meter and refuse fees. Mr. Lynn-Jones said he expects “fiscal challenges…another general override in three to five years…possibly a ninth elementary school…high school [expansion] at over $100 million, not $35 million,” as most recently estimated.

In the traditional response from the Board of Selectmen, Neil Wishinshy, recently elected as the new chair, said strongly contested elections, like those this year, “make our town and democracy stronger.” He spoke of new efficiencies contributing to a stable budget, singling out trash metering, which has been mentioned at official meetings but so far not detailed. Mr. Wishinsky called on town meeting members to “put aside narrow self-interest,” saying, “We live in the real world.”

Staff for preservation planning will increase from 1.8 to 2.0 full-time-equivalent positions, a budget hike of $14,119. It is expected to provide a full-time position for preservationist Greer Hardwicke. The Public Works budget for pavement markings got $2,673 more, to cope with after-effects from a harsh winter. Those had been wrapped into Advisory Committee motions. A $264 million spending plan sailed through, mostly on voice votes.

A three-word amendment to a $100,000 special appropriation had been proposed by Craig Bolon, a Precinct 8 town meeting member who edits the Brookline Beacon. Offered on behalf of Brookline PAX, it asked that a study of Coolidge Corner parking be done “with neighborhood input.” Town meeting agreed in a unanimous voice vote.

Instead of parochial concerns with Public Works, this year’s town meeting focused more on the Police budget. Lynda Roseman, a Precinct 14 town meeting member, asked about progress coping with mental health issues. Daniel O’Leary, the police chief, compared last year–when three members of the force were involved–to this year, when two grant-funded programs are underway. By the end of the year, he said, about a quarter of the force will have completed 40 hours of training.

A large municipal solar-power array, in effect a budget item, was approved out-of-line under Articles 15 and 16. Brookline is contracting with Blue Wave Capital, a company endorsed by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which is to build and operate it, using part of the former landfill site near the waste transfer station off Newton St. Rated capacity is to be 1.4 MW, peak. Expected income is about $0.08 million per year.

Bylaw, Living Wage: Under Article 10, the Recreation Department proposed to gut much of the Living Wage bylaw enacted several years ago, by exempting from coverage several employee groups and by eliminating the Brookline minimum wage: a one-dollar premium over the state minimum. Patricia Connors, a Precinct 3 town meeting member who was the chief sponsor of the bylaw, had resisted the effort strongly.

Scott Gladstone, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, was entirely opposed to Article 10. “The bylaw is already a compromise,” he claimed. “Junior lifeguards,” whom it would remove from coverage, “are lifeguards…with the same Red Cross certifications as anybody else…What we’re trying to teach here…is work values…Should we teach them that they should not be demanding a living wage?”

Ms. Connors was supported by Brookline PAX. Co-chair Frank Farlow, a Precinct 4 town meeting member, stated, “PAX supports working people and fair wages.” Board member Andrew Fischer, a Precinct 13 town meeting member, called Article 10 “an assault on working people,” saying, “I wonder how many [town-funded] cars it would take to cover the wages of students with first-time jobs.”

Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Precinct 16 town meeting member and former member of the Board of Selectmen, tried to deflect those arguments. saying that when the now-disbanded Living Wage Committee proposed the bylaw, “We were way out front.” He favored some compromises being sponsored by the Advisory Committee. Pamela Lodish, a Precinct 14 town meeting member who lost this year when running for the Board of Selectmen, agreed with Mr. Allen. “If we pass the [Connors] amendment,” she said, “we’ll be hiring college students instead of high-school students.”

Ms. Connors was proposing to maintain the current bylaw’s definitions of seasonal and temporary employment. It was not certain whether Mr. Allen or Ms. Lodish understood, but Merelice, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, clearly did. The current bylaw’s approach is not supported by the HR module of Munis, recently adopted for maintaining employment records by the Human Resources (HR) office. According to Merelice, the attitude of HR is “an example of being concerned about the dirt when we hold the broom.” She contended, “We can certainly find the technology.”

Town meeting members sided strongly with Ms. Connors, Merelice and Brookline PAX. In an electronically recorded vote, the Connors amendment passed 141 to 48, with 10 abstentions. The amended main motion on Article 10 passed 144 to 42, with 5 abstentions. Although the Brookline minimum wage premium is maintained, so-called “junior” employees in the Recreation Department will no longer be covered by the Living Wage, reverting to the Brookline minimum wage–currently $10.00 versus $13.19 per hour. Recreation claims to be able to support more positions.

Bylaw, snow clearance from sidewalks: Town meeting grappled with the latest edition of a snow-clearance bylaw under Article 12. For about 30 years a bylaw initially proposed by Stanley Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, has required property owners to clear adjacent sidewalks of snow. However, until a push last year from Frank Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member who filed a resolution article, and from the Age-Friendly Cities Committee, enforcement proved erratic.

During the 1970s and before, Brookline plowed most of the sidewalks, but after budget trims in the aftermath of Proposition 2-1/2 it cut back to only a few, including ones near schools. Article 12 was proposed by a Sidewalk Snow Removal Task Force, appointed in the summer of 2014 by the Board of Selectmen to strengthen the town’s law and its enforcement. The group–including staff from Public Works, Health, Building and Police–acknowledged that a complaint-driven approach had worked poorly.

Last winter, the four departments contributing to the task force divided Brookline’s streets into four sectors and began proactive enforcement during weekdays, with Police assuming most duties at other times. Despite the unusually harsh winter, enforcement generally improved, as described to town meeting by Nancy Daly, speaking for the Board of Selectmen. However, Martin Rosenthal, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, pointed out the lack of coordination in the current form of enforcement.

In its town-meeting article, the task force proposed to discontinue automatic warnings for first violations at residential properties, to raise fines and to institute a $250 fine for placing snow into a street–forbidden by Brookline’s general bylaws since the nineteenth century.

Compromises made as outcomes of several reviews had gutted most of the original proposal, leaving relatively weak enforcement, modest fines and no administrative appeals. Tommy Vitolo, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, offered two amendments intended to address some compromises. One would have limited a period of enforcement delay, at discretion of the public works commissioner, to no more than 30 hours after the end of a snowfall.

Amy Hummel of Precinct 12, speaking for the Advisory Committee, objected to an arbitrary time limit for the commissioner’s discretion. During the Blizzard of 1978, many streets remained impassible for several days, because Brookline then lacked much equipment capable of clearing them. That amendment was rejected through an electronically recorded vote, 78 to 108, with 6 abstentions.

Dr. Vitolo’s other amendment sought to restore the schedule of fines that the task force had proposed. Those called for a $50 fine on a first violation at a residential property, rather than an automatic warning, and a $100 fine for subsequent violations.

Dennis Doughty, a Precinct 3 town meeting member who served on the task force, supported the amendment on fines. He compared hazards of sidewalk snow with other hazards now sanctioned by $50 fines and no warnings, including putting refuse out for collection earlier than 4 pm the previous day. Town meeting members approved the amendment on fines through an electronically recorded vote, 135 to 52, with 5 abstentions.

Unfortunately, Dr. Vitolo’s amendment on fines for failure to clear sidewalk snow seems to leave the Brookline bylaws inconsistent. According to the main motion before town meeting, proposed by the Advisory committee on p. 5 of its supplemental report section and amended per Dr. Vitolo, the snow clearance bylaw was changed by town meeting to read, in part:

“The violation of any part of Section 7.7.3 [that is, the requirement to clear sidewalk snow at residential properties]…shall be noted with a $50 fine for the first violation and subject to a fine of $100.00 for the second and subsequent violations….”

However, according to the main motion, revised penalties are stated again in Article 10.3 of the bylaws, Table of Specific Penalties. What Dr. Vitolo’s amendment did was to revise penalties stated in the bylaw on snow clearance but not those stated in the Table of Specific Penalties. There will likely be no more snow before a fall town meeting, which might make the Brookline bylaws consistent.

Bylaws, tap water and bottled water: Articles 13 and 14, the two “water articles,” had been filed by Jane Gilman, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, Clinton Richmond, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, and several other petitioners. Both were “watered down” during reviews before the town meeting, yet significant parts of each survived and won approval.

Ms. Gilman and Mr. Richmond are co-chairs of the “green caucus” in town meeting, which counts over fifty town meeting members as participants and has been effective at marshaling votes for some recent, environmentally oriented initiatives. Brookline PAX, with a somewhat overlapping base of support, was recommending voting for motions offered by the Board of Selectmen in favor of parts of the two articles.

Article 13 sought a bylaw requiring Brookline restaurants to offer tap water. They already do, said Sytske Humphrey of Precinct 6, speaking for the Advisory Committee. She called the proposed bylaw “unnecessary and ineffective.” However, the petitioners had found some sinners. An Indian restaurant in Washington Square did not offer tap water on its take-out menu, and one pizza place did not seem to offer it at all.

Differing from the Advisory position, the Board of Selectmen saw little objection to such a law but added a phrase, “upon request,” and removed a sentence: “Establishments may charge for this service item.” That might give an impression, they wrote, that charging for water “was a requirement.”

Diana Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, said the topic could be handled by conditions on restaurant licenses and moved to refer the article to the Board of Selectmen. In an electronically recorded vote, the referral motion failed 78 to 103, with 5 abstentions. The motion for a bylaw drafted by the Board of Selectmen passed 124 to 56, with 7 abstentions.

Article 14, seeking to ban sale and distribution of bottled water at town events and on town property, encountered stiffer headwinds at reviews before town meeting and quickly lost altitude. According to Mr. Richmond, the purpose was not banning water but banning the plastic bottles usually supplied. Hundreds of billions a year are sold. While they might be recycled, at least in part, they are mostly thrown away.

By town meeting, motions under the article had been trimmed back to a proposed ban on spending town funds to buy water in plastic bottles of one liter or less for use in offices. The Board of Selectmen proposed to refer the rest of the article to a study committee, to be appointed by the board. The Advisory Committee stuck with its original approach, recommending no action.

John Harris, a Precinct 8 town meeting member and a past participant in the “green caucus,” was not in line this time. The bylaw favored by the Board of Selectmen would have negligible impact, he claimed, and if widely emulated elsewhere, then companies selling bottled water would easily subvert it. Speaking for the Board of Selectmen, Nancy Daly disagreed, saying the debates over Article 14 had “succeeded at least in educating me.”

The Advisory Committee remained unmoved. Robert Liao of Precinct 15 recommended voting for the Harris motion to refer, consistent with the Advisory position. There will be “adverse unintended consequences” from a bylaw, he claimed, saying, “Reusable bottles require planning and changes in behavior.”

Robert Miller, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, asked whether the town was spending money on either bottled water or bottled soda. The answers were yes as to both, according to Mel Kleckner, the town administrator. Echoing a topic heard often during reviews, Jonathan Davis, a Precinct 10 town meeting member, asked whether vending machines on town property would be affected. Mr. Richmond conceded they would not be, since “the machines are put out to bid” and do not involve spending town funds.

Mr. Gadsby, the moderator, took a motion for the question–that is, a motion to terminate debate. Not enough town meeting members were ready to do that. On an electronically recorded vote the motion failed 129 to 71, with 2 abstentions. Such a motion takes a two-thirds margin but got only 65 percent.

Susan Helms Daley of Chatham Circle and her son Jackson, a fourth-grader at Lawrence School, told town meeting members about an alternative that is catching on. For the past few years, the school has had a “green team” and tried “to discourage use of bottled water.” Ms. Daley asserted, “Bottled water is the same as cigarettes.” Jackson Daley said after the school installed “water bottle refill stations”–a PTO project–”more people brought water bottles” to school. So far, he said, “We have saved 10,129 plastic bottles. How cool is that?”

After hearing similar opinions from a junior at Brookline High School, Mr. Gadsby again accepted a motion for the question. He declared it had passed, on a show of hands. The motion from Mr. Harris to refer all of Article 14 failed on an electronically recorded vote, 97 to 102, with 2 abstentions. The motion from the Board of Selectmen for a bylaw banning some uses of town funds passed by a substantial majority, on a show of hands.

Resolution, recreation land: Article 18 proposed a resolution seeking a study of acquiring land in the Putterham neighborhoods of south Brookline for park and recreation uses–specifically, so-called “buffer” areas of Hancock Village near Beverly and Russett Rds. Regina Frawley, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, and Hugh Mattison, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, prepared the article. Although not an abutter to Hancock Village, Ms. Frawley has lived nearby since 1968.

While it is possible that the current landowner, Chestnut Hill Realty, might agree to sell the land, a series of development plans, currently tapping powers under Chapter 40B of the General Laws, have left the company at loggerheads with the Board of Selectmen. A purchase-and-sale agreement now looks unlikely, so that Ms. Frawley suggested the land would probably have to be taken by eminent domain.

In the Putterham neighborhoods, Ms. Frawley showed, there is little public open space. She described the current open spaces and showed that the Hancock Village buffers look to be the largest undeveloped areas likely to be suitable. The only sizable public spaces now are around Baker School. They are laid out for specialized uses and are unavailable to the public during school days. For over 70 years, neighborhood residents have often used the buffer areas for recreation instead, as tolerated by a succession of landowners.

Moderator Gadsby immediately took comments from Rebecca Plaut Mautner, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, ahead of normal order and before hearing from the Advisory Committee and town boards. He did not explain the unusual conduct. Ms. Mautner operates RPM Consulting, according to the Web site of Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association in Boston–providing “affordable housing development services” in New England.

Ms. Mautner delivered a broadside against Article 18, saying it “will be perceived by the outside world as an effort to undermine creation of affordable housing…a message that Brookline will stop at nothing to prevent affordable housing.” That did not seem to resonate well, broached in the first town in Massachusetts to build public housing, where inclusionary zoning has been active for over 20 years.

Lee Selwyn of Precinct 13, speaking for the Advisory Committee, recalled that the proposed “Hancock Village project did not start out as 40B…there was no affordable housing in the original plan.” The owner, he said, is “using 40B as a means to pressure the town.” He said Article 18 proposed “a reasonable public use” of land, and he noted that a parcel adjacent to Hancock Village had been “taken by the state by eminent domain to prevent an inappropriate development.” The Hancock Woods area was taken as conservation land about 20 years ago.

Janice Kahn of Precinct 15, also an Advisory Committee member, supported the study. She said it could teach the town about using eminent domain. There has been no substantial taking since the Hall’s Pond and Amory Woods conservation projects in the 1970s. Given the ongoing disputes with Chestnut Hill Realty, the Board of Selectmen had declined to take a position on Article 18. Members had said they would abstain from voting on it.

Mr. Mattison of Precinct 5, a suppporter, said the buffer “space has served as informal recreation space.” Some 1940s correspondence with the town, he said, describes “how the commitment would be binding” to maintain it as open space. However, that was not part of an agreement presented to a 1946 town meeting, when the bulk of Hancock Village was rezoned to allow apartments.

Lauren Bernard, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, asked whether a “prescriptive easement” would be possible, given the long history of public use, and whether that would be “mutually exclusive with eminent domain.” Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, said easement issues were “not considered yet,” but easement and eminent domain would probably “be mutually exclusive.”

Even though the hour was getting late, at 10:30 pm, town meeting was willing to hear more arguments. A motion for the question failed on an electronically recorded vote, 88 to 78, with 17 abstentions. Julie Jette of Payson Rd. spoke. She said she had been “very surprised” when moving there “that really the only fully accessible playground is in West Roxbury.”

Crossing the rotary and the VFW Parkway with young children seemed too dangerous, Ms. Jette said, and she had never tried. However, she said, “yards are not a substitute for social and community opportunities. It’s time to create a true neighborhood park in south Brookline…Time is of the essence, given Chestnut Hill Realty development plans.” After a few other comments, town meeting approved Article 18 on a show of hands, looking like a ten-to-one majority at least.

Resolution, Boston Olympics: Article 19 proposed a resolution, objecting to plans for holding the Olympic Games in Boston during 2024. The plans never gained traction in Brookline, where many people see heavy costs and slender benefits. The Board of Selectmen had nevertheless postponed making a recommendation, reaching out to the pressure group pushing for the Olympics, but no one from that group responded.

At the town meeting, Martin Rosenthal, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, led off–speaking for Brookline PAX, of which he is co-chair. Unlike his fellow co-chair, Frank Farlow of Precinct 4, Mr. Rosenthal said he is a sports fan and “was excited at first.” However, he had realized “there might be some issues here…it was more for the benefit of non-Brookline people.” PAX opposes plans for 2024 Olympic Games in Boston.

Christopher Dempsey, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, was giving no quarter. He has co-founded a volunteer group, No Boston Olympics, and was on the warpath, armed with PowerPoint slides. The pressure group behind the Olympics plans, he said, is aiming to raid public funds. A long article published the previous day in the Boston Business Journal revealed much of that story to the public.

According to Business Journal staff, previously secret sections of the Olympics “bid book” said public money would be sought to “fund land acquisition and infrastructure costs.” The plans were also “relying on an expanded Boston Convention and Exhibition Center”–a deluxe Patrick administration venture that the Baker administration has canned.

Mr. Dempsey was having a field day, saying, “Boston 2024 is not going to fix the T…In London and Vancouver the Olympics Village financing was from public funds…Olympics budgets are guaranteed by taxpayers…The more you learn about 2024 Olympics, the less you like it.” Ben Franco spoke for the Board of Selectmen, simply stating that the board “urges favorable action” on Article 19.

Speaking for the Advisory Committee, Amy Hummel of Precinct 12 said that “the money and resources spent would benefit the Olympics shadow.” The current plans have “no real public accountability,” she contended, and “Brookline will be heavily impacted…The biggest concern [of the Advisory Committee] is the taxpayer guarantee…Lack of public process is unacceptable.”

Olympics boosters did have some friends. Charles “Chuck” Swartz, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, advised caution, saying, “Who knows what will happen in Boston? We don’t have to make this decision now.” Susan Granoff of Precinct 7, attending her first town meeting, said, “Let’s give Boston 2024 more time.” The Olympics, she contended, “would create thousands of jobs and bring billions of dollars…It’s private money being donated.”

Most town meeting members were not convinced by such claims. They approved the resolution in an electronically recorded vote, 111 to 46, with 7 abstentions. Katherine Seelye’s story in the New York Times on Saturday, May 30, may have deep-sixed the Olympics plans. She included the Business Journal disclosures and cited the Brookline town-meeting resolution.

Other actions: Under Article 9, town meeting voted no action on a proposal to make holders of state and federal offices living in Brookline automatic town meeting members. After encountering opposition, Ernest Frey, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, offered a “no action” motion on the article that he and other petitioners had submitted.

Article 17 proposed a resolution seeking changes to Sections 20-23 of Chapter 40B, the Comprehensive Permit Act of 1969 that was encouraged by the late Cardinal Cushing. Nancy Heller, the principal petitioner, now a member of the Board of Selectmen, had not seemed to recognize the complexity of the issues and soon agreed to refer the article to the Planning Board and Housing Advisory Board. That was the course taken by town meeting.

Under Article 11, town meeting voted to create a Crowninshield local historic district, on petition from the owners of about 85 percent of the houses on Crowninshield Rd., Adams St., Elba St. and Copley St. Speaking in favor were David King, chair of the Preservation Commission, Robert Miller, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, George White, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, John Sherman and Katherine Poverman, both residents of Adams St., Angela Hyatt of Precinct 5 for the Advisory Committee and Nancy Daly for the Board of Selectmen.

Dr. White recalled that the neighborhood had been home to well-known writers and artists. He mentioned novelist and short-story writer Edith Pearlman, an Elba St. resident for many years, and after a little prompting the novelist Saul Bellow, winner of a Nobel Prize in literature, who lived on Crowninshield Rd. in his later years. Only Clifford Ananian, a Precinct 10 town meeting member, took exception. He said preserving “single-family homes is a waste of a valuable resource,” although he lives in one of those homes. Despite the objection, the town meeting vote to create the district proved unanimous.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 30, 2015


Katherine Q. Seelye, Details uncovered in Boston’s 2024 Olympic bid may put it in jeopardy, New York Times, May 30, 2015

BBJ staff, Boston 2024 report highlights need for public funding, expanded BCEC, Boston Business Journal, May 28, 2015

Matt Stout, Gov. Baker puts brakes on $1 billion convention center plan, Boston Herald, April 29, 2015

Warrant report with supplements, May 26, 2015, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Age-Friendly Cities: health fair, outreach, snow and parks, Brookline Beacon, May 25, 2015

Board of Selectmen: police awards, paying for snow, Brookline Beacon, May 20, 2015

Board of Selectmen: new members and leadership, Brookline Beacon, May 13, 2015

Craig Bolon, How we voted, costs of business, Brookline Beacon, May 10, 2015

Craig Bolon, Field of dreams: a Coolidge Corner parking garage, Brookline Beacon, May 4, 2015

Board of Selectmen: landmarks, permits and town meeting controversy, Brookline Beacon, April 22, 2015

Board of Selectmen: farmers’ market, promotions, golf and town meeting, Brookline Beacon, April 29, 2015

Advisory Committee: budgets, bylaws and lectures, Brookline Beacon, April 14, 2015

Advisory subcommittee on human services: tap water and bottled water, Brookline Beacon, April 12, 2015

Advisory Committee: new park land for Putterham neighborhoods, Brookline Beacon, April 10, 2015

Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation: new historic district, Brookline Beacon, March 31, 2015

Craig Bolon, Advisory Committee: in a generous mood, Brookline Beacon, March 19, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 4, 2015

Solid Waste Advisory Committee: recycling and trash metering, Brookline Beacon, September 3, 2014

2014 annual town meeting recap: fine points, Brookline Beacon, June 7, 2014

Craig Bolon, Recycling makes more progress without trash metering, Brookline Beacon, April 11, 2014

How we voted, costs of business

On Tuesday, May 5, we Brookline voters approved a major tax override, mainly to support our public schools, and we also approved a major school renovation and expansion project. Some had thought higher or lower voter turnout might mean better or worse chances for the override, but the results did not shape up that way.

HowWeVoted2015

How we voted
When the percentages who voted Yes are charted against voter turnouts, by precincts, there are no clear patterns. Statistical regression finds standard probabilities of 70 percent or more association by chance–insignificant patterns by usual standards. However, when the percentages who voted Yes for the Devotion School project are charted against the percentages who voted Yes for the tax override, a strong pattern appears. Statistical regression finds standard probability of less than 0.01 percent association by chance–highly significant.

The results show no linkages between voter turnouts and votes on the ballot questions. Strong linkage between the results from the two questions tends to indicate issue-oriented voting: specifically, voters favoring funding for public schools through property taxes–or not. Overall, at least 60 percent of Brookline voters appear to favor funding schools, even when facing the third-highest override to be approved in Massachusetts during our 34 years with Proposition 2-1/2 limits.

The chart comparing results for the two questions also shows precincts falling into three clusters. Four of them–Precincts 2, 6, 8 and 9–appear at the high end of support for school funding. One of them, Precinct 15, shows a much lower level of support. The other precincts are in a middle group, supporting the tax override by about 60 percent and the Devotion School project by about 80 percent. Precincts 2, 8 and 9 are North Brookline neighborhoods, essentially the Devotion School district. Precinct 6 is well south of Beacon St., clustered around the High School.

Costs of business: marijuana dispensaries
Marijuana dispensaries that mean to make money and stay in business will need to divide their enterprises, as New England Treatment Access (NETA) plans, between retail and production. Jack Healy recently wrote in the New York Times that federal tax laws treat marijuana production and wholesale as ordinary businesses, factoring expenses against revenue. Marijuana retailers are treated like burglars, who cannot legally deduct the costs of getaway cars against the fruits of theft, on federal tax filings.

While burglars probably rarely report undercover incomes and expenses, registered medical marijuana dispensaries are more likely to want to behave like good citizens. They need coping strategies. An obvious one–not reported by Mr. Healy–is to load expenses and incomes onto production and wholesale and to minimize retail operations for tax purposes. That might be possible for a vertically integrated business like NETA, when it might not be for a thinly capitalized retail shop.

At a public meeting in Brookline, NETA representatives said that over three-quarters of their costs of business are expected to be in production. That suggests they have already given the tax situation careful study and might be back-loading their business model. It is not against the law to organize financial affairs so as to reduce taxes. Their local transactions might, for example, be divided into fairly low prices and fairly high fees–routed to the production business. In such a way, high costs NETA claims for production might be offset by high revenues passing from consumer to manufacturer.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 10, 2015


Ballot question results, Brookline town election, 2015

Town elections: tax override for schools passes, Brookline Beacon, May 5, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: zoning permit for a registered marijuana dispensary, Brookline Beacon, April 25, 2015

Licensing Review Committee: registered marijuana dispensary, Brookline Beacon, January 29, 2015

Jack Healy, Legal marijuana faces another federal hurdle: taxes, New York Times, May 10, 2015

Advisory Committee: budgets and reconsiderations

The Advisory Committee met Thursday, April 30, starting at 7:00 pm in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall. Review season for this year’s annual town meeting is winding down, with work on most articles now complete for the town meeting starting Tuesday, May 26. The committee reconsidered three articles:
• Article 8. annual appropriations
• Article 9. town meeting membership, by petition
• Article 17. Chapter 40B resolution, by petition

Budgets: At the annual town election Tuesday, May 5, Brookline voters will decide whether or not to approve a permanent, general override that would increase total Brookline tax collections by $7.665 million per year above amounts allowed under Proposition 2-1/2, the statewide budget act passed by voters in 1980. So far the Advisory Committee, like the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee, has worked with so-called “base budgets” that will govern should voters reject the proposed override.

If required to proceed with base budgets, the committee will find itself backed into a financial corner by recommending, so far, about $0.5 million more in spending than the town has projected in revenue and other available funds. Hopes for a reprieve from balances in overlay accounts were recently dashed by the need to fund an overrun of about $3.4 million for snow clearance, the result of an historically severe winter.

While some committee members spoke about $2.5 million in “unallocated revenues”–account balances held against major unexpected needs–apparently none understood the mechanics for tapping those funds to solve an imbalance in their base budgets. Committee member Janet Gelbart, not a town meeting member, seemed to think growth in school enrollment, combined with extraordinary winter expenses, justified action. “The purpose of a reserve,” she said, “is so when you have an emergency you can pay for it.”

Partnership: There was discussion of the so-called “town-school partnership” that for 20 years has divided tax revenue between municipal and school programs. It was begun in 1995 by Richard Kelliher, then the town administrator, and James F. Walsh, then the superintendent of schools.

Since 1995, the partnership has been managed by a Town/School Partnership Committee with two representatives each from the Board of Selectmen, the School Committee and the Advisory Committee. The partnership committee is dormant. Its members from the Board of Selectmen, Ken Goldstein and Betsy DeWitt, did not run for re-election. One member from the Advisory Committee, Harry Bohrs, resigned this winter. The other, Leonard Weiss, moved from chairing the Advisory subcommittee on schools to the subcommittee on administration and finance.

Stanley Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, asked how the town-school revenue division could be changed. Mr. Weiss, the only Advisory member now delegated to the partnership committee, was not on hand to respond. David-Marc Goldstein of Precinct 8 said, “Town meeting does not feel part of that partnership.” Actually, the Advisory Committee plays a role representing town meeting–as on several other boards and committees, including Climate Action and the Devotion School Building Committee.

Automatic town meeting members: Elected Brookline town meetings have long included several members designated automatically because of offices they hold. In the 1970s, these were cut back to people who hold other, major elected offices: currently the moderator, the town clerk, the members of the Board of Selectmen and members of the General Court who live in Brookline.

Led by Ernest A. Frey, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, a group of Brookline voters submitted Article 9 for the annual town meeting by petition. It seeks to add, as automatic town meeting members, elected federal and state officials who live in Brookline. Those are now Deborah Goldberg, the state treasurer, and Joseph P. Kennedy, III, who represents Brookline in the U.S. Congress.

The Board of Selectmen had supported Article 9, but thus far the Advisory Committee had opposed it. Dr. Spiegel, who chairs the Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation, proposed a compromise at this week’s meeting of the Board of Selectmen. It would designate elected federal and state officials who live in Brookline as “honorary town meeting members,” non-voting but welcome to participate in town meeting debates.

Amy Hummel of Precinct 12 seemed unconvinced. “It sounds like we’re talking about celebrities,” she said. Since any registered Brookline voter is eligible to run for town meeting, all current automatic town meeting members and all those proposed could run–and likely win–if they chose. Mr. Goldstein favored ending the designations. The committee voted to reject Dr. Spiegel’s proposed compromise and to recommend no action on Article 9.

Chapter 40B resolution: Led by Precinct 8 town meeting member Nancy Heller, a group of Brookline voters submitted Article 17 by petition: a resolution advocating changes in policy for Chapter 40B projects. As the subcommittee led by Dr. Spiegel proposed and the petitioners have agreed, the Advisory Committee voted to recommend referring the article to the Planning Board and the Housing Advisory Board.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 1, 2015


Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant for 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Explanations of Articles, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Richard Kelliher and James Walsh, Memorandum of understanding: town/school budget partnership, Town of Brookline, MA, May 16, 1995

Board of Selectmen: farmers’ market, promotions, golf and town meeting, Brookline Beacon, April 29, 2015

Board of Selectmen: landmarks, permits and town meeting controversy, Brookline Beacon, April 22, 2015

Advisory: new park land for Putterham neighborhoods, Brookline Beacon, April 10, 2015

Board of Selectmen: $7.665 million tax override, Brookline Beacon, February 12, 2015

Advisory Committee: budgets, bylaws and lectures

The Advisory Committee met Tuesday, April 7, Thursday, April 9, and Monday, April 13, starting at 7:30 pm in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall. Review season for this year’s annual town meeting is underway, with many committee members attending four or more meetings a week. According to the chair, Sean Lynn-Jones, a Precinct 1 town meeting member, the committee has begun to address a backlog of missing meeting records.

At these sessions, the committee reviewed budgets, to be proposed under Article 8 at the annual town meeting starting May 26, for Library, Town Clerk, Information Technology, Finance, Board of Selectmen, Advisory Committee, reserve accounts and miscellaneous. It heard lectures on fiscal policy from Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, from Melissa Goff, the deputy town administrator and from Stephen Cirillo, the finance director. The committee also voted recommendations on three warrant articles:
• Article 12. snow bylaw amendments, from the Board of Selectmen
• Article 13. bylaw requiring tap water service in restaurants, by petition
• Article 14. bylaw banning bottled water on town property, by petition

Human services: The most recent Advisory session, on Monday, was human services night, reviewing the Library budget and the two “water” articles. With subcommittee chair Sytske Humphrey absent, subcommittee member David-Marc Goldstein, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, reviewed the library budget with Sara Slymon, the library director, and Michael Burstein, chair of the Library Trustees.

Lea Cohen of Beacon St., not a town meeting member, reviewed Article 13, about water service in Brookline restaurants. Robert Liao of Meadowbrook Rd., not a town meeting member, reviewed Article 14, seeking to ban bottled water on town property and in the town budget. Jane Gilman and Clinton Richmond, town meeting members from Precincts 3 and 6, responded for the petitioners who submitted those articles.

Water aerobics: The subcommittee on human services had reviewed the “water” articles the previous week and was recommending no action on both. With Mr. Lynn-Jones out-of-town, Carla Benka, vice chair of the committee, led the meeting. She allowed Ms. Gilman and Mr. Richmond another bite of the apple, rehashing most of their arguments and taking up nearly two hours.

After heavy weather the previous week, at the Board of Selectmen as well as the subcommittee, Ms. Gilman and Mr. Richmond tried a tactical retreat on Article 14. That would have removed about three-fourths of the proposed bylaw, including its key feature: generally banning the sale and distribution of bottled water on town property. What remained would have forbidden spending for bottled water and stocking it in vending machines, under most circumstances.

Alan Balsam, the public health director, opposed restricting water from vending machines. As at the Board of Selectmen, he called commercial plastic beverage bottles “nasty,” saying most of what they contained was also “nasty.” In his view, though, water is much less “nasty” than sugared beverages, and trying to keep it out of vending machines would likely encourage substitution–worsening risks of obesity and diabetes. “Why not get rid of vending machines?” asked Dr. Balsam. “That’s what I did at the Health Department.”

Committee members wrestled with alternatives, offering motions to chop still more out of the proposed bylaw and to refer it to a committee appointed by the Board of Selectmen. Ms. Benka struggled in parliamentary muddle. A motion for bylaw surgery from Alisa Jonas of Precinct 16 failed: 2 in favor, 15 opposed and 1 abstaining. A motion to refer from Michael Sandman of Sewall Ave., not a town meeting member, also failed: 4-13-1. A motion on behalf of the subcommittee for no action passed: 16-2-0. That became the Advisory Committee recommendation to town meeting.

Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 suggested the committee consider use of funds for bottled water when it reviews conditions of appropriations for town budgets. The committee had less trouble with Article 13, a proposed bylaw change requiring tap water to be available in Brookline restaurants. Ms. Gilman and Mr. Richmond still could not cite a Brookline restaurant that did not offer it. By a unanimous vote, the Advisory Committee is recommending no action on Article 13.

Lecture series: At its April 7 and 9 meetings, the committee heard lectures on fiscal rectitude from Stephen Cirillo, the finance director, from Melissa Goff, the deputy town administrator, and from Mel Kleckner, the town administrator. They were probably inspired by an unusual generous committee approach this year, boosting rather than cutting budgets.

The program budget presented by Mr. Kleckner and his staff last February showed $682,000 in cuts to municipal services within the base budget, without an override. School budgets would benefit from a corresponding boost, while observing “Proposition 2-1/2″ tax limits. School staff and the School Committee are hardly celebrating. Their base budget, without an override, involves cuts totaling $1.16 million from current school programs, despite a $0.68 million transfer from municipal accounts.

Some long-time observers say Advisory budget turbulence stems from a confluence of weather systems: traditional town liberalism mixing into traditional town conservatism that sees unwarranted trimming of municipal resources in order to enlarge school accounts. Practicing freedom of speech, some Advisory Committee members have taken to sporting campaign buttons advertising their factions on the budget override that the Board of Selectmen has proposed to voters at May 5 town elections.

At the April 9 meeting, Mr. Kleckner let a cat out of the bag. It was “very distressing,” he said, “to hear some of this disagreement.” The “elected officials” have a right “to make those judgments.” In the context, Mr. Kleckner was clearly referring to members of the Board of Selectmen, who hire and fire town administrators. He might know something about perils of town administrators, through past service to the fairly conservative Town of Winchester and Town of Belmont.

Somehow, Mr. Kleckner didn’t seem to appreciate at the moment that elected members of town meetings–and not members of boards of selectmen–appropriate all town funds. For the Advisory Committee of Brookline, charged by law with proposing annual appropriations to our elected representative town meeting, that is just Politics 101. Committee members welcomed Mr. Kleckner to Brookline with some choice remarks.

During the lecture series, the need advertised for fiscal probity was to protect the town’s credit rating, but at the April 7 meeting Gary McCabe, the chief assessor, had undercut some of those arguments. He revealed that about $1.1 million stands to be available from overlay accounts for 2009 and prior years. So far, the Advisory Committee’s budget votes would restore about $0.3 million of municipal base-budget cuts, well within amounts Mr. McCabe described as available, outside usual credit-rating factors.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 14, 2015


Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant for 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Explanations of Articles, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Advisory subcommittee on human services: tap water and bottled water, Brookline Beacon, April 12, 2015

Advisory Committee: missing records, more skeptical outlooks, Brookline Beacon, April 2, 2015

Support for the May 5 override, Yes for Brookline, Brookline, MA, April, 2015

Opposition to the May 5 override, Campaign for a Better Override, Brookline, MA, April, 2015

Advisory: a night at the opera, Brookline Beacon, March 27, 2015

Advisory Committee: in a generous mood, Brookline Beacon, March 17, 2015

School Committee: budget bounties and woes, Brookline Beacon, March 13, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, financial plan, Brookline Beacon, February 21, 2015

Board of Selectmen: $7.665 million tax override, Brookline Beacon, February 12, 2015

Board of Selectmen: larger tax override, Brookline Beacon, January 14, 2015

Advisory: learning about spending on schools

The Advisory subcommittee on schools met at 6 pm Wednesday, April 1, in the first-floor north meeting room at Town Hall. All subcommittee members were on hand: new chair Michael Sandman of Sewall Ave., not a town meeting member, new subcommittee members Kelly Hardebeck of Precinct 7 and Amy Hummel of Precinct 12, and returning subcommittee members Bobbie Knable of Precinct 11 and Sharri Mittel of Precinct 14.

They met with Peter Rowe, the deputy school superintendent for administration and finance. Visitors at this meeting included Susan Wolf Ditkoff, chair of the School Committee, Barbara Scotto, vice chair of the School Committee, and Carla Benka, vice chair of the Advisory Committee. The Brookline School Committee had held its legally required annual budget hearing on March 26, with slim attendance–including no Advisory Committee members–and only one public comment.

School budgets: The schools subcommittee has traditionally been the most difficult Advisory assignment–partly because of size of and complexity in the budget and partly because of the limited influence of town meetings. Under Massachusetts laws from 1939 through 1980, school committees were effectively taxing authorities. If a town meeting did not appropriate at least as much as a school committee asked, a “ten taxpayer” lawsuit could compel the town to raise more taxes and provide the full amount.

The “Proposition 2-1/2″ law, enacted by voters [Chapter 580 of the Acts of 1980], ended the fiscal autonomy of Massachusetts school committees. However, while town meetings now regulate total amounts of money for schools, they can only recommend how money should be spent. [Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 71, Section 34] School committees allocate the funds appropriated among school programs. The role of the Advisory Committee remains, in part, finding opportunities for efficiency.

Special education: The Advisory subcommittee spent much of its meeting on costs of “special education”–really a misnomer here. Brookline began to provide compensatory services to students with learning disabilities in the 1960s, well before state and federal mandates. Mr. Rowe explained that Brookline has been managing costs during recent years by providing compensatory services directly to more students, within the current schools, rather than sending them to outside programs. However, all students remain eligible for individual evaluations, and some students are still sent outside.

It was not clear whether subcommittee members grasped that the “special education” services, as seen by the school administration, are part of a continuum. A greater variety of services is available today than fifty years ago, when former Superintendent Robert I. Sperber–still an active Brookline resident–began to develop “individualized education.” Mr. Sandman estimated current spending on special education, per student in these programs, as equivalent to about half the cost of a teacher, on average.

Information technology: Information technology has been a growth area in recent budgets, particularly for school programs. In 1979, Dr. Sperber proposed buying four specially configured minicomputers for classroom instruction but chose not to proceed after hearing arguments that microcomputers were about to produce a cost revolution, which would soon make it practical to serve far more students.

With handheld computers widely available, fruits of the revolution have ripened, leaving some now saying Brookline public schools are lagging behind. As the subcommittee saw, costs for equipment are now far outweighed by costs for personnel. Municipal and school organizations supposedly share an information technology department, but the whole picture is more complex and far more costly.

Information technology department, p. IV-14
1 chief information officer
1 applications director
1 network manager
1 Web developer
1 GIS developer
1 systems analyst
2 network administrators
1 database administrator
1 help-desk technician
1 senior programmer
1 administrative assistant
—————————–
12 employees
$1.06 million in salaries

Schools information services, p. 113
1 application manager
2 application support specialists
1 data management director
1 desktop services manager
4 technicians
—————————–
8 employees
$0.62 million in salaries

Schools education technology, pp. 98-99
1 curriculum coordinator
10 educational technologists
1 secretary
—————————–
12 employees
$0.88 million in salaries

There are, in effect, three Brookline information technology departments: the one given that name and budgeted as a municipal department, plus two with different names funded as internal school agencies. Spread among them are a total of about 32 employees, $2.6 million in salaries and $0.5 million in direct benefits–estimated at the average Brookline spending for direct benefits, or about $15,900 per employee proposed for FY2016.

Brookline’s information technology currently has a structure heavy with administration, similar to trends in educational institutions. For a staff count of just over 30, there are ten titles of “officer,” “director,” “manager,” “administrator” and “coordinator”–a management ratio of about 3. Technology industries are far more efficient, with typical professional management ratios of 8 to 12. A well organized staff of that size would need about three instead of ten managers and would have fewer overlapping jobs.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 5, 2015


School Committee: budget bounties and woes, Brookline Beacon, March 13, 2015

Craig Bolon, Brookline’s workforce: signs of strain, Brookline Beacon, January 9, 2015

School Committee: Driscoll plans, policies, technology and testing, Brookline Beacon, May 27, 2014

FY2016 Superintendent’s budget message, Public Schools of Brookline, MA, March 12, 2015

FY2016 Program Budget (public schools), Town of Brookline, MA (39 MB)

FY2016 Program Budget (municipal agencies and departments), Town of Brookline, MA (16 MB)

Paul F. Campos, The real reason college tuition costs so much, New York Times, April 5, 2015

Board of Selectmen: personnel, policies and budget reviews

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, March 31, started at 6:10 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board reviewed personnel changes, policies and budgets proposed for the fiscal year starting in July.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Peter Rowe, the deputy school superintendent for administration and finance, who will retire at the end of June, asked the board to submit a “statement of interest” to the state School Building Authority for expansion of Brookline High School. Such a project could easily dwarf spending on Devotion School expansion and renovation, recently estimated at up to $120 million. Board member Ben Franco mentioned “trying to keep the price tag down.” Then the board approved the submission.

As requested by Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, the board approved a reallocation of sources for the $0.65 million in support it approved last November 25 for the Beals St. subsidized housing project being carried out in collaboration with Pine St. Inn of Boston. About $0.03 million more will be spent from federal Community Development funds and correspondingly less from local Housing Trust funds. Brookline has yet to publish on its Web site a comprehensive description and full cost analysis for this project.

Paul Ford, the fire chief, presented three candidates for promotions. Long-serving Deputy Chief Mark Jefferson recently retired. Kyle McEachern was promoted from captain to deputy chief. Stephen Nelson was promoted from temporary captain to captain. Michael Kelleher was promoted from temporary lieutenant to lieutenant.

Melissa Battite, the assistant recreation director, got approval to hire for business manager replacing Jesse Myott, who took a new job. The Recreation Department recently activated a partly dysfunctional Web site, pointed to by but not integrated with the municipal site, that is costing taxpayers extra money while making it difficult or impossible to find information about personnel and internal operations.

Interviews and policies: The board interviewed Kathleen Scanlon for Climate Action, Frank Caro for Cable TV and Jennifer Goldsmith for Commission on Women. Scott Englander, who co-chairs “Complete Streets” with board member Neil Wishinsky, presented a draft policy and work plan. So far, the documents are unavailable on the municipal Web site.

As applied to Brookline, the cute catchphrase “Complete Streets” looks to mean, essentially, streets with bicycle paths. Brookline currently has none. It has only painted pavement markings and a few signs. The town blew away its biggest opportunity to install some when spending millions of dollars to reconstruct Beacon St. several years ago. Boston recently promoted bicycle paths when proposing to reconstruct Commonwealth Ave. between the B.U. Bridge and Packard Corner. No price tags, sources of funds or schedules have yet been disclosed.

Licenses and permits: Taverna DeHaro, on Beacon St., and Washington St. Tavern got board approval for alternate managers of alcoholic beverage sales. As is now usual board procedure, neither sent a representative to the board meeting.

Budget reviews: The board reviewed budgets proposed by Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, for the Health Department, the new Diversity Department, Veterans’ Services and the Council on Aging. At the budget reviews so far, the board has been asking few questions about finances. The current Board of Selectmen has struck some as lacking interest in financial matters. Instead, community values and priorities have been emerging largely from the Advisory Committee.

Brookline Interactive continues to record meetings of the board on video, but the recordings may not appear on the Web until two or more weeks later. As of April 3, the most recent one available was from March 10. The Brookline channel, whose studios moved from privately owned space on Amory St. to the former Manual Training Building at the high school, now behaves as though it were an organ of the school dept. It currently features seven so-called “forums” with the superintendent that are more recent than the latest Board of Selectmen video.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 3, 2015


Scott Englander, Brookline Complete Streets Policy Development Overview, Complete Streets Study Committee, draft of March 23, 2015 Found as scans in a hidden file from the Board of Selectmen and converted to a text document.

Planning Board: review of Devotion School plans, Brookline Beacon, January 18, 2015

Housing Advisory Board: new assisted housing and expiring assistance programs, Brookline Beacon, November 9, 2014

Craig Bolon, Brookline bicycle crashes: patterns and factors, Brookline Beacon, August 16, 2014

Craig Bolon, Bicycle markings: unsuccessful in B.U. neighborhoods, Brookline Beacon, November 9, 2014

Advisory Committee: in a generous mood, Brookline Beacon, March 17, 2015

Town elections: contests town-wide and in precincts

At the 5 pm filing deadline on March 17 for Brookline’s 2015 town elections, scheduled for Tuesday, May 5, contests emerged for Board of Selectmen and for School Committee–as well as for town meeting seats in six precincts. Candidates have until April 2 to withdraw their names.

Board of Selectmen: Current members of the Board of Selectmen Ken Goldstein and Betsy DeWitt, whose terms are expiring, had announced they would not run for re-election and did not file nomination papers with the town clerk. Five new candidates filed: town meeting members Merelice of Precinct 6, Bernard Greene of Precinct 7, Nancy Heller of Precinct 8 and Pam Lodish of Precinct 14, and Larry Onie, a Marshall St. resident.

Mr. Greene, Ms. Heller and Ms. Lodish were members of the Advisory Committee until they decided to run for Board of Selectmen and resigned, following policies set by the current moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, who is unopposed for re-election. Ms. Heller and Ms. Lodish are also former elected members of the School Committee. Mr. Onie was a member of the former Human Relations and Youth Resources Commission.

Other town-wide: Current member of the School Committee Abigail Schoenbaum Cox, whose term is expiring, did not file nomination papers with the town clerk. Elizabeth Jackson Stram, a Powell St. resident, and Sandra L. Stotsky, a Clark Rd. resident, filed for School Committee. Ms. Stotsky has been a member of the Democratic Town Committee.

Current School Committee members Pen-Hau Ben Chang and Barbara C. Scotto filed for re-election. Town Clerk Patrick J. Ward, Housing Authority board member Barbara B. Dugan, and Library Trustees Carol Axelrod, Vivien E. Goldman, Regina Healy and Carol Troyen Lohe are unopposed for re-election. Terms for Housing Authority are five years. Regular terms for other offices, not filling vacancies, are three years.

Town meeting members: There will be more candidates than available town meeting seats in Precincts 1, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 12. The other ten precincts have what political wags sometimes call “beauty contests,” with five candidates for five seats providing three-year terms. Candidates vie to see who can get the most votes. Owing to resignations, there are one-year terms up for election in Precincts 4, 14 and 15–with one candidate filing in Precincts 4 and 15. No one filed for a one-year seat in Precinct 14.

In Precinct 1, Peter J. Ames of Ivy St., an unsuccessful candidate in each town election from 2008 through 2014, is contesting with the five incumbent town meeting members: Cathleen C. Cavell, Elijah Ercolino, Neil R. Gordon, Carol B. Hillman and Sean M. Lynn-Jones. At Advisory Committee the evening of March 17, Mr. Lynn-Jones was elected chair. He replaces Harry K. Bohrs, from Precinct 3, who had recently resigned because of increased pressures of work at his law office.

In Precinct 4, incumbent Edith R. Brickman chose not to run, while new candidates Jeremy Michael Shaw of Washington St. and Sarah T. Boehs of Aspinwall Ave. filed. In Precinct 5, retiring member of the Board of Selectmen Betsy DeWitt is contesting with the five incumbent town meeting members: Robert S. Daves, Betsy Shure Gross, Phyllis R. O’Leary, William E. Reyelt and Claire B. Stampfer.

In Precinct 6, new candidate Daniel Saltzman of White Pl. is contesting with incumbents John Bassett, Christopher Dempsey, Virginia W. LaPlante, Ian Polumbaum and Robert I. Sperber. Dr. Sperber is a previous superintendent of Brookline public schools and founder of the Economic Development Advisory Board. This is a precinct noted for political activity and sometimes for sharp elbows.

In Precinct 7, incumbent Sloan K. Sable chose not to run, while new candidates Susan Granoff of Vernon St., Keith A Duclos of Vernon St., Crystal A. Johnson of Harvard Ave. and Stacey Zelbow Provost of Washburn Pl. filed. In Precinct 12, A. Joseph Ross of Washington St., a former town meeting member in another precinct, is contesting with the five incumbents: Lee Cooke-Childs, Chad S. Ellis, Amy Hummel, Mark J. Lowenstein and Judy Meyers.

A key element: One factor in the elections is likely to be candidates’ positions on May 5 ballot questions about a tax override and a debt exclusion, both intended mainly to benefit Brookline public schools. More than 80 percent of a $7.7 million permanent tax override is slated to be spent for schools. The proposed, temporary debt exclusion is to expand and renovate Devotion School, on Harvard St. near Coolidge Corner.

–Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015


Election information, Town Clerk of Brookline, MA, March, 2015

Precinct map, Information Technology Dept., Town of Brookline, MA, 2012

Board of Selectmen: $7.665 million tax override, Brookline Beacon, February 12, 2015

School Committee: budget bounties and woes

A regular meeting of the School Committee on Thursday, March 12, started at 6:00 pm, held in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The main event was the FY2016 budget proposal from William Lupini and Peter Rowe, the school superintendent and the deputy superintendent for administration, which had been delayed twice. Also on the original agenda for March 12, but postponed for a fourth time, was a review of school administration, coordinated by the Collins Center for Public Management, from the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

Others on hand from the School Department for the budget review were Jennifer Fischer-Mueller, the deputy superintendent for teaching, and Mary Ellen Dunn, the incoming deputy superintendent for administration after Mr. Rowe retires at the end of June. School Committee members Benjamin Chang, the chair of the finance subcommittee, and Michael Glover, newly elected last spring, missed the meeting. Jessica Wender-Shubow, president of the Brookline Educators Union, was there. The Advisory Committee blanked the meeting, instead scheduling three subcommittee hearings and a full Advisory review of the police budget. It could easily have scheduled those for the previous evening, when there were no meetings at Town Hall.

No member of the Board of Selectmen came, even though the board recently proposed a permanent, $7.665 million per year tax override, primarily to support the school budget. There were four members of the public, two of whom left midway through the budget presentations. One who stayed was Pamela Lodish, a former member of the School Committee and Advisory Committee who has taken out papers to run for a seat on the Board of Selectmen this spring, after announcing opposition to the tax override, along with a group of some well known residents.

Two budgets: The school budget for the fiscal year starting next July is complicated. As Dr. Lupini explained, it is really two budgets: one to be followed if voters pass the proposed override and the other to be followed if they do not. Under the no-override budget, Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, has proposed $0.68 million in municipal service cutbacks, allocating the money saved to help schools cope with increasing enrollment.

If the override passes, Dr. Lupini and Mr. Klecker have proposed to use only about $6.2 million of $7.7 million authorized during fiscal 2016, reducing the impact on taxes for that fiscal year. Dr. Lupini expressed concerns about state funding for education, saying Brookline now expects to lose about $0.25 million in support for full day kindergarten. He said Brookline stands at risk of higher increases in health-care costs than anticipated by current budget proposals.

Budget bounties, with a tax override: In recent years, Dr. Lupini claimed that although Public Schools of Brookline managed, for the most part, to hold back increases in class sizes during years of rising enrollment, it has not been able to maintain levels of support services. As summarized by Mr. Rowe, following is the added school spending proposed if Brookline voters pass the tax override:

• $1.11 million/year for more “interventional” coaching staff
• $0.79 million/year for additional salary increases
• $0.49 million/year for more nurses and counselors
• $0.40 million/year for more administrators
• $0.39 million/year for “technology” equipment and staff
• $0.31 million/year for more special education teachers
• $0.26 million/year for increased “contingency” funds
• $0.18 million/year for staff during Devotion construction
• $0.13 million/year for other items
$4.06 million/year total school spending added in FY2016

Of those amounts, only the $0.49 million for nurses and counselors was clearly associated with enrollment growth. That would add traditional school service staff Dr. Lupini says were needed but whom Public Schools of Brookline could not previously afford. The remainder of the added spending appears to create or substantially expand programs beyond traditional curriculum and beyond service levels currently offered.

Dr. Lupini argued, for example, that “interventional” coaching has been overstressed as a result of enrollment growth. At the Thursday meeting, Dr. Fisher-Mueller, the deputy superintendent for teaching, argued that the leveling off of test scores seen in recent years reflects shortfalls in school services. However, she did not provide data to substantiate the claim. It was also not clear whether spending more money to raise test scores would prove consistent with Brookline’s community values.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to investigate such claims with information readily available to the public. Unlike the municipal department budgets published on February 17 this year, Public Schools of Brookline has not published a timely and detailed annual financial plan describing a proposed budget, comparing it with past budgets and measuring spending amounts against documented performance factors and objectives.

Budget woes, without a tax override: If operating the schools without a tax override, even with the $0.682 million Mr. Kleckner proposes to contribute by cutting municipal services, Dr. Lupini will be faced with needs for cutbacks. As summarized by Mr. Rowe, following are the reductions in school spending he proposed if Brookline voters do not pass the tax override:

• $0.65 million/year saved with 10 fewer classroom teachers
• $0.31 million/year saved with no “gifted and talented” program
• $0.20 million/year saved by cutting other expenses
$1.16 million/year total school spending cuts in FY2016

Public Schools of Brookline now labels the “gifted and talented” program as “enrichment and challenge support.” It is part of the “interventional” coaching that Dr. Lupini would like to expand with a tax override. Dr. Lupini had previously said that expansions to the elementary school world languages program would have to be ended if there were no override this year, but on Thursday he did not propose to do that. However, he said it would probably happen the following year. Those were implemented after voters approved the previous tax override in 2008.

Sharp-eyed readers will surely notice that the sum of the extra spending proposed with an override and the cutbacks proposed without one, $4.06 plus $1.16 plus $0.68 million–or $5.9 million–is substantially less than the $6.2 million Dr. Lupini said would be used in FY2016 from a $7.7 million override. He did not explain the discrepancy.

Budget review: At first, School Committee members hesitated with questions. After the meeting, Mr. Rowe mentioned that they had received copies of the budget message by e-mail only that afternoon. Committee member Lisa Jackson wanted to know what would happen in the next two years without an override. Dr. Lupini said there were likely to be more cutbacks and larger class sizes.

Rather than questioning the substance of budget proposals, committee members seemed to be groping for ways to explain them. Committee member Rebecca Stone asked what a new “parent center” would do, if funded through the override. Dr. Lupini said that the main job was registering new students–done in past years at each of the schools. He said a centralized staff could provide a more “consistent message.”

With or without an override, Dr. Lupini proposed to spend $0.59 million more in the next fiscal year on elementary school teachers and support staff, to address rising enrollment, and to spend $0.50 million more on administration and support for Devotion School during construction, while students are divided among two or more sites. One might expect that any such extra spending for Devotion School would end when the new school opens, but Dr. Lupini did not say.

Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, March 13, 2015


William Lupini, Superintendent’s FY2016 budget message, Public Schools of Brookline, MA, March 12, 2015

Peter C. Rowe, FY2016 base budget, override vs. no override, Public Schools of Brookline, MA, March 12, 2015

Melvin Kleckner, Summary of Brookline FY2016 financial plan, Town of Brookline, MA, February 17, 2015

Financial Plan, FY2016, Town of Brookline, MA (15 MB)

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, financial plan, Brookline Beacon, February 21, 2015

Board of Selectmen: $7.665 million tax override, Brookline Beacon, February 12, 2015

School budget: cancel world languages, gifted & talented, Brookline Beacon, November 11, 2014

Hancock Village: development pressures

Chestnut Hill Realty, the owner and manager of Hancock Village in south Brookline and West Roxbury, has been pushing in recent years to build new, partly subsidized housing on currently unoccupied parts of the property that are located in Brookline–using powers under Chapter 40B of the General Laws to override Brookline zoning. It has not sought similar development on parts of the property in West Roxbury.

Since more than 10 percent of Boston’s housing units qualify as “affordable” under 40B standards, Chestnut Hill Realty cannot force a 40B development on West Roxbury. However, it would be less likely to want to, since the potential value of Brookline apartments is greater because of the draw of Brookline public schools. The company is also trying to raise the value of existing apartments with major renovations.

Potential evictions: From appearances, Chestnut Hill Realty might be trying to replace older residents at Hancock Village with younger ones. Several long-term residents have received lease-cancellation notices delivered by constables, and some are terrified of being evicted.

One of the notices from Chestnut Hill Realty said that “you occupy one of [the] original type apartments we will be renovating…this is to inform you that our office will not be renewing your lease at the end of the current term, and that it our intent to terminate your tenancy…you are required to vacate the apartment…on or before June 30….”

The company offered the tenants who stand at risk of being evicted “a $1000 relocation benefit” and “special rental pricing” if they “sign a new contract [by] April 30,” and it also offered them “special financial incentives…to move out earlier.”

Capturing value: The drift of Chestnut Hill Realty’s management is to capture value for the company from Brookline’s support of public schools. If the occupancy of the currently proposed 40B development were to mirror Brookline’s average, the development might add around 50 students in Brookline schools. However, Chestnut Hill Realty has been targeting rental marketing to foreigners with school-age children.

Neighborhood residents fear the 40B development might bring in 200 or more students. Because many of them might have little English proficiency, they could also be unusually costly to educate. During the Board of Appeals hearings over the proposed 40B development, Chestnut Hill Realty did back away from some components of its plans, including lofts in low-rise units, but the plans still include many apartments with 3 and 4 bedrooms.

Meeting responsibilities: A longstanding complaint from residents of south Brookline, echoed by members of the Board of Selectmen and other town boards, is that Chestnut Hill Realty has been trying to bypass responsibilities under an agreement between the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company and the Town of Brookline, shortly before the 1946 annual town meeting, which enacted zoning to allow Hancock Village.

The agreement was a critical element in persuading Brookline to change its zoning. If is reproduced in full in the 1946 town meeting records. John Hancock Co. agreed that any development would be “high-grade garden village type,” that no buildings would be over 2-1/2 stories, that the land area occupied by buildings would not be over 20 percent of the total and that no more than 25 percent of the housing units would be “horizontally divided.” The company agreed that those restrictions would become binding on “successors and assigns,” of which Chestnut Hill Realty and subsidiaries are the most recent.

With support from abutters and neighbors, in November, 2013, the Town of Brookline filed a lawsuit in Norfolk Superior Court, seeking a declaration that the Mass. Development Finance Agency had failed to follow state laws and regulations in certifying eligibility of the proposed development and also seeking a declaration that the restrictions of the 1946 agreement apply to the project.

Overcoming objections: The defendants in the 2013 superior court suit, Mass. Development and Residences of South Brookline, objected that Brookline had failed to exhaust administrative remedies before seeking judicial review and that the 1946 agreement was a “deed restriction,” expiring after 30 years under Chapter 183, Section 23, of the General Laws.

Judge Patrick F. Brady of Norfolk Superior Court dismissed the 2013 lawsuit on both grounds in September, 2014. Although he provided only a bare outline of reasons, he relied on an obsolete case, Marion v. Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency, in evaluating administrative remedies, and he did not appear to consider two recent cases in evaluating the 1946 contract: Killorin v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Andover and Samuelson v. Planning Board of Orleans. (All cases before the Massachusetts Court of Appeals)

In November, 2014, Brookline and the neighborhood parties filed in the Court of Appeals, seeking to reverse the dismissal on both its grounds. [case 2014-P-1817] The neighborhood participants include Judith Leichtner, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, who has appeared at many government meetings and volunteered as a contact.

The Town of Brookline and neighborhood participants argue that in 2008, after the Marion decision in 2007, the state changed its regulations for Chapter 40B developments, providing no administrative review after a project is found eligible. They also argue that the Killorin and Samuelson cases establish that restrictions resulting from zoning actions are not deed restrictions and do not expire under Chapter 183 in 30 years.

Going forward: Briefs from both sides have been filed for the Court of Appeals case, as of February 12, 2015, and the case looks ready for motions and arguments. However, as of February 21 it had not appeared on a docket. If the Court of Appeals reverses the dismissal of the original case, that case will be reactivated in Norfolk Superior Court for arguments on its merits.

Meanwhile, as expected for many weeks, the Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals has granted a comprehensive permit for the proposed Hancock Village Chapter 40B development, filed with the town clerk February 20. At its most recent meeting, the Board of Selectmen suggested that they may challenge that permit, saying they will be considering it at their meeting on Tuesday, February 24. An executive session has been proposed for 5:30 pm on the agenda, about “litigation.”

Given the high potential values and costs involved, it is possible that the case may wind through more stages of review in court, no matter what the next outcome. If the 1946 agreement remains effective, then its land coverage restrictions are likely to be of much interest. Current zoning, enacted in 1962, allows a maximum floor-area ratio of 0.50 in the Hancock Village M-0.5 apartment zone and 0.35 in the S-7 “greenbelt” area near Russett and Beverly Rds.

The 1946 agreement’s restrictions–written before Brookline’s zoning bylaw regulated by floor-area ratio–may be equivalent to a maximum floor-area ratio lower than current Brookline zoning for Hancock Village. However, there appears to be no recent, systematic analysis of as-built dimensions in the Brookline parts of Hancock Village and no systematic comparison with the 1946 restrictions.

A so-called “density analysis” sent to Jesse Geller of the Zoning Board of Appeals in October last year by Alison Steinfeld, the director of planning and community development, uses an antiquated measure, “dwelling units per acre,” that does not accurately reflect town or neighborhood impacts and does not correspond either with current Brookline zoning or with restrictions contained in the 1946 agreement.

In a presentation to the Board of Appeals made in January, 2014, the Hancock Village developer claimed, “The current Floor Area Ratio (FAR) is only 0.29.” [p. 20 of 76] That document did not describe the basis for its claim. If the 1946 agreement is upheld, then no more development might be possible in the Brookline parts of Hancock Village.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, February 22, 2015


Comprehensive permit for The Residences of South Brookline, LLC, on the site of Hancock Village, Zoning Board of Appeals, Town of Brookline, MA, February 20, 2015 (4 MB)

Town of Brookline and others v. Mass. Development Financing Agency and others, Massachusetts Court of Appeals case 2014-P-1817, filed November 14, 2014

Samuelson v. Planning Board of Orleans, Massachusetts Court of Appeals case 2013-P-1418, 86 Mass. App. Ct. 901, decided July 2, 2014

Killorin v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Andover, Massachusetts Court of Appeals case 2010-P-1655, 80 Mass. App. Ct. 655, decided May 5, 2011

Town of Marion v. Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency, Massachusetts Court of Appeals case 2005-P-1848, 68 Mass. App. Ct. 208, decided February 12, 2007

Hancock Village 1946 Agreement, Article 23, Annual Town Meeting, March 19, 1946, from Brookline, MA, 1946 Annual Town Report, pp. 32-34

Hancock Village 40B project eligibility application, PreserveBrookline and South Brookline Neighborhood Association, August 28, 2013

Alison C. Steinfeld to Jesse Geller, Density analysis, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, October 20, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals Presentation, The Residences of South Brookline, January 16, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B conditions, Brookline Beacon, January 6, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, parking and traffic, Brookline Beacon, November 25, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, getting to Yes, Brookline Beacon, November 4, 2014

Board of Selectmen: opposing Hancock Village 40B, defending METCO, Brookline Beacon, September 17, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: architecture for Hancock Village Chapter 40B, Brookline Beacon, September 9, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Chapter 40B project at Hancock Village, Brookline Beacon, June 20, 2014

Setting the record straight: claims related to the development of Hancock Village, PreserveBrookline, undated