Monday vote brings clear choices

Monday, April 5 brings an important vote for Town Meeting and a raft of town-wide offices. With less than a week before the vote, I thought I’d weigh in on my picks (and BloggingBelmont’s endorsements) for the various offices.

Remember to Vote - Monday, April 5!

School Committee -Strong candidates abound, but two stand out

First, let’s start with School Committee – a race that I’ve been following very closely, for obvious reasons. As I wrote back at the end of January, my decision not to run for re-election after serving out a one year term was difficult to make. It was also something of a trust fall on my part: I had to hope that if I stepped aside, for all the right reasons, that great people would stand up to take my place. Thankfully, that happened in the person of Dan Scharfman.

I first became acquainted with Dan during the push for the Wellington Elementary override and, later, when he was part of a three person team including Ellen Sullivan and Jack Weis who did extensive, pro bono work researching the various fee structures that neighboring districts used to fund their extracurricular and athletics program. Dan and team did an outstanding job compiling data and weighing the pros and cons of various fee structures. They presented their findings to the School Committee and Administration with both objectivity and professionalism. The research they provided was of great value to the Committee and administration in recalibrating the existing athletic and activities fee structure in a way that balanced the needs of families and the district.

The qualities Dan exhibited in his work on the fees question — professionalism, attention to detail, thoroughness, perseverance and people smarts will be of great value to the Committee and the town. Furthermore, Dan’s background as a technology consultant to non profit organizations is a great fit for the current School Committee as it prepares to tackle issues such as ways to improve the efficiency of our district and embrace technology as a way to extend learning opportunities for Belmont students.

Those of you who had the opportunity to view the League of Women Voters forum last week were, no doubt, impressed by Dan’s thorough and thoughtful answers to questions about school funding, class size and curriculum. I’ll add that, in the last year, I’ve come to know Dan quite a bit better — accompanying him on long runs through back streets of Belmont, Winchester and Arlington. Running gives you a lot of time to talk. Dan – a true Renaissance man- has impressed me with his breadth of knowledge, his passionate commitment to public education, his devotion as a father and husband, his sensitivity and appreciation of differences and his love of Belmont. I couldn’t ask for a better man to replace me or a better choice for School Committee. I wholeheartedly endorse Dan Scharfman to fill one of the two open School Committee slots.

Of the remaining three candidates: Richard Rosen, Kevin Cunningham and Laurie Slap, I have respect for all. Mr. Rosen, though largely unknown to me, seems to be a thoughtful and well informed candidate with mostly moderate positions on reforming our schools. His focus, for now, seems to be on the possibilities of technology based instruction and distance learning, and I think there are opportunities there beyond what is currently being considered. I’ve think Kevin Cunningham’s comments on the need to have a frank conversation within town about the expectations and needs of our public schools are spot on — Belmont needs to stop debating first principles if it is going to put its house in order and begin planning for a brighter future.

But one thing Belmont doesn’t need more of is talk that doesn’t lead to decisive action. That’s why I think Laurie Slap is, far and away, the best choice to fill the remaining School Committee slot. I got to know Laurie quite well during my work volunteering for Together for Wellington, of which Laurie was one of two co-chairs, providing calm, confident leadership for one of the most successful debt exclusion campaigns the town has ever seen. The mother of three BPS students, Laurie has been a longtime advocate for the public schools and brings the kind of experience and connections that will make her a very effective Committee member: Treasurer of the Foundation for Belmont Education, Wellington PTO President, an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Business with a concentration in Finance. With the devil of Committee work in the details of the school budget, and with a new director of finance on tap for the next school year, someone with Laurie’s background is desperately needed on School Committee. I think Laurie is a superb candidate and I strongly endorse her for School Committee!

Board of Selectman: Belmont needs Mahon’s energy, determination

Its no secret that I’ve been heavily involved in Anne Mahon’s candidacy, so there should be no surprise that I’m giving her BloggingBelmont’s endorsement for the open Selectman seat over the competition: incumbent Dan LeClerc and challenger Mark Paolillo. I count Dan as a friend and believe him to be an intelligent and thoughtful member of the current Board. We’ve spoken on numerous occasions, and I think Dan’s ideas for how to improve our town resonate with my own. But we need to move from talk to action. And, as the Belmont Citizen Herald rightly pointed out in its ringing endorsement of Anne’s candidacy, Anne brings a shot Red Bull to a Selectman’s table that’s become downright soporific.

A Town Meeting member from under-represented Precinct 4, she knows first hand that not everyone in town can just write a check or throw down a credit card to pay for the critical educational and social services that disappear. At the same time, she knows – first hand – that even small increases in taxes can be make or break for families that are just getting by, or for seniors living on a fixed income. Anne’s ideas for tapping new sources of revenue and driving needed changes in the way business gets done in Belmont are welcome in a political environment where “more of the same” has been elevated to an art form.

Anne’s passionate and successful battle to preserve elementary school library aides in the FY 2010 school budget is a case in point, and a good indication of what she’d bring to the Selectman’s table. When the elected and appointed leadership of the town brushed off Anne’s very correct inquiries about how students and teachers would manage without the aides, Anne hit the hallways and found out for herself. What she learned talking to teachers and administrators was 180 degrees of the “official word” from Warrant Committee, the Board of Selectmen and even School Committee. Shut out of every other avenue, Anne rallied Town Meeting to do what was right: allocating free cash to keep the libraries open.

As I drove my daughters and two neighbors’ children to Saturday morning music school one day in February, I listened to the three of them chatter about what books they were reading, and about a program running in the Winn Brook Library in which students could read some new releases from the past year and nominate their picks for best book of the year. The excitement they all clearly had for the books they read, and the enjoyment they got out of discussing them were palpable. I thought to myself, as I drove, that that conversation would not be taking place but for Anne’s efforts on behalf of my children and those of countless other families. As Belmont stares down the barrel of a multi million dollar structural budget deficit and disappearing federal and state aid, we a Selectman with Anne’s passion and creativity. A Selectman with both the sensitivity to the great need that is out there, even in a relatively affluent town like Belmont, and with the willingness to think outside of the box at the Selectman’s table. I urge you to vote Anne Mahon for Selectman!

Town Clerk’s race – O’Brien Cushman combines good ideas, determination and experience

As for the Town Clerk’s race, I’m throwing my hat in with Ellen O’Brien Cushman. I found all of the candidates for Clerk to be thoughtful people with interesting ideas for modernizing the office. Of the four, Mrs. Cushman and Mrs. Galvin impressed me the most. I thought Diane Galvin had some novel and much needed ideas for leveraging technology to improve the reach and efficiency of the Clerk’s office. Her past work for non profits and management experience are also pluses. But O’Brien Cushman brings both new ideas and a deep familiarity with the day to day responsibilities of the Clerk’s office, given her role as assistant town clerk. With a Town Meeting just weeks after the election, and with a raft of important to-dos, the Town needs both continuity and vitality in the Clerk’s office. O’Brien offers both and – if her high visibility campaign is any measure – she has the energy and focus to pull it off with aplomb. I’ll be casting my vote for Ellen O’Brien Cushman on April 5.