WVN #546: Political control hangs in the balance on April 1
- Dear Wayland Voter,
The people who ran Wayland for a decade hope to regain control at the April 1 annual town election.
In this newsletter WVN summarizes the issues and recent candidate forums. We’ll also provide links to further information to help you make informed decisions.
At the annual Candidates Night sponsored by the League of Women Voters it was easy to find consensus on the proposition that Wayland is a wonderful town, with wonderful schools and wonderful residents. Yes, divisiveness and incivility are a problem, they agreed, but the outlook was generally upbeat.
You’d never guess from the discussion that two hours earlier WBZ-TV had introduced a news report by asserting, “Something stinks in Wayland.”
Boston’s Channel 4 was exploring the festering problem of financing the new $5.6-million wastewater treatment plant built to accommodate the Town Center project. Angry residents and business people told Chief Correspondent Joe Shortsleeve that they hadn’t been warned about the cost of using the system. Some homeowners say they’ll be assessed more than $50,000. Business users may pay considerably more.
The March 17 broadcast contained no surprises for Waylanders who have been following the news. As long ago as 2006, some residents warned that taxpayers at large might ultimately be saddled with some of the costs for a system that was supposed to pay for itself through revenues. You can view the news segment at:
Nor is the wastewater commission’s headache the only problem voters may be considering before the April 1 town election.
Incumbents boast of Wayland’s recent achievements: building a new high school on schedule and under budget, introducing new school initiatives, planning a reconfiguration of the three elementary schools, going to work on a new public works facility, and bringing the Town Center close to completion.
The Wayland Town Crier is full of glowing citizen endorsements of Selectman Joe Nolan (15 years in elective office), Cherry Karlson (a Board of Selectmen candidate after 10 years on the Finance Committee) and School Committee Chair Barb Fletcher (a 9-year Committee veteran). Some endorsers are predecessors of those incumbents. One of them is Steve Correia, who endorsed Karlson to succeed him.
Record Not Entirely Positive
But the record also includes these facts:
-- The wastewater treatment plant cost more than three times the original estimate, and usage limits resulted in a successful lawsuit by the Town Center developer and a $1.2 million judgement against the town. (Nolan is selectman liaison, and Karlson FinCom liaison, to the wastewater commission.)
-- Citizens demanded, and voters approved, two audits of school accounting that found substandard practices; recommended changes are expected to be fully in place by the fall.
-- For years officials overestimated expenses and retained budget surpluses. When the tax rate was on the verge of becoming the highest in Massachusetts, voters demanded and received tax relief despite opposition from officeholders, notably Karlson. With surpluses now greatly reduced, the town will use far less free cash to defray the budget. Consequently, the taxes for the proposed budget for Fiscal 2015 represent a roughly 10% increase over the current year. The general fund budget itself represents an increase of more than 3%, which, in a normal year, would require an override vote because it exceeds the permitted 2.5% increase.
-- Some parents were enraged when Loker elementary school was closed in 2008 on grounds of severe budgetary problems, problems that turned out to be largely nonexistent. The costly new reconfiguration plan essentially returns the schools to the former pattern.
-- Despite teacher salaries among the highest in Massachusetts, the state rates Wayland’s elementary schools as Level 2 while similar towns receive the top ranking.
-- Elected and appointed officials were apparently unaware that millions of dollars were funneled to a fund for retiree health care (Other Post Employee Benefits -- OPEB), where the funds earned almost no interest. One member of the Audit Committee unofficially estimated that Wayland lost out on at least $3 million in interest.
The election will determine the majority of the Board of Selectmen. From the early years of the decade until last year a solid majority called the shots. Retiring selectmen were usually replaced by candidates they endorsed. Unanimous votes on important questions were common. When other boards questioned details of the Board’s agenda -- “We’ve got to get the Town Center up and running” -- selectmen fired back aggressively, often siding with the developer.
Board unanimity ended in 2012 with the election of Ed Collins and former Selectman Doug Leard. Tony Boschetto’s election last year added to the diversity of views. Leard resigned for health reasons last fall, leaving a vacancy that will be filled by one of the two candidates running for a one-year term.
SInce the selectmen appoint the Finance Committee, control of three of the most powerful bodies is virtually assured as long as the School Committee majority is in sync with the Board of Selectmen.
Though nobody knows what voters at large are thinking, yard signs and Wayland Town Crier endorsements make clear the views of those who are active enough to write a letter or get involved in a campaign.
In some front yards you see signs plugging the entire establishment “ticket”: Joe Nolan, Cherry Karlson and Mary Antes (one-year term) for selectman, Barb Fletcher and Jeanne Downs for School Committee.
Some yards display opposing candidates: Bonnie Gossels, Argie Shapiro and Linda Segal (one year term) for selectman, Alexia Obar for School Committee.
Divisiveness Not New
The divisiveness that everybody now decries began years ago and was made worse by the increasingly confrontational management style of Fred Turkington, whom the selectmen hired eight years ago as Wayland’s first town administrator.
The establishment is working hard to regain the majority on the five-member Board.
“Wayland’s future depends upon the outcome of the upcoming Town election...” wrote Michael Tichnor, a selectman during the years when the Town Center was being planned. He asserted that there is a “stark contrast” in style and vision between the candidates he endorses and their opponents. Other writers assert that without experienced establishment figures in key roles, Wayland is heading down the wrong path.
Vituperative attacks on three selectmen began last summer and have continued. Supporters of establishment candidates point to the dismissal of Turkington last August, calling it “inexplicable,” hasty, costly and unwarranted. On the other side of the debate are those who say the strong-willed and independent Turkington wasn’t fired soon enough. (Turkington’s deposition in the wastewater lawsuit helped to undermine the town’s defense.) They defend the August decision as cost-effective, given a contract under which there was no cost-free way of terminating his contract. And because town counsel reported to Turkington, the Board lacked a vital legal resource.
Kim Reichelt, an activist and a founder of WaylandeNews, filed a complaint alleging that the three who voted to fire Turkington violated the Open Meeting Law. The state determined that a violation had occurred by failure to be specific enough in the meeting agenda.
Opponents made much of the decision, and former selectmen advised the three that they should obey the law. Two of the chastising incumbents had paid fines after participating in a gross violation of the Open Meeting Law in 2010, secretly deciding appointments to town offices.
Turkington as a campaign weapon is a sword that cuts both ways.
The candidates campaign separately, but to active voters they represent two sides. How do the sides differ?
During the Ask the Candidates WayCAM broadcast Tuesday night, Antes remarked that the town reflects national political divisions over whether there is too much or too little government. No other candidate said anything remotely like that. Nolan, for example, said he believes that Waylanders agree on 98 percent of the issues. All candidates talk about collaboration, compromise and maintaining Wayland’s excellence. Whatever scare tactics may emerge during the campaign, there is no evidence that any candidate favors the sort of budget slashing that Antes hinted at.
That hasn’t stopped some activists from taking cheap shots. Argie Shapiro responded to an attack on her by Lisa Valone of Save Our Services, a long-standing pro-school group. Shapiro said it is absurd for Valone to call her “anti-school” because she has two children in Wayland schools and a third who will be old enough for school soon. Valone’s attack recalls the years when activists referred to those who weren’t Town Center boosters as “naysayers.” Recent letters in the Town Crier sometimes use another code word to describe those who disagree with the establishment: “negative.”
Reviving his attacks on the three selectmen who voted to dismiss the town administrator, Nolan mentioned the decision on Ask the Candidates, accusing his colleagues of lacking a plan. (Nolan was also interrupted by the moderators that night and at Candidates’ Night for personal attacks on Shapiro. The two evenings were otherwise civil, even friendly.)
If the Tuesday and Thursday forums offered clues to how the candidates would govern, they were subtle, sometimes in the style of approaching a question rather than reaching a markedly different conclusion.
One example was discussion of the proposed River’s Edge housing project, which would place up to 190 residences on Route 20 where the Wayland-Sudbury septage treatment plant once operated. Karlson and Nolan were assured and concise: it’s the best and highest use for the property, it would bring in welcome revenue and we should do it. The others mentioned drawbacks as well as advantages but said they would carry out the voters’ will. Bonnie Gossels, though, was definitive. Because of numerous environmental concerns the site is inappropriate for housing, she said, but after study could be leased for many other revenue-producing uses.
On a Town Meeting petitioners article to fund the Wayland Cares anti-drug program, Karlson and Nolan noted its low cost and endorsed it wholeheartedly. Others mentioned complications and unknowns (two studies have resulted in some confusion) and suggested waiting to see what the motion actually says and then listening to the debate on Town Meeting floor.
-- Michael Short
Editor’s Note: Linda Segal, a WVN contributor, has not written for WVN since Jan. 20.
THE BALLOT (Note that one race is printed on the back side of the ballot):
CANDIDATE WEBSITES, in alphabetical order
(Antes has no website)
LETTERS AND CANDIDATE STATEMENTS
No Candidate Statement was submitted to the Crier by Mary Antes.
WayCAM rebroadcast schedule:
Ask the Candidates Live:
2014 NSTAR TREE TRIMMING
NStar officials appeared at the March 17 meeting of the Board of Public Works to explain
their plans for trimming trees this year. Property owners were sent notification several weeks ago for work to be done along distribution lines this spring.
Check here for street maps for both the spring and fall circuits.
ENERGY-SAVING INFORMATION SESSION
Tuesday, March 25, 7-8 p.m. Town Building.Information session by the Energy Initiatives Advisory Committee on a wide-ranging project to improve energy efficiency in a number of town buildings. The proposal is part of the capital budget that voters will decide at Town Meeting beginning on April 3. Further information: Anne Harris, 508-358-5506
On Tuesday, March 25 at 7:30 p.m., the wastewater commission will hold its third posted meeting this month. The main agenda topic will be the betterment process and calculations.
The Selectmen’s Warrant Hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, March 26 at 7:30 p.m. The selectmen expect to vote their positions on the warrant articles.
MEETING CALENDAR: All meetings take place in town building unless otherwise noted. To find agendas posted on the town website, click on the meeting date to access links.
Tuesday, March 25:
Energy Initiatives Advisory Committee, 7 p.m.
Wastewater Management District Commission, 7:30 p.m.
Zoning Board of Appeals, 8:20 p.m.
Wednesday, March 26:
Economic Development Committee, 6 p.m. Rivers Edge Open House
Selectmen, 6:45 p.m., Warrant Hearing begins at 7:30 p.m.
Finance Committee, 7 p.m.
Board of Public Works, 7:30 p.m., meeting jointly with FinCom
Thursday, March 27:
Economic Development Committee, 8 :30 a.m. (MORNING)
Wayland Housing Authority & Wayland Housing Partnership, 7 p.m., 12 Bent Ave.
Thank you for reading this WVN newsletter. Please forward it to your friends and
neighbors in Wayland. If they want to receive their own copy, they can sign themselves up by sending a blank email to:
Click reply and send after receiving an e-mail confirming the subscription.
If you have questions, email mmshort1@...
Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor