WVN #292: Strong interest in selectman races
- Dear Wayland Voter,
If the overflow crowd at the League of Women Voters Candidates Night on March 25 was any indication, voters are deeply concerned about the April 7 town election.
And for good reason. Consider:
-- According to a consultant, the assessment system is in such disarray that an overhaul is needed. Some householders report double-digit tax increases for unchanged properties. (A measure to attack the problem is included in the ballot.)
-- Wayland's property tax rate is the sixth highest in the state, and the average property tax bill for homeowners is seventh highest.
-- The median sale price of Wayland houses fell by 20 percent in 2008, by far the greatest drop in MetroWest. (The significance of this statistic is open to various interpretations. If many sales were of lower-priced houses while few seven-figure properties sold, the median would drop.)
-- Both Boston Magazine and the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine ignored Wayland in listings of best places to live in this area. Some towns often compared with Wayland made the lists.
-- Poverty and unemployment in Wayland have increased during the current recession, though the figures remain far below state averages.
-- Wayland is on a short list of communities seeking state aid in building or renovating schools. If voters approve an April ballot question to spend $315,600 for preliminary design work, they could face a decision as early as this fall on borrowing tens of millions of dollars for a high school project. If Wayland doesn't approve the design money now, it will lose its place in line for state reimbursement.
-- After five property tax overrides in seven years, the Finance Committee has referred recently to 2010 as "an override year."
-- Wayland's state senator and representative haven't been able to offer much encouragement about immediate aid. Wayland has applied for infrastructure improvements from federal stimulus funds, but the anticipated money amounts to about 3 percent of application totals from around the state.
-- State aid to municipalities will be known by late spring, and the outlook isn't hopeful.
Some candidates are calling for great change from business as usual while others offer steady leadership. Everybody endorses greater efficiency and the possibility of sharing services with other towns.
This newsletter summarizes the campaigns for two seats on the Board of Selectmen. Future newsletters will cover races for School Committee and two ballot questions to borrow beyond the state's Prop. 2-1/2 limits.
NO INCUMBENTS IN SELECTMEN RACE
Bill Whitney announced long ago that he wouldn't run for another three-year term. But Doug Leard's recent unexpected withdrawal from the race for personal reasons created new interest. Three candidates, including two former selectmen, are on the ballot. In alphabetical order:
TOM FAY, a lawyer in private practice, says he and his family moved to Wayland for the schools 16 years ago. In his March 25 Candidates Night appearance and in campaign materials he emphasizes his chairmanship of the Wayland to Waveland effort after Hurricane Katrina. He calls for "continued steady leadership," creative cost-saving strategies," greater efficiency and protection of conservation land. He supports the Town Center project as a path to greater commercial tax revenue and offers voters experience, judgment and legal skills.
SUE POPE, who was a Republican state representative for 10 years, has served as a Wayland selectman and on the School Committee. She is a current member of the Finance Committee. A 39-year Wayland resident, she is a trustee of the Parmenter health center. Many older residents have praised her service, as they did Leard's. Pope says she comes to the race with no personal agenda and is an "independent thinker."
ALAN REISS, an engineer who narrowly lost a re-election bid in 2008, offers the most specific ideas of the three, including finding an alternative to biennial overrides, protecting public safety as a first priority, freezing wages temporarily, re-opening labor contracts and encouraging "percentage cuts in the highest administrators' salaries." He says some residents are suffering greatly from the recession and "our charity must become Wayland to Wayland."
(See the Wayland Town Crier
for further background on candidates.)
CANDIDATES NIGHT AND WAYCAM CALL-IN
Reiss sent a written statement explaining that he had to keep a professional commitment in Silicon Valley made months ago and would miss the March 25 Candidates Night and the Ask the Candidates live broadcast on WayCAM the next night.
As Fay and Pope answered questions from voters, they generally agreed. They echoed the present selectmen in saying that Wayland needs "to get the Town Center up and running." (As a selectman Reiss voted for it.)
Pope said that if elected she would be readily available to all citizens and would hold office hours, perhaps monthly. This would encourage communication, she said, particularly for those who find appearing at public comment during Board of Selectmen meetings intimidating or unsatisfactory.
Fay said he was an experienced negotiator and would look forward to finding common ground and resolving disagreements.
Neither Fay nor Pope would take a No-Override pledge. But this is a bad time for an override, Pope added.
(Reiss' written statement applauded a decision in Sudbury that overrides wouldn't be placed on the ballot until "contracts are reopened and concessions are achieved.")
Pope wouldn't attempt to re-open union negotiations because the contracts are in the last year and negotiations on new agreements could begin by next summer.
To the same question, Fay said he respected the decision of the Finance Committee on contracts.
The candidates were asked the amount of the town's unfunded pension liability. The answer is: more than $32 million. Neither knew the amount on Wednesday night, but the next evening they both said that officials were working on the problem.
Municipalities must eliminate that unfunded liability by 2028, and that will be reflected in annual budgets. The three candidates agree on the need to address Wayland infrastructure concerns, which will require many millions in new debt in addition to chipping away at the unfunded liability.
Fay, Pope and Reiss agree on saving money by regionalizing services when possible. (There has been no observable opposition to the general idea.)
Wayland is already discussing cooperating with Sudbury on library and waste disposal services, and recently signed an agreement to share a recreation director with Sudbury, saving Wayland about $33,000 annually.
That agreement is part of efforts to offset the initial costs of creating a Department of Public Works in July, which was projected to result in extra near-term spending rather than savings.
Pope quoted an estimate that the DPW would save $120,000 to $150,000 annually.
Wayland and many other towns have discussed regionalizing health department functions, such as restaurant inspections.
Pope suggested sharing jails with other towns.
Pope was asked about rumors that volunteer service as a selectman might add to her pension as a state legislator.
"I never thought if it," she replied. The question presumably came up because of recent examples of former state office holders receiving pension credit for such things as failure to be re-elected or serving as volunteer town moderators.
As a five-term state representative, Pope has a pension of under $30,000, she said.
The WayCAM call-in show turned into something of an infomercial for Fay. Many callers directed softball questions only to him.
One caller wanted to know more about Fay's work with Wayland to Waveland.
Another asked how Fay would have voted on the DPW even though he had already said he was a strong proponent. The question gave Fay the opportunity to say that Reiss had voted against it on grounds that it gave selectmen too much power. (The DPW director will report to the town administrator, who reports to the selectmen.)
Many calls came from people who have been visible in campaigns for incumbents and those favored by SOSWayland activists.
Pope acknowledged that Wayland's high taxes might be affecting home sales.
One questioner invited Fay and Pope to point out their similarities.
THE POLITICS OF DISTRACTION
Another caller didn't directly ask a question but vaguely alleged that Reiss favored Cochituate separating from Wayland, with its own zip code and mayor. Even aside from the obvious implausibility of the idea, the call probably made no sense to most viewers, so WVN reached Reiss later in California for an explanation.
Reiss said he had been contacted by residents informally organized as the Village of Cochituate CVS group after CVS announced plans for a drug store that neighbors deemed out of scale. Reiss said he'd try to do some out-of-the-box brainstorming and replied with a memo suggesting ways for the area to capitalize on its historical and cultural heritage and perhaps improve visibility and business prospects.
Reiss' ideas include selling Cochituate Village T-shirts and coffee mugs and asserting common interests to make an impression on town officials. (The Dudley Pond Association is a rough analog.)
There was no suggestion of a different zip code or separation. A ceremonial "mayor" is a promotional idea he had seen in Vermont and Key West, Reiss said.
In any case, his memo affirmed that residents of Cochituate Village remain "proud residents of the town of Wayland, Mass."
Mentioning the memo appeared to be an obvious attempt to inject into the campaign potentially harmful scraps of misinformation to an audience that might be misled, and while Reiss wasn't there to respond.
In fact, someone quickly contacted Reiss, who phoned the broadcast asking about the call. Moderator Peter Gossels said the subject hadn't been brought up, and in a sense that was true. No question was asked. Earlier, Gossels had cut off callers trying to score political points rather than asking a question.
Whether inspired by the call about Cochituate Village or not, Fay and Pope affirmed that Wayland is one town.
The day before the candidate programs, WaylandeNews Editor Kim Reichelt had introduced the Cochituate Village matter on her website and invited comments. Reichelt said she "wondered why he would be looking to promote Cochituate separately rather than trying to build Wayland spirit."
"Do we want a Cochituate PAC in town?" Reichelt asked in another post. "That is what this sounds like. And if there is one, do (we) want a "North Wayland" PAC to form as well?...I find the ideas in this paper dangerous and divisive, even if that was not its original intent."
As frequently happens on WayandeNews discussion boards, as well as online reader responses to Town Crier articles, readers took the opportunity to fire away at a candidate they clearly don't support.
Some readers described the document as " radical," "divisive" and "a separatist manifesto."
Readers familiar with the Cochituate group joined in to set the record straight.
On Saturday Reichelt rewrote her introduction with a somewhat less inflammatory title, inserting the word ceremonial: "A ceremonial mayor for Cochitate Village?!"
Reichelt then wrote that "Alan wrote this document as a marketing plan to revitalize the village as they requested...He said he would be happy to do it for any group."
For the record, the Village of Cochituate is a historic term, and the idea of ceremonial and honorary titles isn't new.
The Boston Globe obituary of John McEnroy in 2002 was headed "`Mayor' of Cochituate fondly remembered."
When John C. Bryant, of the funeral home that bears his name, died in 2005, obituaries noted that Bryant had been known as the "father of Cochituate."
-- Michael Short
Both candidate programs will be rebroadcast several times before the April 7 election. For the schedule see
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor