WVN #335: State links SOS to ballot question committee
- Dear Wayland Voter,
A complaint to the state has disclosed a close link between SOSWayland and the ballot question committee that campaigned for the successful high school vote in November.
Also in this newsletter:
-- More than a quarter of the articles submitted for the annual Town Meeting come from private citizens.
-- A forum to discuss the new Department of Public Works
-- The text of a controversial private email from the chairman of the School Committee.
-- Final flu clinic
STATE FORCES CHANGE IN PRO-HS GROUP'S CAMPAIGN REPORT
Do you recall receiving emails from YES4WHS, the registered ballot question committee that campaigned for the successful Nov. 17 vote to finance a new $71-million Wayland high school?
Do you recall asking to receive those emails?
If you answered "yes" to the first question and "no" to the second, you're not alone. At least one citizen raised the matter with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance. As a result, the OCPF ordered YES4WHS to amend its financial report to include the fact that its email distribution list came from the nearly-five-year-old political action committee SOSWayland. In-kind contributions, such as that valuable communication asset, must be declared.
YES4WHS Treasurer Nancy Funkhouser wrote to the Wayland town clerk on Jan. 15 to amend its financial report and assign a cash value. The $150 listed would be a huge bargain in the business world, where a targeted mailing list might sell for several dollars per address.
Sharing the email list with YES4WHS also violates the stated policy of SOS, which tells its readers, "Our spam-free email list is used solely to keep you informed about issues relating to Wayland services." Email you didn't ask for can be considered spam. (Also, the policy fails to disclose that the email list is used not simply to inform but to urge voting for SOS-endorsed issues.)
Asked for details of the arrangement with YES4WHS, SOS leader Lisa Valone replied by email: "The public records address your questions."
The records answer few questions, but they do show that the leadership of the two organizations is much the same.
SOS is registered as a PAC with the OCPF. According to its website, it also files as a Ballot Question Committee "during election season when we are advocating for a question on the ballot. We then operate as SOS-BQC, and per the Office of Campaign and Political Finance we dissolve the BQC after the election."
Before the November election there was no "SOS-BQC" but essentially SOS under a different name.
Valone and other listed leaders of SOS -- Cynthia Lavenson, Claire Sehringer, Kay D'Orlando and Lori Frieling -- were identified among co-chairs of the YES4WHS campaign. Three of them received reimbursements for expenditures on behalf of YES4WHS totaling $1752.71.
Before dissolving, YES4WHS reported collecting $6,922 for its campaign. There was no organized opposition.
More than 99 percent of the total raised came from the 29 persons who were required by law to provide names and amounts for donations exceeding $50. The largest donation was $1,000. Filed reports may be seen at the town clerk's office.
Why didn't SOS follow its stated policy of registering as a Ballot Question Committee before the November election? Valone didn't say. A look at SOS' history suggests one possible answer.
SOS was formed after voters rejected an earlier high school proposal in January 2005. A School Committee member at that time, Bob Gordon, commented that school proponents needed someone "like Lisa Valone" to do "marketing" for future proposals. Valone became a founding leader of SOS. (At the time, some residents with children in Wayland schools said they wondered how they got on SOS' email list to begin with.)
SOS has supported every big-ticket recommendation of the School Committee and the selectmen. It also routinely advises readers to oppose any budget amendments on the floor of Town Meeting.
Some voters indeed see SOS as the marketing arm of the these two powerful boards. For those who worry about rapidly rising taxes and controversial decisions by officials, SOS could look like part of the problem.
Particularly before the current deep recession, officials talked about a pattern of biennial tax overrides. Substantial pluralities voted against recent overrides.
Some school parents objected to the School Committee's decision two years ago to close Loker School to reduce the size of an override.
Though SOS says it supports not only the schools but all town services, it backed override proposals that were sold with fear tactics. One example: If you defeat the override we'll cut emergency service. The cost of leaving the Cochituate fire station open at all times was small, but the override choice was yes or no to the entire override.
SOS also has remained silent when changes to other important town services have upset affected residents. When landfill sticker fees shot up over 30 percent for Fiscal 2009, SOS said nothing. When the water department imposed a new flat surcharge of $236 per customer in spring 2009, regardless of water use, not a word from SOS. When selectmen voted to close the town's septage facility by the end of 2009, SOS was silent about the loss of that local facility and the prospect of resulting higher costs for Waylanders. The latest budget cuts for Fiscal 2011 by the town administrator recommend closing the library two nights a week. Not a word from SOS on that.
Last winter SOS created a controversy when it held a private meeting to discuss the "state of Wayland" at Valone's house, inviting top elected officials and town employees but not the public. Even one selectman was left off the invitation list. Those without invitations were turned away.
With its reputation as an unswerving ally of the establishment, SOS may be acquiring many silent detractors.
The high school proposal last fall asked voters to take a big step and incur an average of hundreds of dollars per year in additional taxes for about 25 years.
One tactic that might increase the odds of success at the polls would be to create a campaign group that seemed new and independent. In fact YES4WHS was not what it seemed to be.
-- Michael Short
40 TM ARTICLES
Forty warrant articles were submitted for Wayland's 2010 annual Town Meeting by the new Jan. 15 deadline. Last year's Town Meeting changed the date from Dec. 15.
The selectmen discussed a number of the warrant articles at their Jan. 19 meeting. Eleven of the 40 articles were submitted by petitioners who gathered voters' signatures. Three of those petitioners' articles relate to the function of Town Meeting, which had already prompted the selectmen to form another Town Meeting study committee for which they and the moderator are seeking volunteers. See:
Moderator Peter Gossels has given applicants until Feb. 5 to send him a letter and resume including when they moved to Wayland, participation in previous Town Meetings, education and experience in dealing with electronic devices, such as those that have been proposed to permit electronic voting. Contact Gossels at 32 Hampshire Road Wayland MA 01778, pgossels@..., or fax number 617-743-5734.
The Planning Board submitted nine articles, some of which may end up deferred until the fall Town Meeting when land use and zoning articles are preferred.
The Finance Committee will hold a hearing on the warrant articles at 7 p.m. on Feb. 1.
As of this writing the selectmen haven't posted warrant articles on the town website. Apparently not all warrant articles were submitted on the standardized form, and with the town clerk's office busy with the US Senate election, there was a delay in validating the petitioners' signatures.
In the meantime, with the public hearing less than a week away, for voters interested in knowing what lies ahead for the town's spring legislature and for those interested in participating in the warrant hearing, here is a link to a pdf file distributed to the selectmen, Finance Committee, moderator and others showing the articles submitted by the Jan.15 deadline, in the order in which they were submitted. Note: in the matrix list of articles, ignore article 24; it does not exist.
-- WVN Staff
The League of Women Voters of Wayland will hold a forum on the new Department of Public Works on Wednesday Jan. 27, 7:30-9:30 p.m. in the large hearing room of the Town Building. The director of the new department, Don Ouellette, will make a presentation and answer questions.
The DPW was created last July 1, consolidating several departments with the advertised aim of increasing efficiency and saving money. It was opposed by some office holders and other citizens as concentrating power in fewer hands, principally the town administrator and selectmen.
Eric Knapp, chairman of the Public Works Board, had an unwelcome surprise at a Jan. 11 meeting on the fiscal 2011 budget. Ouellette had blindsided the board by presenting his capital budget to the Finance Committee without providing copies to the board in advance or at the meeting. This was unacceptable and must not happen again, Knapp told Ouellette. Ouellette, who was hired from outside for the director's job, later apologized and said he had been very busy.
TEXT OF JURIST EMAIL
WVN readers have asked about the full text of the private email that School Committee Chairman Louis Jurist wrote to his colleagues and inadvertently sent to one of two citizens he disparaged. Background at:
The full text is at:
The names of the citizens have been deleted at their request.
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor