Category Archives: Taxes

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