Category Archives: Taxes

Labor rights for U.S. domestic workers

Labor standards–wages, hours, benefits and age limits–were a thin patchwork in the U.S. until the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938. The Franklin Roosevelt administration considered FLSA its most significant social legislation after the Social Security Act of 1935. In its initial form, FLSA provided a 25-cent-an-hour minimum wage, a 44-hour straight-time work week, time-and-a-half pay for overtime and a minimum working age of 16. However, there were exceptions and exclusions.

The Roosevelt administration was opposed by an unreconstructed Supreme Court, losing the issues in a 1935 case [Schechter Poultry] and losing in its “court packing” efforts of 1937. To resolve Constitutional issues, FLSA focused on occupations related to interstate commerce–notably manufacturing–generally omitting coverage for agriculture, construction and many services: transportation, retail trade, government, health care, education, publishing, machinery repair and domestic work.

The 1938 law also excluded coverage for union shops, as endorsed by both AFL and CIO out of fears that a wage floor might presage a wage ceiling. It survived two Supreme Court challenges in 1941. [Darby and Opp Cotton] By then, former Pres. Roosevelt was serving a third term and had appointed a majority of the Court: Justices Hugo Black, Stanley Reed, Felix Frankfurter, William O. Douglas and Frank Murphy.

Strengthening standards: Since World War II, labor standards have gradually been strengthened through four main channels:
• FLSA regulations, expanding coverage and increasing requirements
• FLSA amendments, removing and modifying exceptions and exclusions
• state and local standards, expanding coverage and increasing requirements
• interpretations, policies and lawsuits sometimes expanding coverage

Trends in federal minimum wage

FederalMinimumHourlyWage1938to2016
Source: U.S. Department of Labor, 2016

There have been three notable eras in federal minimum wage. The Franklin Roosevelt through the Lyndon Johnson administrations substantially increased the wage level, starting around $4 an hour and growing to around $10 an hour–in 2016 dollars–during 1938 through 1968. The Nixon through the Reagan administrations substantially shrank the wage level, from around $10 to around $6, during 1968 through 1988. The Herbert Bush through the Obama administrations maintained a stagnant wage level between about $6 and $8, during 1988 through 2016.

Labor standards in retail trade made progress through state initiatives–notably in setting minimum wages. Every state now has laws that benefit some workers outside the initial FSLA focus. Even in the “at will,” “right to work,” wage-and-hours-free state of Mississippi, employers can’t fire a worker because of jury service, if a worker provides “reasonable notice.” As of the start of 2016, more than half the states had a statewide minimum wage higher than the federal standard: 29 states plus the District of Columbia.

Currently the District is highest at $11.50 an hour, while California and Massachusetts are next at $10.00–to be compared with the $7.25 federal standard since July, 2009. Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee have no state minimum wage. Georgia and Wyoming wage levels are below the federal minimum. The Deep South was the region most hostile to FLSA in the 1930s and remains the region most hostile to labor today.

Coverage struggles: Since early years of labor standards, starting with the first laws enacted in 1912 by Massachusetts, many groups of workers did not benefit. The U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act, in both initial and current forms, begins by stating a focus on “industries engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce.” [P.L. 75-718, Sec. 2(a) and 29 USC 202(a)] “Commerce” under FLSA has been limited, both initially and now, to mean “trade…among the several States….” [P.L. 75-718, Sec. 3(b) and 29 USC 203(b)]

FLSA allows states and cities to enact stronger requirements. During the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, some states and cities began to close gaps in wage and hour coverage left in 1938. So far, no labor scholar has published an inventory of those initiatives, but sectors often involved appear to be retail trade, construction and transportation.

At the same time, business interests began to promote anti-union, “right to work” laws, authorized under the 1947 federal Taft-Hartley Act. The earliest of them, predating the act, was an amendment to the Arkansas constitution. Statewide laws are currently found in 25 states that are generally hostile to labor.

“Right to work” states

RightToWorkStated2016
Source: AFL-CIO, 2016

The Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson administrations began to expand FLSA coverage beyond narrow views of interstate commerce dating from the Great Depression and earlier. FLSA amendments enacted in 1961 included employees of retail trade firms with at least $1 million in annual revenue. Amendments enacted in 1966 included employees of schools, nursing homes, construction firms, commercial laundries and large farms.

Domestic workers: Sustaining work performed inside and near homes–care for children, the elderly, sick and disabled, cleaning, cooking, pet and plant care, laundry and other household services–had not been a focus of federal and state standards, in contrast with work performed away from homes. Domestic work currently remains at the far reaches of labor standards in most states.

A pioneering effort in Massachusetts–coordinated by Melnea Cass, the legendary Boston activist for civil rights and housing–resulted in the first state labor standards law covering most domestic workers. Chapter 760 of the Acts of 1970 provided coverage under the state’s wage and hours law: minimum wage, maximum weekly straight-time hours, overtime pay and contributions to Social Security and Medicare. For workers employed more than 16 hours per week, the 1970 law required workers compensation and unemployment insurance. These were all standards that had applied to most other jobs in Massachusetts.

FLSA amendments enacted in 1974 set federal standards for some domestic workers but specifically excluded workers providing “companionship services for individuals who…are unable to care for themselves.” It also excluded all live-in workers from overtime pay benefits. [29 USC 213] Intermittent and varying work hours and direct employment by householders have proven to be areas of difficulty. Some observers estimate that two-thirds or more of U.S. employers subject to FLSA fail to comply fully with the law.

In 2013, the Obama administration revised regulations to extend FLSA coverage to all domestic workers employed by agencies, regardless of duties, effective at the start of 2015. However, some workers without specialized training may not be eligible for overtime pay, and workers directly employed by householders remained excluded from coverage. These and other gaps are slowly being addressed by state laws specific to domestic workers.

As of August, 2016, seven states had enacted some form of enhanced labor standards for domestic workers, and in six states those had come into effect. The first new law was in New York, enacted in 2010, followed by Hawaii and California in 2013, Massachusetts in 2014, Oregon and Connecticut in 2015 and Illinois in 2016. None of these states have enacted anti-union, right to work laws. While provisions of the recent laws about domestic workers vary greatly, most take into account special situations of live-in workers.

Connecticut has the weakest of the new laws, providing only a guard against harassment. Massachusetts and Hawaii probably have the strongest. Only Massachusetts requires sick leave and parenting leave. Only Hawaii requires disability and health care insurance. Most states require time-and-a-half overtime pay, workers compensation insurance and unemployment insurance. Massachusetts had already required those benefits, since 1970. Most new laws require at least a day per week off-duty and some amount of paid personal leave. Some of the new requirements are stronger than those of federal labor laws and regulations.

Information and compliance: Elusive elements affecting standards for domestic work remain information and compliance. That generally takes organization. NAACP chapters were involved during pioneering efforts in Massachusetts, in the 1970s. More recently, National Domestic Workers Alliance, first located in New York City but now in Chicago, was organized in 2007 from experience with Domestic Workers United, founded in 2000 in New York City. Massachusetts Coalition for Domestic Workers was founded in 2010 and is located in Boston.

During the last few years, the domestic worker organizations and their academic partners have surveyed many domestic workers and employers in several U.S. cities. They provide unique information about work experiences and direct employment by householders. So far, however, most publications do not measure a shadow economy of unreported wages and undocumented workers that are sometimes mentioned in general media but rarely surveyed. A UCLA survey of about 500 direct employer households reported 14 percent paying “out of pocket.”

As anyone who has run an above-ground small business knows, complying accurately with labor law is complex. So far, no state has set up a clearing house to provide simple and centralized access to required record-keeping, reporting and payments. Large payroll services–PayChex and ADP–do not provide all the services needed to comply with state laws and are tedious to use. Concierge services, mostly available from accounting firms, can be very costly. The domestic worker organizations have not seen these issues as parts of their missions. A barrier their reports rarely acknowledge is that there is no method to report wages or to pay Social Security and Medicare contributions for undocumented workers.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 25, 2016


Enhanced state labor standards for domestic workers, Brookline Beacon, as of August, 2016

Massachusetts Coalition for Domestic Workers (founded 2010), 197 Friend St., Boston, MA, 617-603-1540

National Domestic Workers Alliance (founded 2007), Chicago, IL, 872-216-3684

Saba Waheed, Lucero Herrera, Reyna Orellana, Blake Valenta and Tia Koonse, Profile, practices and needs of California’s domestic work employers, UCLA Labor Center, May, 2016

Minimum wage laws in the states, Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Department of Labor, 2016

Natalicia Tracy, Tim Sieber and Susan Moir, Invisible no more: domestic workers organizing in Massachusetts and beyond, ScholarWorks, University of Massachusetts Boston, October, 2014

Benjamin Collins, Right to work laws: legislative background and empirical research, Congressional Research Service, January 6, 2014

Minimum wage, overtime protections extended to direct care workers by Labor Department, U.S. Department of Labor, December 17, 2013

Rachel Homer, What’s happening with domestic workers’ rights?, On Labor (Cambridge, MA), November 6, 2013

Gerald Mayer, Benjamin Collins and David H. Bradley, The Fair Labor Standards Act: an overview, Congressional Research Service, June 4, 2013

Karen Michael, Labor law: the Supreme Court and the Fair Labor Standards Act, Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch, April 28, 2013

Nik Theodore, Beth Gutelius and Linda Burnham, Home truths: domestic workers in California, National Domestic Workers Alliance (New York, NY), 2013

Linda Burnham and Nik Theodore, Home economics: the invisible and unregulated world of domestic work, National Domestic Workers Alliance (New York, NY), 2012

History of changes to the minimum wage law, Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Department of Labor, 2007

Howard D. Samuel, Troubled passage: the labor movement and the Fair Labor Standards Act, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monthly Labor Review 123(12):32-37, 2000

Dora L. Costa, Hours of work and the Fair Labor Standards Act: a study of retail and wholesale trade, 1938-1950, National Bureau of Economic Research, Industrial and Labor Relations Review 53(4):648-664, 2000

Jonathan Grossman, Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938: maximum struggle for a minimum wage, U.S. Department of Labor, 1978

Peyton Elder, The 1974 amendments to the federal minimum wage law, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monthly Labor Review 97(7):33-37, 1974

Leon H. Wallace, The Fair Labor Standards Act, Indiana Law Journal 22(2):113-149, 1947

Opp Cotton Mills, Inc. v. Administrator, U.S. Supreme Court, 312 U.S. 126, 1941

United States v. Darby, U.S. Supreme Court, 312 U.S. 100, 1941

U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act, in original form as Public Law 75-718, 1938

Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court, 295 U.S. 495, 1935

Net metering for electricity: fair practices

Among climate activists, so-called “net metering” has become a popular cause. Allowing operators of small, nonpolluting generators to export surplus power into local power networks and earn credits at the same rates as the usual electricity prices will help promote those generators, they contend. However, such a practice will also help enrich the owners of those generators.

Costs of service: If retail electricity were priced in the same way Brookline prices water, there might be few problems with net metering. Brookline’s water rates apply combinations of demand charges and usage charges. Demand charges vary with the capacities of connections to the water network and pay costs to maintain the network. Usage charges vary with the metered uses of water and wholesale water prices.

If retail electricity were priced similarly, operators of small, nonpolluting generators would pay demand charges based on capacities of their connections and could use the connections either to import or to export power. When they import power, they would accrue charges that depend on amounts used and on wholesale costs of power at points of use. When they export power, they would accrue credits at the same rates.

Such a practice could allocate costs of service fairly. Customers would pay to maintain local power networks in proportion to capacities of their connections, whether used for import or export. Customers who operate small, nonpolluting generators and export electricity to other customers would earn credits at the same rates as prices of conventionally generated power they displace, as figured at the points of use.

Retail billing: Many industrial and some commercial electricity customers are already covered by billing divided into demand and usage charges, but most residential customers are not. Instead, residential electricity rates usually lump costs of maintaining local power networks together with costs of wholesale electricity and long-distance electricity transport.

A residential electricity customer typically sees a single, composite billing rate applied to amounts of electricity used. If residential customers are allowed to export electricity at the same composite billing rate, credits they receive offset not only costs of electricity but also costs to maintain local power networks. Over time, such an approach to billing means that their shares of costs to maintain local networks will be paid by other customers attached to the networks.

Fair practices: Most subsidies to small, nonpolluting generators flow from the general economy through tax collections, which distribute the burdens partly on the basis of ability to pay. Burdens produced by net metering flow against those principles and tend to benefit people with higher incomes at the expense of people with lower incomes. The small, nonpolluting generators are largely owned by people with higher incomes, who can better afford major investments that they require.

As long as amounts of electricity generated by small, nonpolluting generators remain relatively minor, burdens of unfair billing from net metering also remain minor. As these generators become more common, unfair burdens grow apace. The more fortunate few, with higher incomes, tax the many less fortunate, with lower incomes, forcing them to pay excess shares of maintaining local power networks.

If net metering of electricity is to be expanded–while defending a just society–then fair practices need to be applied in retail billing for electricity. Residential electricity bills need to be separated into accurately assessed demand charges and usage charges, as Brookline water billing now does. Net metering needs to apply the rates for usage charges. Climate action can support social justice.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, December 21, 2015


Eddie Ahn, ed., Social justice groups advocate expansion of solar through net metering, Brightline Defense Project (San Francisco, CA), March 9, 2015

Matthew C. Whitaker (professor of history, Arizona State University), Net metering and its potential impact on low-income consumers, Atlanta Blackstar (Atlanta, GA), July 2, 2014

Human Resources: resisting the Earned Sick Time law

At a meeting Thursday, September 17, the Board of Selectmen heard a proposal from Sandra DeBow-Huang, the director of the Human Resources Office, to allow a version of what she called “sick leave” for some of Brookline’s nonunion employees. It looked designed to resist Article 7 at the town meeting on November 17.

Earned Sick Time: At the state election of November, 2014, three out of four Brookline voters said Yes to Question 4. They joined other voters statewide to enact the Earned Sick Time law, which went into effect July 1. The new law governs most private companies in Massachusetts with 11 or more employees. However, it does not apply automatically to cities and towns.

Massachusetts towns can adopt the Earned Sick Time law and follow its state regulations through votes of town meetings. That is what Patricia Connors, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, and Cornelia “Kea” van der Ziel, a Precinct 15 town meeting member, propose in Article 7. Their explanation is straightforward.

“This law allows employees to use Earned Sick Time to look after their own medical needs or the needs of family members, or to address issues related to domestic violence. It requires an employer of eleven or more employees to provide a minimum of one hour of earned paid sick time for every thirty hours worked by an employee, up to 40 hours of earned paid sick time in a calendar year.”

Proposed benefits: An effort to resist Article 7 began this summer. Apparently seeing that outright opposition could easily be overcome at town meeting, Ms. DeBow-Huang proposed some concessions. The document that emerged on September 17 showed signs of haste. Obvious mistakes included grammatical errors, dangling phrases and duplicated paragraphs. Instead of “Earned Sick Time” it used several different terms, without defining them clearly.

The focus of the proposal was a favored set of nonunion employees who currently lack Earned Sick Time benefits–specified under Brookline’s Classification and Pay Plan, a policy document Ms. DeBow-Huang does not publish on the municipal Web site. Rather than hour-by-hour accruals of Earned Sick Time, Ms. DeBow-Huang proposed periodic “lump sum” accruals, which are also recognized under the new state regulations.

An item-by-item examination of the September 17 proposal found over a dozen items for which it was more restrictive than the new state law and regulations: reducing benefits or denying benefits to some employees. There looked to be no item that expanded on those state standards. On September 17, Ms. DeBow-Huang claimed the proposal was “generous,” but the examination showed the opposite. A subtext hinted by the September 17 proposal was trying to set a model for negotiations over union contract renewals.

Union employees: Most Town of Brookline employees belong to unions. Some of the “regular” employees–working more than half-time–have gotten Earned Sick Time benefits through union contracts for years. However, there can be different benefit policies, since there are different union locals representing employees. The contracts are public records, but Ms. DeBow-Huang does not publish them on the municipal Web site, making it tedious and costly for anyone outside her office to compare them.

The November town meeting will consider whether the September 17 proposal corresponds with what Brookline voters expected when endorsing the Earned Sick Time law. It looks likely that the Board of Selectmen will oppose adopting the new law and instead will support the September 17 proposal or some variant.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 25, 2015


Sandra DeBow-Huang, Paid sick leave, Brookline Office of Human Resources, September 17, 2015 (reformatted for readability and annotated, items examined highlighted in red)

Craig Bolon, Issues with proposed policy in lieu of Earned Sick Time, September 25, 2015

Earned Sick Time law, Office of the Massachusetts Secretary of State, 2015

Earned Sick Time regulations, Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, 2015

Warrant for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Article explanations for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Board of Selectmen: new saloon and funding gap

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, August 4, started at 5:40 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board has gone into semi-hibernation and probably won’t meet again in August. This rambling, sometimes cornball board often pushes the biggest problems far out into the night; maybe observers might give up and sign off. The last agenda item on this particular night was a zinger.

$4 million funding gap: The town looks to be around $4 million short of money to rebuild Devotion School. To town administration, that was obviously stale news. The state had sent a funding letter on June 10. The Board of Selectmen did not put the matter on their agenda and let the public know about the problem until almost two months later.

Last May 26, town meeting voted $118.4 million for the project, told by the board and the Advisory Committee to expect $27.8 million in state aid. Six weeks later, the state came back with only $25.9 million. Adding to a $1.9 million problem, the public schools still have no place for kindergarten through fourth grade students during the project. Old Lincoln School will be full with fifth through eighth grade students.

At a morning meeting on August 4, according to board member Nancy Daly, Suffolk Construction of Boston, the general contractor, proposed to install temporary classrooms over the asphalt basketball courts behind the school along Stedman Street. That would cost another, unplanned and unfunded $1.8 million. Where can it all come from? Neil Wishinsky, the board’s chair, thought it could not come from the debt exclusion approved at the May 5 town election, saying voters had been “promised” some particular amount. He was mistaken.

Mr. Wishinsky apparently forgot that voters approved a project–not an amount of funds. According to state law, that is how debt exclusion questions have to be worded. Up to the times of the town election and town meeting, Brookline had only estimates of total costs and of state funding. It was in no position to make promises to anybody about amounts of funds.

The May town meeting was advised differently by the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee. The board estimated debt exclusion would apply to $49.6 million in bond funding. [on page 8-25 of the warrant report] The committee estimated debt exclusion would apply to $44.6 million. [on page 8-69 if the warrant report] The town meeting endorsed neither estimate, and it appeared not to have authorized bond funding either.

Instead, the town meeting approved a project total of $118.4 million, by a vote recorded as 222-1. Prior to the vote, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, the moderator, did not say the motion included bonding, although the margin was more than required by law for bonding. So far, no one knows how much of the approved total might come from current revenue, how much if any from bonding and how much of the latter via debt exclusion. What looks nearly certain is that the total funds approved won’t cover the total costs.

Irish saloon: In another roundabout of the evening, the board approved a large Irish saloon amid lower Beacon Street neighborhoods. Known elsewhere as Waxy O’Connor’s, the Brookline site is to be only a Waxy’s–without beer pitchers and self-serve beer taps. Brookline is getting management from Woburn, at least for a while. In Woburn, according to an online review last month, “The people at the bar were screaming, swearing and running in and out of smoking cigarettes.”

Waxy’s put on a better show than three weeks ago. Frank Spillane, the Foxborough lawyer representing the chain seeking to open at 1032 Beacon St., had reviewed Brookline regulations. Ashok Patel, the Woburn site manager, was slated to manage the Brookline site–no more questions about who the manager would be. Mr. Spillane and Mr. Patel had settled potential problems with some neighborhood representatives.

Board members still proved wary. Although they approved licenses for a restaurant, full liquor service, entertainment and outdoor seating, they limited closing hours to 1 am and attached conditions, including outdoor service to end at 10:30 pm with clean-up completed by 11 pm, limits on noise, deliveries and smoking, little or no paper on the patio and multiple security cameras. Restrictions are still lighter than some at Chipotle on Commonwealth Avenue, where no alcoholic beverages can be served outside. As board member Nancy Heller observed, the ban on pitchers did not extend to sangria or margaritas.

Personnel, contracts and finances: In a little over half an hour, the board reviewed and approved hiring for 25 vacant positions, and it approved six miscellaneous contracts ranging from $3,000 to $25,000. It is unclear why, in a community that employs an expensive town administrator with a staff of six, the Board of Selectmen would not delegate such matters, which it always approves.

David Geanakais, the chief procurement officer, presented a contract to lease space on the third floor at 62 Harvard St. for classroom space. The contract distributed by the board was abridged to leave out the amount and cost of the space. Members of the board did not seem to think that important to tell the public about, but afterward Mr. Geanakakis said the first-year cost would be $129,000.

Peter Ditto, the engineering director, won approval for two contracts with Susi and Sons of Dorchester for a total of $1.23 million, the main yearly contracts for street and sidewalk repairs. Susi was low bidder on the $0.95 million street repair contract but won the sidewalk contract only when another bidder failed to submit complete documents.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 5, 2015


Annual town meeting, first session, Brookline Interactive Group, May 26, 2015 (video recording, vote on appropriation for Devotion School at about 01:40:10)

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

Board of Selectmen: two boards, changing colors, Brookline Beacon, July 18, 2015

Board of Selectmen: water fees, snubbing the public, Brookline Beacon, June 24, 2015

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

Advisory Committee: probing a disconnect

The Advisory Committee met Tuesday, July 28, starting at 7:30 pm in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall–mainly to understand a disconnect in budgeting before and during the May town meeting. Details had been reviewed by the Capital subcommittee at a meeting the previous Tuesday, July 21. While some events had become known, understandings of them remained murky.

Structural deficit: As adopted at the 2015 annual town meeting, the fiscal 2016 budget had a structural deficit, around $200,000, known to some Brookline employees but withheld from most or all members of boards and committees and from town meeting. At the point of the Advisory Committee’s review July 28, a timeline for some events of the disconnect had become clear:

Late April: Public Works gets only three bids for recycling
Late May: Public Works settles on best bid, $200,000 over budget
May 26: Annual town meeting adopts fiscal 2016 budget
May 28: Annual town meeting completes work and dissolves
June 23: Board of Selectmen approves $1.22 million FY2016 contract
June 23: Board of Selectmen applies for $200,000 from reserve fund
July 7: Advisory Committee approves $200,000 and starts investigation
July 14: Advisory Committee members lodge protest with Board of Selectmen
July 21: Advisory subcomittee conducts special hearing and drafts report
July 28: Advisory Committee holds special review meeting

By late April, at least Andrew Pappastergion, the commissioner of public works, Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, and Melissa Goff, the deputy town administrator, knew that a structural deficit in the fiscal 2016 budget was likely. Before the end of the annual town meeting, they knew the budget deficit was certain and would be about $200,000.

None of them told any member of the Advisory Committee, which has a legal duty to propose budgets to annual town meetings. Had they done that, the committee could have amended the budget proposed to town meeting, to bring it into balance, or it could have proposed to reconsider the budget, if notified after the budget had already been voted.

It has not been clear whether members of the Board of Selectmen had timely information. No member of the board told any member of the Advisory Committee or told town meeting about it before June. Treatment of protesting committee members at the board’s meeting July 14 looked and sounded disrespectful. However, on July 28 the committee skirted those issues, focusing on information received from town employees.

Explanations: As described in a subcommittee report prepared by Fred Levitan, a Precinct 14 town meeting member, during the May town meeting, Mr. Kleckner was also aware of about $190,000 in extra state aid for Brookline. He failed to inform Advisory Committee members and town meeting about those circumstances as well. Apparently he hoped to use the extra funds somehow to repair the structural deficit.

According to a 20-year “town-school partnership,” that would have been unrealistic. Revenues have to be reviewed by a standing committee and are typically divided between municipal and school accounts. So far, there has been no meeting of the partnership committee to consider changes in fiscal 2016 state aid.

According to Mr. Levitan, Mr. Klecker said not notifying the Advisory Committee was “a mistake.” To many observers, that might not appear likely. Mr. Klecker has about 20 years experience with work similar to his current position–serving four Massachusetts towns, most recently Winchester and Belmont. The same provisions of Massachusetts General Laws have applied to all the towns.

The committee discussed whether to reconsider the contentious $200,000 reserve fund transfer it had approved July 7. That had been an evening when the committee rejected a reserve fund request, the only rejection any member could recall in about ten years. The request approved came on a vote of 12 to 10 and one abstention. With just a single vote cast as No instead of Yes, the $200,000 request would have been rejected on a tie vote.

Following Advisory customs, reconsideration needed a motion from a member who had voted Yes on the $200,000 transfer. If the transfer were reconsidered, it might be voted down and withdrawn. When Sean Lynn-Jones, the committee chair, called for such a motion, there was no response. Most members seemed satisfied such a disconnect would not happen again.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 29, 2015


Report from Fred Levitan for Capital subcomittee to Advisory Committee, $200,000 DPW transfer request, Town of Brookline, MA, July 28, 2015

Memorandum from Melvin A. Kleckner, Town Administrator, to Sean Lynn-Jones, Chair, Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA, July 13, 2015

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

Board of Selectmen: two boards, changing colors, Brookline Beacon, July 18, 2015

Craig Bolon, Advisory Committee: reach for the reset button, Brookline Beacon, July 8, 2015

Board of Selectmen: water fees, snubbing the public, Brookline Beacon, June 24, 2015

Advisory Committee: budgets and reconsiderations, Brookline Beacon, May 1, 2015

Kehillath Israel: renovation and Chapter 40B development

On Wednesday evening, July 8, representatives of the Kehillath Israel congregation announced at a public meeting held at the site that they were starting real estate development, in two parts. Part 1 renovates the synagogue building, dedicated in 1925, and adds about 10,000 square feet of support space on the north side. Part 2 builds an undisclosed amount of partly subsidized new housing, replacing the community center opened in 1948 and using Chapter 40B of the General Laws to override Brookline zoning.

Rabbi William Hamilton opened the meeting, saying the congregation was planning for a next century. The membership has shrunk from a peak of around 1,200 families in the 1950s to around 400 now. He introduced Joseph Geller, a landscape architect and developer, member of the congregation, Precinct 9 town meeting member and former member of the Board of Selectmen, who led most of the discussions.

Mr. Geller introduced Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a local real estate lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former member of the Board of Selectmen with whom Mr. Geller served. Mr. Allen is representing the congregation’s legal interests in development plans. Asked about potential disruptions from pursuing development while nearby Devotion School is being rebuilt, Mr. Allen merely said it could be “a problem.”

According to Alison Steinfeld, Brookline’s director of community planning and development, about a year ago Mr. Allen met with members of the department for an initial discussion. Ms. Steinfeld said she did not know the amounts of housing Kehillath Israel might have in mind. Such a discussion, as well as such a meeting as happened July 8, are among steps in Brookline’s design review process for any development on Harvard St.

Location, location: Stories about a potential large housing development have circulated around nearby neighborhoods for many months, with a wide range of speculation about locations, amounts, sizes and heights. The presentation on July 8 settled only location: space now occupied by the community center, which representatives of the congregation called the “Epstein building.”

The current community center’s building outline is about 120 by 65 feet, plus a depth of about 30 feet for front entry and steps. If there were to be no further incursions past those perimeters, that could provide a gross area near 10,000 square feet per floor. A modern 4-story building, similar in overall height to the community center, might house around 40 medium-size apartments.

North Brookline neighborhoods have had two previous experiences with 40B developments. A private developer near the synagogue substantially scaled back initial plans and built a double wood-frame quadruplex at 107A through 113B Centre St. in the late 1990s, replacing a large house. Occupancy of these condominium units has proven fairly transient, with turnovers every several years.

After about seven years of disputes and negotiations, the development arm of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston scaled back initial plans for the former St. Aidan’s Church by about 60 percent and put up mostly modern, fireproof new construction around 2008. However, adaptive reuse, unprecedented for the Archdiocese, placed several apartments inside the historic church structure and preserved the large courtyard at the corner of Pleasant and Freeman Sts. and its huge copper beech tree.

Senior housing: Mr. Geller said Kehillath Israel was planning “senior housing”–favorable for a community in which escalating costs of public schools have been driving up budgets, leading to tax overrides passed this year and in 2008. While age-restricted housing is clearly a form of discrimination, under some conditions it is allowed by laws and regulations.

Massachusetts has had antidiscrimination housing laws for many years. They were partly subsumed by the federal Fair Housing Act, Title 8 of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (PL 90-284). The original version of the law prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin in the sale and rental of dwellings. Other protected categories have been added.

Section 4 of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 151B, “Unlawful Discrimination,” prohibits discrimination because of race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, age, ancestry, veteran status, sexual orientation, marital status, children, handicap and receipt of public assistance or housing subsidy in the selling, renting or leasing of housing accommodations, commercial space or land intended for those uses. Fines are up to $50,000 per violation. Massachusetts regulations in 804 CMR 02 implement the law.

One of the few general exceptions in housing discrimination laws has allowed, after 1988, qualified “senior housing” developments, as modified under the federal Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995 (PL 104–76). Such a qualification requires 80 percent of dwellings to be occupied by at least one person who is 55 years of age or older. The federal qualification can be lost if that operating status is not maintained.

The Kehillath Israel congregation would almost surely be able to qualify a development as “senior housing.” Asked how the congregation might guarantee that “senior housing” will continue to qualify and operate that way, Mr. Geller said he expected there would be a continuing agreement with the Town of Brookline. By contrast, the management at Hancock Village in south Brookline has been moving away from “senior housing,” actively marketing to mostly foreign families with children. They are not planning “senior housing” as a part of their current Chapter 40B housing project in Brookline.

When a religious organization sponsors housing, some assume members and affiliates of the organization will become occupants or may be favored. Occupants of new housing at the Kehillath Israel site need not be Jewish or otherwise share some background that might tend to exclude people protected against discrimination. During controversy over redevelopment of the former St. Aidan’s Church, at least some former parishioners seemed convinced they would be favored to occupy new apartments there. Since that did not agree with housing laws and regulations, it did not happen.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 9, 2015


Fair housing regulation, Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, 2015

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

Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, February 22, 2015

Board of Selectmen: poisoning the well

On Tuesday, June 30, as recommended by Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, the Board of Selectmen voted to ask the Advisory Committee for $15,000 from the reserve fund on July 7, “for expertise in the study of eminent domain,” to be expended by the Office of Town Counsel. The request was prompted by approval at the annual town meeting of a resolution under Article 18, calling for the following main activity:

“…Town Meeting asks the Board of Selectmen to study and consider in good faith the taking under the powers of eminent domain [of] the two buffer zones presently zoned S-7 within the Hancock Village property, abutting Russett and Beverly Roads, for a permanently publicly-accessible active recreational space….”

Entanglements: A key problem with this request has been that members of the Board of Selectmen are plaintiffs in two lawsuits involving the Hancock Village property. They are suing a state agency that authorized the owner to propose a project under Chapter 40B of the General Laws, overriding Brookline zoning and other permits. They are also suing the Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals, for approving the project and granting a comprehensive permit.

If that were not enough, Nancy Heller, a newly elected member of the board, submitted Article 17 to the 2015 annual town meeting and argued it. It’s entitled, “Resolution in support of changes to the affordable housing law, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 40B.” She and other petitioners explained, “…[We] have worded the resolution in a broad manner. The purpose is to give our legislators as much latitude as they need to work with other legislators to amend 40B….”

Thus members of the Board of Selectmen are entangled in attacks against both a controversial 40B project at Hancock Village and the key Massachusetts law enabling the project. This leaves high risks for any involvement they might have in proposals arising from Article 18, under which Brookline would consider taking currently vacant parts of Hancock Village by eminent domain, to be used as recreation land.

One of the common challenges against eminent domain is acting in “bad faith”–that is, for covert purposes other than those claimed. With the Hancock Village situation, the property owner could be expected to claim that members of the Board of Selectmen considered eminent domain in “bad faith”—mainly to restrict an unwelcome Chapter 40B development rather than mainly to acquire recreation land.

Anticipation and defenses: After the recent town meeting, many participants and observers anticipated the Board of Selectmen would appoint a study committee for Article 18, as they often do for other issues, and would then keep their distance from it.

It would need to become an independent “blue ribbon panel,” with no further involvement by members of the Board of Selectmen. Putting the issues in the hands of an independent panel could provide defenses against acting in “bad faith,” should a recreation land effort proceed and should eminent domain be used to acquire Hancock Village land.

For quite a few years, several iterations of the Board of Selectmen have swung the other way. Coached by ambitious town administrators, they have politicized almost every new board, commission, committee and council by installing one of their members on it, often naming that member as chair. Article 18 presented a situation where such a domineering brand of machine politics cannot work. It could obviously encourage claims of “bad faith” and could well destroy a project to acquire recreation land.

Precedents: After idling on Article 18 for a month and making a false start, Mr. Kleckner, who seems to know very little about Brookline history, tried to claim a committee was unlikely because the town no longer has a redevelopment authority to call on. The former Brookline Redevelopment Authority was indeed active in takings during the Farm Project and Marsh Project, but the Town of Brookline did similar work, too. Disputes focused on policies and costs; mechanics were not thought to be much of a stretch.

Under Article 25, the 1974 annual town meeting authorized taking land off Amory St. by eminent domain for conservation. The relatively new Conservation Commission had proposed the Hall’s Pond project and presented all the key evaluations and arguments to boards, committees and town meeting. Not long afterward, the commission did similar work for the conservation area now known as Amory Woods.

Like the Hancock Village buffers, the Hall’s Pond parcel was seen as threatened by development, yet it was intact and had never been built on. North of Route 9, Brookline had no conservation land then, and very little suitable land remained. At 3-1/2 acres, the site to the east of Amory Playground was about half the size of the Hancock Village buffers combined.

The Conservation Commission obtained advice from local lawyers, contracted for a land survey, commissioned independent appraisals, and prepared and submitted the 1974 town meeting article. Commissioners persuaded only two members of the Board of Selectmen, but they got help from the Planning Board and a unanimous endorsement from the Advisory Committee. Town meeting gave strong support, and a counted vote was not needed.

Poisoning the well: On June 30, Mr. Kleckner led members of the Board of Selectmen in an odd direction–at high risk of poisoning the well, though coupling them into “bad faith” maneuvers. They did not hold matters at arms length by appointing an independent committee. Instead, they voted to submit a reserve fund request for funds to be spent by the town counsel, who reports to them.

They expect to entertain discussions of the issues among the board–potentially some closed to the public, at which they may also be considering “litigation,” as their agendas often call out. According to Mr. Kleckner, they expect to couple investigations pertinent to recreation areas with those pertinent to potential school sites and possibly other town projects.

By failing to maintain a bright line of separation between recreation land proposed at Hancock Village and other town business, including lawsuits against Hancock Village development, recent actions by Mr. Kleckner and members of the Board of Selectmen stand at grave risk of poisoning the well. Ignoring the request of the town meeting to act “in good faith,” they are proceeding headlong toward wrecking the potential for a significant project. At least some will say that is what they meant to do.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 2, 2015


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

Article 18, Brookline, MA, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, heard and acted on May 28, 2015

Housing Advisory Board: “smart growth,” $35,000 consultant

A meeting of Brookline’s Housing Advisory Board on Wednesday, June 24, started at 7:30 pm in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall. All the current members except Kathy Spiegelman were on hand. Board members heard a presentation on Chapter 40R “smart growth” development and joined with Planning Board members in a continued review of Chapter 40B regulations, as asked at the town meeting in May. They are considering a consultant study estimated to cost $35,000.

Smart growth: Chapter 40R of Massachusetts General Laws and companion Chapter 40S are legacies from waning years of the Romney administration, trying to promote so-called “smart growth.” The catch-phrase mainly means development near public transit, reducing needs for automobiles. In the classic Massachusetts traditions, our hydra of state government grew a new tendril. It is currently headed by William E. “Bill” Reyelt, who is a Precinct 5 town meeting member in Brookline.

Mr. Reyelt illustrated his description of Chapter 40R to the housing board with computerized slides. The state is offering tiny incentives to communities that set up special “smart growth” zoning districts and approve housing development permits. They mainly amount to one-time payments of $1,000 to $3,000 per housing unit for each unit built beyond standard zoning.

Sergio Modigliani, a Planning Board member, observed that the cost of educating a student in Brookline schools averages around $18,000 a year. At that rate, state payments would be eaten up in at most a few months, while Brookline taxpayers would be exposed to uncompensated costs for at least a century. Maybe not so “smart.”

All Mr. Reyelt could offer was that Brookline might become “eligible” for partial compensation under a Chapter 40S program, but there is “no guarantee” of state funding. All the communities participating in Chapter 40R turned out to be smaller cities, far suburbs and rural towns. None are among the towns Brookline typically regards as peers, including Arlington, Belmont, Lexington and Winchester.

Chapter 40B regulations: As proposed by the Advisory Committee, last May’s annual town meeting referred a proposal to change Chapter 40B law and regulations to the Housing Advisory Board and the Planning Board, asking for a “plan for Brookline to work with other mature, built-out communities…to achieve a temporary ‘safe harbor’ status” from disruptive development, such as one proposed at Hancock Village. As the Advisory Committee wrote in its recommendation, that will take changes to state regulations.

Despite town meeting’s directions, the Housing Advisory Board looks to have taken off on a tangent. Instead of working on changing state regulations, members are considering a consultant study for a “housing production plan” to counter 40B development under current regulations.

Brookline already has such a plan, produced in 2005. Little of significance has changed since then. To satisfy current regulations, Brookline would have to develop more than 250 housing units a year that are subsidized to Chapter 40B levels. For the past 15 years, Brookline has averaged less than 10 such units a year.

Housing Advisory Board members estimated spending about $35,000 on a consultant study for a new housing production plan. However, they had not contacted any potential consultants. Instead, board member Karen Kepler, a lawyer, noted that a contract under $35,000 would be exempt from state public bidding requirements.

Virginia Bullock, one of the town’s housing project planners, said Brookline had a good chance of getting $15,000 from a new state grant called “planning assistance toward housing.” Board members speculated about how to wheedle money out of the Advisory Committee or how to bleed Housing Trust funds. Those are set aside to support subsidized housing units, not to stuff the pockets of consultants.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, June 25, 2015


Matthew J. Lawlor, Chapter 40R: a good law made better finally starts showing results, Congress of the New Urbanism, October, 2006

Planning assistance toward housing (PATH), Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, 2015

Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, February 22, 2015

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

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

Board of Selectmen: Village Street Fair, trash metering

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, June 9, started at 7:10 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board had invited Andrew Pappastergion, the public works commissioner, to present plans for a trash metering system, replacing Brookline’s partly unstructured, fixed-fee approach to collecting solid waste from households and businesses.

Some board members had attended a “visioning” session conducted at Town Hall the previous evening for the Economic Development Advisory Committee. According to Neil Wishinsky, the chair, it focused on “medium-scale commercial parcels.” Board member Nancy Daly commented that “most projects would require rezoning.” Zoning changes take two-thirds votes at town meetings and have become difficult to achieve. Ms. Daly said there would need to be “neighborhood involvement and dialog.” So far there has been none of either.

Public affairs: Andy Martineau, an economic development planner, reported on the Brookline Village Street Fair, a new event to occur on Harvard St. from noon to 4 pm Sunday, June 14 (not June 15 as in the meeting agenda). Best known among similar events nearby may be the annual Allston Village Street Fair, usually held on a September Sunday. Mr. Martineau’s plans sounded somewhat more commercial, with about 40 merchants involved. Performances are planned by Vanessa Trien and the Jumping Monkeys, a favorite of young children, Ten Tumbao, Afro-Latin-Caribbean music, and the Muddy River Ramblers, bluegrass.

Richard Segan, from the Brookline Sister City Project, asked the board to approve a proclamation for Brookline Sister City Week, to be October 18-24. Cornelia “Kea” van der Ziel, a Precinct 15 town meeting member, and Peter Moyer, a Brookline resident, had visited Quezalguaque, Nicaragua, the third week in May. Drs. van der Ziel and Moyer described their visit and future plans. The board approved the proclamation.

The two Brookline physicians have mainly been concerned with atypical chronic kidney disease, a longstanding and severe problem in Quezalguaque–also common in Costa Rica and El Salvador. Unlike similar maladies in the United States, mainly found in older people, in Central America the disease strikes people as early as their twenties. Every year thousands die. Although environmental and occupational factors are suspected, no cause is known. Those working with the Sister City Project plan to extend epidemiological efforts, hoping to associate the disease with locations, occupations, water supplies, agricultural chemicals and other potential influences.

Trash metering: Andrew Pappastergion, Brookline’s commissioner of public works, presented the first detailed plans for trash metering. Programs known by that trademarked term–coined by WasteZero of Raleigh, NC, a contractor for Brookline–aim to improve on antiquated and simplistic “pay as you throw” efforts through automation, public education and convenience.

The City of Gloucester achieved a 30 percent reduction in waste disposal costs during the first full year of such a program, according to the Gloucester Times of March 7, 2010. However, Gloucester previously had a poor recycling record, while Brookline began curbside recycling in 1973 and has operated an increasingly advanced program since 1990.

Six Massachusetts towns with populations above 30,000 have some form of solid waste limit: Plymouth, Taunton, Amherst, Shrewsbury, Dartmouth and Natick. None of them are among the more urbanized and sophisticated towns Brookline typically regards as peer communities–including Arlington, Belmont, Lexington and Winchester. There is strong evidence that in urbanized and sophisticated communities public education has been more effective than trash metering at reducing solid waste. Although Brookline has a Solid Waste Advisory Committee, so far its members have been passive, performing no public outreach. Those are hurdles for Mr. Pappastergion’s plans.

Mr. Pappastergion presented a slide show to the board. It included a review of Massachusetts information organized by the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. State officials remain focused on antiquated and simplistic “pay as you throw” efforts, so far found mostly in smaller rural or suburban towns.

Mr. Pappastergion presented data unavailable to the public: recycling rates for communities using municipally supplied bins. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has collected recycling rate data since 1997, but after 2008 state officials stopped releasing them to the public. It appeared that no Massachusetts town with a population above 30,000 operates a program comparable to the one Mr. Pappastergion proposes.

Mr. Pappastergion proposes that Brookline supply to each of about 13,000 customers now using municipal refuse services a 35-gallon bin with wheels, similar in construction to the 64-gallon bins already supplied for recycling. Brookline would reduce the number of collection trucks from six to four and equip those trucks with automated bin-handlers like the ones now used for recycling bins.

Households would continue to pay the current $200 per year fee to have one 35-gallon refuse bin and one 64-gallon recycling bin collected each week. Extra refuse bags would be available at stores and town offices. They would have 30-gallon capacity and cost $2.00 each. For fees yet to be stated, Brookline would supply extra bins collected each week. Mr. Pappastergion estimated that 35-gallon bins would hold, on average, 40 lb of refuse, while 30-gallon bags would hold 25 lb.

Based on his estimates, Mr. Pappastergion might be proposing that Brookline violate state law by charging more than the cost of service for refuse bags. He estimated a cost of container and disposal at $1.15, as compared with a $2.00 fee. However, he did not include costs of collection and transfer. He provided no estimates for likely quantities of bags or extra bins.

In the proposed program, current practices for collecting bulky items, yard waste and metals would not change. Combining personnel, supplies, contractual services and capital equipment, Mr. Pappastergion estimated savings of about $0.1 million for fiscal 2017, the first full operating year, rising to about $0.4 million per year for fiscal 2022 and later years–including allowances for inflation.

Members of the board reacted with a diffuse scatter of comments. Mr. Wishinsky said the refuse bin on display looked “awful small” and asked about 48-gallon bins. Mr. Pappastergion said 35-gallon bins were important “to achieve goals of this program.” Board member Bernard Greene, in contrast, said he was “surprised at how large” the 35-gallon bin was. “We’d have room to rent out space.” Ms. Daly asked whether people would use compactors to overstuff the bins. Mr. Pappastergion doubted that would occur.

There were several questions about storage space and handling, to which Mr. Pappastergion responded by citing four years’ experience with the larger, single-stream recycling bins. The introduction of those elements led to increasing Brookline’s recycling rate from 30 to 37 percent, he said, but during the past two years progress has stalled. The department has yet to stimulate recycling through public outreach. It is not clear whether the department has the talent or the willingness to try.

Personnel, contracts and finances: Sara Slymon, the library director, won approval to hire three librarians, turning current interim positions into permanent ones, thanks in part to the tax override passed by voters in May. Mr. Greene and board member Ben Franco asked how the positions would be advertised. Ms. Slymon replied that union contracts restricted the library to internal posting unless a qualified candidate could not be found. She said all the current employees were well qualified for their positions.

Linda Golburgh, the assistant town clerk, asked for approval to hire an administrative assistant. The position is becoming vacant because of a retirement. It marks the third recent change in personnel at a small agency. Ms. Daly remembered that the current employee previously worked in the office of the Board of Selectmen. The board approved, with Mr. Wishinsky asking Ms. Golburgh to seek help from Lloyd Gellineau, the chief diversity officer, and Sandra DeBow, the human resources director, to insure a diverse candidate pool.

Peter Ditto, the engineering director, asked for approval of a $0.07 million increase in the contract to renovate Warren Field. The contractor is New England Landscape and Masonry (NELM) of Carver, MA. The board asked whether the project was staying within budget limits. Mr. Ditto said that it was and that the project was about to conclude. The board approved the change order.

Mr. Ditto also asked for approval of a $1.07 million contract with Newport Construction of Nashua, NH, to reconstruct Fisher Ave. It is this year’s largest street project. The other bidder, Mario Susi & Son of Dorchester, which is working on other Brookline projects, proposed a substantially higher price. The board approved the contract.

The board also approved several smaller financial transactions. Among them was accepting a $0.06 million state grant, using federal funds, to hire a transportation coordinator based at the Senior Center on Winchester St. Ruthann Dobek, director for the Council on Aging, described an innovative program aimed at helping older people adjust to living without automobiles. Board members asked how the program would operate in future years.

Frank Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member and a member of the Age-Friendly Cities Committee, responded that such a program had already begun with volunteers and would continue that way if necessary. However, Dr. Caro said, the program needed planning and coordination. Even a year of staffing, he contended, would move the program to better levels of service.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, June 12, 2015


Celebrate Brookline Village, The Village Fair, 2015

Cause of CKD epidemic in Sister City remains a mystery, Brookline Sister City Project, 2010

Miguel Almaguer, Raúl Herrera and Carlos M. Orantes, Chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology in agricultural communities, MEDICC Review 16(2):9-15, Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba, 2014

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

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

Trash metering, WasteZero (Raleigh, NC), 2010

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

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

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

Board of Selectmen: new members and leadership

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, May 12, started at 7:15 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. New members are Bernard Greene, formerly a Precinct 7 town meeting member, and Nancy Heller, formerly a Precinct 8 town meeting member. Both were members of the Advisory Committee until earlier this year. The board chose Neil Wishinsky as chair. He had been elected to the board in 2013.

With retirements of long-serving members Betsy DeWitt and Kenneth Goldstein, the board now has four members who are in their first terms of office. Only Nancy Daly, first elected in 2005, is now a long-serving member. All current board members have Advisory Committee experience, reviving a Brookline tradition. Ms. Heller was previously a member and chair of the School Committee.

Public comment: Pamela Lodish, a Precinct 14 town meeting member and a former member of the Advisory Committee and School Committee, offered public comment. This year, she placed third of five candidates for the Board of Selectman. Mystifying many, she had omitted taking a public stand on the tax override ballot question, surely the issue of the year in Brookline, in her town-wide campaign mailing. Ms. Heller and Mr. Greene had supported it, and they won.

After a “contentious” election, Ms. Lodish said, “getting the town back together…is not so simple…[it was] a divisive campaign…[it was] alienating 40 percent of the voters…a campaign fueled by rhetoric and scare factors.” In thinly veiled language, she called members of the Board of Selectmen to account for “lack of transparency…failed leadership…a manufactured crisis.”

The 40 percent Ms. Lodish mentioned clearly alluded to No votes on this year’s Question 1. That can be compared with Question 1A of 2008, a similar tax override. Both questions were actively promoted and vigorously opposed. The No votes went from 37 percent in 2008 to 38 percent this year. Ms. Lodish did not explain why she considered override efforts in 2015 at fault but apparently not those in 2008, when she wasn’t running for office.

Personnel, contracts and finances: Dennis DeWitt, an architectural historian who has been an alternate on the Preservation Commission, was appointed as a regular member. Daniel Bennett, the building commissioner, got approval to keep Betsy DeWitt, who just retired from the Board of Selectmen, as a member of the Devotion School building subcommittee on selecting a construction manager at risk. Mr. Bennett also won waiver of permit fees, about $0.01 million, for the third floor of 62 Harvard St., where the town plans to site four classrooms to relieve crowding at nearby Pierce School. He estimated about $0.35 million in work.

The board interviewed Nathan Peck of Philbrick Rd. for the Building Commission. A position once held by David Pollack, now a member of the School Committee, has been vacant for some time. Mr. Peck, who trained in civil engineering, has built a career as a building project manager and is currently president of Kaplan Construction on Harvard St. He mentioned that his father-in-law, Kenneth Kaplan, had gotten him interested in serving on the commission, of which Mr. Kaplan has been a member since 2001.

Lisa Paradis, the recreation director, got approval to hire a replacement for a teacher in the early education program at Soule. Ruthann Dobeck, director for the Council on Aging, got approval to hire a replacement for her program’s van driver, based at the Senior Center.

Peter Ditto, the engineering director, got approval for two contracts with Mario Susi & Son of Dorchester for roadway paving, totaling $0.2 million. Susi was low bidder for a 3-year contract cycle and has worked for Brookline in the past. The board accepted a $0.01 million grant from the Dolphins swim team parent council for swimming pool improvements and a $0.01 million grant from the Brookline Community Foundation to fund summer day-camp scholarships.

Management and town meeting issues: Maria Morelli, a Brookline planner who has worked on the town’s responses to the Chapter 40B housing development proposed at Hancock Village, asked the board to send letters about the proposal to the state’s environmental agency and historical commission. They ask for reviews of potential adverse effects. She said that while the reviews could not block the proposal, they could result in “mitigation.” The board approved.

Joe Viola, the assistant director for community planning, presented the fiscal 2016 Community Development Block Grant program and objectives. After several prior reviews, the $1.35 million program has been loaded with administration at $0.5 million. Otherwise it benefits public and assisted housing most, $0.5 million. Public services are budgeted at $0.2 million and improvements to the Brookline Ave. playground at $0.15 million. No one appeared for the board’s public hearing. Board members approved.

In the wake of the successful tax override ballot proposal, board members were probably relieved not to resume disputes with the Advisory Committee, which had voted to restore about $0.5 million in budget cuts from the “no-override” budget, without ever determining where that money would come from.

The board voted to agree with a recent Advisory recommendation to accept the “override” budget proposed by Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, with two small changes. With those revisions, the Planning budget would go up $0.014 million, to give a preservation planner a full-time position, and $0.003 million would be added to the Public Works budget for pavement markings. Deductions would be taken against energy accounts.

The board postponed reconsiderations for Articles 9 and 12 at the annual town meeting that starts May 26, changes to the town-meeting membership and snow-removal bylaws. Mr. Kleckner said he had heard Article 9 might be “withdrawn,” although that is not possible under town meeting procedures. Petitioners led by Ernest Frey, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, have been described as aiming to provide a town meeting seat for Deborah Goldberg, a former Precinct 14 town meeting member and now state treasurer. In similar past circumstances, there has occasionally been an agreement to offer no motion on an article.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 13, 2015


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

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

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

Board of Selectmen: personnel, policies and budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, April 3, 2015

Board of Selectmen: projects and budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 20, 2015

Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, February 22, 2015

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

Town elections: tax override for schools passes

At today’s town elections, Tuesday, May 5, Brookline voters approved both ballot questions: a $7.665 million per year tax override, above amounts allowed by the statewide Proposition 2-1/2 budget law, and a debt exclusion for funds to renovate and expand Devotion School, a project currently expected to cost about $120 million.

Support for the ballot questions proved strong across Brookline. The Devotion School question won in every precinct, and the tax override won in every precinct except 15. Voters also tended to favor candidates known to support a Yes vote on the tax override, intended primarily to benefit Brookline schools. The override is the third largest to be approved in state history.

Town-wide offices: Nancy S. Heller and Bernard W. Greene won three-year terms as members of the Board of Selectmen over Pamela C. Lodish, MK Merelice and Laurence M. Odie. Mr. Greene became the first African-American elected to Brookline’s municipal managing board. Candidate rankings were uniform across town, except that candidates did somewhat better in their home precincts and Ms. Lodish stood out in high-income Precincts 13, 14 and 15–where opponents of the tax override concentrated.

The Board of Selectmen hires the town administrator, currently Mel Kleckner, and appoints the members of most local boards, commissions, committees and councils–except the School Committee and Housing Authority board, which are elected, and the Advisory Committee and Committee on Town Organization and Structure, which are appointed by the moderator. There are more than 70 such appointed, volunteer groups–of which about 15 meet fairly often and supervise or advise on municipal services.

Barbara C. Scotto, Pen-Hau Ben Chang and Elizabeth Jackson Stram won three-year terms as members of the School Committee over Sandra L. Stotsky. Ms. Scotto and Mr. Chang were candidates for re-election. This committee hires the school superintendent, currently William Lupini. From 1939 through 1980, the School Committee was effectively a taxing authority. If an annual town meeting did not appropriate the full amount it requested for school services, any ten taxpayers could bring suit in a state court and compel the town to pay the difference. Massachusetts school committees lost taxing authority with Proposition 2-1/2.

There were no contests for three town-wide offices. Incumbent Patrick J. Ward got another three years as town clerk, now the only salaried office filled by election. Incumbent Edward (Sandy) Gadsby got another three years as the moderator of town meeting, and incumbent Barbara B. Dugan got another five years as a member of the Housing Authority board. Four incumbent members of the Board of Library Trustees got new, three-year terms, competing only to see who would receive the most votes. Brookine no longer elects a treasurer or members of the Walnut Hills Cemetery board, as it did only 30 years ago. Other elected offices disappeared in reforms of the 1950s and 1960s.

Town meeting: Voters elected one-third of the town meeting members by precincts, for regular terms of three years, and they filled a few town meeting seats left from vacancies, all for terms of one year. After operating with open town meetings since 1705, attended by the voters, in 1916 Brookline became the first Massachusetts town to elect town meeting members, modeling its approach after Newport, RI (now a city). In 1972, Brookline changed from 12 to 16 precincts. Each of those precincts has 15 elected members of town meeting, whose sole duties are to attend town meeting sessions and represent the voters of their precincts.

Several candidates who had filed nominations for town meeting member this year withdrew, leaving competition in only Precincts 1, 4, 5, 6 and 12. Each of these had six candidates for five terms of three years. No one filed a nomination for a 1-year term in Precinct 14; it was won by a write-in candidate. Out of 87 total candidates who filed nominations for town meeting member with the town clerk, and did not later withdraw them, 82 were elected this year.

In precinct 1, Peter J. Ames lost again after eight tries. In Precinct 4, Sarah T. Boehs won on her second try. In Precinct 5, Betsy DeWitt, retiring as a member of the Board of Selectmen, lost to the five incumbents. In Precinct 6, new candidate Daniel G. Saltzman replaced incumbent Ian Polumbaum. In Precinct 12, former town meeting member A. Joseph Ross lost to the five incumbents.

Yard signs, telephoning and mailings were strong elements in this year’s campaigns. In contrast to past years, canvassing and poll-standing for candidates were mostly confined to precincts with town-meeting competition, There was little presence in Coolidge Corner or in other commercial districts, not much leafletting and little voter contact at Green Line stops and markets.

–Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 5, 2015


Preliminary 2015 Town Election Results

Source: Brookline Town Clerk’s Office, May 5, 2015

  Question 1   Question 2    
Ballot Questions Tax override Devotion debt excl.  
  Yes No Yes No  
Town-wide 6308 3956 8173 1947  
Precinct 1 317 220 434 97  
Precinct 2 246 112 307 50  
Precinct 3 381 245 516 106  
Precinct 4 335 192 411 106  
Precinct 5 525 271 629 139  
Precinct 6 630 226 726 123  
Precinct 7 324 225 424 108  
Precinct 8 484 208 593 94  
Precinct 9 423 183 517 91  
Precinct 10 301 181 391 89  
Precinct 11 405 213 486 127  
Precinct 12 492 307 639 146  
Precinct 13 381 336 544 163  
Precinct 14 363 314 502 160  
Precinct 15 260 387 447 178  
Precinct 16 441 336 597 170  
           
  Nancy Bernard Pamela MK Laurence
Board of Selectmen Heller Greene Lodish Merelice Onie
Town-wide 5385 4867 3163 1677 624
Precinct 1 266 242 195 72 35
Precinct 2 215 187 86 53 22
Precinct 3 352 341 149 93 52
Precinct 4 280 254 114 123 32
Precinct 5 408 366 235 193 37
Precinct 6 497 392 194 249 39
Precinct 7 300 306 122 83 36
Precinct 8 473 362 122 91 29
Precinct 9 403 353 124 96 29
Precinct 10 253 260 142 70 36
Precinct 11 304 303 206 113 42
Precinct 12 440 389 276 104 53
Precinct 13 327 284 316 88 44
Precinct 14 267 280 306 75 52
Precinct 15 220 193 312 78 46
Precinct 16 380 355 264 96 40
           
  Barbara PH Ben Elizabeth Sandra  
School Committee Scotto Chang Stram Stotsky  
Town-wide 5620 5347 4944 3209  
Precinct 1 278 292 266 165  
Precinct 2 226 207 191 88  
Precinct 3 365 349 341 175  
Precinct 4 271 267 241- 137  
Precinct 5 442 388 367 225  
Precinct 6 462 448 410 272  
Precinct 7 298 293 270 167  
Precinct 8 433 388 402 130  
Precinct 9 377 362 379 158  
Precinct 10 288 276 233 154  
Precinct 11 397 337 328 192  
Precinct 12 439 450 395 283  
Precinct 13 348 339 295 279  
Precinct 14 315 317 274 258  
Precinct 15 275 242 205 273  
Precinct 16 406 392 347 253  
           
  Carol Regina Vivien Carol  
Library Trustees Axelrod Healy Goldman Lohe  
Town-wide 5674 5270 5266 5171  
Precinct 1 299 274 267 266  
Precinct 2 204 194 200 189  
Precinct 3 350 330 328 322  
Precinct 4 303 262 268 247  
Precinct 5 449 417 403 416  
Precinct 6 493 471 471 468  
Precinct 7 320 300 300 288  
Precinct 8 370 354 354 351  
Precinct 9 358 323 331 321  
Precinct 10 277 263 262 245  
Precinct 11 358 349 344 350  
Precinct 12 457 390 383 389  
Precinct 13 367 337 333 362  
Precinct 14 355 320 323 310  
Precinct 15 308 301 293 283  
Precinct 16 406 385 406 364  
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 1          
Cathleen C. Cavell 3 years 364      
Sean M. Lynn-Jones 3 years 347      
Neil R. Gordon- 3 years 333      
Carol B. Hillman 3 years 333      
Elijah Ercolino 3 years 308      
Peter J. Ames 3 years 120      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 2          
Linda Olson Pehlke 3 years 199      
Eunice White 3 years 198      
Barbara A. O’Brien 3 years 197      
Livia Schacter-Kahl 3 years 178      
Susan M. Roberts 3 years 169      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 3          
Dennis L. Doughty 3 years 381      
Jane C. Gilman 3 years 379      
David M. Aronson 3 years 363      
Donald Gene Leka 3 years 335      
Laurence Kragen Koff 3 years 287      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 4          
Sarah T. Axelrod 3 years 297      
John T. Mulhane 3 years 291      
Martha A. Farlow 3 years 267      
Frank W. Farlow 3 years 256      
Sarah T. Boehs 3 years 246      
Jeremy Michael Shaw 3 years 159      
Alan Christ 1 year 315      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 5          
William E. Reyelt 3 years 463      
Robert S. Daves 3 years 456      
Phyllis R. O’Leary 3 years 451      
Betsy Shure Gross 3 years 435      
Claire B. Stampfer 3 years 355      
Betsy DeWitt 3 years 334      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 6          
John Bassett 3 years 494      
Daniel Saltzman 3 years 483      
Robert I. Sperber 3 years 459      
Virginia W. LaPlante 3 years 421      
Christopher Dempsey 3 years 398      
Ian Polumbaum 3 years 327      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 7          
Jonathan J. Margolis 3 years 327      
Susan F. Cohen 3 years 322      
Susan P. Ellis 3 years 313      
Susan Granoff 3 years 312      
Keith A Duclos 3 years 256      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 8          
David-Marc Goldstein 3 years 386      
Anita L. Johnson 3 years 373      
Edward L. Loechler 3 years 358      
Craig Bolon 3 years 342      
Lisamarie J. Sears 3 years 302      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 9          
Martin R. Rosenthal 3 years 393      
Pamela C. Katz 3 years 389      
Joyce Jozwicki 3 years 370      
Judith A. Vanderkay 3 years 356      
George Abbott White 3 years 346      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 10          
Naomi Sweitzer 3 years 281      
Linda M. Davis 3 years 262      
Daniel La 3 years 258      
Clifford Scott Ananian 3 years 252      
Stanley Shuman 3 years 251      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 11          
Joseph M. Ditkoff 3 years 383      
Bobbie M. Knable 3 years 381      
Shira A. Fischer 3 years 374      
Carrie Benedon 3 years 369      
David C. Lescohier 3 years 356      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 12          
Amy Hummel 3 years 458      
Judy Meyers 3 years 449      
Mark J. Lowenstein 3 years 416      
Lee Cooke-Childs 3 years 387      
Chad S. Ellis 3 years 339      
A. Joseph Ross 3 years 219      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 13          
Carla Wyman Benka 3 years 386      
Chris Chanyasulkit 3 years 352      
Jonathan S. Fine 3 years 345      
John Doggett 3 years 340      
Paul A. Saner 3 years 328      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 14          
Pamela C. Lodish 3 years 368      
Kenneth M. Goldstein 3 years 337      
Clifford M. Brown 3 years 323      
Shaari S. Mittel 3 years 303      
Jeffrey Robert Kushner 3 years 284      
(write-ins) 1 year (75)      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 15          
Janice S. Kahn 3 years 335      
Eileen Connell Berger 3 years 310      
Benedicte J. Hallowell 3 years 293      
Ira P. Krepchin 3 years 274      
Ab Sadeghi-Nejad 3 years 258      
Robert Liao 1 year 354      
           
Town Meeting, Precinct 16          
Scott C. Gladstone 3 years 444      
Thomas J. Gallitano 3 years 435      
William Pu 3 years 431      
Alisa G. Jonas 3 years 416      
Regina M. Frawley 3 years 415      

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

Board of Selectmen: landmarks, permits and town meeting controversy

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, April 21, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board heard from applicants for permits and from petitioners for town meeting articles. It began with the several-years tradition of “announcements” from departing board member Betsy DeWitt. Key among them this week was celebration of a new landmark.

Landmarks: Ms. DeWitt, who has a longstanding interest in Brookline history, announced that a Brookline site had recently been named a national historic landmark, the town’s fourth. It is the Brookline Reservoir–located along the former Worcester Turnpike, now Boylston St. and MA Route 9, between Lee and Warren Sts.–along with the 14-mile Cochituate Aqueduct, connecting it with man-made Lake Cochituate in Natick.

The Brookline Reservoir and Cochituate Aqueduct were the first major expansion of the Boston-area water works, which later came to include the Chestnut Hill Reservoir and the Fisher Hill Reservoir. The Brookline Reservoir and Cochituate Aqueduct are the earliest intact example of a reliable, metropolitan water system for a major U.S. city. They operated in full service from 1848 through 1951.

In mid-nineteenth century, when the aqueduct and reservoir were built, Boston-to-be was a conglomerate of a growing small city and nearby towns–including Brighton, Charlestown, Dorchester, Roxbury and West Roxbury, which included Jamaica Plain after 1850. Between 1868 and 1873, these towns agreed to merge with Boston. An 1873 Brookline town meeting refused to join, putting an end to Boston expansion except for Hyde Park in 1912. The aqueduct and reservoir remained key elements of the city’s water supply until the construction of the Quabbin Reservoir, during the Great Depression, and of the Hultman Aqueduct, in the 1940s.

Two of Brookline’s three older national landmarks are well known: the birthplace of former Pres. Kennedy, at 83 Beals St., and the former home of Frederick Olmsted, Sr., the pioneering landscape architect, at 99 Warren St. For some obscure reason, Ms. DeWitt would not describe the other landmark site.

The third older landmark is the former residence of George R. Minot (1885-1950) of Harvard Medical School, for whom the Minot Rose Garden on St. Paul St. was named. Anyone with Internet access can easily locate the site at 71 Sears Rd., now occupied by unrelated private owners. Prof. Minot became the first winner of a Nobel prize to live in Brookline.

In the mid-1920s, Prof. Minot, George H. Whipple of the University of California Medical School and William P. Murphy of Harvard Medical School found that Addison’s disease, a fatal condition then called pernicious anemia, was associated with a dietary factor. They discovered it could often be controlled by adding a water-soluble extract from liver to the diet. The three were awarded the Nobel prize in medicine for 1934. In the late 1940s, the active dietary substance was isolated; it is cobalamin, also known as vitamin B-12.

Contracts, personnel and finances: The board approved $0.08 million in contract additions for storm-sewer repairs with Beta Group of Norwood, also the town’s consultant for storm-water issues during review of a proposed Chapter 40B development at Hancock Village. The contract is part of a continuing program to reduce infiltration and leakage. This year’s repairs affect Addington Rd., Summit Ave. and Winchester St. Peter Ditto, the director of engineering, said he expects the state to reimburse about 45 percent of the cost.

Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, got approval to hire an associate town counsel. The position became available after promotion of Patricia Correa to first assistant town counsel. Members of the board expressed appreciation for Ms. Correa, one of the few Brookline senior municipal staff fluent in Spanish. Ms. Murphy said she would be searching for expertise in construction and school law. Ken Goldstein, the board’s outgoing chair, omitted the usual request to seek a diverse pool of candidates.

Erin Gallentine, the director of parks and open space, presented a plan for improving the Olmsted park system shared with Boston, also called the “emerald necklace.” It is partly based on a survey of over 7,000 trees in about 1,000 acres of park land. Board member Nancy Daly asked what the plan would cost to implement. Ms. Gallentine estimated about $7.5 million for the total plan and $0.5 million for the Brookline portion, spread over several years.

Ms. Gallentine expects private fund-raising to cover a substantial part of costs. The board voted to approve an agreement with the Emerald Necklace Conservancy of Boston to begin work. The board has not published a statement of the work to be performed, which is supposed to become Exhibit A of the agreement, or evidence of insurance from the conservancy, which is supposed to become Exhibit B.

Permits and licenses: Hui Di Chen of Melrose, formerly involved with Sakura restaurant in Winchester and proposed as manager of Genki Ya restaurant, at 398 Harvard St., asked to transfer licenses held by the current manager. This had been continued from February 17, when Mr. Chen was not able to answer some of the board’s questions. Since then, he also applied for outdoor seating. This time he appeared well prepared. The board approved all five licenses requested. Board records continue to contain misspellings of names.

Andrew Gordon of Boston applied for a permit to operate an open-air parking lot at 295 Rawson Rd. The parking lot for 20 cars was created in 1977 under a special zoning permit. Located below Claflin Path and behind houses on Rawson Rd, it has access to Rawson Rd. through an easement between two houses. Mr. Gordon has agreed to buy it from the current owner.

Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, had sent a memorandum saying the department “was not aware of any problems,” but neighbors and abutters said that they certainly were. About 20 of them came to the hearing, and several spoke. They described problems with access and snow clearance. This past winter, they said, problems became extreme, with access to the lot dangerous or blocked for weeks.

The current license, through June 30, requires the operator to “keep the entrance and parking spaces passable and clear of excess snow at all times.” Neighbors also objected to parkers using Claflin Path, a private way, for access to the lot. Board member Neil Wishinsky said that might constitute trespassing and said owners of Claflin Path might consider a fence. It was not clear whether a “doctrine of adverse possession” might apply.

Others described the lot as currently “striped for 30 cars.” Communications from the building and planning departments did not reflect knowledge of conditions. Through a spokesman, Mr. Gordon agreed to observe the 20-car capacity. With uncertainty over conditions, the board decided to continue the hearing on April 28.

Town meeting controversy: The board reviewed several articles for the annual town meeting starting May 26 and voted recommendations on some, including Article 9, which would make elected federal and state officials living in Brookline automatic members of town meeting. The Advisory Committee considered the article April 14 and voted unanimously to oppose it.

Town meetings are the legislative bodies of towns. In larger towns with representative town meetings, town meeting members are elected to represent voters, mostly on local issues. Holders of elected federal and state offices represent voters on different issues. U.S. senators and representatives–as well as the state’s governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and so on–are mostly elected by voters living somewhere other than in one particular town.

None of that seemed to matter to members of the Board of Selectmen, who spoke in terms of social relations and potential influence with officials who might qualify as Brookline town meeting members. They voted to support the article. Such thinking has long been common among members of the board, but over the years town meeting members have seen things differently, voting to trim back the number of automatic town meeting members.

Board members voted to support Article 10, excluding from living wage coverage some seasonal jobs in the recreation department but keeping a one-dollar premium over minimum wages. Disagreement with the Advisory Committee remains over which jobs would continue to be covered by Brookline’s living wage bylaw. As nearly everyone expected, board members voted to support Article 11, proposing a Crowninshield local historic district.

After a skeptical review by an Advisory subcommittee, petitioners for Article 17, a resolution advocating changes in policy for Chapter 40B projects, agreed to refer the article to the Planning Board and the Housing Advisory Board. An approach of further review now has support from both the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation, which takes up the article again April 23.

Article 18 proposes a resolution seeking a study of acquiring Hancock Village buffers, mostly behind houses on Beverly and Russett Rds., for park and recreation purposes. Members of the board expressed concern over involvement in lawsuits against Hancock Village owners over a proposed Chapter 40B housing development. Voting on a motion to support Article 18, Ken Goldstein, the chair, and board members Nancy Daly and Neil Wishinsky abstained. The motion failed for lack of a voting majority, leaving the Board of Selectmen taking no position on this article.

No Boston Olympics: Article 19 proposes a resolution against Olympic games in Boston. urging officials who represent Brookline to reject the proposal for 2024 Olympics. Christopher Dempsey, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, spoke for the article. He is co-chair of a group called No Boston Olympics working to defeat the proposal. The City Council of Cambridge has already passed a resolution similar to Article 19.

In his efforts, Mr. Dempsey has associated with Liam Kerr, a leader in an educationally extremist campaign known as Democrats for Education Reform–nationally typified by performances of Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York and Mayor Rahm Emanuel in Chicago. Demonstrating the durability of gross ignorance, that group maintains, “Standardized tests have shined a light on the real quality of education.”

Olympics opponents point to $50 billion for the Olympics in Japan–largely at government expense. They argue that a Boston Olympics would bleed state and local governments and usurp public roads and property for weeks to years. Some members of the Board of Selectmen appeared uninformed and wary of the issue, but Nancy Daly said, “I’m against the Olympics.” No representatives of the pressure group pushing for the Olympics showed up, and the board decided to reach out to them and defer voting a recommendation on the article.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 22, 2015


Ellen Ishkanian, Brookline Reservoir and gatehouse named national historic landmark, Boston Globe, April 16, 2015

William P. Marchione, Brookline’s 1873 rejection of Boston, Brighton-Allston Historical Society, c. 2000

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

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

Adam Vaccaro, They just don’t want the Olympics, Boston Globe, April 2, 2015. A rambling, chatty account bloated with gossip.

Zeninjor Enwemeka, After WBUR poll, Boston 2024 says it won’t move forward without majority public support, WBUR (Boston, MA), March 23, 2015

Dan Primack, Chris Dempsey leaves Bain & Co., as Boston Olympics battle rages on, Fortune, March 20, 2015

Gintautas Dumcius, Deval Patrick will get $7,500 per day for Boston 2024 Olympics work, Springfield (MA) Republican, March 9, 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

Budgets and transit: parsing affairs of state

On March 4 and April 8, the Baker administration published financial waypaths, setting out in slightly different directions. The March release was a traditional H.R. 1 bill in the General Court: the governor’s proposed budget. As usual, snoring news writers and soundbite junkies managed to miss much of what might matter.

The April release began another mission to “save the trains”–variously known since early twentieth century as the Boston Elevated, the MTA and (after 1964) the MBTA. All swooned toward bankruptcy, yet all revived at a scent of public money. The title of the release, “Back on Track,” sounded like an echo from Patrick administration years: “Staying on Track” and “Keeping on Track.”

Transit stew: It should be unlikely for Baker years to achieve what a century of would-be reforms failed to get: a transit system becoming both reliable and affordable. Gov. Baker’s review panel was stuffed with shirts similar to ones staking out a dusty trail of failed reforms: politicians, bureaucrats and academics.

Substituting “Boston Elevated” for “MBTA,” much of the Baker panel’s report could have been written shortly after the super-inflation from World War I. Then, too, the region’s largest transit system could accurately be described in the same ways:
• Is in severe financial distress
• Lacks a viable maintenance and repair plan
• Lacks a culture of performance management
• Is governed ineffectively

Surprise…surprise. So how to fix the problems? Who will do the work? Apparent answers: “the Legislature” (most likely meaning the General Court, since we don’t have anything officially known as a Massachusetts “Legislature”). Ha ha ha ha–now, give us a break. Naming one of the major conspirators, the Baker panel proposes to put a fox in charge of a chicken barn.

A rare candid image of a transit system in distress came from Dan Ruppert, in a book called The Gravy Train. Mr. Ruppert is a mechanical engineer who worked nine years at a major maintenance shop of the Long Island Rail Road. That is one of the few agencies in the country whose record of cronyism and corruption might sink below elevations in eastern Massachusetts. The subtitle of his book tells much of his story: “Low productivity, over-compensation, nepotism, overstaffing, outdated work rules, ineffective management.”

The Baker motif appears to read, “We won’t pay.” An obvious response from MBTA regulars, “We won’t work.” How to keep the trains and buses going while squeezing out featherbedding, sleazebags and graft always proved the conundrum. Nothing looks different now, and the game has always operated “advantage inside.” So far as we know, Gov. Baker does not take the T and will always be somewhere else.

The recent review tried shock tactics: operating costs paid from bond funds! Surprise…surprise. That was a tactic deployed by the Republicans of the Weld and Cellucci administrations–to hide Big Dig spending from news hounds and the public. During the Patrick administration, Democrats claimed to have stopped it with a 2011 “transportation reform.” Well, “This isn’t Kansas any more.”

A sucker born every minute: Gov. Baker bids to apply “slash and burn” tactics he developed at Harvard Pilgrim to the Massachusetts state budget. His H.R. 1 bill would slash–that is, would zero out–100 of 785 master budget accounts for current fiscal year programs. It would add 18 new programs and burn taxpayers. The sum of the parts–lost on the spreadsheet-challenged news writers–is much bigger than advertised.

News media nearly all swallowed and parroted the official Baker line: a “sustainable 3% increase.” Do the math. The proposed total for next year: $38,863,754,342–plus unknown increases from employee benefits and collective bargaining. Reported spending for the current fiscal year: $37,403,286,027–estimated as of some time this February.

The minimum proposed tab for state government in fiscal 2016, from Gov. Baker’s financial tables: a 3.9 percent increase. The current rate of general inflation, from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: zero change. For February, 2015, during Gov. Baker’s budget artwork, BLS reported the Consumer Price Index as follows: “The all-items index was unchanged over the past 12 months.”

Into the weeds: Among the Baker slashees: account 7030-1002, Kindergarten Expansion Grants, $18,589,714 for the current fiscal year. Brookline’s share: about $250,000–expected to be gone as of next July. Another casualty: account 1595-6123, Community Preservation Act and Life Sciences, $22,779,000 for the current fiscal year. Stated reason: “Eliminated state subsidy.” Good luck to yokels who bought into labeling money through the Community Preservation Act. Brookline voters rejected it.

Gov. Baker’s beneficiaries in this round would include the following new items, not funded in the current year, found near the peak of the money pile:
• Other Post Employment Benefits Funding, $84,552,681
• Early Retirement Incentive Program Salary Reserve, $63,340,000
• Early Retirement Incentive Program Pension Contribution, $48,749,000
The total of $196,641,681 is “paying them forward.” It represents just a tiny portion of the enormous overhang in retirement costs for state employees that “Generous Curt”–the Great and General Court–has been ladling out for decades but has rarely set aside money to cover.

The Big Benny, though, is account 4000-0500, MassHealth Managed Care, $5,162,825,921 estimated for the current fiscal year and $5,931,539,597 proposed for the one starting in July. That is a 15 percent increase for the “Obama Care” type of program begun under Republican former Gov. Romney–in the name of cost control. It gets worse: account 1595-6369, Commonwealth Transportation Fund transfer to the MBTA, $122,552,622 estimated for the current fiscal year and $187,000,000 proposed for the one starting in July–a 53 percent boost. Who says, “We won’t pay”?

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 9, 2015


Gov. Charles Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Baker-Polito administration files fiscal year 2016 budget proposal (press release), March 4, 2015

Office of Gov. Charles Baker, Fiscal year 2016 budget proposal (H.R. 1), March 4, 2015

Office of Gov. Charles Baker, Line item summary, H.R. 1 for fiscal 2016, March 4, 2015

Office of Gov. Charles Baker, Back on Track: an action plan to transform the MBTA, April 8, 2015 (1 MB)

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer price index, February, 2015

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

Office of Gov. Deval Patrick and Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, Transportation reform, 2012

Rafel Mares, Keeping on Track, 2014 (1 MB)

Dukakis Center for Urban & Regional Policy, Staying on Track, 2012 (3 MB)

Dan Ruppert, The Gravy Train, Trafford Publishing, 2002. Cronyism and corruption at the Long Island Rail Road in New York.


References from “Back on Track” (April, 2015)
• Taking the T to the Next Level of Progress, MBTA Blue Ribbon Committee on Forward Funding, 2000
• MBTA Capital Spending: Derailed by Expansion?, Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation/Pioneer Institute, 2002
• Transportation Finance in Massachusetts: An Unsustainable System, Massachusetts • Transportation Finance Commission, 2007
• T Approaching: Dire Financial Straits, Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, 2008
• Born Broke, MBTA Advisory Board, 2009
• MBTA Review, David D’Alessandro, 2009
• Blue-Ribbon Summit on Financing the MBTA and RTAs, Northeastern University Dukakis Center/Conservation Law Foundation, 2010
• Maxed Out, Transportation for Massachusetts, 2011
• Transportation Governance and Finance, National Conference of State Legislatures, 2011
• Fare Hikes, Service Cuts and MBTA Mismanagement, Pioneer Institute, 2012
• Hub and Spoke Report, Urban Land Institute/Northeastern University Dukakis Center, 2012
• Staying on Track, Northeastern University Dukakis Center, 2012
• The MBTA’s Out-of-Control Bus Maintenance Costs, Pioneer Institute, 2013
• Keeping on Track, Progress Reports, Transportation for Massachusetts, 2014-2015
• The End of its Line, Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, 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

Advisory Committee: missing records, more skeptical outlooks

The Advisory Committee met Tuesday, March 31, starting at 7:30 pm in the first floor south meeting room at Town Hall–conducting FY2016 budget reviews for Legal Services and for Planning and Community Development. This time, the committee turned more skeptical about needs for added spending than at previous meetings this year.

Missing records of meetings: The Advisory Committee and its subcommittees are established organizations in Brookline’s government. As such, under state and local open meeting laws they have duties to hold meetings in public, to post advance notices of meetings on Brookline’s municipal Web site, to record minutes of meetings and to make minutes and other records available to the public. Since last July, the municipal Web site has provided a central archive of meetings on an Agendas and Minutes page. The Board of Selectmen maintains a separate archive that includes additional records for their meetings, called “packets.”

Typically, the Advisory Committee turns in exemplary performance at holding public meetings and posting meeting notices in advance. It has not done nearly as well with meeting records. Many minutes are missing for Advisory Committee and subcommittee meetings. During the first quarter of 2015, the municipal Web site showed eight full Advisory Committee meetings (one for subcommittee chairs), but as of April 2 it provided minutes for only five of those meetings.

For the first quarter of 2015, the municipal Web site shows four meetings for the administration & finance subcommittee, seven for capital, five for human services, two for personnel, two for planning & regulation and three for public safety. As of April 2, no minutes were available on the site of any of the 23 subcommittee meetings announced for January through March. That risks being seen as a disaster for public information, since it is usually Advisory subcommittees who review budget and warrant article issues in depth.

Subcommittees often describe their investigations on paper at full Advisory Committee meetings, and copies are usually made available to the public then. In at least some cases, they could serve as subcommittee meeting minutes. However, they have not appeared this year on Advisory Committee pages of the municipal Web site or in meeting records on the Agendas and Minutes page.

Budget for legal services: Committee member Angela Hyatt and Town Counsel Joslin Murphy described a proposed fiscal 2016 budget, starting in July, for Legal Services. The Office of Town Counsel provides most legal services for Brookline agencies and departments, excepting matters related to personnel and public school students. Ms. Murphy said the proposed budget was 1.1 percent more than the current budget, not counting costs that might increase from employee benefits and collective bargaining.

Committee member Christine Westphal asked if the proposed budget includes funds for an assistant town counsel, although a glance at page IV-27 of the FY2016 Program Budget would have shown it does. The position was created after Ms. Murphy was promoted from associate town counsel to town counsel last year. It has gone vacant for about nine months now. A more revealing question might have explored needs for an associate town counsel 1 (grade T-14), an associate town counsel 2 (grade D-5) and a first assistant town counsel (grade T-15).

Questions from committee member Alisa Jonas brought out a disclosure that the proposed Legal Services budget does not provide funds for the Nstar property tax lawsuit now underway, for two lawsuits involving the proposed Chapter 40B project at Hancock Village or for some widely publicized employee grievances. About the frequent uses of outside counsel, Ms. Murphy said, “It’s the [Board of Selectmen's] decision to seek outside counsel.”

The lawsuit recently filed by the Board of Selectmen against members of the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) sparked several comments and questions. Ms. Jonas said spending for people “who worked with ZBA” had been a “waste of money.” The ZBA was advised by Edith Netter of Waltham and by Kathy Murphy and Samuel Nagler of Krokidas & Bluestein. Money came from reserve fund transfers approved by the Advisory Committee last year.

Apparently unknown to some Advisory Committee members, at a meeting on Thursday, March 26, the ZBA voted to request funds to hire defense counsel. Committee member Lee Selwyn, who had obviously found out, said that the town was “turning the heat and the air conditioning on at the same time.”

Committee member Fred Levitan asked the basis for suing ZBA members. Ms. Murphy said that, although the ZBA issued a comprehensive permit for the Hancock Village 40B project with “70 conditions,” members of the Board of Selectmen believe the action was “arbitrary and capricious,” in view of the “integrity of the site” and a 1946 zoning agreement between the Town of Brookline and the John Hancock Co., which built Hancock Village.

Committee members were clearly wary that unbudgeted legal expenses lay ahead. In the end, however, they voted to recommend the proposed Legal Services budget to town meeting without change.

Budget for planning: Ms. Hyatt, Mr. Selwyn and Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, presented a proposed fiscal 2016 budget for Planning and Community Development. Ms. Hyatt mentioned a “full room at the subcommittee hearing on this budget.” The occasion was to promote an increase in preservation planning. The subcommittee recommended an increase from the current 1.8 to 3.0 staff positions.

Ms. Steinfeld confirmed that early in the budget cycle she had asked for an increase to 2.0 staff positions in preservation planning, but she said Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, had not agreed. The FY2016 budget request for her department is 1.9 percent more than the current budget, not counting costs that might increase from employee benefits and collective bargaining. No changes were proposed in personnel, as shown on page IV-42 of the FY2016 Program Budget.

Several Advisory Committee members spoke skeptically about the need for a relatively large and rapid increase in staff for preservation planning. Christine Westphal said, “It makes a lot of sense to do 2.0, maybe not 3.0 [staff positions] right now.” Mr. Selwyn resisted, describing “tension between the Preservation Commission and the [planning] department.” The commission has begun meeting twice a month to cope with an increase in cases.

Committee member Stanley Spiegel said some neighborhoods have been hiring their own preservation planners, citing a recent report about a proposed Crowninshield historic district. Such an expense, said Dr. Spiegel, is “a luxury that not all significant neighborhoods can afford.”

After about an hour, the committee amended the subcommittee’s approach, supporting an increase in preservation planning staff from 1.8 to 2.0 positions with a split vote: 13 in favor and 9 opposed. The amended approach increases funding by about $14,000 plus some amount for employee benefits. It won approval by a vote of 20 to 2.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 2, 2015


Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA

Agendas and Minutes, Town of Brookline, MA

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

FY2015 Program Budget (municipal agencies and departments), Town of Brookline, MA (16 MB)

Board of Selectmen: projects and budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 20, 2015

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

Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, February 22, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: ready to approve Hancock Village 40B, Brookline Beacon, December 2, 2014

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

Jenkins v. Brookline, case 1:2013-cv-11347, United States District Court for Massachusetts, filed 2013

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

Craig Bolon, Advisory Committee: $0.17 million to fight employee actions, Brookline Beacon, February 13, 2015

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

Board of Selectmen: new 40B project, town meeting reviews

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, March 24, started at 6:55 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board reviewed a partly subsidized housing development at 21 Crowninshield Rd., which proposes to use powers under Chapter 40B of Massachusetts General Laws to override the single-family zoning.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Peter Ditto, the engineering director, described a report and request for reimbursement under the 2014 state-funded road program, authorized through Chapter 90 of the General Laws. Brookline is eligible for about $1.24 million; the board approved. Daniel O’Leary, the police chief, got approval to accept a $0.01 million state grant for a youth program. Alan Balsam, the health director, got approval to accept a $0.01 million state grant for a low-income nutrition program, cooperating with the Brookline Food Pantry.

Mr. O’Leary also received approval to replace a traffic supervisor who is retiring. Dr. Balsam got approval to replace a program coordinator who is leaving to become assistant health director in Belmont. As to both, Ken Goldstein, the board’s chair, made his usual request to seek a diverse pool of candidates and consult with the personnel office and the diversity department.

New 40B project: The board considered a recent proposal to develop partly subsidized housing at 21 Crowinshield Rd. in North Brookline. A response to a Mass. Housing agency application had apparently been drafted by Maria Morelli, recently hired as a planner, who as a consultant had coordinated the town’s professional efforts reviewing the proposed 40B project at Hancock Village.

The developers are a local group calling themselves “21 Crown” and including Robert W. Basile, a Precinct 14 town meeting member. Last year they bought the single-family house at 21 Crowninshield Rd. and an adjacent, undeveloped lot to the north. Then they cut down almost all the trees and plantings that had grown over about a century, leaving the house isolated and exposing to Crowninshield Rd. residents a stark view of the back of the Arbour-HRI Hospital, on Babcock St.

House21CrowninshieldRoad

Source: Brookline Planning Dept.

Instead of fireproof construction, the “21 Crown” developers are proposing a “4-decker” wood-frame building divided into 20 apartments with an elevator. Two are called “three bedroom” and the rest “one bedroom” units, but all would be fairly small–around a thousand square feet. The design recalls a “suburban hamster cage” concept that was previously seen in Cambridgeport starting in the 1960s.

FourDeck21CrowninshieldRoad

Source: Brookline Planning Dept.

No representative for the developers appeared at this meeting of the Board of Selectmen. Ms. Morelli said comments from reviewers had called the proposal “inappropriate for the site.” Developers, she said, “tried to cast the context as Commonwealth Avenue business.” Mr. Basile owns nearby property along Commonwealth Avenue now housing Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Firestone and Sullivan Tire.

Kate Poverman, a neighbor on Adams St., called attention to the large “concentration of affordable housing in our area” but said, “We’ll work with the developer.” Barbara Scotto, a member of the School Committee who lives diagonally opposite the site, described hazards, saying, “Traffic is already backed up frequently at Pleasant and Adams.” The board approved the response to be sent to Mass. Housing, with several revisions.

Budget reviews: The board reviewed proposed budgets presented by Patrick J. Ward, the town clerk, for the town clerk’s office, by Mr. O’Leary for the Police Department and by Andrew Pappastergion, the public works commissioner, for the Department of Public Works. Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, has proposed defunding one patrolman position in the Police budget, currently vacant. Mr. O’Leary said the Police Department would continue to function without the position if necessary.

The board reviewed two warrant articles for the spring town meeting: 4. Close-out of special appropriations and 12. Snow bylaw amendments. There are currently no special appropriations eligible for close-out. The bylaw changes had been drafted on behalf of the Board of Selectmen. They raise fines for failure to clear snow from sidewalks, specify new violations and fines, and eliminate a requirement to notify on a first offense instead of citing and fining. The public works commissioner would have increased discretion.

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


Application letter for 21 Crowninshield Road 40B project, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, March, 2015

Response to 21 Crowninshield Road application, Brookline Board of Selectmen, April 1, 2015 (8 MB)

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

Board of Selectmen: projects and budget reviews

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, March 17, started at 6:45 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board began reviews of budgets and warrant articles for the 2015 annual town meeting in May. They will continue at least through April.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, got approval for a $0.01 million contract with Public Archaeology Laboratory of Pawtucket, RI, to complete a National Historic Register application for Hancock Village in south Brookline. If approved, Hancock Village would become the largest National Register site in Brookline.

A National Register application for Hancock Village has been under discussion for several years. Last summer, board member Betsy DeWitt said it should become an urgent priority, at a hearing of the Zoning Board of Appeals about a proposed housing development under Chapter 40B of Massachusetts General Laws, which can override zoning.

Lara Curtis Hayes, from the Department of Planning and Community Development, got authorization to apply for $0.25 million in state “green community” funding for energy-saving improvements. Most projects eligible are for town-owned buildings. Solar photovoltaic facilities and new vehicles are not eligible. Grant planning sounded murky at best. No description of Brookline’s projects had been released, yet the application deadline was only three days away.

In response to a question from board member Nancy Daly, Ms. Steinfeld said that Brookline’s ongoing program of installing LED street lighting could be an eligible activity. Board members Neil Wishinsky and Betsy DeWitt did not seem to gave read information distributed in advance and asked about solar photovoltaics and new vehicles.

Licenses and permits: Frank Shear of Framingham, former operator of Benny’s Crepes in Boston and Cambridge, applied for restaurant and entertainment licenses to operate Brick Wall Kitchen at 224 Cypress St., formerly Rita’s Cafe. Mr. Shear had operated the crepe cafe from a food truck. He said there were no plans to resume such a business and said that Brick Wall Kitchen will provide take-out service but not delivery. The board granted the licenses.

Owners of Holiday Inn at 1200 Beacon St. got board approval for a change in manager under their alcoholic beverage license. Stephen Bowman, operator of Fairsted Kitchen at 1704 Beacon St., spoke on behalf of an application for longer operating hours, closing at 2 am instead of 1 am Mondays through Thursdays. Board member Nancy Daly asked about outdoor service. Mr. Bowman said there would be no late-night service outdoors. The board allowed the extensions of hours.

Lisa and Daniel Wisel of Brookline, operators of Vine Ripe Grill at the Putterham Meadows public golf course, had applied for a seasonal license to serve alcoholic beverages, but neither was present at the meeting to support the application. Nevertheless, after waiting about 20 minutes, followed by cursory discussion, the board approved a license for the 2015 season.

Warrant articles: The board voted to approve and publish a warrant with 20 articles for the annual town meeting to start Tuesday, May 26. About half are routine each year. Others have been submitted by boards or through petitions, which require signatures of ten or more registered voters. The board also began reviewing the warrant articles and the budget appropriations for fiscal 2016, under Article 8.

Submitters usually include explanations for articles, published separately. At least two weeks before a town meeting, the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee will distribute a combined report with the text and explanations of articles plus their recommendations to the town meeting. Warrant article reviews, including budget reviews, are docketed as public hearings; members of the public are invited to comment.

Budget reviews: The board began reviewing so-called “base budgets” for fiscal 2016, starting in July. Prepared by Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, and his staff, those budgets apply if voters do not approve a tax override proposed at the May 5 town election. They include cuts to be restored if the override passes.

The board reviewed a budget for the Fire Department as described by Paul Ford, the fire chief. Mr. Kleckner has proposed to defund one firefighter position, currently vacant. Ms. Daly asked how the department would cope. Mr. Ford said minimum manning requirements would lead to increased overtime, probably costing around a quarter of what would be spent on a full-time firefighter position.

In his few years as fire chief, Mr. Ford has led an initiative in training, increasing the number of fire personnel certifications from around ten to nearly a hundred. In addition to the familiar emergency medical technician certificates, those include firefighting specialties such as rescue and chemical fires. Ten members of the department have also qualified as instructors, allowing them to train others without outside expenses.

Sara Slymon, the library director, and Michael Burstein, who chairs the Board of Library Trustees, described a budget for town libraries. In that budget, Mr. Kleckner proposed to defund a part-time librarian. Ms. Slymon said there were no vacant positions, so that someone would have to be dismissed. She described library services as “dangerously understaffed,” down from 50 positions several years ago to 40 now, spread among the main library and the branch libraries at Coolidge Corner and Putterham Circle.

Planning and Community Development: Ms. Steinfeld described a budget for the Department of Planning and Community Development. It now serves many standing boards, including the Planning Board, Preservation Commission, Neighborhood Conservation District Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Conservation Commission, Zoning Bylaw Committee, Economic Development Advisory Board, Housing Advisory Board, Community Development Block Grant Committee and Climate Action Committee. Fifty years ago, it served only the Planning Board, established in 1922.

Mr. Kleckner had not proposed any reduction in the Planning budget. Board member Betsy DeWitt spoke up for an increase, saying responsibilities for preservation planning have escalated in recent years, overloading current staff. She proposed to raise funding from 1.8 to 2.0 positions. James Batchelor, who chaired the Preservation Commission for six years, spoke in support, saying, “People in Brookline care about preservation…We have to stand up and give it more support.”

Bruce Genest of the Department of Planning and Community Development, who is president of AFSCME Local 1358, spoke about what he called a “staffing issue,” saying that in 2011 the department “eliminated a financial position.” Mr. Kleckner said the issue was “being litigated.” Mr. Genest said the town “took union work [and] distributed [it] to management people.” Otherwise, the background of the dispute was not clear.

The board did not vote recommendations on any of the budgets. Included on its agenda was an application from Christopher Hussey, an architect, for reappointment to the Zoning Board of Appeals, but the board did not act on it. The Board of Selectmen is suing the Zoning Board of Appeals, seeking to overturn a comprehensive permit the latter recently granted for a partially subsidized, Chapter 40B development at Hancock Village.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, March 20, 2015


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

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

Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, February 22, 2015

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

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

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, budget reviews

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, March 3, started at 6:35 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Prior to the public session, the board held a closed session about “litigation.”

Hancock Village lawsuit: As reported in the Brookline Beacon, the Board of Selectmen have an aggressive lawsuit in progress opposing a large, partly subsidized housing project proposed for Hancock Village in south Brookline. As part of this effort, they have been working with a group of south Brookline neighbors. The property owner and manager, Chestnut Hill Realty, has been trying to use powers under Chapter 40B of Massachusetts general laws to override Brookline zoning and has been trying to bypass a 1946 zoning agreement with Brookline.

About two weeks ago, after more than a year of reviews and hearings, the Zoning Board of Appeals granted a comprehensive permit for the Hancock Village project, with several conditions. During their closed session on March 3, confirmed through south Brookline participants, the Board of Selectmen voted to file a new lawsuit, contesting the decision of Zoning Board of Appeals members Jesse Geller, Jonathan Book and Christopher Hussey, whom the Board of Selectmen appointed. The proposed project, they claim, “is poorly designed [and] will destroy the historical integrity of Hancock Village….”

Brookline, like most other Massachusetts towns, does not maintain legal expertise in the specialized area of Chapter 40B projects. The Board of Selectmen is considering “hiring outside counsel to pursue the appeal.” According to south Brookline participants, Jason Talerman of Blatman, Bobrowski & Mead has made contributions to the current lawsuit opposing the project, known as Brookline v. Mass. Development, which is pending in the Massachusetts Court of Appeals.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, got approval to transfer $0.08 million from salaries to contractual services. Her office has an unfilled position and has been employing “outside counsel” on several cases since July. During a budget review, Ms. Murphy said she was confident about being able to hire a “talented attorney” into a T-15 slot, but she has already gone eight months without hiring anyone.

Melissa Goff, who recently advanced to the job of deputy town administrator, reviewed the budget for the offices of town administrator and board of selectmen. There is little change from the current year. Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, would like to spend an extra $0.01 million to join an association of Massachusetts mayors, even though he is not a mayor. He won’t spend it unless Brookline voters pass a tax override this May.

The board approved a policy change for spending allocated from the “Boston Marathon fund,” contributed by the Boston Athletic Association in compensation for Brookline’s expenses on Marathon Day. The new policy is less restrictive, allowing spending for “community purposes…including youth and recreation.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, March 4, 2015


Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, 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

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, financial plan

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, February 17, started at 7:35 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The agenda focused on the town administrator’s financial plan for the fiscal year starting next July.

Hancock Village Chapter 40B project: In public comment, Judith Leichtner, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, questioned the board’s commitment to resisting a large, partly subsidized housing development proposed at Hancock Village in south Brookline by subsidiaries of Chestnut Hill Realty, the owner and manager.

It has been obvious for weeks that the Zoning Board of Appeals will the allow the development, with a decision expected to be recorded in days. “Will you be appealing this terrible ZBA decision?” asked Ms. Leichtner. “Will you be hiring outside counsel with experience litigating 40B? What action will you be pursuing to…protect historic property?”

Ken Goldstein, the board’s chair, said that the board “will be discussing [litigation] next week in executive session…we have time…we are aware of the deadline.” Left unsaid: for a Board of Selectmen to sue the Board of Appeals that it appointed would appear to put the community in conflict with itself–a house divided.

Contracts, personnel and finances: David Geanakakis, the chief procurement officer, received approval for a $0.38 million lease-purchase agreement with TD Bank. It will fund a set of DPW equipment anticipated in the current capital improvement plan. Stephen Cirillo, the finance director, got the board to certify expected operating life of at least 10 years for a new fire engine, a bonding issue.

Licenses and permits:Hui Di Chen of Melrose, formerly involved with Sakura restaurant in Winchester and the proposed new manager of Genki Ya restaurant at 398 Harvard St., spoke for applications to transfer licenses held by the current manager. Mr. Chen seemed unprepared for some of the board’s questions. He had not sought out training provided by the Police Department on managing alcoholic beverage sales under the Brookline regulations. The board opted to hold the applications and reconsider them at a later date. Board records contain several misspellings of names.

Haim Cohen of Brookline received a license for a restaurant he plans to open on the former site of Beauty Supply, at 326 Harvard St. To be called Pure Cold Press, it was described as a “juice and salad bar.” He has a major shortfall of parking under Brookline zoning and will also need approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Financial plan: Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, presented a financial plan for the fiscal year starting next July, assisted by Sean Cronin, the outgoing deputy town administrator, and by his replacement in the position, Melissa Goff. The main outlines do not include revenue from a tax override of $7.665 million per year that the board proposed on February 10. However, Mr. Kleckner’s plan shows how municipal agencies would use a share of those funds, if voters approve the override.

Without funds from the proposed override, Mr. Kleckner had to propose substantial cutbacks in the municipal programs and agencies. Rental assistance from the Council on Aging would suffer a 25 percent cut, as would part-time Library assistants. Vacant positions in the Police Department and Fire Department would go unfilled. Park ranger, gardener and laborer positions in Public Works would be eliminated, reducing services. Several older vehicles would not be replaced. The Health Department would lose its day-care center inspectors and trim its contribution to Brookline Mental Health by 25 percent.

If voters approve the proposed tax override next May, these cuts would be restored, costing an estimated $0.682 million per year from the proposed $7.665 million per year in override funding. Left unsaid: Public Schools of Brookline has a more difficult problem to solve. If voters reject the proposed override, there will be $6.983 million per year less in funding that could support school programs and departments.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, February 21, 2015


Brookline municipal agency and program reductions, FY2016, without tax override, February 17, 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: $7.665 million tax override, Brookline Beacon, February 12, 2015

Craig Bolon, Public schools: decoding a tax override, Brookline Beacon, January 7, 2015

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

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

Judith Leichtner, Comments to Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals on proposed chapter 40B development at Hancock Village, September 8, 2014

Brock Parker, Developer gets green light to pursue a 40B project in Brookline, Boston Globe, October 24, 2013

Board of Selectmen: $7.665 million tax override

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, February 10, started at 6:35 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Toward the end of its meeting, the board proposed a $7.665 million tax override to cope with increasing school enrollment and a debt exclusion to renovate and expand Devotion School. Those two questions will appear on ballots for town elections this spring.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Andrew Pappastergion, the town’s public works commissioner, described snow clearance for the extended storm that began on February 7. So far, he said, Brookline spent $0.28 million on it–the third major snow storm of the winter, with a total of 73 snow inches now recorded at the municipal service center for the season.

Mr. Pappastergion sought and received approval for $0.15 million in emergency funding to replace a sidewalk snow tractor. Two of the four that Brookline owns are about 20 years old, have been out of service during the recent storm and need frequent repairs. There has been only limited snow clearance in commercial centers, with sidewalks treacherous and parking lanes filled with snow several feet deep. Many drivers in Coolidge Corner have parked in bicycle lanes; few citations appear to have been issued.

Tax override: Shortly after 8 pm, the board began to debate proposals for a 2015 tax override. Ken Goldstein, the chair, proposed $7.993 million per year. Board member Neil Wishinsky proposed $7.665 million. Both amounts were much higher than $5 million per year recommended on July 30, 2014, by the Override Study Committee of 2013. However, all members of the board had publicly stated that they favored more money.

No cogent descriptions emerged for the amounts proposed. At the previous meeting on February 3, an unsigned, undated memo had called out an override of $7.664 million, but that also provided no cogent description of what the particular amount might accomplish. Predicting three or more years of future budgets to four significant digits is comparable to predicting the recent 20-inch snowfall to 1/64 of an inch, risking doubt rather than confidence.

Three board members–Nancy Daly, Betsy DeWitt and Ben Franco–said they supported Mr. Wishinsky’s proposal. At that, Mr. Goldstein withdrew his proposal and joined the others in voting to propose a $7.665 million per year general tax override. As long expected, the board also voted unanimously to propose a debt exclusion for the renovation and expansion of Devotion School.

Mr. Goldstein said he expected that the proposed override would suffice for five years. The board has not yet explained what the proposed override would buy or what would happen if voters reject it. Members of the School Committee present at the meeting would not speculate on what the override might accomplish or estimate how long the override might suffice with rising school enrollment.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, February 12, 2015


Unsigned, undated memo: $7.664 million override, Brookline Board of Selectmen, distributed February 3, 2015

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

Craig Bolon, Public schools: decoding a tax override, Brookline Beacon, January 7, 2015

Override Study Committee: $5 million tax override, plus Devotion School debt exclusion, Brookline Beacon, July 31, 2014

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

Board of Selectmen: snow removal, employee friction and marathons

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, February 3, started at 6:35 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The agenda was slim, considering that the previous week’s meeting had to be cancelled because of snow.

Board member Ken Goldstein announced that he will not be running for another term this spring. He has served on the board since 2009 and has been chair since May of last year. Before that, he was a Planning Board member for 15 years, chairing that board from 2004 to 2009. He was previously a member of the Housing Advisory Board, and he served as a town meeting member from Precinct 14. He practices law at a Brookline firm, Goldstein & Herndon.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Sean Cronin, the deputy town administrator, has submitted a letter of resignation. Later this month he begins a position with the state Department of Revenue as Senior Deputy Commissioner for Local Affairs. Mr. Cronin has worked in the Brookline office of the town administrator for 17 years. He described Brookline management as a “team effort” and said he hopes to engage with state policy initiatives in the same spirit.

Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, got board approval to fill Mr. Cronin’s position and said he intends to promote Melissa Goff, the assistant town administrator for the past nine years. She came to Brookline from the Boston Office of Budget Management during the Menino administration. In Brookline, she has been in charge of annual budget preparation and has participated in the development of online services. Mr. Kleckner also has approval to fill Ms. Goff’s position and said he plans a broad-based search for candidates.

Ray Masak, a building project administrator, got approval for a $0.12 million contract with Eagle Point Builders of Belmont to restore doors and windows of the historic gatehouse at the Fisher Hill Reservoir, the lowest of several bids by a small margin. References said Eagle Point Builders did good work for other towns on restoration projects but warned that Mark Moroso, the owner, could be “tough” to deal with. The architect is Touloukian & Touloukian of Boston.

Peter Ditto, the engineering director, got approval for $0.02 million for a dam inspection at the Brookline Reservoir. He hopes to resolve issues with the growth of vines and bushes so that trees and landscaping can be maintained rather than cleared. The contractor, Tighe & Bond of Worcester, will prepare a tree management plan.

Anthony Guigli, a building project administrator, got approval for $0.06 million in change orders for projects underway at Lawrence, Devotion and old Lincoln Schools. He reported that the Devotion project will not require indoor air sampling, because levels of soil contamination from oil tanks were below hazard thresholds, but there will be offsite soil disposal.

Snow removal budget: Andrew Pappastergion, the town’s public works commissioner, described snow removal for the two storms that began on January 27 and February 1. He said the municipal service center received a total of 46 inches of snow, none of which has melted so far, and he estimated costs of snow plowing and removal at $0.53 million for the first storm and at $0.23 million to date for the second one.

The town’s budget for snow was based on 43 inches over the season, in line with the historic average. That has been exhausted, with winter just half over. Mr. Pappastergion asked the board to authorize emergency snow funds under Chapter 44, Section 31D of the General Laws, and the board voted to do so. Those funds will later be made up by tapping the reserve fund, by cutting other budgets this year or by dipping into next year’s funds. There is no Proposition 2-1/2 exemption for emergency snow funds.

Mr. Pappastergion was also authorized to fill four vacant positions and to accept $0.006 million in state grants to support recycling. He said a state grant of $0.2 million is pending, to purchase waste bins for a trash metering program that he expects to implement later this year. He has been operating under priorities of the former Patrick administration and did not seem to have planned for potential changes in priorities under the new Baker administration.

Costs of job friction: As reported in the Beacon, Brookline has been experiencing increasing friction with employees. Sandra DeBow-Huang, the director of human resources, asked the Board of Selectmen to approve a $0.17 million reserve fund request, for legal services. She said unexpectedly high costs mainly came from two employee lawsuits and one employee complaint to the state Department of Labor Relations (DLR).

The request for legal services funds is historically large–around eight percent of the total reserve fund, which is already facing stress to pay high costs of snow clearance. It is likely to be scrutinized when it reaches the Advisory Committee, which controls the reserve fund. Ms. DeBow-Huang complained of “tight time frames” to respond to DLR proceedings.

DLR is a fairly new state agency assembled in 2007 from older agencies. Its investigators and its Commonwealth Employment Relations Board hear and rule on union issues when contracts do not include binding arbitration. The Board of Selectmen later interviewed a candidate for the Human Resources Board, without getting much insight on job friction from that interview.

Marathons: Josh Nemzer, representing Boston Athletic Association (BAA), sought and received a parade permit from the board for the 2015 Boston Marathon segment on Beacon St. He described road closing as lasting from 9:15 am to 5:30 pm next April 20. Board member Nancy Daly objected to repeated refusals by BAA personnel last year to let Brookline pedestrians cross Beacon St. and said BAA might want to consider using Commonwealth Ave. instead, if it could not accommodate community needs.

In another version of marathon, the board resumed its discussion of 2015 tax override proposals, once again without reaching a conclusion. School Committee chair Susan Ditkoff and member Rebecca Stone were present along with William Lupini, the superintendent of schools, Peter Rowe, the deputy superintendent for finance, and Jennifer Fischer-Mueller, the deputy superintendent for teaching.

The process began with appointment of the Override Study Committee of 2013 on August 20 of that year, almost a year and a half ago. The committee soon became embroiled in attacks on the METCO program and never seemed to regain full balance. All members of the Board of Selectmen publicly stated that they favor larger amounts of money than the committee recommended,

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, February 4, 2015


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

Annual Report, Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations, 2014

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

Board of Selectmen: vacation, town meeting, personnel, contracts, licenses and trash metering, Brookline Beacon, July 23, 2014

Public Works: question time and complaints, Brookline Beacon, May 15, 2014

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

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

Craig Bolon, Public schools: decoding a tax override, Brookline Beacon, January 7, 2015

Override Study Committee: Open Meeting Law problems, Brookline Beacon, August 7, 2014

Override Study Committee: $5 million tax override, plus Devotion School debt exclusion, Brookline Beacon, July 31, 2014

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

Advisory subcommittee on capital: school-building projects

On Wednesday, January 14, the Advisory subcommittee on capital met in the third-floor conference room at Town Hall, starting at 11:00 am. Four of the five subcommittee members were there–all except Amy Hummel–along with Sean Cronin, the deputy town administrator. The meeting attracted another member of the Advisory Committee, three School Committee members, a Planning Board member, a Precinct 7 town meeting member and parents from the Baker and Driscoll School districts.

The unusually large turnout for an Advisory subcommittee meeting on a weekday morning suggested strong interest in plans for school expansion and renovation, heading the agenda. At the May 5 town election, the Board of Selectmen is now widely expected to propose a Proposition 2-1/2 debt exclusion for Devotion School expansion and renovation, as well as a Proposition 2-1/2 “operating” tax override, mainly for public schools.

Past projects: So far, Brookline has performed two school-building projects using Proposition 2-1/2 debt exclusions:

• New Lincoln School construction, December 1, 1990, by vote of 5,919 to 2,963
• High School renovation, December 12, 1995, by vote of 4,648 to 3,038

In different past elections, Brookline voters also approved two Proposition 2-1/2 “operating” tax overrides, partly to benefit public schools:

• $2.96 million per year, May 3, 1994, by vote of 5,958 to 5,072
• $6.20 million per year, May 6, 2008, by vote of 5,236 to 4,305

Future projects: Mr. Cronin told subcommittee members that a preliminary FY2016 capital improvements program he drafted for the Board of Selectmen already includes two additional school projects, beyond Devotion School, also likely to need Proposition 2-1/2 debt exclusions. A High School addition, slated for 2019, is currently estimated at $56 million.

A major project for elementary school expansion and renovations, slated for 2022 or later, is estimated at $48 million. The project description suggests a new, ninth elementary school as an alternative. In addition, the preliminary capital improvement program includes $2.3 million spread over five years for “classroom capacity.” Mr. Cronin cautioned that estimated costs are based on past projects, not on specific plans.

Subcommittee member Clifford Brown asked Mr. Cronin how Brookline voters would know how much of Brookline’s normal capital funding is being used for the Devotion project and how much is covered by debt exclusion. The answer surprised most of the subcommittee and the audience. Mr. Cronin said a debt exclusion ballot question only names a project and gives no financial information. Mark Gray, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, asked if a ballot question could specify only part of a project. Mr. Cronin said he did not think so. School Committee member Helen Charlupski remembered that the 1990s debt exclusion questions included amounts of funding.

It turns out that our Great and General Court changed the law about fifteen years ago. The ballot questions formerly specified amounts of money, but now they read like blank checks. It is up to the Board of Selectmen to tell voters what they mean to do. There are limits on funds, however. They are set by the state Department of Revenue, based on appropriations and bonding authorizations voted by town meetings.

Subcommittee members worried that Brookline was embarking on uneconomic spending. School Committee member David Pollak said that was not the case. Modular classrooms being planned for Baker School and rental space planned for Pierce, he said, were far less expensive than constructing new buildings. Subcommittee chair Carla Benka was concerned about overruns. Fred Levitan, a subcommittee member, recalled that the Town Hall and new Lincoln School projects had been completed on-time and on-budget.

Predicting capital improvements: Brookline’s capital improvement planning has not provided reliable predictions for most types of projects. A study published in 1979 by the Advisory Committee found almost no agreement between projects and predictions five years earlier. Recent years provide the following comparisons for major projects–$1 million and more–funded for the current year.

FY2015 major projects, funds in $millions

Project Predicted Predicted Predicted Actual
Description as of 2009 as of 2011 as of 2013 in FY2015
street rehabilitation $1.55 $1.55 $1.55 $1.55
landfill closure $4.60 $4.60 $4.60 $4.60
wastewater system none $3.00 none none
Village traffic system none none none $1.20
Reservoir Park $1.40 none none none
Baldwin School $1.78 none none none
Devotion School none $48.75 none none
Driscoll School* none none none $1.00
school classrooms none none none $1.75

            * A proposed Driscoll School project was rejected by the state and cancelled.

Source: Financial Plan documents, Town of Brookline, MA

Only routine Public Works projects were predicted reliably during this time period.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 16, 2015


Board of Selectmen: larger tax override, Brookline Beacon, January 14, 2014

Sean Cronin, Preliminary FY2016-FY2021 Capital Improvement Program, Town of Brookline, MA, January 13, 2015

Override Study Committee: $5 million tax override, plus Devotion School debt exclusion, Brookline Beacon, July 31, 2014

Financial Plan, FY2015 and previous years, Town of Brookline, MA

Board of Selectmen: larger tax override

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, January 13, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The regular business agenda was slim. Much of the meeting concerned proposals for tax overrides.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Erin Gallentine, director of the parks division of Public Works, won approval for a $0.03 million contract with J.F. Hennessey Co. to survey Larz Anderson Park, in preparation for repairs and improvements. Lisa Paradis, the Recreation director, got approval to hire a building custodian, replacing an employee who took a Library position. Contractors have been filling in temporarily.

Members interviewed a candidate for the Human Resource Board. They approved renewal of an agreement with Boston University for payments in lieu of taxes, totaling about $0.45 million this year. Payments were first negotiated in 2010 by Stephen Cirillo, the finance director. Members accepted annual reports from Powers and Sullivan of Wakefield, the town’s auditor, and from Segal Group of Boston, on retirement benefits.

There were no exceptions or adverse findings from this year’s audit. Funding for retirement benefits has reached $9.9 million this year. According to Segal, payments to a trust fund need to increase. The town has approved $3.3 million for the fund this year, and the board expects to increase that to $3.8 million next year. According to Segal, the town needs to reach $6.3 million per year to maintain the fund on a current basis.

Override proposals: Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, and Sean Cronin, the deputy town administrator, summarized the tax override proposals thus far. The Board of Selectmen has sole jurisdiction over ballot questions to be proposed for an override. Mr. Cronin also presented an initial review of the town’s capital improvement program. Changes are to be proposed to the annual town meeting.

Since summer, it has looked likely that the board will propose a continuing “operating” override, to help Public Schools of Brookline cope with increasing enrollment, and will propose a temporary “debt exclusion” to meet part of the cost of renovating and enlarging Devotion School. Last August, the Override Study Committee of 2013 submitted its report, recommending an operating override of $5 million per year.

A minority of the override study committee, joined by members of the School Committee, have advocated a larger operating override. They say the schools have not been able to maintain levels of support staff during seven years of steady enrollment increases and need more than just funds for regular teachers.

Recently, William Lupini, the superintendent of schools, and Peter Rowe, the assistant superintendent for administration and finance, released details of school spending plans, including three options for how different amounts of override funding would be used.

At the January 13 meeting, the Board of Selectmen did not reach a firm decision, but a poll of the members showed that all favor a larger override. Amounts they discussed ranged up to around $9 million per year. According to Mr. Cronin, the average residential tax bill in Brookline this year is $8,434 per household. For each $1 million per year in an override, the average annual tax bill would increase by about $36.50.

Hearings, elections, town meeting: The Board of Selectmen will hold two public hearings next week on tax override proposals. The first is Tuesday morning, January 20, from 9:00 to 11:00 am. The second is Thursday evening, January 22, from 7:30 to 9:00 pm. Both are in the sixth floor meeting room at Town Hall, 333 Washington St. Override proposals and information are available from the Brookline, MA, municipal Web site.

The board voted to schedule the 2015 annual election for Tuesday, May 5. The annual town meeting will begin Tuesday, May 26. Four other dates are reserved for the town meeting: May 28, June 2, June 3 and June 4. The warrant for the annual town meeting opens on Thursday, February 12, and closes on Thursday, March 12. Instructions for preparing and submitting warrant articles are in the Town Meeting Handbook, available on the municipal Web site.

Meetings, lack of valid notice: The regular School Committee meeting on Thursday, January 22, is starting early–a public session at 5:00 pm, instead of 6:00 pm or later. For Tuesday, January 20, 2015, the municipal Web site calendar page noted a joint meeting of the School Committee with the Board of Selectmen starting at 5:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall, but the Web site for Public Schools of Brookline did not indicate such a meeting.

As of Saturday morning, January 17, there was also a notice for a Board of Selectmen meeting starting at 5:30 pm on January 20. No list of topics or other form of agenda for such a January 20 meeting or for a joint meeting on that day appeared on either the municipal or school Web site. Under state and local Open Meeting Laws, there was no valid notice for a January 20 meeting, nor was there enough remaining time to post a valid notice.

– Beacon staff, January 14, 2015, updated January 17, 2015


Sean Cronin, Tax override proposals for 2015, Town of Brookline, MA, January 16, 2015

Craig Bolon, Public schools: decoding a tax override, Brookline Beacon, January 7, 2015

Sean Cronin, Growth in the cost of government, Town of Brookline, MA, January 6, 2015

Craig Bolon, School enrollment: no room in the inn, Brookline Beacon, December 26, 2014

Sean Cronin, Override recommendations and review, Town of Brookline, MA, December 17, 2014

Craig Bolon, Open meetings in government: groping toward transparency, Brookline Beacon, August 10, 2014

Override Study Committee: $5 million tax override, plus Devotion School debt exclusion, Brookline Beacon, July 31, 2014

Public schools: decoding a tax override

Tuesday evening, January 6, leadership of Brookline public schools began to decode some mysteries of their tax override proposals–for those willing to stay through a 4-1/2-hour meeting of the Board of Selectmen to well past 10 pm. Elements of the newly decoded override can be found in a document on the municipal Web site.

Instead of “One-time funds,” “Catch-up,” “Enhancement” and “Info tech,” William Lupini, the superintendent, and Peter Rowe, the assistant superintendent for administration and finance, explained proposals mostly using typical school spending categories, helping to answer the question, “What does it buy?” Not surprisingly, Dr. Lupini and Mr. Rowe ask Brookline voters to fund more teachers, support staff and administrators.

Options: As in past reviews, they continue to advertise three override options, calling them “65 percent,” “90 percent” and “100 percent”–begging the obvious question, “Percent of what?” Here these are called A, B and C–in the same order. The following Budget Table shows school spending categories, current budgets and proposed budget additions for three override options, as organized by Dr. Lupini and Mr. Rowe. Amounts are in millions of dollars. Those called “current” are fiscal year 2015 budgets for the categories. Those called options A, B and C represent budget additions over three years following an override.

Budget Table

Category Current A B C
K8 classroom teachers $22.69 $1.32 $1.60 $1.60
HS classroom teachers $10.63 -$0.36 $0.78 $0.78
Student services $3.20 $0.94 $0.94 $0.94
Elementary world language (K6) $1.04 -$1.04 $0.21 $0.21
Central administration $2.27 $0.32 $0.32 $0.32
Vice principals $1.07 $0.11 $0.11 $0.11
HS administration $0.74 $0.11 $0.21 $0.21
Steps to success $0.30 $0.00 $0.15 $0.15
ECS $0.39 -$0.31 $0.25 $0.25
Literacy specialists $1.55 $0.51 $0.51 $0.51
Math specialists $1.03 $0.55 $0.55 $0.55
2nd-grade paraprofessionals $0.00 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
Professional learning/innovation $0.20 $0.12 $0.12 $0.12
Nurses $1.03 $0.15 $0.15 $0.15
ETF $1.08 $0.09 $0.09 $0.09
Social workers $0.38 $0.10 $0.10 $0.10
Custodial repair & maintenance $2.21 $0.17 $0.17 $0.17
Instructional materials & supplies $1.79 $0.22 $0.22 $0.22
Special education and ELL $8.74 $2.33 $2.33 $2.33
Educational technology $2.63 $1.54 $1.54 $1.54

Source: Public Schools of Brookline

Dr. Lupini and Mr. Rowe used abbreviations, perhaps known to school mavens:
K8    kindergarten through eighth grade
K6    kindergarten through sixth grade
HS    high school
ECS  enrichment and challenge support a/k/a gifted and talented program
ETF  educational team facilitator a/k/a special education supervisor
ELL  English language learners

Budget cuts: Although the Board of Selectmen previously asked Dr. Lupini for a budget to be used if there is no override, he did not provide one. However, option A–the smallest override–shows that budget cuts are likely if there is no override and tells what might be cut. It includes some budget cuts even when an override is passed.

In the table, amounts shown in bold are negative amounts–budget cuts–all in option A, the smallest override. That option would cancel the so-called “world language” program for elementary schools, which voters funded in the 2008 override, dismissing all 15 teachers. Option A would also dismiss all four teachers who staff the so-called “ECS” (gifted and talented) program and would dismiss four high school teachers.

In those proposed cuts, Dr. Lupini and Mr. Rowe appear to value “educational technology”–whatever that might mean–as more important than 23 teachers. They would cut about $1.7 million in teaching salaries and spend about $1.5 million of that on “educational technology.” Although three members of the School Committee were present at the January 6 review, none spoke up. It was not clear whether the School Committee agreed with those priorities.

Fuzzy numbers: The numbers in the Budget Table can’t be added to get meaningful totals. According to Mr. Rowe, they don’t all mean the same thing. Some, like the amount for “educational technology,” mean total spending over three years.

Others, like the amount for “2nd-grade paraprofessionals,” look to mean spending in each year after an override. Many, like the amount for “Special education and ELL,” mean spending in the third year after an override, with less spending during the first and second years. According to Dr. Lupini, typical proportions are 0.5 of an indicated amount the first year, 0.8 of the amount the second year and the full amount the third year.

As an example of turning fuzzy numbers into meaningful ones, the following Spending Table estimates three years of spending for option C, the largest override proposed. It is based on an attempt to designate amounts for the Budget Table categories as total amounts (T), as level yearly amounts (L) or as growing amounts (G). From those designations, increases in spending under an option C override are then calculated for each of three years following the override. The latter will all be millions of dollars per year, and they can be totalled and averaged.

Spending Table

Category Type Year 1 Year 2 Year 3
K8 classroom teachers G $0.80 $1.28 $1.60
HS classroom teachers G $0.39 $0.62 $0.78
Student services G $0.47 $0.76 $0.94
Elementary world language (K6) L $0.21 $0.21 $0.21
Central administration L $0.43 $0.43 $0.43
Vice principals L $0.32 $0.32 $0.32
HS administration L $0.43 $0.43 $0.43
Steps to success L $0.15 $0.15 $0.15
ECS G $0.13 $0.20 $0.25
Literacy specialists G $0.26 $0.41 $0.51
Math specialists G $0.28 $0.44 $0.55
2nd-grade paraprofessionals L $0.53 $0.53 $0.53
Professional learning/innovation T $0.09 $0.09 $0.09
Nurses L $0.24 $0.24 $0.24
ETF L $0.09 $0.09 $0.09
Social workers L $0.11 $0.11 $0.11
Custodial repair & maintenance T $0.06 $0.06 $0.06
Instructional materials & supplies T $0.12 $0.12 $0.12
Special education and ELL G $1.16 $1.86 $2.33
Educational technology T $0.59 $0.59 $0.59
Totals (by year) $6.83 $8.92 $10.31

Source: spreadsheet analysis

Getting to Yes: Through their Budget Table, Dr. Lupini and Mr. Rowe argued for an override of $12.6 million per year under option C, the largest proposed. Considerably less than that would actually be needed. Funding option C for three years takes an average of about $8.7 million per year, according to estimates in the Spending Table. If assumptions for that table needed changes, it would be an easy exercise to make them.

After such an override passed, there would be a revenue surplus the first year, a small deficit the second year and a larger deficit the third year. Public Schools of Brookline would need a stabilization fund, like the one municipal departments have long used, to match a flow of revenue with a different flow of spending. It becomes easier to persuade voters to support an override when the amount becomes smaller. Estimating spending year by year and using a stabilization fund provides a way to leverage programs from smaller overrides.

Of course, after an estimation period ends–three years in the example–then the revenue might not be enough to sustain programs, if the needs continue to increase. Brookline would have to review the situation again, but in the meantime the town would not be collecting more taxes than needed to provide services.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, January 7, 2015


William H. Lupini, Override budget scenarios, fiscal years 2016-2018, Public Schools of Brookline, January 6, 2015

Craig Bolon, School enrollment: no room in the inn, Brookline Beacon, December 26, 2014

Craig Bolon, Override schemes: lies, damned lies and budgets, Brookline Beacon, December 18, 2014

Override schemes: lies, damned lies and budgets

Without some change in direction, Brookline’s tax override for 2015 looks to have set course for a donnybrook. The community endured a long committee review, lasting from the middle of last year to the middle of this one. For every mystery that the recent override committee managed to unravel, it seemed to weave a new one.

Playing games: To most of the public, budget reviews are likely to look and sound like playing games. The 800-pound gorilla in the room this year has been the one-sided approach: big new tax revenue for school programs–combined with cutbacks, more fees or both for everything else. The gorilla is so huge it can’t really be hidden. At Board of Selectmen, two weeks ago, member Nancy Daly started to worry, asking Andrew Pappastergion, the public works director, “What can we offer people who don’t have kids in the schools?”

Mr. Pappastergion, rarely at a loss for ways to spend more money, ventured, “Snow fighting…sidewalk plows…commercial areas.” He has been with Brookline long enough to remember, during the 1970s and before, when the town plowed most sidewalks every snowstorm. Sidewalk snowplowing suffered one of many sharp cutbacks in the early 1980s–after Proposition 2-1/2 trimmed town spending–along with about 20 out of 25 curriculum coordinators for Public Schools of Brookline.

Those are useful examples of both short-term and long-term budget games. Over three decades, only a little sidewalk snowplowing has been restored–mostly around schools. However, curriculum jobs are back. This time around, most are not bundled into a core staff–a ready and proven target–but instead are labeled and paid as supervisors, salted through the school budget. School administrators turned out to be more skilled at budget games than some of their municipal counterparts.

Mr. Pappastergion’s sally for snow plowing did not go far. At Board of Selectmen, talk soon verged into raising money: bigger fines, of course, for homeowners who neglect to shovel sidewalks, but also higher rates at parking meters and collections for this year’s fashion model of public works, trash metering.

Talking in code: A key part of playing budget games has become talking in code: saying something sounding harmless while meaning something else. The Override Study Committee of 2013 became mavens of the art. Toward the end of their season, many people could not have understood much more from one of their meetings than from the calls of seagulls at a beach.

A striking example of talking in code came from Sean Cronin, the deputy town administrator, describing budget plans at Board of Selectmen this week on Wednesday, December 17–along with computer slides. The subtitle of his document, “What we’ve learned,” recalled the pro-forma apologies from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission after each disaster. “Lessons learned” is how they term it–a code-word meaning “how we messed up again.”

CroninPlan20141217b

Source: Town of Brookline, MA

Structural deficit: Maybe we can forget the “options,” the “scenarios,” the “plans” and the “groups” from the endless reviews. Mr. Cronin gave us straight poop–if we could decipher all the code-words scattered on every line. “They say the best things in life are free. You can give them to the bird and the bee. I want money.”

Now, what would make a deficit “structural”–not a mere shortfall? It sounds like another code-word, maybe meaning: “more money next year and more money a year later and then more money the year after that too.” If we were willing to part with the money, what would it buy? Mr. Cronin never said. Suppose a shlemiel comes along: “I’ve got a ‘structural deficit,’ Marty. Can you help me out a little?”

What does it buy? A question for almost every line: what does it buy? “One-Time Funds.” “Catch-Up.” “Enhancement.” “Info Tech.” What does it buy? At Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, December 9, William Lupini, the school superintendent, did make it clear that “Enrollment” (upper case) does not mean “enrollment” (lower case). Instead, he said, it means “a teacher in a classroom.”

Dr. Lupini complained that when “the town gives the schools credit” for Enrollment (upper case), it counts only “a teacher in a classroom.” Public Schools of Brookline, he complained, has to provide guidance counselors, math specialists, reading specialists, special education, psychologists, teaching aides, nurses and–of course–administrators. All neglected in Enrollment (upper case). Such tsouris.

Mr. Cronin advised, in a footnote, that Enrollment (upper case) also included “$680K for OLS.” It sounded likely that “OLS” meant “old Lincoln School” and that “$680K” meant $680,000 each and every year–not just one time. It was not even slightly clear what $680,000 would actually buy. Again, suppose that shlemiel comes along: “I’ve got OLS, Marty. Can you help me out a little?”

The numbers: Maybe it’s all in the numbers. What do the numbers mean? They look to be mixing continuing costs, including “Structural Deficit,” with expenses that happen once, purchases including “Info Tech.” On December 9, Dr. Lupini described the latter as buying “plumbing.” Maybe even he doesn’t change out the kitchen sink every year.

In Mr. Cronin’s plan, the numbers at the bottom seem to add–more or less. Sharp-eyed folk will have noticed that $6.21 plus $3.51 plus $2.60 equals $12.32, not $12.33 (probably meaning millions of dollars). Well–what’s ten thousand more dollars among friends? As long as taxpayers are footing the bill, of course!

Weirdness with numbers continues in strange arithmetic: adding “One-Time Funds” and single-year purchases for “Info Tech” to “Structural Deficit” and the other items that appear to continue year after year. They aren’t compatible, and they won’t add in any simple way. After the December 17 meeting, one of the board members was unable to explain parts of the arithmetic too.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, December 18, 2014


Sean Cronin, Expenditure plan as of 12/9/14, Town of Brookline, MA, December 17, 2014

Board of Selectmen: taxes and budgets for “insiders,” Brookline Beacon, December 3, 2014

Board of Selectmen: appointments, warrant articles, school spending, Brookline Beacon, October 8, 2014

Override Study Committee: $5 million tax override, plus Devotion School debt exclusion, Brookline Beacon, July 31, 2014

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

Berry Gordy, Janie Bradford and Barrett Strong, Money, Tamia (later Motown), 1959, as noted in New York Times, September 1, 2013

Board of Selectmen: taxes and budgets for “insiders”

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, December 2, started at 6:35 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. In the only large financial item, Frederick Russell, director of the water and sewer division, got approval for $0.11 million to fund emergency repair of a sewer main, completed in Washington Square last month. About three-quarters of the 3-1/2 hour meeting probably sounded like gibberish, except to “insiders.” Some presenters spoke in code and did not tell the public what they meant.

Tax classification: By far the longest but likely the least helpful presentation came from Gary McCabe, the chief assessor. Mr. McCabe had sent materials to board members. Despite announcement of a “public hearing,” he did not make them available in advance to the public, nor did he distribute any copies at what was called a “hearing.” Without examining those materials in advance, except to “insiders” they are apt to look like reams of arbitrary numbers. Not surprisingly, the public did not appear.

An issue before the board is setting a tax classification percentage for commercial property. When dividing up total taxes into tax bills, under powers of a 1978 state law the assessed values of commercial properties can be adjusted by a percentage–between 100 and 175 percent–set annually by the Board of Selectmen. Over the 35 years, the board has set that percentage between about 150 and 175. This year it is 172.

The adjustment has a big effect on commercial tax bills. Because value of commercial property in Brookline is only about a tenth of the total, it has a small effect on residential tax bills. At most, it can lower them by less than seven percent. The only member of the public to speak, a representative from the Chamber of Commerce, urged no increase in the classification percentage. The board did not reach a decision.

Budget trims: Sean Cronin, the deputy town administrator, gave another presentation largely in code. He too had sent materials to the board and also did not make them available in advance to the public. Mr. Cronin was carrying water for the Override Study Committee of 2013, who gave recommendations to trim spending in their final report last August. No member of that committee spoke.

Word had gotten out to the “insiders.” Members of the Library Trustees and the School Committee, along with leaders of their staff, were on hand to defend budgets against surrogate attacks from the override committee, proxied through Mr. Cronin. He proposed reducing the library book budget next year by $50,000. That could lower next year’s average condominium tax bill of around $4,000 by somewhat less than a dollar.

Carol Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member and former director of the Minuteman Library Network, said that a cut in the book budget could produce disaccreditation of Brookline libraries and loss of state aid. As with other proposals, the override committee looked to have made a wild foray without a reasonable effort to find out true effects. Committee proposals could also close a fire station and a branch library. Mr. Cronin did not try to defend the committee, saying at one point he was just presenting “mathematics.”

Fee increases: Against an override committee recommendation to raise fees for using school facilities by over $600,000 a year, the School Committee has proposed about a third of that. William Lupini, the superintendent, explained that the override committee had wanted to charge “market rates” for all services and facilities. However, Public Schools of Brookline is not a profit-making company. Dr. Lupini said it has duties to charge no more than the cost of services.

Among the largest users of school facilities are early education, day-care and recreation programs. Dr. Lupini said recreation programs occupy about 80 percent of gymnasium operating hours outside normal school hours. Fees for those hours would amount to one town agency charging another. However, the privately operated Brookline Music School has agreed to a rent increase for its space adjacent to the new Lincoln School on Kennard Rd.

Parents at the Devotion School founded Brookline’s first after-school day-care program in the early 1970s. Similar programs are now operating at ten locations, including each elementary school, serving hundreds of students. According to Peter Villa, a Lawrence parent and head of BEDAC, the town-wide day-care coalition, the day-care programs have agreed to begin paying for use of school facilities next year. That will increase fees for day care by around 1-1/4 percent, from a current range of $500 to $560 per child per month.

Dr. Lupini opposed increasing financial burdens on early education, saying, “Research has shown that it saves money later on.” Board members tended to agree. Betsy DeWitt was vehement, “The notion of applying a commercial model to public education…is outrageous!” Neil Wishinsky said it is a “valid public policy to have affordable day care.”

A discussion about parking fees with Andrew Pappastergion, the public works director, emerged from a review of snow clearance. Board member Nancy Daly expressed skepticism about raising Brookline fees–already as much as those in Cambridge–saying, “We’re not downtown Boston.” However, Celinda Shannon, executive director of the Brookline Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is “not opposed to parking rates increasing.” She said there should not be a “double whammy of increased fines” at overdue meters.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, December 3, 2014


Tax classification, Town of Brookline, MA, December 3, 2014

Final override committee report, Town of Brookline, MA, August 14, 2014

School budget: cancel world languages, gifted & talented

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, October 28, started at 6:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The highlight of the meeting was another school-budget discussion. Attendance was very light, mostly School Committee members and town staff. There is apparently no community organization now actively backing or opposing a tax override. Other business at the meeting will be reported separately.

School budget options: William Lupini, the school superintendent, presented his priorities for using school budget funds–sorted into options for a property tax override that the Board of Selectmen is considering for next spring. In previous reports, these school-budget options have been called:

Maximum override $8.8 million per year
High override $7.9 million per year
Low override $5.0 million per year
No override current school budget

Dr. Lupini favors “maximum override”–which he called “long-term budget.” He did not provide a dollar amount but called “high override” a “90 percent” approach. That would apparently make “maximum override” about $8.8 million. Dr. Lupini’s presentation ignored an obvious option: “no override.” He looked unprepared for a situation in which the Board of Selectmen or Brookline voters reject tax overrides. Both Dr. Lupini and members of the board seemed to assume any budget would increase 2.5 percent per year, as currently allowed under state law.

Background: At a previous school-budget review on October 7, board member Nancy Daly had asked for a budget projection. Susan Ditkoff, chair of the School Committee, described a process extending into next spring. Board members said it had to be much faster and said the budget must tell what an override buys. At this review, Dr. Lupini began to provide some answers. According to Barbara Scotto, vice chair of the School Committee, Dr. Lupini’s priorities had been described to the School Committee but not yet approved by them.

The Override Study Committee of 2013, which filed a final report August 14 of this year, recommends the “low override” of an additional $5 million per year in property taxes, mainly if not entirely for the school budget, plus a debt service exclusion for $23 million to renovate and enlarge Devotion School.

Tax increases: The study committee’s recommended operating-cost override would increase taxes about 2.7 percent. The recommended debt exclusion would add about 0.9 percent more in taxes for an estimated 25 years. When added to a usual 2.5 percent increase, allowed under state law, Brookline taxes would increase about 5 percent next year–but about 6 percent when debt service payments for the Devotion School project develop.

Based on amounts developed by the Override Study Committee, not including new funding for school buildings, beginning in July, 2015, Brookline property taxes would increase by approximately these percentages for the four operating-cost override options:

Maximum override 7.3 percent
High override 6.8 percent
Low override 5.2 percent
No override 2.5 percent

School programs: Dr. Lupini’s priorities for the school budget are in the following table. Amounts are rounded, Those shown as “$” are millions of dollars. Those shown as “xxx” were omitted from Dr. Lupini’s tables or were ambiguously stated.

Added / Override option None Low High Maximum
central administration xxx 3 3 4
high school admin. xxx 1 2 4
vice principals xxx 1 1 3
high school teachers xxx -5 11 16
elementary teachers xxx 18 22 xxx
world language xxx -15 3 3
gifted and talented xxx -4 4 xxx
second-grade assistants xxx 0 0 14
elementary guidance xxx 8 8 10
elementary nurses xxx 2 2 3
“steps to success” xxx 0 2 2
technology xxx $1.5 $1.5 $1.8
instructional supplies xxx $0.2 $0.2 $0.3
training programs xxx $0.1 $0.1 $0.3
—————— —– —– —– —–
literacy specialists xxx 8 8 8
math specialists xxx 8 8 8
disability therapists xxx 14 14 14

Priorities: With any override at all, Dr. Lupini plans to hire 5 to 11 new administrators. With “low override” or presumably “no override,” Dr. Lupini plans to cancel the world language program for sixth, seventh and eighth grades and cancel the gifted and talented program, currently called “enrichment and challenge support.”

With “low override” or presumably “no override,” at least 24 teachers and staff will be fired. In their places, if he can, Dr. Lupini plans to hire up to 40 nurses, guidance counselors and specialists in math, literacy and disabilities. However, it is not clear whether any would be hired with “no override.” Once the parents and the School Committee understand these changes, objections seem foreseeable.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, November 11, 2014


Board of Selectmen: hearings on tax overrides, Brookline Beacon, October 21, 2014

Board of Selectmen: appointments, warrant articles, school spending, Brookline Beacon, October 8, 2014

Override Study Committee of 2013, Final Report, Town of Brookline, MA, August 14, 2014

Override Study Committee: $5 million tax override, plus Devotion School debt exclusion, Brookline Beacon, July 31, 2014

Housing Advisory Board: new assisted housing and expiring assistance programs

A regular meeting of the Housing Advisory Board started at 7:30 pm on Wednesday, October 29, in the fourth floor conference room at Town Hall. The board supervises the town’s housing trust fund and monitors Brookline’s inventory of assisted housing.

Beals Street: This year the board has been helping to develop Beals St. townhouses as assisted lodging, in partnership with Pine Street Inn of Boston, whose representatives were on hand to present plans. The property was bought from a private owner about a year ago, but the project was delayed because construction bids exceeded available funds. After scaling back requirements, Pine Street Inn was looking for an additional $0.65 million commitment to complete renovations.

Brookline previously contributed $1.29 million toward the project. The board agreed to allocate an additional $0.23 million from the housing trust, $0.25 million from the town’s federal community development block grant and $0.17 million from the town’s allocation of federal HOME funds.

The units will count toward the town’s quota of 10 percent of its housing stock assisted for the benefit of low-income and moderate-income residents, needed to become exempt from Chapter 40B projects like the one now proposed at Hancock Village. At a cost in town funds so far of about $63 thousand per unit, Beals St. units represent a significant addition to the assisted housing stock and a very efficient use of funds.

Dummer Street: Patrick Dober, executive director of the Brookline Housing Authority, presented an update on this year’s other major addition to the assisted housing stock: the Dummer St. project begun this summer, as yet unnamed. It will add 32 public housing units occupying the space of former ground-level parking adjacent to Trustman Apartments on Amory, Egmont and St. Paul Sts., which is being moved underground.

DummerStHousing20141017


New housing site beside Dummer St. looking west
Source: Brookline Housing Authority, October 17, 2014

So far, Brookline has contributed about $2.0 million in housing trust funds and $2.3 million from federal funds toward the Dummer St. project. The investment of about $134 thousand per unit leverages nearly twice as much in other funding, also a significant addition to the assisted housing stock and an efficient use of town funds.

Losses: Offsetting additions to Brookline’s assisted housing are impending losses from expirations of 1970s agreements and federal programs. The board reviewed both of the investor-owned projects that will be affected: 307 units known as The Village at Brookline–at 99 Kent St. and on Village Way nearby–and 80 units at Beacon Park–1371 Beacon St., opposite the foot of Winchester St.

Privatization is expected to be spread over up to 13 years. Preliminary agreements with owners are expected to keep up to 116 of the expiring units under assistance for up to 17 more years. However it may be difficult for Brookline to add assisted units fast enough to compensate. The 63 new assisted units expected next year are an unusual event. During the past 15 years, Brookline added an average of about 12 assisted units per year.

Projections: With assistance for 387 units expiring over about 30 years, after deducting the 63 new units opening next year, Brookline needs to add an average of about 11 assisted units per year just to hold the current inventory level. To achieve its Chapter 40B quota, Brookline needs hundreds of more assisted units. So far, no one has identified a source of funding anywhere near what would be required to get them.

Housing in conventional Chapter 40B projects can be an extremely expensive way to add assisted units. The project now proposed at Hancock Village would add about 32 assisted units in a project of about 160 total units, according to discussions at the most recent hearing session at the Zoning Board of Appeals. If that were a condominium project, it would add a net of only 16 assisted units counting toward Brookline’s 40B quota, while Brookline will have to provide public services for residents in ten times as many units.

However, according to Virginia Bullock, Brookline’s housing project planner, when a project provides rental housing, the state is currently counting all the units–assisted and market-rate–toward a community’s 40B quota. Ms. Bullock said that the state’s current rules will delay subtraction of units from Brookline’s 40B quota until 2044 for Village at Brookline and until 2028 for Beacon Park–provided the projects continue as rentals.

Ms. Bullock said Brookline currently needs 488 more assisted units to gain exemption from Chapter 40B: that is, Brookline needs for the qualifying assisted units to become 10 percent of total housing units. If Hancock Village were to come in at 160 units–plus counting the Beals St. and Dummer St. units–then Brookline’s 40B deficit would fall to 287 units. Brookline could eventually achieve its 40B quota by continuing to assist buying or building small numbers of qualifying units. However, at its recent rate, that could take more than 50 years, during which Village at Brookline and Beacon Park units would both drop out of the inventory counted toward the 40B quota.

Brookline might accelerate progress toward achieving its 40B quota by inviting so-called “friendly 40B” projects that agree to provide permanently assisted units and permanent rental housing. It did a “friendly 40B” several years ago at St. Aidan’s, on the corner of Pleasant and Freeman Sts., but market-rate units there have been sold as condominiums that do not count toward the 40B quota. Considering its high costs of providing services, especially in public schools, it might be less expensive for Brookline to raise funds, assist purchase of at least 287 units or assist construction of at least 319 units, and qualify them. Several years ago, Lincoln carried out such a project.

– Beacon staff, November 6, 2014


Inventory of assisted housing, Brookline Planning Department, August, 2013

Housing Authority: renovations, programs and project development, Brookline Beacon, August 11, 2014

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

Lincoln Housing Plan, Town of Lincoln, MA, 2014

Board of Selectmen: hearings on tax overrides

The Board of Selectmen held two October hearings on potential tax overrides for next year, both in the sixth floor meeting room at Town Hall. The first was Thursday evening, October 9, starting at 7:30 pm, and the second was Monday morning, October 20, starting at 9:00 am. Each hearing drew about 80 participants and listeners. Perhaps the board expected differences between morning and evening, but views expressed proved similar.

Public schools: The key problem is costs of Brookline public schools. That is driven mostly by enrollment, which has increased for at least six years. On August 13, 2013, the board appointed an override study committee to review the issues and make recommendations. The committee divided into 9 subgroups, holding 174 officially posted meetings over almost a year. It voted recommendations last July 30.

At the final meeting, committee member Sergio Modigliani moved to recommend $5.0 million per year in additional property taxes to support town operations and a one-time exclusion from the tax limit for $23.0 million in debt to renovate and expand Devotion School. Committee member Kevin Lang moved to amend: $7.9 million additional per year for operations and a $58.8 million debt exclusion for school construction.

The committee decided to vote the matters separately. Prof. Lang’s amendments failed, 7 to 8. Mr. Modigliani’s motions passed, 9 to 6. They became the committee’s recommendations to the Board of Selectmen. The Brookline TAB did not send a reporter to that meeting and failed to describe committee actions as they happened, saying instead there was “no consensus.” Indeed there was no consensus, but there were votes.

Factions: Recently, some members of the Board of Selectmen have begun mentioning “group 1″ proposals–meaning the committee’s recommendations from June 30–and “group 2″ proposals–meaning ones for higher amounts that the committee rejected. Of the nine committee members in the majority, five spoke at the hearings: Clifford Brown, Chad Ellis, Janet Gelbart, Carol Levin and Lee Selwyn, supported by co-chair Richard Benka. Of the six members in the minority, only Beth Stram spoke.

At risk of adding fuel to a fire, William Lupini, the school superintendent, spoke at an October 7 meeting of the Board of Selectmen, seeking more money than “group 2″ proposals. If the Board of Selectmen proposes a tax override, Brookline voters will decide. Current plans would place a question on the town election ballot next spring. Views expressed at the two hearings clustered around five override options and five other concerns:

• Maximum override, as sought by Dr. Lupini
• High override, the “group 2″ proposals
• Low override, the “group 1″ proposals
• Some override, amounts and purposes unstated
• No override for any purpose
• Support for METCO and employee programs
• Opposition to METCO and employee programs
• Devotion School expansion and renovation plans
• A new, ninth elementary school
• High school expansion

Many speakers described affiliations, including Brookline High School (BHS), an elementary school–Baker, Devotion, Driscoll, Heath, Lawrence, Lincoln, Pierce or Runkle–service as town meeting members (TMM) or on the override study committee (OSC), and the Brookline Educators Union (BEU).

Maximum override: Dr. Lupini has outlined a spending plan he says would require an additional $12.29 million in tax revenue for fiscal years 2016, 2017 and 2018 combined. He did not make clear his base of comparison, but apparently he is somehow calling for more than $15.38 million in added revenue that the override study committee recommends for those years, including 2.5 percent increases for 2017 and 2018.

At the hearings, Dr. Lupini’s plan was generally supported by Jessica Wender-Shubow, BEU president and a BHS teacher, by Dominique Aumiller, BEU vice president, a BHS teacher and a Devotion parent, by Emily England, a Baker parent, by Keira Flynn-Carson, a BHS teacher, and by Mike Toeffel, a Devotion parent.

Ms. Wender-Shubow said that under current management, “60 to 90 students can be in a room with a single educator.” Ms. Flynn-Carson maintained that “essential intangibles [were] neglected by committee.” Ms. Aumiller described the difference between “intense discussions with 15 students” and, last year, a class of 28 students, saying, “Half…never talked.”

High override: Last June 30, a minority of the override committee proposed higher amounts than those the override study committee recommends: $7.9 million per year for school operations, plus debt exclusion of $58.8 million for school building projects. Some members of the Board of Selectmen have been referring to those as “group 2″ proposals although they were rejected. They have no status as recommendations.

At the hearings, the high override was generally supported by Lauren Bernard of John St., a Devotion parent and Precinct 8 TMM, by Sarah Boehs of Aspinwall Ave., a Lawrence parent, by Jack Hall of Washington St., a Driscoll parent, by Brian Hochleutner of Elm St., a Pierce parent and Precinct 6 TMM, by Hai-ying Peng of Bradford Terrace, a Devotion parent, by Pamela Roberts, a Devotion parent, by David Root of Longwood Ave., a Lawrence parent, by Andrew Shalit of Griggs Terrace, a Pierce parent, by Beth Stram, a BHS parent and an OSC member, by Jillian Webster of Naples Rd., a Devotion parent, and by Charla Whitlay, a Devotion parent.

Ms. Bernard said, “Past experiences at Devotion were more enriching…Adequate staffing is the issue.” The school has lost most of its former special-purpose rooms and is now subdivided into warrens of small rooms and cubicles. However, Ms. Stram said, “Devotion cannot be the only solution.” She was supported by several others concerned about school-space needs. Mr. Hochleutner maintained, “The OSC assumptions were wrong…We need a buffer, a safety zone.”

Low override: A compromise approach is the lower override that was recommended by the committee on June 30: $5 million per year for school operations plus debt exclusion of $23 million for expansion and renovation of Devotion School. The committee acknowledges, if enrollment continues to increase, that more funding may be needed in future years.

At the hearings, the low override was generally supported by Richard Benka of Circuit Rd., co-chair of OSC, by Clifford Brown of Hyslop Rd, a Precinct 13 TMM and an OSC member, by Chad Ellis of Chesham Rd., a Runkle parent, a Precinct 12 TMM and an OSC member, by Janet Gelbart of St. Paul St., an OSC member, by Carol Levin, a Runkle parent and an OSC member, by Linda Olsen Pehlke of Browne St, a Precinct 2 TMM, by Dr. Nadhave Prakash of Bradford Terrace, by Lee Selwyn of Reservoir Rd., an OSC member, by Dr. Stanley Spiegel of Stetson St., a Precinct 2 TMM, by Dr. Sundar Srinivasan of Salisbury Rd., a Driscoll parent, and by Megan Zorn, a Driscoll parent.

Mr. Benka asserted that “schools want substantial additional programs…We have to avoid overstatement.” Mr. Ellis quoted Susan Ditkoff, School Committee chair and co-chair of OSC, as stating that if the low override were adopted, the school “enrichment and challenge support program would be dropped.” Ms. Zorn claimed that “fear-mongering [is being] used to quell dissent.” In a more practical tone, Ms. Gelbart said the Board of Selectmen should “pass what is needed at a level the town can afford.” Dr. Spiegel advised caution, saying, “There’s opposition gearing up for this override…The number zero will be on the ballot as well.”

Some override: Some speakers at the hearings voiced support for an override without saying which option or what amounts they favored. They included Cina Doctoroff of Williston Rd., a Runkle parent, Craig Hagen of Colbourne Crescent, a Runkle parent, Pamela Katz of Columbia St., a Devotion parent and Precinct 9 TMM, Ellen Messing of Kilsyth Rd., a Driscoll parent, and Carrie Staff of Stedman St., a Devotion parent.

Ms. Katz claimed there was “not a single [Devotion] classroom that has not had some kind of compromise.” Ms. Staff said, “Devotion cannot be the only solution.” Ms. Messing asserted, “OSC significantly overstates the costs of METCO.”

No override: Although a distinct minority, some at the hearings questioned the need for an override. Perhaps most vehement was Saralynn Allaire of Bellingham Rd., a Precinct 16 TMM. She seemed not to favor Dr. Lupini, the school superintendent, saying, “He of course does not pay taxes here and presumably does not care about the town overall.” She proposed a solution to more students from Hancock Village, if a Chapter 40B housing project goes through: “Bus them up to the Heath School.”

Regina Frawley of Russett Rd., a Precinct 16 TMM, acknowledged Brookline was a “liberal” town, saying, “You can’t name a social program we’re not supporting.” She urged the Board of Selectmen to have concern for people “in single-family houses, on fixed incomes…We’re looking at pushing seniors out.” Pamela Lodish of Fisher Ave., a Precinct 14 TMM, questioned continuation of METCO and school employee programs, saying, “We don’t have the space.” She is “not in favor of a huge tax increase when these points are not being addressed.”

Support for METCO and employee programs: Starting in December of last year, Mr. Selwyn and Mr. Benka of the override study committee began singling out METCO and the student program for town employees as villains of school spending. Mr. Selwyn introduced the issues at a meeting attended by Jessica Wender-Shubow, a native of Brookline who now heads the Brookline Educators Union. Word quickly got around that Brookline had a committee with members hostile to two of the community’s longstanding social programs.

METCO was organized in 1965. An initial effort was led by Prof. Leon Trilling of M.I.T., then chairman of the Brookline School Committee. Key participants included Dr. Robert Sperber, then Brookline superintendent of schools, and the superintendents in Newton and Lexington. When METCO started sending students to seven founding communities in 1966, the program was described as filling “available seats” in classrooms.

In the 1970s, a similar approach was taken to a student program for town employees, who have been allowed to enroll their children in Brookline schools, paying a so-called “materials fee” to compensate for direct costs. Students in these programs do not get their choices of school. Instead, they are assigned where space is most available. Because of the approach, school administrators have always maintained that the main costs are not financial but social, increasing some class sizes.

At the hearings, Brookline’s longstanding social programs in the schools were generally supported by Joanna Baker of Beacon St., a Precinct 13 TMM, by Suzanne Farman of Centre St., a Devotion parent, by Eana Meng, a BHS student and founder of Brookline Friends of METCO, by Ellen Messing of Kilsyth Rd., a Driscoll parent, by Danielle Rabbina, a BHS teacher, by Joseph Segel of Beacon St, by Dr. Min Song of Bradford Terrace, a Devotion parent, by Suzanna Stern, a Runkle parent, by Henry Varon, a BHS student, by Ms. Wender-Shubow and by Catherine Wolf, a BHS teacher.

Ms. Baker suggested that some in Brookline “may have forgotten the value METCO brings to the Boston area, [addressing] unequal access to education.” Mr. Varon said, “METCO offers the most diversity of any program in the schools.” According to Ms. Meng, “Race becomes something we appreciate rather than something that separates us.” Ms. Messing called METCO “an amazing and inspiring experience for my kids.” Mr. Segel emphasized the value of METCO in helping Brookline students learn how to interact well with people from different backgrounds. In the work world, he said, “a diverse work force is one of the most valuable assets a company has.”

Speaking about the employee student or so-called “materials fee” program, Ms. Miller said it “encourages and retains high-quality teachers.” Ms. Rabbina, a 14-year veteran in Brookline schools, said that if the program were compromised, she “would look elsewhere.” According to Ms. Wender-Shubow, “teachers are demoralized” from the committee’s attack against the employee program. “You are talking about sustaining middle-class families,” she said.

Opposition to METCO and employee programs: Richard Benka of Circuit Rd., co-chair of OSC, kept up attacks on the METCO program, claiming it represents “a 6-1/2 million dollar annual subsidy to Boston. Lee Selwyn of Reservoir Rd., an OSC member, asserted that “these programs are not free.” If they were to be ended, he claimed, school “expansion would not be required…An override could be avoided.”

Linda Olsen Pehlke of Browne St., a Precinct 2 TMM, did not seem to have read much about the 1960s in Boston. She asked, “What were the conditions when [METCO] was established?” Chad Ellis of Chesham Rd., a Runkle parent, Precinct 12 TMM and OSC member, asked, “Is that the best way that we could support diversity?” Dr. Stanley Spiegel of Stetson St., a Precinct 2 TMM, asked, “Why should we have to pay more taxes to educate non-resident students, whose own families pay their taxes elsewhere?” Pamela Lodish of Fisher Ave., a Precinct 14 TMM, said, “We don’t have the space.”

Devotion School plans: The current plan for Devotion School made three residents of Bradford Terrace unhappy. That is an apartment building on Babcock St. without the side and rear setbacks now required by zoning. Maya French complained that the Devotion School Building Committee chose “the most expensive plan for Devotion.” However, the committee obtained two sets of cost estimates. While the option they chose was the most expensive of three according to one estimate, it was the middle of three according to the other estimate.

Since no one but residents of Bradford Terrace was complaining about Devotion School plans, the real issue looked to be something else. An initial plan for a proposed new south wing is closer to Babcock St. than the current building. From Table 5.01 of the zoning bylaw, the minimum setback appears to be around 50 ft–about the current amount. The initial plan showed a new south building set back about half as much. Under a special permit, which might be needed, the Zoning Board of Appeals can modify setback requirements.

Manny Howard of Bradford Terrace complained that the proposed building “will prevent the warmth of the sun from reaching our property.” However, sunlight comes mainly from the south, while the new building is mainly to the north of Bradford Terrace. Dr. Min Song of Bradford Terrace wanted to scrap the existing school and build an entirely new one, calling the current plan “a suburban school in an urban lot.” Jillian Webster of Naples Rd., a Devotion parent, contended that the other options considered by the Devotion School Building Committee, but rejected, “won’t provide the quality of experiences parents expect from their schools.”

New, ninth elementary school: Some parents had concerns about plans for school expansion, to accommodate increasing enrollment. A few years ago, Brookline engaged in a tedious examination of the issue, resulting in an “expand-in-place” strategy for which the current Lawrence School project and the planned Devotion School project are the first outcomes. These fail to meet even current needs for elementary schools, accommodating at most a few hundred more students, and they do nothing for the high school.

Contending that “expand-in-place” was a failure were Sarah Kitterman of Kenwood St., a Devotion parent, Dr. Min Song of Bradford Terrace, a Devotion parent, Dr. Sundar Srinivasan of Salisbury Rd., a Driscoll parent, and Pelly Stoll of Evans Rd., a Driscoll parent. Dr. Srinivasan asserted, “We do not have sufficient backup plans.” He cited a project in Newton expected to add “24 new classrooms for $40 million,” including land. Mr. Stoll said Brookline’s current efforts amount to “a shrug of a plan.”

High school expansion: Lack of plans to address overcrowding at the high school, expected as the current, large elementary classes move up, concerned several parents. They included Emily England, a Baker parent, Robert Liao, a Heath parent, Dr. Min Song, a Devotion parent, Beth Stram, a BHS parent and an OSC member, and Megan Zorn, a Driscoll parent.

Ms. England said it was “shameful not to look at solutions for the high school now.” Ms. Zorn recalled that Dr. Luipini had said that “the high school might run 5 am to 7 pm…This suggestion is outrageous.” Mr. Liao claimed, “Six years is enough to plan for the high school…[Planning] should start now.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 21, 2014


School Committee: budget crisis evaporates for this year, Brookline Beacon, April 11, 2014

Annual town meeting: budgets and a larger Driscoll school, Brookline Beacon, May 29, 2014

Override Study Committee: $5 million tax override, plus Devotion School debt exclusion, Brookline Beacon, July 31, 2014

Board of Selectmen: appointments, warrant articles, school spending, Brookline Beacon, October 8, 2014

Board of Selectmen: appointments, warrant articles, school spending

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, October 7, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations. There were reviews and hearings for two of the 20 articles coming before the town meeting that starts November 18.

Announcements: The Health Department provides flu clinics this season on October 28 and 29, November 9 and December 4 at the Senior Center, Baker and Devotion schools, and the Health Center. The planned Olea Cafe at 195 Washington St., which was allowed permits on August 12, will not be opening. The Coolidge House assisted care facility at 30 Webster St. is closing. Genesis Health Care, of Kennett Square, PA, operates other facilities in Medford and Chelsea. Hunneman Hall at the main library is hosting a commemorative, Remembering the Tam, this Thursday, October 9, at 7 pm. The Tam O’Shanter pub and music hall operated at 1648 Beacon St. between about 1972 and 1995.

Contracts and appointments: Peter Ditto, the engineering director, got approval for a $0.17 million contract with Susi of Dorchester for street repair on Englewood Ave and at two intersections. The work had been planned for later but was moved ahead because of deteriorating conditions. Greer Hardwicke of the Preservation Commission got approval for a $0.02 million state-funded contract with Wendy Frontiero of Beverly for historical surveys in northern parts of Brookline.

The board voted appointments to the Council on Aging: Peter Ames, Doris Toby Axelrod, Phyllis Bram, Jean Doherty, Harry Johnson, Barbara Kean, Celia Lascarides, Helen Lew, Claire Lurie, Yolanda Rodriguez, Evelyn Roll, Vera Shama, William Wong and Jackie Wright. The board interviewed two candidates for appointments: one for Conservation and one for Tree Planting.

Diversity director: Lloyd Gellineau was appointed Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Human Relations under a bylaw voted at this year’s annual town meeting. That bylaw replaced the former Human Relations/Youth Resources Commission with a new Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission. Dr. Gellineau is the first African-American in many years to become a Brookline department head. He is also to be Brookline’s chief diversity officer.

The new commission has yet to be appointed, and so far no candidates have been interviewed. The Board of Selectmen had waited for approval of town meeting actions by the state attorney general. It was received on September 23–two days before a 90-day deadline. Several people came to speak in support of Dr. Gellineau. He has worked in Brookline’s Department of Health and Human Services for eight years.

Supporters included Michael Sandman, an Advisory Committee member, Rita McNally, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, Betsy Shure Gross, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, Martin Rosenthal, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, and Cheryl Snyder, a constable. Others contended Brookline should set up a screening committee and conduct a broad-based search for a director. They included Patricia Connors, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, Joanna Baker, a Precinct 13 town meeting member and Dr. Alex Coleman of Tappan St.

Board member Nancy Daly spoke in favor of Dr. Gellineau, saying, “We have someone who’s highly qualified.” She had chaired a committee appointed by the board to review Brookline’s efforts toward diversity. It turned out to be a complicated effort, taking more than a year. Since the commission has to be consulted about a director, Ms. Daly proposed Dr. Gellineau’s appointment as a provisional director. The board agreed in a unanimous vote.

Warrant articles: Claire Stampfer, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, and Heather Hamilton, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, spoke to the board about Article 17 at the November town meeting. It proposes a resolution asking the town to select health-conscious LED lamps for its lighting programs. The lamps differ mainly in brightness and in color temperature, a measure of how much they tend toward red or blue light.

Incandescent and “warm white” fluorescent lamps have color temperatures rated around 2,700 K, “cool white” fluorescent lamps are around 4,200 K and “daylight” halide lamps are around 5,500 K. LED lamps can be made over a wide range; those for street lighting commonly come with 4,000 K or 5,700 K ratings. After an initial review of options, Dr. Stampfer said Public Works chose a 4,000 K rating for its current street-lighting program. She and Ms. Hamilton said color temperature has health effects. Used at night, higher numbered ratings can cause sleep disturbances.

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Energy, lower numbers for LED-lamp color temperature are associated with lower efficiency, usually measured in lumens per watt. At a 3,000 K color temperature, as compared to 6,000 K, it typically found 20 percent lower efficiency. For the same amount of lighting, the cost of electricity would increase about 25 percent–nearly cancelling the electrical-efficiency benefits of LED lamps as replacements for fluorescent and high-pressure sodium vapor.

School spending: An audience of more than 30 gathered as William Lupini, the school superintendent, reviewed school spending, in the light of a potential tax override to support operations. Dr. Lupini distinguished priorities for schools, which he called “core values” and “beliefs,” as compared with priorities from the recent Override Study Committee, whose report referred to “levers.” Much of that committee’s long sessions were conducted in code, nearly opaque to ordinary Brookline residents. Some of that code, like “levers,” factored in Dr. Lupini’s presentation, too.

Dr. Lupini’s presentation was detailed in a 58-page document titled Preliminary Look at Budget Implications. Although not found that evening via a “Packet” link for October 7, 2014, at Meeting Central on the municipal Web site, two days later a link appeared on the Override Central page. The core of Dr. Lupini’s financial presentation was an estimate of operating cost growth to maintain services.

Key elements of school priorities, as described by Dr. Lupini, are neighborhood schools, small classes and commitments to diversity–all involving significant costs. He emphasized that school spending per student, when adjusted for inflation, has been held level over the past five years. The override study report agreed. Most new financial needs come from trying to maintain services during increasing enrollment.

Over the past ten years, Dr. Lupini showed, class sizes have grown. For the 2005 school year, they ranged from 14 to 25 students, with 19 the most common. For the 2015 school year, they are 15 to 26 students, with 22 the most common. The number of K-8 students increased 41 percent, the number of K-8 home rooms increased 29 percent and the average home-room student count increased from 19.3 to 21.2. Although not shown as part of the presentation except for school nurses, numbers of students per support staff member have also been growing, along with numbers of students per teaching staff member.

BrooklineClassSizes2005and2015

Source: Public Schools of Brookline, October, 2014

In code words, on page 13 of his presentation, Dr. Lupini estimated that school operations need a total of $12.29 million in additional revenue for the 2016, 2017 and 2018 fiscal years combined. It was not clear how much allowance had been made for salary increases and other sources of budget inflation. It was also not clear how much of that amount was to maintain services and how much was for new services. There was no explanation of what so-called “catch up,” “enhancement” and “structural deficit” actually meant.

Members of the board seemed to take Dr. Lupini’s word on school priorities, but they had concerns about timing and transparency. Board member Nancy Daly asked for a budget projection. Susan Ditkoff, chair of the School Committee, described a process extending into next spring. Board members said it had to be much faster and said the budget must tell what an override buys. As board member Neil Wishinsky put it, “We have to give the voters a reason to pay more money.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 8, 2014


Dr. William Lupini, Superintendent of Schools, Brookline, MA, Preliminary Look at Budget Implications, October 7, 2014

Energy efficiency of LEDs, U.S. Department of Energy, March, 2013

Economic Development Advisory: skeptical about proposals

Two proposals for commercial development drew some skepticism from the Economic Development Advisory Board on Monday, October 6. An audience of over 30 gathered in the first floor north meeting room at Town Hall, starting at 7 pm. Local business operator and real estate investor Raj Dhanda described the projects, each with its own set of architects and advisors.

Offices in Chestnut Hill: The more developed of the projects aims to place a four-story office building at 1180 Boylston, on the southeast corner where Hammond St. intersects Route 9. For many years, the site housed a large Exxon service station, now gone, diagonally opposite the Chestnut Hill Shopping Center. The proposed development would provide retail space on the first floor.

As described by Haril A. Pandya of CBT Architects, Boston, the structure would have about 36,000 sf of gross floor area for office space and 12,000 sf for retail space, with two levels of underground parking and around 50 spaces. Located on a plot of about 14,600 sf, that yields a floor area ratio of 3.3. For over 50 years, the parcel has been zoned G-1.0, general business with a maximum floor area ratio of 1.0.

Nearby commercial property is low-rise, mixed among a few older 3-decker houses. The proposed development would be far more dense. Brookline has only two types of zoning that could allow it: G-1.75(LSH), designed for the Marriott hotel site at 40 Webster St. in Coolidge Corner, and GMR-2.0, designed for the 2 Brookline Place site now under development by Children’s Hospital, near the intersection of Washington St. with Route 9. Economic Development Advisory was involved in both projects, whose planning and rezoning each took several years.

Unanswered questions: Board member Robert Sperber, who organized Economic Development Advisory over 20 years ago, asked for the projections of Brookline tax revenue from the development, always the board’s prime concern. Astoundingly, Mr. Dhanda and his advisors said they had none. “It would be a lot,” one claimed. Board members asked about the prospective retail and office tenants and about traffic and environmental studies. Again, there were no clear answers. As to financial potential, Mr. Dhanda simply said, “It’s good.”

Board members Kenneth Lewis and Donald Warner questioned plans to site vehicle access on the heavily congested Hammond St. side. Mr. Lewis called the parking ratio “extreme,” only about one space per 1,000 sf. The offices might house more than 300 people but provide parking for fewer than 50. Mr. Panya of CBT said the area was “well served” by public transportation. MBTA bus 60, between Kenmore Sq. and Newton, stops about twice an hour on average. A station for the D branch of the Green Line is about four blocks away, with about 100 parking spaces. Pedestrian facilities are spartan. It is a suburban location, dominated by cars.

A 10-story hotel at Coolidge Corner: Mr. Dhanda next proposed to build a 10-story hotel at 1299 Beacon St., currently occupied by his lamp store, Neena’s. To the east is the one-story Brookline post office. To the west is the 1986, three-story Center Place office building, with Trader Joe’s on the ground floor. The proposed development would be self-contained, providing no retail, office or public spaces and no landscaping.

As described by Harold F. Wheeler of Group One Partners, architects in South Boston, the structure would house about 160 hotel rooms, 60 parking spaces on two underground levels, a lobby, a food service, meeting rooms, a small swimming pool and an exercise room. The plot has less than 60 ft of Beacon St. frontage, making the proposed building narrow, stretching over a current, small parking lot to Sewall Ave. in back.

Neighboring commercial buildings all have one, two or three stories. The 1924 Pelham Hall, across Beacon Street, has eight stories, and the wider area within several blocks has other residential buildings up to 13 stories. A crude outline of a looming, narrow tower suggested window walls facing east and west, looking up and down Beacon St. The proposed building was described as 140,000 sf gross floor area for hotel uses, plus parking.

Located on a plot of about 18,600 sf, the proposed hotel space yields a floor area ratio of 7.5. Numbers do not seem to be a strong suit for Mr. Dhanda and his advisers, who claimed that the floor area ratio would be about 6. For many years, the parcel has been zoned G-1.75(CC), general business with a maximum floor area ratio of 1.75. Developers of large lots in the zone who support community facilities are eligible for up to a 15 percent bonus in floor area, but the lot at 1299 Beacon St. is too small to qualify.

Brookline has no current type of zoning that would allow the proposed development. Window walls on the sides of a building in a G zone sound unwise and might not be allowed. Properties in those zones can be built to the lot lines. In the future, one or more of Mr. Dhanda’s commercial neighbors might also build to the lot lines, wiping out window views.

More unanswered questions: Dr. Sperber again asked for the projections of Brookline tax revenue from the development, including local taxes on hotel rooms. All Mr. Dhanda offered was that Brookline would receive more than the current property taxes of about $60,000 a year. Several members of the board and the audience questioned traffic plans. Mr. Wheeler said parking would operate with valet service, using large elevators. He did not address frequent, heavy congestion on Sewall Ave.

As with Mr. Dhanda’s other proposal, there had been no traffic or environmental study. Board member Donald Warner said that while economics for a hotel were likely to be strong, “the key is making the numbers work. That [10-story] height isn’t going to happen.” David-Marc Goldstein, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, recalled that the height and density allowed for Coolidge Corner commercial properties had been reduced. To carry out the proposal, he said, “you would have to change the zoning in town meeting, which you won’t have the votes for.”

Variances: Unlike developers of Brookline Place and of hotels on Webster St. and at the former Red Cab site on Boylston St., Mr. Dhanda and his architects and advisors turned confrontational. Rather than negotiate and work cooperatively with Brookline on zoning, economics and environment, they said they planned to seek variances, under Chapter 40A of Massachusetts General Laws.

Variances can be approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals, but requirements are difficult to satisfy, and they have become increasingly rare. Instead, Brookline has developed an extensive system of special permits in its zoning, through which additional building height and density can be approved when developers agree to provide specific public benefits. Mr. Dhanda did not seem familiar with town’s approach to planning and development.

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


Zoning Bylaw, Town of Brookline, MA, June 2, 2014

Devotion School Building Committee: designs and controversies

On Wednesday, September 10, the Devotion School Building Committee presented options to renovate and expand the school at a public hearing held in the Devotion School auditorium, starting at 7 pm. At least 12 of the 20 committee members were present. The audience numbered around 150 and included four of the five members of the Board of Selectmen and several School Committee members.

Town bylaws require building committees for construction, alteration or repair projects going beyond routine maintenance. The state’s School Building Authority (SBA) also requires such a committee to include specified school and municipal officials. The Board of Selectmen assembled the largest building committee ever, including representatives of Devotion School parents, preservationists and the business community.

Background: After the Devotion School project appeared for at least ten years in Brookline’s capital improvement program, active planning began in the summer of 2012, with appointment of the committee. Devotion School was last renovated between 1974 and 1976, when the current north wing along Stedman St. replaced a handsome but dilapidated building opened in 1899.

Local architect Robert Kaplan moved the north wing eastward from the 1899 site, away from Harvard St., opening up community space and providing a more respectful setting for the Edward Devotion House. The house was begun around 1680, when the then-unincorporated town was known as the Muddy River hamlet of Boston. It was built out to its current form around 1745. The town bought the property in 1891 for school uses.

When the current school opened in 1976, it was rated for 650 students, although during the 1950s the student population had reached around 900. In a conservative interpretation of “open schools,” then in vogue, Mr. Kaplan provided flexible partitions in the 1976 north wing and generous spaces for woodworking, home economics, music, art, science, assembly, library and community uses. A stately auditorium in the central building, opened in 1915, was divided into a large library below and a low-rise auditorium above.

The woodworking and home economics programs were disbanded in the 1980s, as Brookline reacted to Proposition 2-1/2 with many cutbacks in both municipal and school services. With Devotion’s student population increasing steadily since about 2005, the School Department used the north wing’s flexible partitions to create more classrooms, then added sub-partitions and cubicles.

The former community room, special program rooms, open areas and almost every other usable indoor space have now been taken for classrooms. This fall’s student count is about 815. The 2012 fall town meeting appropriated $1.75 million for a feasibility study and preliminary plans. Brookline hired HMFH Architects of Cambridge for the work. In 2013, the SBA authorized expansion of school capacity to 1,010 students.

Plan options: The main design options are explained in a document from HMFH, available for several weeks on Brookline’s municipal Web site. At the public hearing, committee chair Betsy DeWitt, a member of the Board of Selectmen, summarized the background of the project, some of the objectives and the ongoing process. Objectives, she said, are “driven by educational programs…grade clustering, access to common space.”

Guiding criteria that Ms. DeWitt showed on a projection screen include preserving the central building opened in 1915 and the historic Edward Devotion House. These and the other exhibits are supposed to be available from the municipal Web site but were not found the following morning. Ms. DeWitt described a schedule.

The committee plans to meet September 26 and designate a preference for one of three options, to be sent to the SBA by October 2. Review by the SBA is expected at a November 15 meeting. If favorable, Brookline will prepare preliminary plans, aiming for SBA approval in March of 2015. Ms. DeWitt said members of the Board of Selectmen expect to propose a tax override next January, to be submitted to voters the following May.

George Metzger from HMFH. assisted by Deborah Collins and Andrea Yoder, presented the three design options now before the committee. Option 1 retains the site layout, replacing the current north and south wings with larger structures of the same heights. A new north wing would extend about 100 feet eastward down Stedman St., compared with the current one. A new south wing would be wider, shrinking the outdoor area near Babcock St.

Option 2 removes the current north and south wings and builds a large structure behind but connected to the current central building, three stories toward Babcock St. and four stories toward Stedman St. Option 3 is similar to option 2, but the new building becomes five stories toward Stedman St. It moves back and disconnects from the central building–no longer to be part of the school–taking up most of the current field area. With any option, current underground parking would increase from about 45 to about 65 spaces.

Ken Liss, for the Brookline Historical Society, and Sara Patton, for the National Park Service, described the historical significance of the Devotion School site. Mr. Liss said it had become the community’s unofficial “town green.” He named other historical buildings demolished from the 1940s through the 1960s, saying that the town now “values its past by building for the future.”

Sara Patton, lead park ranger at the Kennedy birthplace site less than two blocks away, recalled that four of the Kennedy family began their educations at Devotion School, including former President John F. Kennedy, shortly after the central building opened in 1915. She said the National Park Service coordinates educational programs every year at Devotion School, focused on the neighborhood history.

Questions and comments: When Ms. DeWitt invited questions and comments, an audience member asked to see the options superimposed, but HMFH architects had not thought to compare their designs graphically and could not respond. Some in the audience appeared to dismiss options 2 and 3, focusing on option 1. They wanted to know how much of the field area in back of the school would be taken. Again, HMFH architects were unprepared.

George White, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, asked about enclosing open spaces in front of the school along Harvard St, as done now with the south portions. He said it “could be like the Public Garden” in Boston. Once more, there was no clear response from the architects. Mr. Metzger was straightforward, however, about going above five stories, saying that would “make it impossible to meet the educational plan.”

Devotion School is just 2-1/2 blocks from the Coolidge Corner transit station, a candidate for the selectmen’s recently announced town-wide transportation demand management. William Lupini, the superintendent of schools, did not seem to think it applied to his department. “Teachers need to park. They don’t always come from places with public transportation.” It sounded as though the fifth and sixth floors at Town Hall aren’t connected.

Toward the end of the hearing, parents of Devotion students began to speak up. Some were angry over the guidelines’ emphasis on maintaining historical structures. In particular, they seemed to see the 1915 central building as an obstacle. Mr. White sounded irritated, saying, “There are some people who don’t think we knock everything down in Brookline and build a Howard Johnson’s.”

Ms. DeWitt reminded the audience that a tax override was going to be needed. Many voters who have no children in the schools will have to support it, in order to win approval. A narrow focus on school needs alone won’t help. “It is the most expensive project the town has considered,” she said. “I will campaign for it very hard, and everybody here should be prepared to do the same.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 11, 2014

School Committee: no PARCC testing this year

A regular semimonthly meeting of the School Committee on Thursday, September 4, started at 6:00 pm, held in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Topics included the state’s PARCC testing program and considerations for a general tax override, expected to be proposed early next year mainly to support public schools.

Superintendent of Schools William Lupini and the School Committee welcomed several new hires and promotions for leadership positions, They include new vice principals Jennifer Buller at Devotion, Brian DiNitzo at Lincoln and Dann Rudd at Baker. New administrators include Gabe McCormick for professional development, Michelle Adams for school affairs and Brian Poon as associate dean of students at the High School.

Many of their friends and family were there. At least two of the new hires and promotions are African-American. Public Schools of Brookline looks to be leading the town in diversity of senior staff recruitment–an example most municipal departments have yet to appreciate.

Testing plans: Superintendent Lupini described his opposition to introducing a new commercial testing regime in Brookline this school year, called “Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers” (PARCC). These tests are being produced and sold by the Pearson company of London, with major offices in Boston and six other U.S. cities.

Dr. Lupini said the state group organizing PARCC had agreed to “extend by 50 percent” the testing times, only to reverse course under alleged federal pressure. They are “now considering eliminating the extra time,” he said. Communities that previously agreed to adopt PARCC will find “conditions have changed…will likely be upset.” He contended the situation left special-needs students at severe disadvantage. Bottom line: “PARCC didn’t provide an environment that’s in the best interest of our students.”

School Committee members appeared to expect Dr. Lupini’s change of heart and offered some considered reactions. Committee chair Susan Ditkoff sounded the most skeptical. She does “not agree on the question of timed tests” but nevertheless “supports the approach” Dr. Lupini proposed. The “equity issue is front and center,” she said, “especially special needs” students, although “Common Core standards ask for higher levels of thinking.”

Vice chair Barbara Scotto, previously a teacher in Brookline elementary schools for many years, said she “supports the decision,” although “it concerns me that the timing issue is so prominent” at state and federal levels. She explained that Brookline’s experience with untimed tests taught helpful lessons. When scheduled times were up, she said, “possibly a third…had finished, the rest of the students were taking their time,” and “the kids who rushed through often did not get the best scores.”

Dr. Lupini, who currently heads the state’s association of school superintendents, said that organization “will be bringing up the issue when we meet” later this month. As of now, he said, “59 percent of districts opted for PARCC…50 percent of students will go with PARCC.” He seemed to expect some districts may reconsider, now that it is clear accommodations for special-needs students are being constricted.

Background: At a School Committee meeting this May, Dr. Lupini had announced plans to implement PARCC testing in Brookline schools during the 2014-2015 school year. As the only exception, he proposed Brookline High School would stay with MCAS for grade 10–that is, English and math tests required for graduation. A public hearing about the issues was set for June 5, to be followed by a School Committee review and vote later in June.

In a move that might have surprised some, on June 19 Dr. Lupini pushed out to September the review and vote about PARCC testing. He had become concerned, he said, about “the untimed nature of MCAS versus the timed nature of PARCC.” While that might have been a departure for Dr. Lupini, it was a familiar issue for people acquainted with decades of testing controversies, including several members of the School Committee.

PARCC has become the military arm of Common Core State Standards, the latest effort to regiment U.S. elementary and secondary schools. Supposedly state-coordinated but in fact federally promoted, it looks like an emerging cash cow for the publishing company formerly known as Pearson Education, recently rebranded as just “Pearson.” As compared with other regimented tests, it puts efficiency and not students first. It is both administered and scored by computers, even in so-called “essay” segments.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 5, 2014


Valerie Strauss, Teacher says, No longer can I throw my students to the ‘testing wolves,’ Washington Post, September 5, 2014

Louise Law and John Stifler, Look between the lines on education ‘reform,’ Daily Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, MA), May 21, 2014

Les Perelman, Flunk the robo-graders, Boston Globe, April 30, 2014

Scott O’Connell, Rough start for PARCC, Metrowest Daily News (Framingham, MA), March 30, 2014

Override Study Committee: warping the facts

Brookline’s Override Study Committee appointed in 2013 did themselves no favors with a report filed Thursday, August 14, in the dog-days of summer, when no one might be watching. Their report comes across as wordy, warped and awkward–read in tandem with the much more straightforward report from the Override Study Committee of 2007.

Fuzzy logic: A fuzzy argument from the 2013 committee held that Brookline taxes are unusually heavy. [p. 115] That fiction was concocted by combining medians for incomes with averages for taxes. People who work with statistical data would know such an approach is not valid. Actually, community data as taken from the committee report show the opposite: that is, when compared to community incomes, Brookline taxes are unusually light.

Property tax versus Income, selected Massachusetts cities and towns
Source of data: Brookline Override Study Committee, Final report, August, 2014, pp. 114, 115

Fair comparison: In the chart, a magenta line reflects average taxes per resident, as a percentage of average incomes per resident, for the 19 communities that the Override Study Committee of 2013 cited as a basis of comparison. Communities above the line have relatively high taxes, considering their incomes; those below the line have relatively low taxes.

As compared to community incomes, Brookline’s taxes are well below average. In fact, Brookline is the stingiest–or, if you will, the thriftiest–of all. By percentages instead of amounts, Medford–second from the left–is slightly more thrifty than Brookline. Part of the reason families have been moving to Brookline, other than the reputation of its schools, could be that its taxes have become a fairly good bargain.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 24, 2014


Note: No one, at least any time recently, has tried to relate circumstances in Brookline to those throughout Massachusetts. The recent study committee did not do so. Their so-called “peer” communities were mostly very well-heeled places–not chosen to represent the state.

The town’s history runs to such an approach. As recently as the 1880s, Brookline’s gentry advertised the community–without a trace of modesty–as “the richest town in America.” Who might then have guessed, 130 years later, that Brookline would have a substantial and growing poverty rate?

The following chart presents the same type of picture as the earlier one, but it includes nearly all the 351 Massachusetts cities and towns. Data came from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Massachusetts Department of Revenue for 2011–the latest income data that can be readily extracted from census machinery, with only residential property taxes.

Property tax versus Income, Massachusetts cities and towns

Excluded from this chart were 21 vacation destinations–mostly Cape Cod and the Islands–totaling less than two percent of the population. Property tax versus income comparisons there are badly distorted by absentee owners of luxury houses. Their property taxes are tabulated with those communities, while most of the luxury-owner incomes are not.

This chart shows a concentration of communities near the state’s average income per resident of around $35,000. Of the state’s many moderate-income communities, only Framingham and Medford somehow landed on the committee “peer” list and thus on the earlier chart, while this chart shows nearly all those communities.

The magenta line on the statewide chart is the statistical trend from an unconstrained, unweighted linear regression. The slope is about 0.058 and the source intercept about $9,400. On average, this means that the state’s communities, aside from vacation spots, were collecting in residential property taxes about 6 percent of resident incomes over about $9,000 per person.

As also found in the chart with only so-called “peer” communities, Brookline sat on the low-tax fringe in the statewide comparison. Its residential property taxes were substantially less than typical for the town’s income levels. Cambridge, with its portfolio of high-tech industries, achieved much lower residential property taxes for its income levels. Among the communities with middle and upper average incomes, statewide, Brookline had the second lowest residential tax burdens relative to incomes.

Committee on Taxi Medallions: bank loans and unsold medallions

The Committee on Taxi Medallions met Monday, August 11, starting at 7:00 pm in the third-floor lounge at Town Hall. Committee chair Josh Safer was absent; Amid El-Khoury had resigned from the committee, and he joined the fairly large audience. Committee member Michael Sandman chaired the meeting.

Two Brookline Bank representatives described experience with loans for Boston and Cambridge taxi medallions: William Mackenzie, Senior Vice President for Commercial Lending, and Timothy Steiner, Vice President for Commercial Lending. So far there has not been a loan in default, they said. They attribute the record to a strong work ethic among the borrowers. If a loan were to fail, they said, they would seize the medallion used as collateral and sell it. They claimed to be unaware of any decline in medallion market values.

That could be a bit behind the times. The owner of Hello Taxi said there are currently 235 medallions available for sale in Boston, and apparently there are no buyers. A year ago, he said, the unsold inventory was near zero. He believes that mobile technology deployed by Uber, Hailo, Lyft and Sidecar has undercut the market for taxi medallions, at least in Boston.

Betsy DeWitt, a member of the Board of Selectmen, spoke somewhat skeptically about medallions for Brookline taxis. She described circumstances in Washington, DC, which houses a large, regulated fleet of taxis but does not use a system of permanent, transferrable medallions.

As at the recent hearing held by the committee, Bay State Taxi owner Joe Bethoney said the town should sell taxi medallions to current, long-term taxi operators and drivers for nominal fees and earn revenues when the medallions are subsequently resold.

At least one and possibly more articles are being prepared for the fall town meeting, now scheduled to start on November 18. It is not yet clear whether the committee will be able to sort out the issues and arrive as a coherent and workable approach to recommend this fall to the Transportation Board, to the Board of Selectmen and possibly to town meeting.

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


Mike Beggs, Hailo’s black car service like ‘stabbing taxi drivers in the back’, Taxi News (Toronto, ON), July, 2014

Geoffrey Fowler, Testing UberX, Lyft and Sidecar against a cab in six cities, Wall Street Journal, March 12, 2014

Override Study Committee: Open Meeting Law problems

Open Meeting Law: Meetings and meeting records of government organizations in Massachusetts are currently regulated by the Open Meeting Law of 2009 and by corresponding state regulations. [G.L.C. 30A, Secs. 18-25, and 940 CMR 29] They require every organization to hold all meetings in public–except for ten strict exceptions–and to prepare, keep and distribute accurate records of meetings.

Since 2008, Article 3.21 of the Brookline Bylaws has also regulated meetings of government organizations in the community, It requires posting meeting notices and records on Brookline’s municipal Web site and provides for distribution of information by e-mail.

State law requires a notice for a meeting to be posted 48 hours before the start of the meeting, “excluding Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays.” [G.L.C. 30A, Sec. 20(b)] A notice must include an agenda: the “list of topics shall have sufficient specificity to reasonably advise the public of the issues to be discussed.” [940 CMR 29.03(b)]

Notices on the Web site cannot satisfy state regulations now, because they fail to provide for “the date and time that the notice is posted [to] be conspicuously recorded thereon.” [940 CMR 29.03(1)(b)] Notices at the town clerk’s office cannot satisfy state law, because they are not “conspicuously visible to the public at all hours.” [G.L.C. 30A, Sec. 20(c)] Brookline organizations post notices both on paper at the town clerk’s office, where they are time-stamped, and on the Web site, where they are visible at all hours.

State law also requires a government organization to “create and maintain accurate minutes of all meetings.” [G.L.C. 30A, Sec. 22(a)] In addition to minutes, state law provides that meeting records include “documents and other exhibits.” [G.L.C. 30A, Sec. 22(d)] Those could be charts, diagrams, drawings, sketches, renderings, maps, photographs, computer files, film-slide or computerized presentations, and video or sound recordings. Brookline’s bylaw requires records of meetings to be posted on the municipal Web site. [Sec. 3.21.4]

The Massachusetts Open Meeting Law requires all members of government organizations participating in meetings to certify receipt of copies of the law, the regulations and instructions from the attorney general. [G.L.C. 30A, Sec. 20(g)] It will not be easy to claim ignorance of the law. Violations are punishable by fines of up to “$1,000 for each intentional violation.” [G.L.C. 30A, Sec. 23(d)(4)] The attorney general can “nullify in whole or in part any action taken” in violation of state law or regulations. [G.L.C. 30A, Sec. 23(d)(3)]

Patterns in Brookline: Brookline boards, committees, commissions and councils have varied patterns of compliance with the laws and of making information available to the public. A few–including the Board of Selectmen–distribute both on paper and via the Web timely and detailed meeting notices, punctual and thorough minutes, and supporting documents including contracts and reports.

Other organizations provide the public with spotty or unusable information. For example, some PDF files distributed by the Planning Department are internally scrambled. They can be viewed but not searched. If one tries to mark and copy a segment for reference, when pasted into a document one gets gibberish. This will not happen by accident; Planning Department staff must configure documents to cause the behaviors. The practices are not currently forbidden by law, but they violate the spirit of so-called “open government” to which Brookline says it is committed.

Actions of the Override Study Committee: Actions of the Override Study Committee of 2013 illustrate some of the serious and typical problems. That committee was appointed on August 13, 2013, and voted its recommendations on July 30, 2014. It has yet to distribute a final report. The organization is neither at the best nor at the worst of Brookline’s Open Meeting Law compliance.

During the year from August, 2013 through July, 2014, the Override Study Committee formed nine subcommittees. The combined groups held a total of 174 meetings. Problems began early. As of August 1, 2014, minutes for two of the 12 meetings held in October, 2013, still could not be found on the Brookline municipal Web site. One group was diligent with minutes, but the others were not. Three posted minutes for only about 20 percent of their meetings.

Organization Meetings Minutes Percent
Override Study Committee 37 21 57%
Benefits subcommittee 4 4 100%
Capital subcommittee 20 4 20%
Demographic subcommittee 32 17 53%
Fiscal subcommittee 9 2 22%
Municipal subcommittee 18 11 61%
Populations subcommittee 17 3 18%
Revenue subcommittee 12 8 67%
School program task force 19 11 58%
Schools subcommittee 6 5 83%
All combined 174 86 49%

Overall, minutes for less than half the 174 total meetings had been posted by August 1. Compliance with Open Meeting Law requirements for minutes collapsed after April. As of August 1, minutes had been posted for only one of the 43 meetings held in May, June and July. Without spending hundreds of hours at meetings, the public had almost no way to know what the committee had been doing.

Year Month Meetings Minutes Percent
2014 Jul 16 0 0%
2014 Jun 15 1 7%
2014 May 12 0 0%
2014 Apr 14 9 64%
2014 Mar 18 13 72%
2014 Feb 11 8 73%
2014 Jan 28 15 54%
2013 Dec 24 12 50%
2013 Nov 22 16 73%
2013 Oct 12 10 83%
2013 Sep 2 2 100%
2013 Aug 0 0 N/A
Total 174 86 49%

The committee and its subcommittees have entertained exhibits of statistical spreadsheets, budget models and computerized presentations at their meetings. So far, despite the requirements of state Open Meeting Law and Brookline law, those have not been posted on the municipal Web site. The committee is currently trying to use information withheld from the public. Since the information was openly conveyed in public sessions, it does not qualify for any of the exceptions in the state Open Meeting Law.

A vote by the full committee taken July 29 did not use a roll call, although one member was connected by telephone–contrary to state regulations, which require roll call votes when any member is participating remotely. [940 CMR 29.10(7)(c)] No exception is obtained by calling something a “straw vote,” as one committee member tried to do. The motion failed on a tie vote, treated as disposative. If a vote matters, then it’s a vote.

The seven full committee meetings this July were described to the public only through opaque and generic notices, saying the committee might do any or many of various things it is authorized to do. Without inside information, the public had no reasonable notice that on July 30–unlike the other days–the committee would vote a recommendation on a permanent, general tax override.

State open meeting regulations require, on a meeting notice, that “topics must be sufficiently specific to reasonably inform the public.” [940 CMR 29.03(b)] They were not, yet insiders clearly knew. A quorum of the School Committee was present at that July 30 meeting but not the others.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 7, 2014


Attorney General of Massachusetts, Open Meeting Law Guide, August 1, 2013

Office of the Attorney General, Open meetings, Massachusetts Regulations 940 CMR 29

Article 3.21, Readily accessible electronic meeting notices, agendas and records, Brookline Bylaws

Retirement Board: seeking to improve asset earnings

The Brookline Retirement Board met Tuesday, June 24, at 4:30 pm, and Monday, July 28, at 2:00 pm, in the basement conference room at the Health Center. Both meetings focused on performance of Brookline’s retirement assets. Brookline began appropriating toward a long-term retirement fund in the early 1970s and increased its appropriations in the 1980s, when the state began to regulate retirement systems more strictly.

Brookline continues to maintain a locally managed retirement fund, while a majority of the 351 Massachusetts cities and towns, plus several counties and other jurisdictions, have placed all their retirement assets in state-managed Pension Reserve Investment Trust (PRIT) funds. Counting state agency and employee funds, there are now only 106 retirement funds for public employees in the state that are managed outside PRIT. Long-term returns for PRIT funds have rarely been beaten by those for the other retirement systems.

Considering cumulative returns since the start of the state-managed fund in 1985, only seven of the current 106 independently managed funds have done better than the PRIT average: Haverhill, Malden, Needham, North Adams, Taunton, Wellesley and Weymouth. The cumulative average return for PRIT was 9.84 percent. Those for the top seven communities ranged from 9.90 to 10.35 percent. Brookline’s fund ranked 46th in this long-term comparison, just above the middle, with a cumulative return of 8.90 percent over 28 years.

Recently, Brookline’s retirement fund fared poorly, with a return of 12.13 percent for 2013, ranking 103rd among 106 funds. Other retirement funds ranged from 11.36 to 21.82 percent. Brookline’s lower performance will be made up by more contributions from its budget in the future, resulting in higher taxes, less services or both.

After seeing disappointing results early this year, the Retirement Board brought in a new asset manager: Russell Investments of Seattle, WA, a subsidiary of Northwestern Mutual. Near three-quarters of Brookline’s fund assets, totaling about $250 million, are now in funds managed by Russell. Their client representative for Brookline, Steve Flynn, reviewed performance and strategies on June 24.

The board has also recently hired Raymond Depelteau, who serves as chief investment officer for Holyoke and for Westfield, to provide strategic advice about other assets. Attending his first Brookline meeting on July 28, Mr. Depelteau presented options to improve Brookline’s asset performance.

Westfield and Holyoke retirement funds have been performing better than the Brookline fund recently, ranking sixth and eleventh among the 106 Massachusetts funds as measured by the 2013 returns: 20.27 and 19.64 percent. If Brookline had matched performance of Westfield and Holyoke, it would have had earned nearly $20 million more for 2013.

The state’s Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission publishes profiles of the Massachusetts retirement systems for public employees. Assets of all independently managed systems totaled about 60 percent of long-term liabilities, as of the first of this year. Brookline assets totaled about 56 percent of long-term liabilities.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 5, 2014


Annual Report for 2013, Massachusetts Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission

Independently managed Massachusetts retirement funds, 2014, information from Massachusetts Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission

Override Study Committee: $5 million tax override, plus Devotion School debt exclusion

The long-running Override Study Committee of 2013 met Tuesday and Wednesday, July 29 and 30, 2014, starting at 6:00 pm, in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The committee voted to recommend a general tax override and a debt exclusion to renovate and enlarge Devotion School.

For almost a year, the key issue for the committee has been how much, if any, added taxes to recommend for Brookline schools. Municipal departments have been able to maintain their services for many years without needing more budget increases than state law allows through town meeting action.

As their July 30 meeting finally showed, the 15 voting members of the committee divided between what most towns might call moderate and liberal outlooks. No one opposed some general tax override for operating schools or some debt exclusion for school buildings. Differences on the committee involved the amounts.

Enrollments, spending and inflation: Brookline schools have experienced sustained growth in enrollment, averaging 2.5 percent per year, from 2005 through last year. There was a 22 percent increase in total enrollment over that eight-year span. So far, there has been no sign of the trend slowing.

School spending per student got about a 10 percent boost from the last general override, in 2008. State law allows a 2.5 percent increase in tax revenue per year, and Brookline has been increasing its taxes by that amount each year. As a result, spending per student stayed about the same for fiscal 2009 through fiscal 2014, as measured in the dollars of those years.

However, inflation eroded purchasing power. Between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2014, judged by the U.S. consumer price index, purchasing power of the dollar fell about 10 percent. A 2.5 percent budget increase per year, allowed under state law, has not been enough to offset inflation and enrollment growth combined.

Recommendations: Restoring inflation-adjusted school spending per student to the peak levels from the 1990s through early years of this century would take around a ten percent school budget increase. That would mean around a five percent tax override.

After a nearly a year of studying and wrangling, by roll-call votes on July 30 the committee recommended a permanent, general tax override of $5 million per year. It also recommended a debt service exclusion for $23 million to renovate and enlarge Devotion School.

Tax increase: The recommended tax override would increase Brookline taxes about 2.7 percent. The recommended debt exclusion would add about 0.9 percent more in taxes for an estimated 25 years. If accepted by the Board of Selectmen and then approved by Brookline voters next spring, when added to a usual 2.5 percent increase, allowed under state law, Brookline taxes would increase about 5 percent next year–but about 6 percent when debt service payments for the Devotion School project develop.

Earlier this month, School Committee member Rebecca Stone predicted the committee would recommend a general override of about 5 percent. That proved mistaken; the committee’s recommendation is about half as much. The resulting 6-percent tax increase would be much less than an increase of up to 14 percent that some observers said they expected last spring. This season, mavens somehow got garbled messages.

Committee wrangling: Events of July 29 and 30 showed a polarized committee. Based on the roll-call votes, eight moderates on the committee were Clifford Brown, Chad Ellis, Janet Gelbart, Sergio Modigliani, Carol Levin, Lee Selwyn, James Stergios and Ann Tolkoff. Based on the roll-call votes, seven liberals on the committee were Alberto Chang, Michael Glover, Carol Kamin, Kevin Lang, Lisa Sheehan, Beth Stram and Timothy Sullivan. There was no one opposed to some amount of general tax override for school operations or to some amount of debt exclusion for school buildings.

As of Tuesday, July 29, widespread rumors held that Kenneth Goldstein, chair of the Board of Selectmen, had told the non-voting committee chairs, Richard Benka and Susan Ditkoff, that the committee should wind up its work and send its recommendations and report. Those were confirmed by comments at the meeting. Observers expected a vote on a general override.

A flurry of paper appeared at the two meetings: 15 documents at the first and four more at the second. An unsigned document dated July 28, proposing a committee recommendation, called for a general tax override of $7 million. At the July 29 meeting, committee member Kevin Lang described that proposal as a “compromise.” He said he hoped it would develop into a “consensus.” Over two hours of wrangling ensued.

In the end, the Override Study Committee voted not to vote. A motion by Kevin Lang, seconded by Chad Ellis, proposed the committee consolidate their positions on a general tax override through a series of votes starting from the “compromise” proposal. That motion failed on a tie vote. According to co-chair Susan Ditkoff, there were seven in favor, seven opposed and one abstaining.

With committee member Alberto Chang connected by telephone on July 29, co-chair Richard Benka had previously said any vote would be by roll call, but no roll call occurred on the vote not to vote. Since the meeting was recorded by Brookline Interactive, once the video goes online, readers may be able to see how committee members voted.

Committee votes: On July 30, two more proposals were presented. A “high budget” proposal, presented by committee members Beth Stram and Kevin Lang, called for a general tax override of $7.9 million, for school operations, and for debt exclusion of $58.8 million, for the Devotion School project and future school building projects. It was partly described in an unsigned document dated July 29.

A “low-budget” proposal, presented by committee members James Stergios and Chad Ellis, called for a general tax override of $5 million, for school operations, and for debt exclusion of $23 million, for the Devotion School project only. It was described in an unsigned, undated document distributed July 29.

It was apparently Prof. Lang who wrote in one of the documents about “starving” schools with a “low-budget” approach. On July 30, committee members Clifford Brown and Chad Ellis were peeved. Committee member Janet Gelbart said, “Schools are not being starved.” Co-chair Richard Benka sought to make peace, saying, “There are countervailing factors.” Prof. Lang said the word in question was “unfortunate.”

On July 29, Ms. Gelbart said that when seeking information about school priorities for more funds, “Nobody was able to explain to me how the money would be used.” On July 30, Mr. Ellis said that the “low-budget” proposal provided “the amount we see as clearly necessary and appropriate.”

Committee member Sergio Modigliani moved to adopt the “low-budget” proposal. Prof. Lang moved to substitute the “high-budget” proposal. After more than an another hour of wrangling and some parliamentary maneuvers, co-chair Susan Ditkoff conducted roll-call votes. The “high-budget” proposal failed 7 to 8, dividing the liberals and moderates, and then the “low-budget” proposal passed 9 to 6, with Carol Kamin in favor.

Except for filing a report, the votes on July 30 appear to end the committee’s work–nearly a year after it was appointed. The committee had been charged to make recommendations and file a report by March 1 of this year, but it failed to do that.

Committee history: According to minutes of the Board of Selectmen from August 20, 2013, a vote occurred on August 13, 2013, appointing members of the Override Study Committee. No agenda or minutes have been posted on Brookline’s municipal Web site for a meeting of the Board of Selectmen on August 13, 2013. The meeting schedule for August, 2013, formerly posted on the Web site, has been erased.

During July and August of last year, several of Brookline’s well known activists applied to join this committee. Town Administrator Mel Kleckner advised the Board of Selectmen to appoint people presenting a limited range of business and professional credentials. Some of those appointed had years of experience involving Brookline issues and government, but most of them did not.

Although it seemed to have developed a group dynamic, from a public perspective the committee did not communicate well. As of the July 30 meeting, the most recent committee documents and minutes on Brookline’s municipal Web site were from April 16. Notices for recent meetings were generic. They did not describe specific topics.

While insiders knew, from those notices the public would have been unable to tell that on July 29 and 30–in contrast to almost a year of prior meetings–the committee was to vote on recommending a general tax override. According to the state attorney general, “The list of topics must be sufficiently specific to reasonably inform the public of the issues to be discussed at the meeting.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 31, 2014


William Lupini, Superintendent’s preliminary FY2015 budget (summary), March 13, 2014, enrollment data on page 19 and spending chart on page 27

Attorney General of Massachusetts, Open Meeting Law Guide, August 1, 2013

Creating Brookline’s Override Study Committee of 2013, compiled from minutes of the Board of Selectmen posted on Brookline’s municipal Web site, July 30, 2014

Brookline taxis: can you afford a “medallion” taxi?

High prices: Since the 2007 Brookline Taxi Study prepared by Schaller Consulting, the Board of Selectmen and the Transportation Board have been considering plans to change Brookline taxi licensing from annually renewed “hackney” licenses to high-priced, perpetual “medallion” licenses. The “medallion” licenses would be sold to taxi operators to raise millions of dollars for Brookline.

So far, no one explained where that money could come from. However, there are only three practical sources: (1) increased fares paid by passengers, (2) reduced net incomes of taxi companies and other license holders, and (3) reduced net incomes of taxi drivers who are not license holders. Neither the 2007 Brookline Taxi Study nor any other available report presents an integrated financial view of the Brookline taxi industry.

Business finance and a phantom report: Some estimates can be made from an unsigned, undated report available from the Transportation Division of the Public Works Department (called here the 2012 Taxi Report). According to mentions of the report elsewhere, it may have been drafted or prepared by Richard LaCapra, a consultant on taxi licensing, and it probably was completed in early 2012.

According to the 2012 Taxi Report, 185 taxis were then licensed by Brookline, and revenues from fares in the first half of 2011 averaged $230 per day per taxi. Adding an average 15 percent of fares for tips leads to estimated total 2011 revenue for the Brookline taxi business of about $15 million. Confidential information from Bay State Taxi for 2010 and 2011 suggests those estimates are high. If Bay State were representative, then total 2011 revenue for the Brookline taxi business, including tips, would be about $13 million.

When costs of business are deducted, about $5.5 million per year is left for net personal incomes of drivers, and about $1 million is left for net business incomes of taxi companies and other license holders. The 2012 Taxi Report proposes to take back 37 existing licenses and to sell the balance of 148 as “medallion” licenses over about five years for a combined total of about $10 million, averaging about $2 million per year.

When extrapolated through total conversion from annual “hackney” licenses to long-term “medallion” licenses, the 2007 plan would have brought Brookline about $9.5 million over about 16 years in “medallion” fees–not adjusted for inflation or other financial factors. It would have involved little change in the size of the taxi fleet and represented added cost averaging about $0.6 million per year for the Brookline taxi business.

Bankrupting taxi companies: Unless offset by huge increases in taxi fares, the 2012 Taxi Report‘s plan for “medallion” licenses would extract about 30 percent of the combined annual net personal and net business income (for 2011) from the Brookline taxi business. At the same time, it would force the business to operate with 20 percent fewer vehicles–thus, on average, cutting personal and business income about in half. The likely fallout: companies shutting down and drivers leaving Brookline.

Compared with the 2007 Brookline Taxi Study, the unsigned 2012 Taxi Report lacks a professional approach. The 2007 study reviewed “medallion” programs in several communities and based recommendations on the comparisons, finding an equivalent to about $40,000 in market value for “medallions” in Brookline. In contrast, the unsigned 2012 Taxi Report simply claims that a “market price of $125,000 is realistic.” [p. 4] It presents no evidence to support the claim and fails to consider conflicting evidence explored in the 2007 study.

– Beacon staff, July 20, 2014


Unsigned, Brookline Taxi Report, Transportation Division Brookline DPW, Undated c. 2012

Brookline taxis: long-term “medallion” licenses

Members of Brookline’s Transportation Board have claimed at public meetings that the board began considering perpetual or long-term “medallion” licensing of taxis as early as 20 years ago. However, its first concrete action was in the fall of 2006, asking the Board of Selectmen for about $25,000 to fund a professional study. The Board of Selectmen approved a contract with Schaller Consulting of New York City.

At the time, Bruce Schaller had 25 years of experience analyzing taxi operations, including New York City, San Francisco, San Diego, Alexandria, VA, Anaheim, CA, Laredo, TX, and Montgomery County, MD. Mr. Schaller conducted surveys and organized conferences in Brookline with taxi owners, drivers and passengers, met with the Transportation Board four times and delivered a final report called Brookline Taxi Study in June, 2007. His report has vanished from Brookline’s municipal Web site, and it is being cached at the Beacon as a service to readers.

In early 2007, Mr. Schaller found two large and two small Brookline taxi companies with a total of 162 vehicles and licenses:

Bay State, 77 vehicles and licenses
Red Cab, 40 vehicles and licenses
Eagle Cab, 25 vehicles and licenses
Town Taxi, 20 vehicles and licenses

In addition, he found a total of 25 vehicles and licenses with a total of 11 individual operators and very small companies. According to Mr. Schaller, the taxi fleet of 187 vehicles and licenses was a reasonable match to the demands for services, averaging 3,300 trips per day. Incidents of slow service were lower than in most comparable places, while typical driver incomes were equal or higher. [pp. 8-10]

Historically, Red Cab is the established service, starting in the 1920s. Bay State is the insurgent, starting in the 1970s. The others are upstarts, starting in about the past 20 years. The Transportation Board added around 50 new taxi licenses over the past 20 years and has also been assigning the upstart companies and individuals some licenses formerly held by Bay State and Red Cab.

Mr. Schaller reported a minimum sustainable company size of about 40 vehicles and licenses, in order to absorb costs of dispatching, maintaining and garaging vehicles. At the time of his report, individuals and very small companies had mostly affiliated with Bay State or Red Cab for services they needed. Town Taxi was also dispatching taxis operating in Boston. Eagle Cab, operating independently, looked to be at risk. That service is now provided by Hello Taxi, operating from Western Ave. in Brighton.

Mr. Schaller found that Brookline’s taxi service more nearly resembled smaller suburban than larger urban services. In New York City and Boston, he wrote, around 80 percent of the trips come from street hails and taxi stands, and around 20 percent come from telephone orders. In Brookline, the numbers are reversed. Bay State and Red Cab dominate telephone-order business through what Mr. Schaller called “name recognition of established companies.” [pp. 12, 16]

Mr. Schaller said Brookline could maintain stable services at reasonable fares, while capturing some income, by licensing three large companies plus a share of licenses assigned to individual drivers. He recommended that Brookline plan gradual transition from “hackney” licenses renewed each year to perpetual or long-term “medallion” licenses for companies and drivers. By spreading a transition over time, he wrote, the industry would be able to absorb the financial burden and would gain stability from ownership of major assets.

The Schaller report emphasized balance: a few large companies sustainably dispatching, maintaining and garaging vehicles, but also some small companies and individual operators that provide competition. In order to maintain such a balance, it advised against auctioning “medallion” licenses to the highest bidders. Instead, it advocated a time-payment approach, in which “medallion” fees would be paid over periods of several years. [pp. 19-22]

Based on comparisons with other communities and business conditions in Brookline, in effect Mr. Schaller predicted a market value around $40,000 for “medallion” licenses, recommending a fee of $600 per month paid over seven years [p. 3] He outlined several options for fees and transition times, recommending a plan to sell about 19 medallions per year to companies and individuals–in other words, given the size of the taxi fleet, about 10 years of license conversions and a total 16-year transition period. [pp. 2, 30]

If Brookline had implemented Mr. Schaller’s plan at the time he filed a final report, by now Brookline would be near halfway through transition, and it would have received nearly $4 million in “medallion” fees:

July, 2008: $600 x 12 x 19 = $136,800
July, 2009: $600 x 12 x 38 = $273,600
July, 2010: $600 x 12 x 57 = $410,400
July, 2011: $600 x 12 x 76 = $547,200
July, 2012: $600 x 12 x 95 = $684,000
July, 2013: $600 x 12 x 114 = $820,800
July, 2014: $600 x 12 x 133 = $957,600
Total revenue over 7 years $3,830,400

So far, Brookline stumbled. It never created a single taxi “medallion” and received no revenue at all.

– Beacon Staff, July 19, 2014


Note: Thanks to David Lescohier, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, for a copy of the Schaller report of 2007 that he had downloaded from Brookline’s municipal Web site before it vanished from the site.


Brookline, MA, Board of Selectmen, Minutes, November 2, 2006, see “TAXI CONSULTANT STUDY”

Bruce Schaller, Brookline Taxi Study, Schaller Consulting, June, 2007

Taxi medallions: arrogant town officials questing for money

Some thought Brookline’s traditions of arrogant officials were laid to rest with election of Justin Wyner as moderator in 1970. Maybe not. A meeting of a moderator’s committee on taxi medallions that began at 7:00 pm on Bastille Day–Monday, July 14, 2014–bought back some of the worst of former days. Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, the current moderator, had failed to appoint the main petitioner for Article 26 at the 2014 annual town meeting to the moderator’s committee.

The main petitioner for Article 26, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, sponsored Article 26, seeking to rescind authority to sell taxi medallions, at the 2014 annual town meeting, which was referred to a moderator’s committee. In his arguments to town meeting, the main petitioner for Article 26 had cited a 2013 Boston Globe article alleging that contract taxi drivers were being abused by medallion owners and singling out Edward J. Tutunjian, the owner of Boston Cab. The Globe article is replete with political sleaze and official corruption.

Mr. Gadsby insulted not only the main petitioner for Article 26 but also Brookline voters in failing to recognize the town’s main opponent of taxi medallions with a seat on the committee. Joshua Safer, the Transportation Board chair and recently made the chair of that committee, compounded the insult by offering the main petitioner for Article 26 30 seconds to state his views and by cutting him off for trying to speak any longer. Dr. Safer owes residents of Brookline an apology.

The proposed taxi medallion program has been touted as a measure to stabilize a troubled business and to improve services. However, the anxiety that underlies the arrogance began around 2007, with the start of a deep recession, as Brookline searched for revenue to fund services. A taxi medallion program might yield a one-time injection of a few million dollars, against a budget that now runs nearly $200 million a year.

The main petitioner for Article 26, whom Mr. Gadsby and Dr. Safer have been trying to sideline, has been protesting taxi medallions as a hidden tax and a social cancer. Such a program would obviously run up costs of operating taxi services, and the increased costs could only be met through increased fares.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 15, 2014


Martine Powers, No quick action from Boston on taxi reform, Boston Globe, July 15, 2014


Note, July 17, 2014.

The main petitioner for Article 26 at the 2014 annual town meeting asked not to be named in this article. With reluctance, that request was accepted. The petitioner is obviously a public figure: an elected town meeting member and the main author of what became controversial business at town meeting. By seeking distance from a controversy, the main petitioner loses the arguments. Less inhibited opponents will quickly move in for a kill.

School Committee: planning for a general tax override

A special meeting of the School Committee on Tuesday, July 8, started at 4:00 pm, held in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Special guests were Town Administrator Mel Kleckner and Town Counsel Joslin Murphy. All committee members except chair Susan Ditkoff attended, with Barbara Scotto chairing the meeting.

The School Committee has begun preparations to support a general tax override, also called an “operating” tax override. On May 6, 2008, Brookline voters approved a general override of 4-1/2 percent–added to an increase of 2-1/2 percent allowed without voter approval, for a total tax increase of 7 percent. Voters also approved a general override in 1994. General overrides become permanent elements of a community’s taxes. Regardless of initial purposes, later a community can use added revenues for other purposes.

According to committee member Rebecca Stone, a report from the selectmen’s Override Study Committee is being assembled by a subcommittee of five, whom she did not name. That committee scheduled meetings for the next two evenings, although it later cancelled the second one. According to Ms. Stone, there proved to be “no appetite” for dropping or reducing the METCO program. She did not mention the program for students from families of town employees living elsewhere, who pay so-called “materials fees.”

Private speculation about potential tax increases had ranged as high as 14 percent. Ms. Stone hazarded a guess that the Override Study Committee might recommend a general override of around 5 percent–for a total 7-1/2 percent tax increase. However, depending on decisions about a school-building program, voters could also be presented with a debt override proposal.

A debt override allows debt-service spending above the normal limits for a specific project and a term of years. That could pay for school renovations and expansions. There were previous debt overrides to renovate Brookline High School and to build the new Lincoln School. In his budget message of February, 2014, Mr. Kleckner included $110 million for Devotion School, $51 million for the High School, $28 million for Driscoll School and $2 million for other school buildings.

In its 2014 budget report, the Advisory Committee stated that it anticipated a debt override to provide about $77 million toward Devotion School renovation and expansion. The town’s FY2015 financial plan projects debt service charges for the project rising to about $5.6 million per year over about 25 years. According to that plan, debt exclusion for Devotion School would add about 3 percent to current taxes, but the largest part of the added taxes would not be levied until July of 2018.

Mr. Kleckner reviewed the override process and the potential schedule. Regardless of its purpose, he said, an override has to be proposed by the Board of Selectmen. Questions can be put to voters at regular or special elections. In past years, Brookline has preferred the annual elections for town offices in the spring. Mr. Kleckner said he will propose that the Board of Selectmen vote January 13 of next year on ballot questions for an election to be held May 5.

Mr. Kleckner’s schedule would allow 16 weeks for what he called a “private campaign.” Mr. Kleckner, who started his work for the town in September, 2010, would not be familiar with any of the previous Brookline overrides. However, he seemed aware that members of the School Committee and Board of Selectmen would likely campaign for an override–as they did during the previous efforts.

Ms. Murphy, the town counsel, emphasized that elected officials must rely on private funding and privately organized efforts when campaigning for an override. About the only government element allowed in such a campaign would be statements of positions and answers to questions on the town’s Web sites. Using private resources, she said, elected officials are free to organize, advocate, raise funds, hold meetings, distribute information, appear on broadcast media, identify themselves and behave as they might in any other political campaign. Municipal employees, she said, are more restricted. Generally they have to be evenhanded.

William Lupini, the school superintendent, said opposition could be expected, recalling what he called “fact police” at forums organized during the 2008 override efforts. Dr. Lupini mentioned that work is underway on a revised Web site for Public Schools of Brookline, expected next September. Compared with the recently revised municipal Web site, the school Web site lacks critical information. For example, it provides no access to detailed financial plans for either the current fiscal year or any prior years.

Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 12, 2014

Board of Selectmen: contracts, personnel and appointments

A biweekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, July 8, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations.

Announcements: A design advisory team will start meeting soon for Brookline Place. It was not clear whether that meant the Brookline Place Advisory Committee. The first meeting is to be Wednesday, July 16, 7:00 pm, at the Latvian Lutheran Church, 58 Irving St.

Contracts and personnel: The board reviewed a proposed 2-year extension of the agreement for emergency services with Fallon. Brookline houses two ambulances full-time and links Fallon with emergency communications. Fallon staffs the ambulances full-time and gives priority to services in Brookline. No money is exchanged. Paul Ford, the fire chief, made a strong pitch for extending the agreement, saying that services have been satisfactory and that Fallon has provided emergency medicine training for Brookline firefighters. The board agreed to extend the agreement.

Several public works contracts were presented, briefly reviewed and approved. The largest amounts were three contracts totaling $1.53 million for street and traffic signal repairs, a $0.58 million contract to repair the historic Fisher Hill Reservoir gatehouse, $0.25 million for grounds maintenance, $0.14 million for repairs to the historic Burial Ground and $0.03 million to complete sewer and drain projects.

Costs of the gatehouse project, adjacent to the new Fisher Hill Park, are partly offset by a grant of $0.04 million from the state’s Historic Commission. Costs for sewer and drain projects are reimbursed by MWRA. A check for $0.14 million was accepted from Claremont Companies, building a hotel at the former Red Cab site on Boylston St., to fund public improvements in the vicinity.

Proceeding at a rapid pace, the board approved budget transfers already allowed by Advisory the previous evening, and it approved hirings to fill vacancies–a sergeant in the Police Department, a recreation leader and a health inspector–all created by retirements. Kenneth Goldstein, the chairman, made his usual requests to seek a “diverse pool of candidates.” However, no town organization currently monitors the effectiveness of such efforts.

Appointments: As often happens, the board slowed its pace when interviewing candidates for boards and committees: one for Martin Luther King, one for Norfolk County Advisory, one for Transportation and one for Zoning Appeals.

Elizabeth Childs, a new candidate for the Norfolk County board, is a former School Committee member and a former Massachusetts commissioner of mental health. Her strongest concern, she said, was whether Brookline was “getting a fair return on our tax contributions” to the county. The assessment for the current fiscal year is $0.79 million. There are no visible county services.

Board member Betsy DeWitt asked about abolishing country government, as has already happened in eight of the 14 counties. She did not seem to know that county abolition in western Massachusetts was a pre-emptive strike by legislators who wanted to derail competition for their offices. Mr. Goldstein said he knew of three current efforts in the General Court, but he said “none have traction now.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 10, 2014

Of time and the cesspool

If Thomas Wolfe had lived here in the 1960s and 1970s, he would not have needed an invention; he could have written a true story. That era spawned rotten legacies we are almost finished unearthing and disinfecting. Some unblinkered Brookline residents resisted Chapter 121A housing projects, but there were rarely enough.

Until the mid-1970s, one after another of them larded developer profits with tax reductions–leaving the town holding the bag when 25-year to 40-year tenant-income restrictions expired and properties could be sold at huge profits. Now we inherit the worst of both worlds: former low-income housing being occupied by the rich, combined with more pressure on a costly and already overburdened school system.

It could easily be foreseen, and in fact it was foreseen. However, there were also political fortunes to be reaped. They were reaped at the expense of those who came later and of those who remain. The appeal to former leaders was that when bills came due they would be long gone and probably dead. Now they are gone, and many are dead. Good riddance.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 5, 2014


Thomas Wolfe, Of Time and the River, Scribner, 1935

Repeal casino gambling: on the ballot this fall

As most readers of the Beacon probably know, yesterday the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts decided casino gambling repeal goes on the state election ballot this fall. The court unanimously dismissed all arguments against putting the question on the ballot from Martha Coakley, the attorney general now running for governor as a gambling supporter. She had refused to certify a question on repeal of casino gambling for the 2014 state ballot.

The obvious precedent was repeal of dog racing, approved by voters in 2008. It drew similar legal objections, in stronger forms. Dog racing and betting had been operating since the former Wonderland Dog Track, in Revere, opened in 1935. That repeal question was certified by Ms. Coakley for the 2008 ballot, but then it was challenged at the Supreme Judicial Court by people interested in racing and betting. Writing for the court, Justice Margot Botsford stated, “the Attorney General’s certification…was proper.”

In yesterday’s decision, Justice Ralph Gants wrote for the court, saying, “We see no reason to depart from our precedent [for dog racing]…the legislature and, through the initiative, the voters of Massachusetts may choose to abolish casino and slots parlor gambling and parimutuel wagering on simulcast greyhound races, and doing so would not constitute a taking of property without compensation.”

Ms. Coakley did not seem to learn a thing from the controversy in which she played a part just six years before. Who has been paying Ms. Coakley’s political bills?

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 25, 2014


Casino gambling repeal: Abdow v. Attorney General, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court No. SJC-11641, June 24, 2014 (Select Opinion type “Opinions from the Supreme Judicial Court” and Docket number 11641)

Dog racing repeal: Carney v. Attorney General, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court No. SJC-10158, 451 Mass. 803, July 15, 2008 (Select Opinion type “Opinions from the Supreme Judicial Court” and Docket number 10158)

2014 annual town meeting recap: fine points

Town meetings seem to behave, in part, like musical theatre. If you can’t carry a tune, you probably won’t carry an argument. Alas, some of today’s would-be performers come across–politically speaking–as tone deaf. However, there still remain quite a few sparks of life.

May 27: Tommy Vitolo of Precinct 6 flagged conditions the Advisory Committee had tried to attach to special appropriations item 41 under Article 8: $50,000 to study Beacon Street traffic signals, aiding MBTA Green Line trains. Dr. Vitolo said the proposed conditions amounted to an invalid attempt to bind actions of a future town meeting and moved to delete them. No Advisory Committee member stood up to respond. Town meeting members agreed by a show of hands, with only two people counted as opposed.

Joyce Jozwicki of Precinct 9 sounded more than a little cross about special appropriations item 40 in Article 8: $30,000 for “bicycle access improvement.” She contended it “should be preceded by enforcement of the rules for bicyclists.” Over the fan noise, no response could be heard from the Bicycle Advisory Committee.

Driscoll School: In the debate over a Driscoll School feasibility study, School Committee chair Susan Wolf Ditkoff admitted what had long been clear to close observers: despite nearly religious objections, the School Department has already increased class sizes, “on average 1-1/2 students per class,” she said.

That almost cancels Brookline costs to support METCO and “materials fees” students. If standards for class size rise from about 25 to about 27 students, then the current students from outside Brookline will all have been absorbed by the current staff within the current buildings–responding to historic promises that those students occupy “available seats.”

Concerning special appropriations item 51 under Article 8, George White of Precinct 9 asked: Where’s the plan for light-emitting-diode (LED) street lights? For once the moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, sounded flustered, saying that should be in the warrant report. It is not. He brushed off Mr. White, telling him to go ask the Department of Public Works–whose commissioner was standing on town-meeting floor, looking ready to answer the question. After all, LED street lights are Mr. Pappastergion’s signature project of the year.

School funding: In the debate over school funding, Jonathan Davis of Precinct 10 asked about costs of “carts” for computers: “Is that much money really needed?” He never got a clear answer. School superintendent William Lupini launched his “so” “right” dialect–a local curiosity at School Committee meetings–as in, “So…they’re for the computers we’re purchasing…Right?” Yes, indeed. “Exactly what it says on the tin.”

More items from Ms. Ditkoff of the School Committee: “The cost per student has been absolutely flat for the last five years…We’ve added more than 50 classrooms out of our current spaces.” Without explanation, the latter sounded like “space magic.” Apparently a School Committee insider violated current town-meeting protocol–a Gadsby invention–distributing rogue handouts on town-meeting floor. It caught Mr. Gadsby’s attention and drew a reproach, but then he relented, saying it “has my retroactive approval.” Humph! Issues of free speech went unmentioned–even with Martin “Marty” Rosenthal, Karen Wenc and Harry Friedman on hand.

Somebody might have asked but didn’t: since Public Schools of Brookline already spends around $17,000 per year per student, if computers are so important and the ones PSB prefers cost only $330 each, why not get a computer for every student and forego the fancy carts and projectors PSB wouldn’t need?

Police Department topics: Harry Friedman of Precinct 12 objected to investigating criminal backgrounds of construction workers, during debate about the police budget. Joslin Murphy, recently appointed as town counsel, said Massachusetts law now requires checking national Criminal Offender Record Information if workers have unsupervised contact with school children. That might be an issue, for example, in the upcoming Lawrence School project. Mr. Friedman was dissatisfied, saying, “People in these jobs often have criminal records” but need employment to regain a place in society. He called the practice “heartless and vindictive.” However, workers on town jobs are usually going to be union members–unlikely to get those particular jobs fresh out of prison.

Mr. Friedman also objected to police seeking out a “Groton man”–apparently not a graduate of Groton School–who answered a fake “personal” ad Brookline police placed online. Outside a putative “hands off” stance, Moderator Gadsby asked Daniel O’Leary, the chief of police, about the “purpose of entrapment policies.” Not satisfied at Mr. O’Leary’s responses, Mr. Friedman said, “From a moral or ethical point of view [the incident] really…crosses over the line…. If the Brookline police want to be the protectors of eastern Massachusetts…they can go into Boston and patrol the streets there.”

Advisory chair Harry Bohrs confirmed the once touted Galaxy WiFi services are dead and gone, although many antennas still hang from street-light brackets. He said Brookline is equipping some employees with wireless Internet, to the tune of $50 per device per month.

May 29, human relations: Article 10 proposed to replace the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, dating from 1970, with a new Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission. It also designates a new “chief diversity officer” reporting to Town Administrator Mel Klecker and reduces the new commission’s duties and powers, compared with the 1970 commission. Nancy Daly led the effort to write Article 10 and spoke for the Board of Selectmen. She said it would “not give the [new] commission the quasi-judicial authority to hear and act on…complaints.”

Precinct 15 town meeting member Mariela Ames, chair of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, spoke for the current commission and against Article 10. She said it “will take away any direct role or oversight on complaints brought to the [chief diversity officer] by employees…[and] take away the commission’s authority for developing…equal opportunity and affirmative action. It will give the commission about eighteen tasks…but appropriates no money for them.”

Speaking about a chief diversity officer, Ms. Ames said, “What good does that do if we’re going to ask this person to do precisely what was wrong by his predecessor? Only this time, we put it in writing: that is, handle complaints privately, have sole discretion whether to share information with the commission, have no oversight and no accountability…in essence, get paid hundreds of thousands to do…what exactly? Keep the lid on?”

Stature as a department head: It must have been a troubling moment for Ms. Daly and other members of the “diversity committee.” However, one of them, Martin “Marty” Rosenthal of Precinct 9, had joined with Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 in proposing an amendment to this year’s Article 10: designating a new chief diversity officer as a “senior administrator/department head”–the same language used in Brookline bylaws for the head of the Human Resources office, which was created by town meeting in 2000.

A motion to close debate after nearly an hour proved premature; it failed to get a two-thirds vote. Arguments continued. While Mr. Rosenthal and Dr. Spiegel had offered spirited sallies for their amendment, it was likely Joanna Baker of Precinct 13 who sailed it over the net.

Ms. Baker recounted experiences as a recruiter, helping to employ and advance people of color. “People hate change,” she said. “Change makes people uncomfortable.” According to Ms. Baker, the stature of being a department head will matter. In order to be effective, she said, a chief diversity officer will have to be “shrewd, discerning, sophisticated, gutsy.” In a recorded vote, town meeting adopted the Rosenthal-Spiegel amendment by a margin of 107 to 95. The main motion also got a recorded vote: approved 185 to 16.

Noise control: In Article 12, changes to Brookline’s noise-control bylaw were proposed by Fred Lebow, an acoustic engineer and a former Precinct 1 town meeting member–to provide what he claimed would be better standards for regulating noise. He proposed a new standard for estimating background noise at night: make measurements during the day and subtract 10 decibels. That’s not helpful if your neighborhood tends to be fairly noisy by day but quiet at night. Selectmen missed the problem, but they managed to flag a provision to regulate some of the leafblowers while exempting others–large ones mounted on wheeled carts.

Tommy Vitolo of Precinct 6–a recent B.U. Systems Engineering grad and transplant from Precinct 1–challenged the proposed standard for night-time noise at town meeting. Dr. Vitolo carved away pseudoscience from the proposal, saying, “This warrant article is bad news. The most sensible way to measure ambient noise at night is to measure ambient noise at night…Legislating night-time ambient noise is a bit like legislating that the earth is flat.”

For the supporters of the article, including a majority on the Board of Selectmen and a unanimous Advisory Committee, there was no recovery. In a show of hands, Moderator Gadsby found zero raised in support and declared unanimous rejection of the article–an extremely rare event. He asked officials gathered at tables just past the auditorium’s stage, “Have we no courage in the front of town meeting?”

Mavens of precinct politics–towns don’t have wards–may recall that Mr. Lebow was among a wave of Precinct 1 conservatives who infiltrated, years ago, a moderate delegation. Dr. Vitolo was involved with a second, progressive wave, who eclipsed the first wave a few years later. The waves more often involve galleries of mostly incumbents, promoting themselves as friendly “neighbors.” Controversies at the time roiled over whether or not to support renovation of the Carlton St. footbridge. Was that really a convenience to the neighborhoods, or would it instead become a crossway for criminals, slinking in from Boston? We shall see.

Down-zoning: Two quietly successful articles carried on a trend: adapting Brookline’s land use regulations to neighborhoods. It had taken root at a heated, 4-night town meeting held in December, 1973. Like that previous effort, both recent ones were organized by neighborhood residents. Unlike that previous effort, both got help and support from town boards and agencies, and both aroused little controversy.

Article 11 proposed a neighborhood conservation district for Toxteth St. between Aspinwall Ave. and Francis St., plus adjacent parts of Perry St., Harrison Ave., Aspinwall Ave and Francis St. It was built out starting in the late nineteenth century–before Brookline adopted zoning–on a more spacious scale than the current T-5 two-family zoning requires. Ann Turner of Precinct 3 said the recent effort was prompted by an obnoxious project built to the maximum under zoning limits and requiring no special town review.

Article 21 proposed a new S-4 type of single-family zone for parts of Buttonwood, near Meadowbrook Rd., also currently zoned T-5 two-family. Neighborhood resident Diane Gold told town meeting she and her neighbors were motivated by a developer who took advantage of current zoning to replace one modest, single-family house with a pair of “huge, 4-story, 2-family luxury condos…Green space was paved over to create ten parking spaces.” She recalled, “We were told they can do this by right…If you don’t like it, change the zoning.” With help from Polly Selkoe of the Planning Department and with town meeting’s approval, that is what residents did.

Zoning changes rejected: The Planning Board, Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee all took it on the chin with two other zoning changes proposed by the Planning Board. Article 22 revived the long-running disputes over self-service gasoline stations–proposing to allow them in business districts when combined with so-called “convenience stores.” As proposed, those stores could be up to 3,000 square feet–far larger than many current retail stores.

Judith Vanderkay of Precinct 9 recalled, “Twenty years ago…my neighborhood rallied to prevent a giant, highway rest-stop-type gas station.” She said Article 22 looked “like something from ALEC being proposed in the guise of an innocuous regulation”–referring to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a far-right group that has been promoting pro-business, anti-labor laws, mostly in state legislatures. The proposal failed on a recorded vote of 109 to 62, below the two-thirds margin required for a zoning change.

In S-40 single-family districts–Brookline’s lowest zoning density–Article 23 proposed to disallow new, detached accessory dwellings to be occupied by employees or their family members. Last November, town meeting disallowed them in single-family districts with smaller lot sizes. Steve Heikin spoke for the Planning Board, saying that accessory dwellings are a “loophole” allowing permanent construction for a temporary use.

Town meeting members Anita Johnson of Precinct 8, Rebecca Mautner of Precinct 11 and Jane Gilman of Precinct 3 denounced the Planning Board proposal–partly as an attack on “affordable housing.” Ms. Johnson cited an approach used by Portland, OR. “They put a size limit on accessory units…825 square feet.” She said Portland’s regulation “has been totally successful, and everyone agrees with it.” Article 23 failed on a recorded vote of 106 to 56, again below the two-thirds margin required for a zoning change.

Renovation of the Carlton St. footbridge, strongly controversial a decade ago, returned to town meeting in Article 24. The now-dilapidated bridge was built in the 1890s to serve a whistle-stop on the former Boston and Albany commuter rail service between Needham and Boston. It has been closed since fall, 1975. Article 24 proposed accepting a grant in easement from MBTA to accommodate wheelchair ramps. Speaking for the Board of Selectmen, Betsy DeWitt said Brookline would “apply for a state [Transportation Improvement Program] grant, up to 90 percent” of funds already set aside. In a quiet surprise, town meeting voted unanimous approval.

Retirement Board pay: Stipends for Retirement Board members–a perennial–returned to town meeting in Article 25. As on previous occasions, board member James C. “Chet” Riley asked for town meeting’s support. “We have the ability right now to invest your $245 million,” he said. “We are the deciding body.” According to Mr. Riley, the board’s work has become “a lot more daunting, a lot more challenging.” That did not sway Advisory. Committee member Karen Wenc of Precinct 11 said, “The substance of this article [came] before town meeting in the May, 2012, session–with no demonstration that the Retirement Board’s efforts are [now] measurably greater” than they were then. “There is no compelling reason for change.”

The Board of Selectmen reversed former opposition–by a margin of 3 to 2. Speaking as one of the three in favor, Nancy Daly said the “vast majority [of neighboring communities] do provide a stipend…Boston, Newton, Cambridge….” Town meeting members would likely notice that the few communities Ms. Daly named–unlike Brookline–are all cities. In a personal appeal, Martin “Marty” Rosenthal of Precinct 9 stated, “Nobody’s done more for the town of Brookline than Chet Riley.” Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 took a financial approach, saying, “This is one of the few boards that actually has the final say over large quantities of money. They’re volunteers, but they deserve the sort of minimal compensation that this article proposes.” Article 25 proposed a stipend of $3,000 per year for each of the five board members.

Regina Frawley of Precinct 16 did not agree. “[This is] at least the fourth time in fourteen years” with the proposal, she said. “They’ve been waiting for the right town meeting, the right Board of Selectmen…It’s a town. This is a volunteer [effort], and if they don’t want to do it they shouldn’t volunteer.” Precinct 6 town meeting member Merelice said, “I’ve been in the financial services industry,” and asked, “Do [board members] get the advice and counsel of licensed [financial] planners?” Mr. Riley of the Retirement Board responded, saying, “We hire and fire consultants and money managers.” What may have sounded like posturing did not sit well with town meeting members, who rejected Article 25 in a recorded vote, 47 to 100.

June 2, Brookline Place: The final session of the 2014 annual town meeting began with the postponed Articles 15 through 19, concerning proposed redevelopment for Brookline Place. Moderator Gadsby’s stagework in positioning those articles to begin a session provided a showplace for Children’s Hospital–the landowner and developer–and for the town officials, boards and committees who became sponsors and supporters of the project. The block bounded by Washington St., Brookline Ave. and Pearl St. is part of the former Marsh Project–involved in redevelopment efforts for nearly 50 years.

Town meeting members who declared partial opposition had proposed alternative zoning in Article 16. As compared with Article 15, the official zoning proposal, Article 16 would have restricted new on-site parking for over 180,000 square feet of added office space. Supporters of Article 16 claimed that the adjacent MBTA Green Line trolley stop and the nearby bus stops for MBTA routes 60, 65 and 66, traveling via Route 9, should make any added parking unnecessary. Management of Children’s Hospital have contended that more parking is needed for financially viable development and that costs of removing contaminated soil would make it too expensive to place that parking underground, as normally required by Brookline’s zoning.

In an apparent response, the Planning Board and their Brookline Place Advisory Committee proposed to reduce added parking from about 465 to about 325 spaces–negotiated with the management of Children’s Hospital. The change apparently undercut support for Article 16. Submitters of that article opted not to offer a motion for it. Town meeting passed over the article without a vote. Fifty years ago and earlier, weak opposition would have been squelched: maybe allowed a speaker and then switched off. Brookline’s traditions have changed. The debate over the Brookline Place articles included many speakers and took about an hour and twenty minutes.

Precinct 6 town meeting member Merelice spoke forthrightly. “Let’s start with admitting the reality that Children’s Hospital has us over a barrel,” she said. Children’s had acquired 6-story offices the former Harvard Community Health Plan built on the eastern part of the Brookline Place block during the 1990s. More recently, Children’s bought the western part of the block, occupied by two low-rise buildings dating from early twentieth century. The literal “Brookline Place” is a narrow, little used way running north from Washington St. between the larger low-rise building and the 6-story offices.

Referring to a former attempt at redeveloping Brookline Place, Merelice commented, “Town meeting members ten years ago lost sight of the fact that they were voting for zoning.” The controversial project–never carried out–anticipated biotechnology laboratories. A key problem with the site has been soil that is badly contaminated from nearly a century of use by a former gas works. Merelice continued, “When Children’s bought, they knew full well the soil was contaminated. Nevertheless, they proceeded to buy up all the adjacent parcels. Now they’re asking the town to feel sorry for them, because it would be ‘too expensive’ to remove the soil. Their answer is a huge garage with no underground parking.”

Treating Article 16 as though it posed a real threat to the Brookline Place project, Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 recalled, “Fifty years ago…[with the] Chestnut Hill shopping center, [which] straddles the line between Brookline and Newton, Brookline did not want any retail development because of concerns about congestion and traffic…All the retail establishments were built on the Newton side of the line; Brookline got the parking lot. Newton got the abundance of taxes; Brookline lost millions in tax revenue.”

Dr. Spiegel described an unsuccessful attempt in the early 1980s to build a hotel replacing the former Boston Cadillac, located opposite the B.U. Bridge. Brookline Place, he said, offers the town “$2 million in taxes…[That] means more classroom teachers…support for METCO…[and] the Coolidge Corner Library…With all the good that it has, will it be built?”

Moderator Gadsby held a recorded vote on Article 15 for zoning changes. Town meeting approved 170 to 9, he announced, with 20 abstaining. Mr. Gadsby then passed over Article 16 without a vote. Articles 17 and 18 were approved by voice votes. Article 19 was approved by a show of hands, declared unanimous.

Taxi medallions: Town meeting member John Harris of Precinct 8 filed Article 26, proposing that Brookline ask the General Court to repeal laws it had passed, at town meeting’s request, authorizing Brookline to sell taxi medallions. The Transportation Board and Board of Selectmen, both committed to the medallions since they were proposed in 2007, proved much exercised over the attack from Mr. Harris. Robert Volk of Precinct 4 proposed referring Article 26 to a special committee to be appointed by Moderator Gadsby.

Mr. Harris said his “intention [was] to begin the debate…the town should have had in 2008.” He asserted that “medallions establish an artificial quota on the number of taxis allowed to operate,” leading to evil consequences. Jonathan Karon of Precinct 12 agreed, describing his experience representing a person who had been injured during an incident involving a taxi in Boston, which uses medallions. If you are injured in such a way, Mr. Karon said, you will find the “medallion is mortgaged…insurance [is] at the legal minimum…[and the] medallion owner will disclaim responsibility,” saying the taxi driver is an “independent contractor.”

Advisory Committee member Michael Sandman, a former Transportation Board chair, responded for the committee, saying “nearly every premise that Mr. Harris spoke of is wrong.” He showed three pages of items. About a claim that “medallions establish an artificial quota,” Mr. Sandman said Brookline has actually “had a closed system for decades, with a fixed number of licenses.” Joshua Safer of Precinct 16, the current Transportation Board chair, agreed. He said, “The current system is a closed system…There is scarcity by design…We have no logical way to bring newcomers into the industry.”

Charles “Chuck” Swartz of Precinct 9 asked, “How would a Brookline [medallion] system be different from Boston? He got a fairly opaque answer from Richard La Capra, who has been employed by the Transportation Department as a consultant on taxi regulation since 2010. Mr. La Capra stated that a “Brookline [taxi medallion] system will be different [from Boston]…because it is handled at the regulatory level in a…different fashion.”

Chad Ellis of Precinct 12 said he had prepared a financial model, checked out with Mr. La Capra, finding that a 10 percent fall in taxi fare revenues would produce at least a 50 percent contraction in medallion values. He supported the article filed by Mr. Harris.

Moderator Gadsby called for a vote on Mr. Volk’s motion to refer the article rather than approve or reject it. Unable to decide from a show of hands, Mr. Gadsby held an electronic vote. Town meeting approved referral, he announced, 96 to 91. Mr. Gadsby asked for volunteers to serve on a moderator’s committee and said he plans to appoint a committee within three weeks.

Resolutions: Article 27 was filed by Neil Gordon of Precinct 1, who described himself at town meeting as a veteran of the Vietnam War. It asked for a “modest but meaningful memorial to Brookline’s veterans,” flying flags in their honor. Town meeting approved in a unanimous voice vote.

Article 28, filed by Frank Caro of Precinct 10, did not get such a swift hearing. It proposed a resolution saying that Brookline should “proactively deploy enforcement officers on foot in business districts beginning in the fourth daylight hour after snowfalls,” to enforce Brookline’s snow clearance bylaw. The Board of Selectmen, supported by the Advisory Committee, proposed referring Article 28 to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner–to address it using a “task force.”

However, the same problem had been taken to at least three previous town meetings. Each referred an article to a moderator’s committee, yet the problem remained unsolved. Dennis Doughty of Precinct 3 presented some graphics showing snow-removal complaints logged since December, 2011, by the Brookonline Web page. They indicated several chronic problem spots, targets of repeated complaints.

Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., of Precinct 16, a lawyer with quite a few local business clients, had already voiced a related argument, saying there were a few chronic problems but that nevertheless “the goal should not be to fine and to warn” business owners. Lea Cohen, an Advisory Committee member at large, spoke as the outgoing chair of the Brookline Chamber of Commerce. She objected that “the existing bylaw has some very tight time-frames.” She asked town meeting not to “make another gesture that singles out our merchants with uneven enforcement policies.”

Joshua Safer, of Precinct 16, disagreed with trying a “partnership” tactic again. He noted that “the last moderator’s committee on sidewalk snow removal suggested exactly [what Article 28 proposed], across the entire town.” Mr. Safer stated, “The police force seems comfortable that they would have the resources to undertake this particular effort.” Saralynn Allaire of Precinct 16, a member of the Commission for the Disabled, turned adamant, “It’s time,” Dr. Allaire said, “to take serious action on this problem, instead of just kicking it down the road yet again.” By a show of hands, a large majority of town meeting rejected referral of Article 28 to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner. Nearly all approved the resolution.

Local First: Article 29, a resolution urging support for local business, was submitted on behalf of an organization called Brookline Local First. Issues developed at town meeting and in several earlier reviews over what “local” might mean in that context. The Board of Selectmen proposed that town meeting refer the article to the Economic Development Advisory Board, which they appoint, rather than accept or reject it.

Abram “Abe” Faber, co-owner with his wife Christina “Christy” Timon of Clear Flour Bread on Thorndike St., made the arguments for Article 29. The two have run Clear Flour since 1982, live in Brookline and brought up a family here, he said. “Vibrancy of Brookline’s economy,” Mr. Faber stated, “stems from its independent businesses.” Comparing them with what he called “formula businesses”–franchises and chain stores–he said, “Independent businesses hire a greater proportion of local employees [and] pay them higher wages…Cities and towns benefit most…from…independent…rather than formula businesses.”

The arguments rang false to Hsiu-Lan Chang, also a Brookline resident. She introduced herself to town meeting as owner of Fast Frame, a franchise located on Beacon St. in Washington Square. She described her background as a trustee of the Brookline Community Foundation, a founder of the Washington Square Association and a supporter of several local civic and charitable groups. Her sons David and Leo, she said, are graduates of Brookline public schools. “Article 29,” she stated, “left…[an] impression that I’m not a part of this community.” She urged town meeting to reject the article, saying, “The imposition of an arbitrary definition on the word ‘local’…is exclusionary, divisive and simply wrong.”

Speaking for the Board of Selectmen, Betsy DeWitt suggested proponents of the article might be seeking more than the town could do. She mentioned requirements of “state procurement law to solicit broadly, without discrimination among suppliers in purchasing practices.” Ms. DeWitt stated, “While well intentioned, this resolution is flawed. We must have a fair, broad and inclusive definition of local business.”

Speaking for the Economic Development Advisory Board, Clifford Brown of Precinct 14 said EDAB would give the article careful consideration if it were referred to them but cautioned, “Brookline businesses should focus outward and on expanding the local economy.” A show of hands on the motion to refer proved too close to call for Moderator Gadsby. He conducted an electronic count. Town meeting approved referral 99 to 76, he announced, with 3 abstentions.

Article 31 proposed a resolution affirming “support for the prohibition of discrimination or harassment on the basis of gender identity and expression in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, lending and public education.” Alex Coleman, a clinical psychologist and a member of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, submitted the article and made the main arguments for it. He said he had lived in Brookline more than 30 years, bringing up a son who is a Brookline High graduate, and described his recollections of making public a trans-sexual identity, over 20 years ago, as being a “horrific experience.”

Dr. Coleman said that attitudes have begun to change: “There are now students in the Brookline schools who identify as being gender-nonconforming,…[However], people…[with] a different gender identity…or expression…don’t have the same protections as everybody else.” Frequent problems he noted are “harassment in places of public accommodation…[and being] denied equal treatment by a government agency or official.”

Leonard “Len” Weiss spoke for the Advisory Committee, supported by the Board of Selectmen. The committee proposed an amendment asking Brookline’s legal staff to review Brookline’s bylaws and propose changes at next fall’s town meeting to make them “consistent with [the] purpose” of Article 31. Town meeting approved the resolution as amended.

Article 32, submitted by Frank Farlow of Precinct 4, proposed a resolution urging the General Court to enact S. 1225 of the current session, An Act Relative to Public Investment in Fossil Fuels. That calls for state pension funds to divest from “fossil fuel companies” but does not specify what the term means. Speaking for the Advisory Committee, Harry Bohrs, the chairman, cited that issue, claiming the “bill does not support its own goals in a meaningfully effective way.” Karen Wenc of Precinct 11, an Advisory member, said as an energy consumer she “would feel hypocritical and insincere in voting for this resolution.”

Arguing in favor of the resolution, Edward “Ed” Loechler of Precinct 8 acknowledged, “When you hear the word ‘divestment’ you think, ‘well, we’ll lose too much money’.” Dr. Loechler said, “Profits are not the same as returns on investment.” It is the latter, he contended, that matters for pension-fund portfolios. He cited an independent review of returns on investment for around 3,000 U.S. public stocks over many years, claiming that the difference between performance with and without including about 200 “fossil fuel companies” proved “statistically insignificant.” However, Dr. Loechler argued, even if that were not so, “It’s time to stop talking about climate change and start doing something about it…Making money from the destruction of the planet is wrong…as wrong as making money from slavery was in the 1850s.”

For the Board of Selectmen, Nancy Daly spoke of a “very tangible financial hazard to not addressing climate change.” Town meeting members asked for a recorded vote on the article. They approved the resolution 126 to 20, with 7 abstaining–the last action during a long and complicated town meeting.

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


Correction, June 8, 2014. In the discussion of Article 23, the phrase “family members or employees” was corrected to read “employees or their family members.” Thanks to Stanley Spiegel for spotting the mistake.


John Hilliard, Brookline taxi consultant contract signed, Brookline TAB, December 3, 2010

City of Boston, Taxi Consultant Report, Nelson Nygaard, October, 2013

Annual town meeting: Brookline Place, taxi medallions and resolutions

Brookline’s 2014 annual town meeting held its third session Monday, June 2. Although running a little late, town meeting members worked their way through the remaining articles and will not need another session. A summary of actions on articles:

15. Zoning amendments, Brookline Place–approved
16. Zoning amendments, Brookline Place (alternative)–rejected
17. Grant of easement, Brookline Place–approved
18. Restrictive covenant, Brookline Place–approved
19, Release of documents, Brookline Place–approved
26. Legislation, repealing authority to sell taxi medallions–referred
27. Resolution, urging memory of Brookline veterans–approved
28. Resolution, urging snow clearance in business districts–approved
29. Resolution, supporting Brookline businesses–referred
30. Resolution, supporting legislation on obstetric fistula–approved
31. Resolution, opposing discrimination by gender identity–approved
32. Resolution, supporting legislation on fossil-fuel divestment–approved
33. Reports, town officers and committees
(1) Police department, complaint process–presented

The contentious issues were expected to be Articles 15 and 16, two versions of zoning for Brookline Place, and Article 26, legislation to repeal the state authorization to sell taxi medallions. Article 16, submitted by petition, called for less parking than official Article 15. Debates proved fairly compact. There were four more electronic votes after the seven of May 27 and 29, but only records for two of those appeared on the town’s Web site later in the week.

Brookline Place: The Planning Board and its Brookline Place Advisory Committee proposed to complete nearly a half century of redevelopment in the Brookline Village block bounded by Washington Street, Brookline Avenue and Pearl Street, adjacent to the Village’s Green Line stop. Except for the T stop and the former Water Department building at the eastern extreme, the commercially zoned area now called Brookline Place–which includes 6-story offices built in the 1990s–is owned by Children’s Hospital.

Management of Children’s Hospital proposed to replace low-rise buildings near the corner of Washington and Pearl Streets with business and medical offices in an 8-story tower–as reviewed over an extended period with the Board of Selectmen, Planning Board, Brookline Place Advisory Committee, Planning Department and other committees and agencies. Because the development should not add to the school population, substantial net tax revenue is expected. Parking has been the main controversy.

Brookline’s usual zoning requires underground parking. However, Children’s Hospital management claimed that underground parking would make the project uneconomic. Brookline boards and agencies agreed to propose zoning with above-ground parking. However, controversy continued around the amount of parking. Because the site of the development includes a rapid-transit stop, Brookline’s representatives took an unusual stance, advocating less parking than standard zoning. Children’s Hospital management also took an unusual stance, calling for more parking than the town’s representatives.

Article 15 presented a negotiated compromise. That calls for replacing a current 3-story parking garage, with 355 spaces for 105,000 square feet in the existing 6-story offices. A new 6-story garage would be built on the site of the present garage, providing 683 spaces for a new total of 287,500 square feet in the 6-story and new 8-story offices combined. It represents a substantial cutback from 820 spaces that had been under discussion earlier.

Town meeting members led by Andrew Fischer of Precinct 13 submitted an alternative proposal under Article 16. Although complex, it would allow little above-ground parking beyond the current parking garage. More spaces could be built underground. Petitioners argued that transportation via the Green Line and the three MBTA bus routes serving the site should make additional parking unnecessary.

Proponents of Article 15, supported by the Advisory Committee, said that Article 16 would not allow enough on-site parking at costs that make the project economic. Without substantially more parking than the current garage, they said, new offices could become unmarketable at premium rents and could expose the surrounding neighborhood to predatory “impacts from cars circling and taking on-street parking.” Town meeting agreed with those arguments, approving Article 15 and rejecting Article 16.

Article 17 proposed Brookline accept a grant of easement from Children’s Hospital, allowing a public path 45 feet wide between Washington Street and the Village T stop. It will pass between the new 8-story office tower and the older 6-story offices and parking garage. Article 18 proposed Brookline enter into a restrictive covenant with property owners involved in the new development, such that future uses maintain tax income. Article 19 proposed authorizing the Board of Selectmen to release documents concerning a 2007 project for Brookline Place, also involving Children’s Hospital, that was never completed. Articles 17, 18 and 19 attracted little controversy, and town meeting approved them.

Taxi medallions: Article 26, submitted by Precinct 8 town meeting member John Harris, proposed asking the General Court to repeal sections of state laws allowing Brookline to sell taxi medallions: in Chapter 51 of the Acts of 2010 and in Chapter 52 of the Acts of 2012. Sale of taxi medallions had originally been requested by a special town meeting held in November, 2008. In his arguments to town meeting, Mr. Harris cited a 2013 Boston Globe article alleging that contract taxi drivers were being abused by medallion owners and singling out Edward J. Tutunjian, the owner of Boston Cab. The Globe article is replete with political sleaze and official corruption.

Mr. Harris sought to revive basic controversy over ownership of taxi medallions, calling it a “social justice issue.” He cited a 1986 New York City brief calling the medallion system there “an engraved invitation to corruption” and recalled the 1930 resignation of former New York City mayor Jimmy Walker, “after being accused of accepting bribes from the Checker Cab Company.”

The Board of Selectmen has called the recent Boston scandal, instead, “the fault of regulators” and argued, in effect, that Boston is Boston. Since 2003, they said, the Brookline “Transportation Board has suspended or revoked the license to operate for several companies and many drivers” when they did not follow regulations.

The Advisory Committee took a less partisan approach, calling Mr. Harris’s “concerns…legitimate for some forms of taxi medallion systems” but arguing that Boston’s medallions–at around $600,000–probably sell for around ten times as much as Brookline’s should–because of a monopoly for serving Logan Airport. Advisory has estimated $10 to $15 million in one-time revenue. Town meeting approved a motion to refer Article 26 to a moderator’s committee, to report in time for a fall town meeting.

Resolutions: Precinct 1 town meeting member Neil Gordon submitted Article 27, asking for a “modest but meaningful memorial to Brookline’s veterans,” flying flags in their honor. Town meeting approved the resolution.

Precinct 10 town meeting member Frank Caro submitted Article 28, resolving that Brookline should “proactively deploy enforcement officers on foot in business districts beginning in the fourth daylight hour after snowfalls,” to enforce Brookline’s snow clearance bylaw. The Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee both proposed to refer the matter to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner, but town meeting supported Mr. Caro and approved the resolution.

Article 29, submitted by a local-business group calling itself “Brookline Local First” got quite a different response. The group sought a resolution calling for a “task force,” jointly appointed by Brookline boards and committees, to “support the growth and development of locally owned and independent businesses” and calling for declaration of a “Brookline local economy week.” The Board of Selectmen questioned a narrow focus, apparently excluding franchise holders, and moved referral to the Economic Development Advisory Board. The Advisory Committee found only about 70 businesses involved with “Brookline Local First” versus about 2,000 businesses in Brookline, recommending no action. Town meeting took up the question of referral first and approved referral by a vote of 99 to 76.

Sarah Gladstone, a student at Brookline High School, submitted Article 30, a resolution in favor of H.R. 2888 of the 113th Congress, proposing the Obstetric Fistula Prevention, Treatment, Hope and Dignity Restoration Act of 2013–which did not pass last year. The complication of labor is now rare in the United States but remains common in poor countries. Surgical treatment usually works but is often too expensive for victims, The House bill seeks assistance to international organizations. Town meeting approved the resolution.

Alex Coleman, a Human Relations Youth Resources commissioner, submitted Article 31, a resolution to express “support for the prohibition of discrimination or harassment on the basis of gender identity and expression.” The Advisory Committee moved to amend that, by also asking Brookline’s “legal services department”–apparently meaning the Office of Town Counsel—to review Brookline bylaws and propose changes “consistent with [the] purpose” for a fall town meeting. The Board of Selectmen supported the Advisory Committee, and town meeting approved the amended resolution.

Precinct 4 town meeting member Frank Farlow and Brookline resident Byron Hinebaugh submitted Article 32, a resolution urging the General Court to enact S. 1225 of the current session, proposing An Act Relative to Public Investment in Fossil Fuels. The bill, filed by Sen. Benjamin B. Downing of Pittsfield, who chairs the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, seeks for the state to divest all pension fund holdings in “fossil fuel companies”–not defined in S. 1225. The Board of Selectmen recommended approval of the Article 32 resolution, after amending a “whereas” clause.

By a substantial majority, the Advisory Committee recommended no action, calling S. 1225 a “blunt instrument” and citing vagueness about the meaning of “fossil fuel companies.” General Electric, the committee report noted, operates a wind turbine business and other “clean energy” divisions but also owns GE Oil & Gas. The hour was getting late, and town meeting members may not have been troubled by such distinctions–voting to approve the resolution as amended by the selectmen.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, June 3, 2014


Correction, June 6, 2014. Faulty information found on the Brookline Web site the morning after the June 2 session led to two mistakes. Article 26 on taxi medallions was not rejected but instead referred–to a moderator’s committee, to report before a fall town meeting. Four electronic votes were held. They include one on that referral, approved 96 to 91, and another on a referral under article 29, a proposed resolution in support of “Brookline local first,” approved 99 to 76. Votes of individual town meeting members were not available from town meeting records for those two matters. The other two electronic votes are recorded in town meeting computer files: on Article 15, zoning for Brookline Place, approved 185 to 18, and on Article 32, a resolution supporting divestment of state pension funds from fossil fuel companies, approved 126 to 20.


Bob Hohler, Marcella Bombardieri, Jonathan Saltzman and Thomas Farragher, For Boston cabbies, a losing battle against the numbers, Boston Globe, March 30, 2013

Annual town meeting: budgets and a larger Driscoll school

Brookline’s 2014 annual town meeting held its first session Tuesday, May 27. More sessions are scheduled for Thursday, May 29, and Monday, June 2. The agenda is not that long: 33 articles. However the moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, said he expected extended reviews of several issues–probably needing a fourth session, to be scheduled on Monday.

The session addressed the first 9 articles, including the entire budget for fiscal year 2015, starting in July. Unlike some odd procedures used several years ago, articles were considered in the order listed in the warrant report. A summary of actions, by article:

1, Wood and bark measurers (traditional)–approved
2. Collective bargaining agreements–no action needed
3. Compensating balance agreements–approved
4. Closing out special appropriations–no action needed
5. Unpaid bills of prior years–no action needed
6. Adopting local option, property tax exemptions–approved
7. Fiscal 2014 budget amendments, Lawrence School funds–approved
8. Fiscal 2015 appropriations–approved with an amendment for Driscoll School
9. Adopting local option, senior property tax deferral–amended and approved

An effort to enlarge Lawrence School using modular classrooms had gone nowhere. The sole bidder’s price was in the range for conventional classrooms. Under Article 7, the town meeting agreed to an extra $1.5 million for more durable construction. Four added classrooms are expected to be available in the fall of 2015. Students will not need to be relocated during this round of construction.

Debate over a feasibility study for expanding and renovating Driscoll School took about an hour. It was just one section of around a hundred in the budget under Article 8, yet controversial after parents of Driscoll students became agitated over building a larger school. Driscoll, Heath, Lincoln and Runkle each have about 500 to 550 students, while Devotion, Pierce, Baker and Lawrence each have about 650 to 850. Of the smaller schools, Driscoll has been the fastest growing.

After switching position, first supporting then opposing the feasibility study, the Advisory Committee had most recently proposed to delay spending until after a town meeting next fall. However, town meeting members appeared mostly absorbed–not about timing or spending–but about whether Driscoll was going to become a larger school. The tone of the debate and size of the vote told a story.

By law, Advisory proposes the budget. Harry Bohrs, the committee chair and a Precinct 3 town meeting member, led off debate, saying budgets “communicate our choices…values and aspirations.” One choice was clear: “municipal” expenditures $68 million, up 2 percent, “education” expenditures $87 million, up 5 percent. Advisory proposed a sizable boost in school spending at the expense of almost everything else.

Mr. Bohrs proved about as anodyne as most Advisory chairs over the years. His speech featured acronyms and insider language. Probably a fraction of town meeting members did understand all he said, speaking in that mode, but with so many details few would likely remember it all for long. However, almost everything had been public since the warrant report appeared on Brookline’s municipal Web site two weeks earlier.

Discrepancies turned up, anyway. For example, the school department will have 1,218 “full-time-equivalent” employees, according to the warrant report, versus 1,285 that Mr. Bohrs claimed at town meeting. According to the warrant report, municipal departments will have 679 FTE employees. A couple of minutes later, Mr. Bohrs said for fiscal 2015 there would be 1,374 municipal and 1,671 school employees. Taken at face value, that would apparently mean the average municipal worker is employed about half-time. Really?

Mr. Bohrs faithfully echoed longstanding concerns of Advisory that are now entrenched in town policy: full funding of pension obligations and full anticipation of capital spending for buildings and major equipment, both gaining momentum in the 1970s. He said the current plan for pensions intends to achieve full funding by 2030. If that happens, that goal will have taken about 60 years to reach.

In closing remarks, Mr. Bohrs became more engaged. “Our educational institutions are suffering from system stress,” he said, because of “an unprecedented and sustained surge in our school enrollment.” Predicting a sea change in the community, he said “schools of 500 students are likely a thing of the past.”

Describing the proposed school budget as “unsustainable,” Mr. Bohrs said budgets will be “constrained and tempered by the levels of our resources…[Next year] we will likely be considering an override [to Proposition 2-1/2] in the spring…It’s a decision that will define Brookline.”

Newly elected chair Kenneth Goldstein responded for the Board of Selectmen–patronizing authors of what he called an “award-winning financial plan.” He emphasized “new growth” but focused only on new revenue, omitting to mention any new costs–particularly when “new growth” brings more students to public schools. Most of his speech repeated what Mr. Bohrs had already said but lacked the forward-looking cautions Mr. Bohrs had noted.

Mr. Goldstein’s strongest contribution was to describe investigations by the B-SPACE committee about school expansion, on which he served–leading to what he called an “expand-in-place” plan. That mainly targets Devotion, Lawrence and Driscoll Schools. Of those, only Devotion has a fairly generous campus. The Driscoll campus is small, while the Lawrence campus is hedged by conservation restrictions on adjacent parkland.

Proposed funds for a Driscoll feasibility study produced one of those classic town-meeting debates about bigger issues than what shows on the agenda. Precinct 14 town meeting member Pam Lodish, an Advisory Committee member and former School Committee member, spoke for a delay in spending for a Driscoll feasibility study, saying “we don’t want to disenfranchise significant groups of our community.” She was joined by Werner Lohe from Precinct 13 and by Perry Stoll, a Driscoll parent.

Rebecca Stone, a Precinct 3 town meeting member and current School Committee member, urged town meeting to press ahead, saying, “We know how to run successful, beloved schools with the larger numbers.” She was joined by Betsy DeWitt, speaking for the Board of Selectmen, and by Casey Hatchett, a Driscoll parent. As debate churned on, applause for those points of view grew louder.

Mr. Gadsby held a recorded vote. Using an electronic system, introduced in spring, 2013, it took only about a minute instead of 15 to 20 minutes for the first roll-call votes at town meeting, in 1970. The outcome was 176 in favor of funding without delay versus 43 in favor of delay and 5 abstaining. Town meeting appears to have made up its mind: Driscoll parents must accept a larger school.

On the balance of the budget article, there were several questions, but only at-large Advisory Committee member Leonard Weiss spoke at length. He said it was time for school management “to demonstrate leadership on affordability.” Town meeting passed almost the entire fiscal 2015 budget unanimously, except that Regina Frawley of Precinct 16 asked to be recorded as opposing the operating budget for Public Schools of Brookline.

Article 9, submitted by former Precinct 6 town meeting member Arthur W. Conquest, III, and by Brooks Ames, a member of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, sought adoption of a state law allowing a higher income-limit for senior residents seeking property-tax deferral. They also proposed a lower interest-rate. Both the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee supported the higher income-limit but opposed the lower interest-rate. That approach passed unanimously.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 29, 2014

School Committee: Driscoll plans, policies, technology and testing

A regular semimonthly meeting of the School Committee on Thursday, May 22, started at 6:00 pm, held in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Topics included Driscoll School plans, policy changes, “technology” plans and the state’s PARCC testing.

School expansion plans: Noticeable discord has grown over plans to expand Driscoll School. Some parents are opposed, others skeptical. A Web site appeared to circulate information. The Advisory Committee has reversed its earlier support for a feasibility study, recently recommending that funding for a study be deferred to a fall town meeting.

Perry Stoll, a Driscoll parent, was recently quoted in the Boston Globe, saying, “The permanence of a thousand-plus-person school just pulls at my heart; I can’t stand it…As you keep increasing the size of our schools, you pull apart the connection of its community.”

Committee chair Susan Wolf Ditkoff said a delay in funding a feasibility study for Driscoll would be likely to have a “domino effect,” interfering with “long, multi-year projects. ” Superintendent Lupini appeared troubled, saying “We don’t have a Plan B.” Committee member Rebecca Stone said she hoped the town “still has a long-term plan in place,” speaking of solidarity with the Board of Selectmen.

To an untutored ear, the reactions might sound a little strong–for a proposal currently said to seek six more classrooms at Driscoll. However, as with many past school projects, what could possibly be a straightforward, frugal expansion of school space can–and maybe it already has–become enmeshed in more complex and costly goals.

The discord has an echo from 1973, during previous planning to renovate Devotion School–with quite a twist. The School Department then called for shrinking school capacity–from about 850 to 650 students. History that was recent at the time had seen Devotion with as many as 950 students. The Sperber administration stood by a consultant study that said falling birthrates and smaller family sizes would reduce demand.

The 1970s Devotion project replaced the northwest wing and renovated the entire center section for around $5 million–or about $30 million today, adjusted for inflation. The community might question why another renovation now would need to cost about three times as much, in real dollars.

Policies for community uses and residency: Committee member Abby Cox announced that discussion and voting on proposed changes to “community use” policy would be delayed, “for more community review.” The proposal has already drawn criticism from organizers of after-school programs. It risks looking hostile toward local organizations that sometimes use school rooms for community meetings, as they learn more about it.

One obvious change is a sentence that now says Public Schools of Brookline will make facilities available to the community “at as low a cost as possible.” As proposed, that would instead read “at reasonable cost.” The current policy took form in the early 1970s, as the Sperber administration was pursuing renovations to Pierce, Devotion, Lawrence, Lincoln and Driscoll Schools.

At the time, Brookline was growing around 20 new neighborhood associations and several advocacy groups. The policy probably helped solidify community support for school renovations–strongly controversial at the time. A 1973 referendum brought against the Devotion appropriation failed to reverse it by a margin of only about 200 votes. It took three tries to overcome opposition to building a new Lincoln School on Kennard Rd., which finally opened in 1994.

Discussion of policy on “instruction” veered into of how parents establish residency, proposed to be required at the start of each school year. Committee member Helen Charlupski, who has served since 1992, recalled that parents formerly “signed a card and sent it in…What now?” Superintendent Lupini said parents must now submit “some form of proof.” He named alternatives, all requiring originals of paper documents. Committee vice chair Barbara Scotto asked, “What will happen to the documents?” The question went unanswered.

Controversy over growth: During “public comment,” Sanford Ostroy, a League of Women Voters board member, urged the committee to examine recent assertions from the Override Study. He cited claims that “minority populations” are the source of student population growth over the past 20 years and that METCO students are “the most expensive to educate.” He questioned both accuracy and pertinence.

In his finance report, Peter Rowe, the deputy superintendent, had some answers for Dr. Ostroy. It has been a surge of growth in student populations during about the past seven years, not in previous years, that generated pressure for more space and staff. Mr. Rowe presented a table comparing students in each elementary school at the start of school years in 2004 and 2013.

For years 2004 to 2013: Baker 629 to 754, Devotion 701 to 840, Driscoll 366 to 551, Heath 378 to 518, Lawrence 440 to 658, Lincoln 398 to 565, Pierce 548 to 782, Runkle 426 to 560. Total students grew from 3,886 to 5,228–a difference of 1,324 students or 35 percent. Of those, Mr. Rowe said, no added students came from METCO, and about 40 added students came from town employees through the “materials fee” program.

Plans for “technology”: Dr. Lupini presented his plans for more “technology,” focusing on elementary schools in fiscal 2015–startinng in July–through fiscal 2019. He frankly called it “plumbing,” not “transformational technology.” It is hardware-heavy: more classroom computers, more network support, more digital projectors. Next year has an added $30 thousand for “professional development.”

Goals of the effort, as presented, were all stated in general and vague terms. There were no specifics about what the hardware would used to do, and there were few real-life examples. Although Dr. Lupini expressed concern that current resources are not available outside classrooms, the only concrete proposal that could be found to address that limitation was to put some computers in school libraries.

Testing regimes: Superintendent Lupini announced plans to switch to the state’s new PARCC series of tests in the next school year for most grades. However, he would stay with MCAS for grade 10–that is, English and math tests required for graduation. That would put 9th grade science tests, which have proven the most difficult for Brookline students, into the PARCC camp.

Dr. Lupini said the PARCC regime will allow extra time for special education students and students with limited English proficiency. However, apparently it will otherwise remain strictly timed. That is likely to affect minority students in Brookline, because they probably will not qualify for “accommodations.”

Decades of experience show that strictly timed tests put students from foreign-language and low-income backgrounds at severe disadvantages. With strictly timed tests, those students are placed at well known risks of lower scores. School Committee members sounded distant about risks for Latino and African-American students to perform poorly. However, Dr. Lupini clearly sees his proposal could become a “hot potato.” He intends a public hearing on it June 5–time and place to be announced–followed by another School Committee review June 22.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 27, 2014


Jaclyn Reiss, Full plate at Brookline Town Meeting: development, Driscoll School work, Boston Globe, May 25, 2014


METCO communities, spring 2014
Source: Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, for fiscal 2014

METCO now has 37 participating communities, organized into 37 partly overlapping school districts. Among the districts, Brookline has the second largest number of students. However, when districts are considered according to METCO students per thousand residents, Brookline is only slightly above average–with 5 METCO students per thousand residents compared to an average of 4. Relative to population, Weston, Lincoln and Wayland make far stronger commitments to METCO than Brookline.

District Students Grant Per student Pop., 2010 Student/1000
Arlington 72 $382,028 $5,306 42,844 1.7
Bedford 97 $556,137 $5,733 13,320 7.3
Belmont 120 $542,300 $4,519 24,729 4.9
Braintree 31 $221,152 $7,134 35,744 0.9
Brookline 296 $1,336,196 $4,514 58,732 5.0
Cohasset 45 $255,195 $5,671 7,542 6.0
Concord 101 $486,746 $4,819 17,668 5.7
Dover 9 $31,023 $3,447 5,589 1.6
East Longmeadow 52 $260,586 $5,011 15,720 3.3
Foxborough 45 $239,690 $5,326 16,865 2.7
Hingham 32 $191,027 $5,970 22,157 1.4
Lexington 237 $1,342,033 $5,663 31,394 7.5
Lincoln 91 $474,791 $5,217 6,362 14.3
Longmeadow 38 $203,886 $5,365 15,784 2.4
Lynnfield 41 $213,673 $5,212 11,596 3.5
Marblehead 78 $427,516 $5,481 19,808 3.9
Melrose 125 $628,863 $5,031 26,983 4.6
Natick 54 $313,496 $5,805 33,006 1.6
Needham 155 $840,442 $5,422 28,886 5.4
Newton 404 $2,154,051 $5,332 85,146 4.7
Reading 71 $362,137 $5,101 24,747 2.9
Scituate 57 $370,016 $6,492 18,133 3.1
Sharon 70 $406,676 $5,810 17,612 4.0
Sherborn 11 $37,917 $3,447 4,119 2.7
Sudbury 70 $411,849 $5,884 17,659 4.0
Swampscott 70 $386,093 $5,516 13,787 5.1
Wakefield 50 $252,759 $5,055 24,932 2.0
Walpole 49 $277,496 $5,663 24,070 2.0
Wayland 137 $658,361 $4,806 12,994 10.5
Wellesley 157 $815,042 $5,191 27,982 5.6
Weston 181 $891,661 $4,926 11,261 16.1
Westwood 43 $221,859 $5,160 14,618 2.9
Concord Carlisle 64 $369,509 $5,774 22,520 2.8
Dover Sherborn 20 $127,418 $6,371 9,708 2.1
Hampden Wilbraham 27 $140,845 $5,216 19,358 1.4
Lincoln Sudbury 91 $455,410 $5,005 24,021 3.8
Southwick Tolland 20 $127,909 $6,395 9,987 2.0
Totals 3,311 $17,413,788 $5,259 817,383 4.1

Public Transportation Advisory Committee: new services and reviews

A regular monthly meeting of the Public Transportation Advisory Committee on Wednesday, May 21, started at 7:00 pm in the fourth-floor conference room at Town Hall, with all three current committee members attending plus five members of the public, two representatives of GroupZoom, proposing a new transit service, a Brookline Transportation Board member, a member of MBTA management and two representatives of the MBTA Advisory Board.

Express buses to Cambridge and Boston: Matthew George, founder of GroupZoom, located in Cambridge, described the Bridj transit service his company expects to offer. It plans to provide express-bus service between high-demand locations–featuring Web-based scheduling, electronic payments and on-board amenities, including WiFi. According to business news reports, GroupZoom has received around $3 million in venture funding from a private investor group that includes Scott Griffith, a partner at General Catalyst and former CEO of Zipcar, now an Avis division.

Mr. George said initial plans are for two Brookline-centered routes and two Cambridge-centered routes. He claims routes between the vicinities of Coolidge Corner and Kendall Square and between the vicinities of Coolidge Corner and Post Office Square are prime candidates in Greater Boston. Traveling the MBTA Green Line and Red Line between Coolidge Corner, where he lives, and Kendall Square, where he works, Mr. George measured morning rush-hour travel time at around 55 minutes. He says his service will take less than 20 minutes.

Initially, Mr. George expects the Bridj service to provide full-size, 54-passenger buses run by Academy Bus, a charter company operating from Braintree. The fare for the Kendall Square route is projected at around $6 each way, or three times the current MBTA Charlie Card fare, in return for saving an estimated 35 minutes each way. Linda Lally, an MBTA system planner at the meeting on other issues, said MBTA supports the proposed Bridj service as a complement to the mass transportation services MBTA provides.

Abigail “Abby” Swaine, committee chair, said GroupZoom would need Brookline Transportation Board authorization to operate a jitney service and would need approvals for locations it plans to pick up and drop off passengers. The company will probably need similar authorizations from Cambridge and Boston for the routes Mr. George described. Committee members asked about locations of stops. Mr. George said possible locations are near municipal parking lots, particularly ones on Centre Street.

Jerry Lazar of Craftsland Rd. asked whether GroupZoom might provide service from Chestnut Hill. Mr. George was not sure but said Bridj will have zoned fare capability. He said there is also interest in service from Brookline Village. Scott Englander, a Brookline Transportation Board member, asked about sharing data with host communities. Mr. George said GroupZoom would do that, subject to nondisclosure agreements. An inquiry the next morning with Todd Kirrane at the Brookline Transportation Department indicated no applications yet from GroupZoom.

MBTA equipment, more 3-car trains: Richard T. Leary, a former executive secretary to the Board of Selectmen and later Brookline’s first town administrator, presented a report for the MBTA Advisory Board. He has served for many years as Brookline’s representative. He was accompanied by Paul Regan, the board’s executive director. Responding to the committee’s interest in 3-car trains on the Green Line, Mr. Regan said the MBTA has only enough equipment for a few 3-car trains at rush hours.

Running more 3-car trains will also need power upgrades, according to Mr. Regan. Some power substations have been renovated, but trolley wires are up to 80 years old, and overloads and brownouts occur at rush hours, When power upgrades are finished, replacing antique signals will be the next priority. Only those near Kenmore Square, which flooded in 1962 and in 1996, have had recent attention.

The current MBTA capital plan calls for 220 new Green Line cars by some unspecified date. However, the financial tables, out to FY2018, show no such acquisition. The Green Line currently has 114 operable Kinki Sharyo Type 7 cars, now 17 to 28 years old, that are to be renovated. It has 95 operable Breda type 8 low-rise cars, now 6 to 15 years old. They will not need major maintenance soon. No additional 3-car trains can likely be expected before 2022.

Mr. Regan, Mr. Leary and committee members discussed measures to speed up boarding passengers and discourage fare evasion. About two years ago the Green Line stopped opening rear doors when running on the surface. That led to crushes in the fronts of cars, especially at rush hours, so the Green Line resumed opening rear doors during rush hours. Mr. Regan said MBTA will be hiring more transit police but faces high turnover. Officers often leave to take highway, city and town police jobs.

Committee members asked whether MBTA will add more payment kiosks to service Charlie Cards. There are now about 150 of them, but there are none for surface parts of the Green Line except on the Riverside (D) branch. Mr. Regan said there are four payment centers located in Brookline groceries: the two Star markets, one 7-11 store and Bay State Foods. He did not think more payment kiosks or centers would open in the next few years.

Speedier Beacon Street trolleys: Last year the committee supported a $50,000 study of Beacon Street traffic signal improvements, to reduce delays on the Cleveland Circle (C) branch of the Green Line. The 2014 annual town meeting looks set to fund the project. It is included in the Advisory Committee’s budget, under Article 8.

Mr. Regan said MBTA management was “thrilled” about the Beacon Street project, a first for the MBTA Green Line. So far, MBTA has worked on traffic signal improvements for buses and for commuter rail but not for above-ground parts of the Green Line. The Advisory Committee has proposed some conditions on the funding, which committee members had yet to investigate.

MBTA fares and finances: Mr. Leary reviewed MBTA finances. Last year’s Transportation Finance Act, Chapter 46 of the Acts of 2013, adds about $600 million per year to state transportation funding for FY2014 through FY2018. Although MBTA gets a portion, much of that goes toward repairing degraded bridges and roads. MBTA is committed to a “proposition 2-1/2″ approach. It will raise transit fares by about 2-1/2 percent a year: likely about 5 percent every 2 years, starting this July.

However, the agency’s financial problems are far from over. Since 1947, the MBTA and former MTA fares have never paid the full cost of rides. Before 2000, MTA and MBTA got a yearly and much maligned “deficiency budget” from the General Court. In 2000, under so-called “forward funding,” MBTA was instead granted one percentage point of the state sales tax. For a while that worked, because of increasing ridership and sales tax receipts. Then fare revenue flattened after 2005; sales tax receipts flattened after 2008.

For FY2010 through FY2014, the General Court provided $160 million a year in so-called “contract assistance.” That means, in effect, the old MTA and MBTA “deficiency budget” from the past has been revived in a new form–added to the sales-tax earmark. The General Court looks on course to do the same for FY2015.

According to Mr. Leary, those funds, along with management reforms and the 2013 finance act, have brought financial stability to MBTA. MBTA is hiring 63 workers to bring more maintenance in-house plus 180 workers to run late-night service. Employees are on the state’s Group Insurance Commission health plan, which is also helping Brookline cope. Subway trains are being run by single operators. Absentee rates are down. Need for the last two reforms had been reported since at least the 1950s, by the old Boston Herald and by the Boston Globe.

MBTA is to maintain a “recovery ratio” of 33 percent or more–meaning fares are to pay at least one-third the cost of rides. Of its current $1.9 billion budget, Mr. Leary said about $160 million is being paid by “local assessments” on cities and towns in the MBTA operating area. Brookline is paying about $5 million. Similar municipal transit support has occurred since the 1920s, starting with the former Boston Elevated Railway Co.

Committee member Sherry Flashman asked about falling ridership. Mr. Regan said ridership is actually up. That becomes somewhat complicated. MBTA preliminary reports of increased ridership have often proven inconsistent with federally audited reports appearing much later in the National Transit Database. Those showed largely stagnant system ridership after 2002 and falling ridership after 2005. Possibly the years after 2012 may see sustained, verified increases, but it is too early to know.

Less waiting for the next bus: Brookline Transportation Board member Scott Englander presented a quantitative study he carried out to see whether wait times near Cleveland Circle, transferring between MBTA bus routes 51 and 86, could be reduced by schedule shifting. Route 51 extends through south Brookline to Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain. Route 86 extends through Allston, Harvard Square and Somerville to Sullivan Square in Charlestown. Combined, they could approximate a so-called “urban ring” long advocated to connect radial transit routes in and out of downtown Boston.

Mr. Englander’s work was assisted by MBTA system planner Linda Lally, who arranged access to real-time records of bus arrivals and departures. Ms. Lally said bus scheduling has been computerized for about three years and now includes “interlining”–meaning drivers may transfer from route to another. Those changes improve efficiency but do not reduce wait times for passenger transfers.

Mr. Englander found that shifting schedules of 51 buses relative to 86 buses could reduce average wait times somewhat. However, he said the best case amounted to only several percent of total travel times.

More ridership in south Brookline: For some time, the committee has looked at potential changes to the 51 bus route, in hopes of increasing ridership. According to Mr. Kirrane, the transportation director, one possibility is the segment between the intersection of Chestnut Hill Avenue with Route 9 and Independence Drive southwest of Putterham Circle.

The 51 bus currently follows Lee, Clyde, Newton and Grove Streets. Ridership might increase by instead following Boylston, Hammond and Lagrange Streets and Beverly Road. In the 1970s and before, areas near the latter streets were served by the former 59 bus, but that bus was discontinued in a cost-cutting change. The 59 number is now used for a route between Watertown and Needham. The committee meets next on June 15, also at 7:00 pm.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 24, 2014


Comment, June 10, 2014. Scott Englander, a Transportation Board member, sent a comment about MBTA 51 bus service:

The MBTA has so far only offered Brookline the possibility of shifting Rt. 51 bus schedules uniformly (i.e., shifting all departure times forward or backward by the same amount). Mr. Englander found that shifting schedules of Rt. 51 buses uniformly could, at best, reduce passenger layover times at Reservoir by 5%, and even that modest overall improvement would come at a cost of adversely affecting outbound passengers. The analysis did not look at potentially beneficial changes in schedule that don’t involve shifting all schedules by the same amount of time.


Katie Johnston, Data-driven bus service set to roll out, Boston Globe, April 10, 2014

Rafael Mares and Kirstie Pecci, Keeping on Track: Transportation for Massachusetts, Conservation Law Foundation and MassPIRG, March, 2014

Massachusetts Transportation Board, FY2015 transportation plan, Draft, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, January, 2014

Massachusetts Transportation Board, The way forward, FY2014 transportation plan, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, January, 2013

New England casino gambling: a business in decline

The 1990s surge of casino gambling in New England is long past. Newer casinos have largely been feeding on older ones. Unlike the Southwest and Midwest, New England is geographically compact. Except for northern Vermont, most people in the region now live within about a 2-hour drive from a New England casino. Most people in the region who want to participate in casino gambling have been doing so.

There are now six New England casinos: two each in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine. Adding casinos in Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire could make gambling more convenient for some 3 to 5 million residents. That would be likely to increase gambling somewhat and to grow more gambling addicts. However, no surge in gambling resembling the 1990s appears in prospect. Trends can be seen in reports of gross incomes, on which state gambling taxes are based.

New England gross incomes for casino gambling, 2004 to 2012

Source of data: New England casino gambling, 2013 update, U. Mass. Dartmouth

A declining trend in gross income from New England casino gambling–total stakes less total payouts–began in 2007, before the severe recession of 2008 and 2009. There has been no recovery. Instead, gross income from casino gambling continues to fall. Adjusted for inflation by the U.S. Consumer Price Index, total gross income in 2012 for New England casinos–which includes food, lodging and other entertainment–fell to about 71 percent of total gross income in 2006, the peak year. Gross income from New England casino gambling remains a small element in the region’s economy. For 2012, it was 0.28 percent of New England’s gross domestic product and shrinking.

During the 21st century, there was a major expansion at the Twin River casino in Lincoln, RI, in 2007. New casinos opened in Bangor, ME, in 2005, and in Oxford, ME, in 2012. None of the additions led to an increase in gross income from New England casino gambling. Instead, each addition appeared to take business from older casinos. From 2006 to 2012, the New England market share for Foxwoods in Ledyard, CT, shrank from 46 to 33 percent. The market share for Mohegan Sun in Montville, CT, shrank from 44 to 40 percent. An ambitious 2005 program to expand Foxwoods proved badly timed; in 2009 Foxwoods defaulted on debt.

NewEnglandFoxwoodStates

Source of data: New England casino gambling, 2006 and 2013 updates, U. Mass. Dartmouth

The main sources of decline in New England’s gross incomes from casino gambling look straightforward. The origin states of gamblers at Foxwoods, the oldest and largest New England casino, have gradually concentrated in Connecticut, where it is located. As casinos opened in New York and Pennsylvania, fewer gamblers opted to travel longer distances to Foxwoods. For the great majority of gamblers who do not become addicts, casinos are only one of many pastimes. In the 1990s they were novel in New England; now they have become dated and, for some, no longer as interesting.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 17, 2014


Clyde W. Barrow, et al., New England casino gaming, annual update 8, Center for Policy Research, University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, 2013

Auditi Guha, Barrow resigns, alleges faculty exodus and lack of support at UMass Dartmouth, New Bedford Standard Times, April 22, 2014

Matthew Sturdevant, Foxwoods report details revenue erosion, debt details, risks of increased competition, Hartford Courant, January 8, 2014

Clifford Woodruff and Catherine Wang, Widespread economic growth in 2012, U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, June, 2013

Advisory Committee: $87 million for Brookline schools

A regular meeting of the Advisory Committee on Thursday, April 17, started at 7:00 pm in the southern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The committee has been reviewing articles on the warrant for the 2014 annual town meeting to be held in May. Most of this meeting was review of school spending proposed for the fiscal year starting next July. Attendance was slim, as it often is at Advisory meetings.

Despite a long siege of work, the committee seemed energetic. Subcommittee chair Leonard Weiss summarized the proposed budget through a set of comparison charts, showing in a general way how the financial resources are used. Unlike some of the reviews in past years, his comparisons did not include other school systems. They were distributed on paper. Copies were not offered to members of the public. Mr. Weiss cited risks in the proposed budget’s heavy reliance on grant funds and other one-time revenues.

School superintendent William Lupini gave more information to the Advisory Committee than he had provided a week earlier to the School Committee. However, the proposed school budget as distributed to the public on the school Web site remains vague–even less informative than the “program” approach the school department began to use in the early 1970s. From the public version of the budget, a reader will not be able to find out how many fifth-grade teachers there are at Pierce or Driscoll, how much is spent on supplies for High School science labs or almost any other practical item showing how the school department runs.

Lee Selwyn was the only committee member who noticed and spoke up. He commented to Dr. Lupini that the budget presentation was incremental, mostly showing changes from the current year. Momentarily the agile superintendent seemed caught off guard, but he recovered with a time-chart showing average spending per student–from the school year starting in 2004 to the one starting in 2012. Mr. Selwyn never got a direct response to his objection.

The per-student spending chart is actually part of the public version of the budget, on page 27. Total spending rose from about $14,000 per student per year for the school year starting in 2004 to about $17,000 for 2008, then leveled off. The chart compares Brookline with Newton and Lexington, showing for the last three years reported that school spending per student in those communities was about the same.

Dr. Lupini and his senior staff contended that controlling costs of special education had been the key to controlling total per-student spending. They did not present any charts or numbers. As described at the meeting, a major element has been “mainstreaming” more special-needs students who were being sent to services outside Brookline–bringing them into the town’s schools and providing extra staff to help.

The liveliest part of the review focused on a proposed “technology” initiative. Most of this involves more and newer computers available in classrooms. The department proposes to add about 600 hand-held computers next year and to begin replacing computers every four rather than every five years. Committee members were interested, but apparently no one did the math. There are about 7,000 students now. For each student to be able to work with a computer, the department would be buying at least 1,750 a year–not just 600.

Dr. Lupini and deputy superintendent Peter Rowe discussed with the committee a “budget addendum” much expanded from one previously distributed to the School Committee. Among other matters, it lists funds for the “technology” initiative. However, the addendum has not been made available on the school Web site, and paper copies made available to the public do not include a page explaining “budget magic” discussed with both the School Committee and the Advisory Committee–avoiding major program cuts or a tax override.

A large majority of the Advisory Committee voted to recommend the school budget as proposed, requiring about $87 million in local tax revenue for department operations, plus a capital allocation. Dividing the annual school department appropriation by the student population does not reflect full costs. A state agency reports per-student spending, including costs of health care and pensions. However, contrary to statements made at the meeting by school administrators, those state reports do not factor in the costs of school buildings. A few committee members abstained, but no one opposed the school budget.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 18, 2014

Candidates Night: controversies appear in town elections

The Brookline Neighborhood Alliance held a Candidate’s Night on Wednesday, April 16, from 6:30 to 9:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. It featured candidates for town-wide offices in the upcoming election on May 6. Margaret Bush, president of League of Women Voters of Brookline, presided as moderator.

The Alliance is a fairly recent organization, founded in 2001. It helps coordinate activities of more than 20 neighborhood associations in Brookline, many of them operating for 40 years or more. Current Alliance co-chairs are Dan Saltzman and Sean Lynn-Jones. Mr. Lynn-Jones introduced the candidates.

This year there is only one town-wide contest: four candidates running for two seats available on the Board of Selectmen. Incumbent Nancy Daly is running for re-election. Incumbent Richard Benka stepped aside after two terms; he remains co-chair of the Override Study Committee. The challengers are Brooks A. Ames of Whitney St., Arthur Wellington Conquest, III, of Tappan St. and Benjamin J. Franco of Cypress St.

Controversies
For more than two centuries, the Board of Selectmen was a gentlemen’s club, meeting at Dana’s and Punch Bowl taverns before there was Town Hall as we know it today. Over the past 55 years that changed. Louise Castle became the first woman to serve on the board in 1960. For many years afterward, there was never more than one woman among the five members. Recently–during 2007 through 2013–women formed a majority of the board, and currently there are two women on the board.

Another barrier has not yet been breached. There has never been an African-American or Latin-American member of the board, nor for at least a century has there been a foreign-born member. There has been only one minority head of a town department over the past 40 years. Those are major concerns for two of this year’s candidates. Mr. Ames and Mr. Conquest, an African-American, say they are campaigning jointly to promote minority representation in town management.

Continuing financial stress from growth in the school population has revived a controversy many thought was laid to rest in the 1970s: whether the town should continue its affirmative-action program in the schools, accepting minority students through the METCO program. A related element is school-age children of town employees who live elsewhere but have been allowed to attend Brookline schools. The combined groups are said by school administrators to number around 600, out of around 7,000 students now attending Brookline schools.

METCO was organized in 1965. An initial effort was led by Prof. Leon Trilling of M.I.T., then chairman of the Brookline School Committee. Key participants included Dr. Robert Sperber, then Brookline superintendent of schools, and the superintendents in Newton and Lexington. When METCO started sending students to seven founding communities in 1966–75 to Brookline–the program was described as filling “available seats” in classrooms. For many years, the added students were not considered a major factor in achieving a goal of 25 or fewer students per class, and the costs to Brookline were described by school administrators as small.

However, the Education Reform Act of 1993 led to a statewide reporting system for public school populations and spending, so that the added populations could not be discounted. Over time, the numbers of added students grew. State payments for METCO students and so-called “materials fees” charged for children of town employees are much less than the average cost per student in Brookline schools, as calculated by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Moreover, state-certified costs do not include costs of school buildings.

The Ames and Conquest campaigns for minority representation, together with revival of disputes over the METCO program and new disputes over the “materials fee” program, comprise a level of agitation not seen in the town since struggles over rent control and high-rise zoning in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Those controversies formed a backdrop for the discussions at Candidates Night which no one there could ignore.

Board of Selectmen
Nancy Daly is seeking a fourth term on the Board of Selectmen. She named experience in town government as a major qualification. Ms. Daly formerly chaired the Advisory Committee. She cited recent efforts in getting Brookline recognized as an “age friendly community” and in proposing to revise the town’s bylaw on diversity and inclusion, Article 10 on the warrant for the annual town meeting in May.

Brooks Ames is seeking a first term on the Board of Selectmen. He has been a member of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission since 2013. Mr. Ames described himself as a Heath School graduate and now a Heath School parent. He complained that there had been “no department head of color in over 40 years” and said his goal is “making sure that everyone has a seat at the table.”

Arthur Conquest is seeking a first term on the Board of Selectmen. He has been a Precinct 6 town meeting member since 1997 and is a past president of the High School parent-teacher organization. Mr. Conquest described his unsuccessful application to serve on the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, clearly indicating he felt the current Board of Selectmen acted unreasonably.

Benjamin Franco is seeking a first term on the Board of Selectmen. He has been a member of the Advisory Committee since 2008. Mr. Franco described himself as growing up on Amory St. He said he is particularly concerned about financial pressures from school enrollment increases. He cited as a qualification his experience in state government, gained as a legislative aide in the state senate.

Ms. Bush, the moderator, posed several questions submitted by members of the audience to candidates for the Board of Selectmen. On the chronic issue of tax classification, with businesses seeking a lower tax rate, no candidate favored much change. On the efforts to get payments in lieu of taxes from nonprofit organizations, all would encourage them.

Responding to a question about how to handle the proposed Chapter 40B housing development at Hancock Village, Mr. Ames cited his legal experiences with 40B developments and said he favors a “negotiated settlement.” All the candidates were familiar with the situation and cited potential problems, but none had any more to offer toward a solution.

A question on which the candidates clearly differed asked whether they “support a robust METCO program.” Mr. Ames said his support is “100 percent.” Mr. Conquest said METCO is “an integral part of our school system.” Ms. Daly said she would “fight strongly for the program” but there are limits “to what the taxpayers can pay.” Mr. Franco stated he could not “say that regardless of financial pressure…we’re going to retain it.”

Another question that drew differences asked about support for “Local First,” a business initiative proposed under Article 29 at the annual town meeting in May. Mr. Ames criticized the proposal for excluding franchised businesses. Mr. Conquest offered no opinion. Mr. Franco said Brookline “should make sure everybody is protected.” Ms. Daly said she saw problems, notably the issue of “what’s local?” The proposal seeks more town purchasing from local business, while Ms. Daly said the town is “subject to state bidding laws.”

School Committee
Three candidates are running for the three seats available on the School Committee. Incumbent Rebecca Stone is running for a fourth term. Incumbent committee chair Alan Morse stepped aside after three terms. Incumbent Amy Kershaw stepped aside after one term. The new candidates are Michael A. Glover of Franklin Ct. and Lisa R. Jackson of Winthrop Rd.

Rebecca Stone cited as accomplishments a strategic plan, improvements in “educational equity” and renovations to Heath and Runkle Schools. She voiced support for school-building recommendations from the Bspace Committee but also concerns about “fracturing the community” over costs of the work. Michael Glover, a real-estate lawyer who moved to Brookline from Jamaica Plain 1-1/2 years ago, described his goal to “retain the culture and characteristics that attracted our family, without compromising the quality of education.” Dr. Lisa Jackson, an investment portfolio manager, came to Brookline in recent years from California. Her aim, she said, is to “grow strengths around technology, science and math.”

By “educational equity,” Ms. Stone may have been alluding to the Equity Project that began about ten years ago, early in the Lupini administration. According to contemporary town reports, it aimed at “eliminating the racial achievement gap” in Brookline schools. However, an earlier “equity project” began in the 1960s during the Sperber administration. It aimed to eliminate disparity among what Dr. Sperber once called the four rich and the four poor elementary schools. A comment by Dr. Jackson suggested the older project has yet to meet some objectives. She mentioned finding many more classroom computers at Heath than at Pierce.

Ms. Bush again posed questions to the candidates. The first asked about their support for METCO: is it still necessary? Ms. Stone said she is a “very strong supporter” and said the program provides “extraordinary benefit to students and the community.” Mr. Glover said he is a “wholehearted supporter” and said a “holistic school requires exposure to different backgrounds.” Dr. Jackson said she offers “full and robust support” for METCO as an “integral part of an education.”

A question on which the candidates differed asked about the accuracy of school enrollment projections, which now predict continued growth for at least several more years. Dr. Jackson said she lacked knowledge about the accuracy of the projections. Mr. Glover said the projections were “conservative, maybe too low” and did not take full account of the proposed Hancock Village development. Ms. Stone did not answer the question directly, instead referring again to work of the Bspace Committee and describing it as a “broad set of recommendations.”

Key elements of the most recent projections for the school population appear in the public version of the proposed school budget for fiscal 2015, on pages 21-24. They estimate that by 2018 the total school population will rise at least 1,000 students above the historical norm for which Brookline’s school buildings were designed.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 17, 2014


2014 Annual Town Meeting Warrant, town meeting files, Town of Brookline, MA

Superintendent’s FY2015 preliminary budget, Public Schools of Brookline, MA, March, 2014

Edward W. Baker, The old Worcester Turnpike, Proceedings of the Brookline Historical Society at the annual meeting of January, 1907, Internet Archive

The Trilling plans for METCO, pp. 193-210 in Lily D. Geismer, Don’t Blame Us: Grassroots Liberalism in Massachusetts, 1960-1990, PhD, U. Michigan 2010

Recycling makes more progress without trash metering

A look at recycling reports from Massachusetts communities provides no support for using trash metering in Brookline–so-called “pay as you throw.” It has not been a particularly helpful approach for largely urban, high-income communities. Instead, metered trash fees became common mostly in middle-income communities, far suburbs and rural areas.

A survey for calendar 2012 is the most recent available. It is far from complete. Of 352 cities and towns involved, 131 failed to report, and nine filed obviously faulty information–a compliance rate of only 60 percent. Many scofflaws are small towns, but scofflaws also include Amherst, Harvard, Hull, Medford, Nantucket, Norwood, Pittsfield, Salisbury, Springfield, Topsfield, Wakefield, Watertown, Wellesley, Winthrop and Worcester.

The state’s Department of Environmental Protection calculates a so-called “recycling rate” that turns out to be misleading. It is supposed to be annual tonnage recycled, divided by annual tonnage collected. However, that metric has been badly distorted by including “electronic waste” and “yard waste” within the tonnages.

The problem with “electronic waste” is that a few communities housing businesses involved in electronics disposal report huge amounts: Ashland, Melrose, Milford, Revere and Saugus. The problem with “yard waste” is the great variation in community customs. Some communities don’t handle yard waste at all and report none. Others operate popular services with large composting pits and report enormous amounts.

A straightforward way to put communities on an even footing is to exclude “electronic waste” and “yard waste” in figuring rates. When we do that, real recycling rates of Massachusetts cities and towns reporting for 2012 averaged 23 percent. Brookline achieved 37 percent, and the town ranked 37th out of 212 reporting communities in the state. The more highly ranked communities usually have small populations or had only a small fraction of households using community-operated trash services.

A more representative comparison with Brookline can be found by looking at communities with large numbers of households using community-operated trash services. Of the 50 largest community services, according to the number of households served, Brookline ranked fourth in real recycling rate. Only Barnstable, Lexington and Cambridge were ahead.

A scan over communities with large numbers of participating households quickly shows that richer communities tended to achieve high recycling rates and poorer communities tended to achieve low ones. At the foot of the 50-community list were Lowell, Fall River and Lawrence–with rates of 13, 11 and 7 percent.

Trash metering–so-called “pay as you throw”–is often advertised by people who seem to be proselytizing or promoting their careers–such as the mayor of Gloucester, who was recently written up in the Boston Globe. Out in the wider world where most people live, trash metering has not become a popular topic.

Changes for Massachusetts communities in real recycling rates (not counting yard waste) show no evidence that trash metering works better than other ways to encourage recycling. Following are records of real recycling rates for the top five Massachusetts communities, among the 50 communities with the most households using community-operated trash services, plus the record for city of Gloucester:

Massachusetts Real rate Trash
community 2008 2012 metering
Barnstable 13% 52% no
Lexington 39% 42% no
Cambridge 28% 39% no
Brookline 31% 37% no
Newton 13% 37% no
Gloucester 21% 30% yes

All top-five communities substantially improved their real recycling rates. Barnstable and Newton far outperformed Gloucester, yet none of the top-five communities used trash metering. There are likely to be good opportunities for Brookline to continue improving its recycling rate. More outreach to neighborhood associations and school programs might help. It can be really irritating to be nagged by your neighbors or your children. Trash metering, on the other hand, looks like a distraction.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 11, 2014

Planning Board: offices and parking at Brookline Place

A weekly meeting of the Planning Board on Thursday, April 10, started at 7:00 pm in the northern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Topics included several zoning changes being proposed at the annual town meeting in May. There was nearly a roomful of observers, many interested in the Brookline Place commercial area in Brookline Village, which is bounded by Boylston St., Brookline Ave. and Pearl St.

Kara Brewton, the town’s economic development director, reviewed proposals for Brookline Place that have been discussed with representatives of Children’s Hospital, the potential developer. They envision an 8-story office building for 2 Brookline Place, replacing two older, low-rise commercial structures near the corner of Boylston St. and Pearl St. That would be taller than any commercial building now found in the Village area, although its impact would be reduced somewhat by lower land elevation, adjacent to MBTA trolley tracks.

There is also expected to be a taller parking garage at the site of the modern, 3-level garage near the bend of Pearl St. A modern 6-story office complex, near the corner of Boylston St. and Brookline Ave., and an older, 2-story former water department garage, at the corner of Brookline Ave. and Pearl St., are expected to remain. The old water department would become the only historic building left at Brookline Place.

Apparently some fancy footwork with zoning is being hatched. Parking requirements are now being evaluated for the whole Brookline Place development, not just the new office building. Although current zoning requires underground parking for new offices, town planners propose that Children’s Hospital somehow be allowed a taller above-ground parking garage, up to 65 feet high.

Opposition from some Village residents was clear, although perhaps it was not as vehement as in past years. Merelice, a Precinct 6 town meeting member who lives about two blocks away on White Place, urged the Planning Board to remember that the proposed development is adjacent to a family neighborhood. She is also concerned for at least six mature trees that may be removed to build new offices. Plans presented showed a pedestrian path through the site, connecting the MBTA trolley station with Boylston St., so it might be possible to preserve two or more trees that look to be near the proposed path.

Redevelopment of the Brookline Place block has already spanned around 50 years. Most of the area bounded by Kent St., Station St., Washington St., Boylston St., Brookline Ave., and Aspinwall Ave. was taken by eminent domain in the 1960s. The former Brookline Redevelopment Authority called this area the Marsh Project–designated for mixed residential and commercial redevelopment–and used federal funds available in those days. Hearthstone Plaza–located at the most prominent corner, Washington St. and Boylston St.–opened in the early 1970s. Affordable housing along Kent St. and Village Way–307 units known as The Village at Brookline–soon followed. However, the B-2 parcel, as it was then known, languished for many years–little improved.

The redevelopment authority was dissolved in the mid-1980s, and regular town staff continued to work on the B-2 parcel. Finally, in the late 1980s, the former Harvard Community Health Plan was recruited to build its main offices on the B-2 parcel, and the block became known as Brookline Place. Harvard Community was then growing rapidly. In 1995, it merged with Pilgrim Health Care. Soon the Brookline location no longer offered enough space for Harvard Pilgrim, and Brookline Place lost its flagship occupant to Wellesley.

Much of the discussion at the Planning Board meeting concerned parking. The current development has 355 spaces for 105,000 square feet of offices. As presented on Thursday, the new development would include a total of 683 spaces after adding 182,500 square feet more in offices. That would reduce the ratio of on-site parking to office space from about 3.4 to only 2.4 spaces per thousand square feet. At the meeting, real estate consultants were quoted who question, regardless of zoning requirements, whether Brookline Place would remain marketable at prime rents.

Brookline planners seem to be responding in part to concerns of Village residents, who were not enthusiastic about a massive parking garage. The planners are trying to justify reducing the parking ratio by requiring some sort of active transportation management that would promote use of the MBTA trolley and bus routes 60, 65 and 66, which stop along Boylston St. The meeting left that looking like a high-risk approach, lacking firm assurance on whether there would be enough use of public transportation.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 11, 2014