Brenda’s Stoneham Selectman Voter’s Guide April 7, 2015

On Tuesday, April 7th 2015, Stoneham Voters will head to the ballots to select our town’s leaders. If my engagement with the Bikeway has shown anything, it’s shown how critical great town leadership is to improve the experience of living here.

[10/18/2016 10:11 pm: If you have found this site in your quest to make up your mind about which is a better candidate for State Representative, Mike Day or Caroline Colarusso, I strongly endorse Mike Day – both because of his excellent track record of making positive contributions to the local community in his first term, and because of the negativity and nastiness Caroline has brought to this campaign.]

[3/26/2015 10:39 pm: Edited to remove “pros” from Caroline Colarusso that are also shared by Erin Sinclair – see comments for details.]

Recommendations

Town Moderator: Lawrence (Larry) Means

Stoneham Selectman (2 slots):
1) Thomas Boussy
2) Caroline Calorusso

No recommendation (advise me!):
– Constable
– Housing Authority
– Planning Board

One of the great challenges I’ve realized lately is how hard it is to get information and form an informed opinion on local politics. There’s very little easily available information. If you don’t know where to go for what information there is, the problem is worse. This means that new folks to town, or people who aren’t amazingly well connected, either don’t vote, or don’t cast a knowledgeable vote on the election that may have the most impact on how they live. Will the town have a bikeway, or not? Will we bring more people to our downtown, or not? Do we build affordable housing, or do we lose some of our autonomy and have state oversight to guarantee we have affordable housing? How do we balance our tax base, infrastructure needs, education spending and other services? It’s local officials who decide those key issues.

I had tried to figure out how I’m voting in this upcoming election. The Selectman’s race is particularly a difficult one for me. I’ve had some personal conversations with some folks in Stoneham about who they’re voting for, and why. I should mention that my thoughts below are my private opinion, and not as well informed as I’d like it to be. I’m certainly open to corrections, amendments or additional thoughts from you – or the candidates – about the elements I’m thinking about. I really wish there were an independent, clear, easily accessible voter’s guide for Stoneham voters. As far as I know, that doesn’t exist. This isn’t that – this is my opinion.

The selectman’s race was one I thought a lot about. It’s a crappy job. It pays something like $3000 a year, requires considerable time and effort, and brings with it a ton of aggravation and abuse. One has to think through the motivations for why you’d do it. Idealism? Service? Love of power? Love of attention? Desire to change the town? Desire to help your friends? Family habit? Greater political ambitions?

Tom Boussy
Tom is the one candidate for Selectman I feel I can wholeheartedly endorse. Tom worked very hard on the Bikeway (before we brought 800 people to a town meeting to forcefully exert the will of the people). He’s energetic and enthusiastic about making the town a more awesome place to live. Tom and Anne Marie O’Neill represent the forward-thinking contingent of the selectmen (you know – the ones who DIDN’T vote against the Bikeway in the October meeting.) I feel like his motivations have to do with an energetic enthusiasm for the town.

The second selectman vote has been hard hard hard for me to decide. Frankly, I don’t like any of my option. There was a second vote (Devon Manchester) whom I was excited about. I heard (admitted hearsay!) that he withdrew because the State Republican Party told him if he opposed Caroline Colarusso they’d never support him again. I resent having my choices limited for me like that.

Robert Sweeney
I quickly ruled out Bob Sweeney as a choice. He’s definitely been one of the folks who has never taken a public stand against the bikeway, but quietly worked to make sure it didn’t happen. (Someone had to be working hard to make sure it didn’t happen!) He has been dismissive of other voices in the community, and has a tendency not to show up for his duties. He didn’t even show up for the televised Candidate Forum. No, thank you.

So now I’m down to two, and I have a number of pros and cons for each.

Caroline Colarusso
Pros:
– Spent time on the finance board, which is another thankless task

Neutral:
– Given the number of elections, it’s clear that she sees selectwoman as a step on a larger political path. On one hand, that means she’ll be posturing to make herself look good for the next run. On the other hand, it gives her a motivation to show up and do work.

Negative:
– I dislike that (assuming what I heard is correct) she used her position with the state party to remove competition in the race
– I am not sure she’ll be a strong advocate for new residents in Stoneham
– She keeps talking about taxes instead of services or growth

Erin Sinclair
Pros:
– Not an incumbent

Negative:
– She’s Bob Sweeney’s daughter, and if they’re both elected we’ll need to get a nepotism allowance for her to serve [ed. 3/26 see her note in the comment regarding this]. I don’t actually think the town needs MORE nepotism.
– She’s also a salaried town employee. That seems like a conflict of interests that would require special handling.
– When I asked what she’d done for the bikeway, she said that she was a “private citizen” and therefore hadn’t done anything. I am also a private citizen and I did do something, so I’m not super impressed with that answer. You can see my question and her response on her Facebook page.

Larry Means – Town Moderator
From what I’ve seen, Larry has done a good job in a very thankless job. His opponent has a platform of making passive aggressive jabs at Larry, and then not showing up for voter information forums. Not impressive. So I’m ready to vote for Larry!


So that’s what I’m thinking. I’d love your feedback. Who are you thinking of? Why? What did I get wrong? What resources did I miss that a Stonehamite should know about? How are you making your decision? Who do you recommend for the races I don’t have an opinion on?

Resources:
– Here’s a copy of the ballot for April 7th: http://www.stoneham-ma.gov/sites/stonehamma/files/file/file/april_7_annual_election_ballot_proof.pdf
– A number of the candidates did an hour long interview with Stoneham TV. Not mind blowing, but it gives you a good perspective on how they think on their feet (and who cares enough to show up): http://stonehamtv.org/ondemand

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10 thoughts on “Brenda’s Stoneham Selectman Voter’s Guide April 7, 2015

  1. Hi Brenda, I wasn’t aware that Devon Manchester was considering. Though I’m not too familiar with him to be honest. Tom Boussy is a slam dunk for me. I struggled with the second seat as well. But I will go with Caroline. She is in favor of a 5 year growth plan, supports the land swap for Weiss farm and appears to have a very strong operational background.

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  2. I also think it’s critical to re-elect Tom Boussy, and don’t have a clear choice on the second candidate, as long as it’s not Sweeney. Therefore, I’m hedging my bet and will use only 1 of my selectmen votes and vote for only Tom Boussy, so as not to run the risk of giving one of his opponents a vote that could put them ahead of him in votes. I think either Caroline or Erin will get the second seat, and I don’t think it makes much of a difference which one it is. So I’m going the path that makes my vote count more for Tom Boussy and voting for just him.

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  3. Hi Brenda – I was referred to your blog by some folks in town.

    I have to say I am disappointed that we never had the opportunity to speak. I had hoped you would take me up on the offer to have a telephone conversation. I understand you were concerned that I could not reach all 800 people who voted in favor of the bike path at town meeting with phone calls, but the truth of the matter is you are one of the few people who reached out to me on FaceBook.

    I would like to address your statements here:

    Statement – “She’s Bob Sweeney’s daughter, and if they’re both elected we’ll need to get a nepotism allowance for her to serve. I don’t actually think the town needs MORE nepotism.”

    The hyperlink above brings you to an “advisory opinion” page on nepotism with a case discussion regarding an individual who is in an annually appointed position (Administrative Assistant) whose roles expands to include insurance commissioner.

    Fact – I am the office manager to Stoneham’s Board of Selectmen. This is not an annually appointed position. It was a one-time appointment in 2012 and I am currently an employee at will. At the time I was hired, my father, Bob Sweeney, abstained from the vote

    To summarize parts of the opinion.

    Section 20 – Section 20 prohibits a municipal employee from having a financial interest in a municipal contract.

    Fact – If elected to the Board of Selectmen, I will forgo the selectmen’s stipend.

    Section 19 – Section 19 prohibits a municipal employee from participating in any particular matter in which she or her immediate family members, including her husband, has a financial interest.

    Fact – With regard to my position as office manager, both my father and I would abstain from any future votes related to my employment in that capacity, which is a professional risk I am willing to take.

    Fact – To paraphrase the response I got from the State Ethics Commission I offer the following. I am currently a full-time paid office manager for the board of selectmen. I am also a candidate for the Board of Selectmen and intend to maintain my position as office manager. In my situation, the Selectmen Exemption is available to me (Section 20), which allows me to maintain both positions subject to all of these restrictions:

    1. Selectmen receive compensation for more than one office or position held in a town, but shall have the right to choose which compensation he shall receive;

    2. Selectman may not vote or act on any matter which is within the purview of the agency by which he is employed or over which he has official responsibility; and,

    3. Selectman shall not be eligible for appointment to any such additional position while he is still a member of the board of selectmen or for 6 months thereafter.

    With regard to my father being a selectmen at the same time. Both my father and I are subject to the conflict of interest law, including the prohibition against sharing confidential information and requirement that we act fairly and objectively. If we are both elected, we will both file a 23(b)(3) public disclosure.

    Statement – When I asked what she’d done for the bikeway, she said that she was a “private citizen” and therefore hadn’t done anything. I am also a private citizen and I did do something, so I’m not super impressed with that answer. You can see my question and her response on her Facebook page.

    Fact – This is my published response:

    Hi Brenda, I have personally supported the Bikepath/Greenway project. As you know I am currently not an elected official so my support has been that of a private citizen just like you. I have working relationships with all parties involved. If elected I hope to expand these relationships to make sure we get the Bikepath/Greenway built. I will call on these parties to help negotiate the necessary temporary construction easements in the best interest of the town and residents. My goal is to make sure we find creative ways to proactively maintain the Bikepath/Greenway to keep it beautiful and safe.

    Again I welcome anyone to call me with their ideas or questions regarding the Bikepath/Greenway. Thanks Brenda.

    Fact – For one of my opponents you rated the lack of action related to the bike path as a “pro.”

    Caroline Colarusso
    Pros:
    – Local (raised kids here)
    – No track record on Bikeway pro or con

    Final Note – I was born and raised in Stoneham and choose to raise my own children here. Perhaps you could put that in my PRO column?

    I hope you will reconsider my candidacy on April 7th. I offer further discussion at your convenience via phone 617-799-4434.

    Erin Sinclair

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  4. Erin,

    I’m so glad you responded! I appreciate getting more information available to the voters in Stoneham who don’t have personal or historical relationships with the candidates.

    I actually don’t question the legality of having you as both an employee and leader of the town in two separate capacities. I do, however, dislike having an aggregation of power in too few hands – or with too few perspectives. My dislike of nepotism also makes it a “con” in my personal column for any presidential candidate named “Clinton” or “Bush”. A hereditary government is part of what the Revolution was supposed to get us away from! I do feel like having three important town roles taken by two people in one family is a concentration of power which is a negative for me.

    I think you’re right that I’ve not been fair in my listing of the attributes for you and Caroline. That’s definitely the vote I’m wrestling most with. On further thought, I think it makes most sense to remove them as “pros” in her column. You’re right that being born and raised here doesn’t really constitute an advantage, but I feel like having kids in school might help keep attention focused on helping them be excellent.

    Another friend also pointed me to your webpage – which I’d missed in my research – that has some excellent statements: http://erinsinclairstoneham.com/election-topics/ . I’m wondering if you can expand on what you mean by “business friendly” for the Bikeway?

    Brenda

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  5. The blog post is great, but what’s happening in the comments is the best part and goes back to a point I was making to a few people yesterday- Sharing thoughts and opinions using real identities is the way to have productive discussions. I am sick to death of passive aggressive, thinly-veiled rants on social media (“no where jobs,” “homes that are not pristine” and “newspaper blotters” anyone?), not to mention individuals who write things with fake names.

    I wrote this to someone yesterday in a Facebook discussion thread:

    “Passive aggressive, veiled or fake identity posts do nothing for anyone, except remove the writer’s credibility and potentially hurt whomever they’re supporting. (One reason I was glad to see the Patch postings pretty much go away.) This is why the things I write about have my name, my experiences, name names, and include supporting facts. They may not be popular write-ups with some, but I own them and welcome discussions- which is why I do that. If your post is in regards to what was circulating yesterday, I doubly thank you for it. Community members’ feelings were hurt and I was disgusted with what I read. The BS needs to stop, both surrounding elections and beyond.”

    Erin Sinclair responding to Brenda’s blog and Brenda then discussing further is exactly how it should be. Additionally, Tom Boussy engaged community members in the Stoneham Community Group on Facebook yesterday in regards to downtown business development. These types of interactions help the voters and conveys messages of all around respect. Maybe these examples will catch on…

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  6. Hi Brenda – Thank you for this opportunity to respond. I once again welcome the chance to talk to you over the phone or in person at your convenience. You have my cell phone number.

    I can understand your natural concern about family members serving side by side. To be clear, my role as office manager is one of operations and administration. In that role I do not have a vote and do not set policy and protocol. My exposure to all the issues in Stoneham and my working relationships with the many interested parties has led me to run for Selectwoman because I would like to have a “voice.” I know the issues and have collaborated with the stakeholders and believe I can serve this town well.

    With regard to concentration of power as it pertains to Board of Selectmen votes, it would seem the sitting board members do not view this as a concern as three have made financial contributions to my campaign. Additionally, many people would be surprised to learn how seldom the board takes a vote that is not unanimous. Here are some statistics:

    • Since 2013 to present there have been 62 BOS meetings
    • In those meetings there have been 862 agenda items
    • Of all the votes taken, 11 were not unanimous

    If you view my Facebook post on this subject, I have provided details on who voted “in favor” for each of the non-unanimous votes. Interestingly, it appears the two incumbents in the race, Tom Boussy and Bob Sweeney, vote similarly 64% of the time. I suggest that I am no more likely than Selectman Boussy to vote in a similar manner to my father, Bob Sweeney.

    With regard to the “business friendly” bike path, I would like to see commercial growth along the route of this amenity to bring in commercial revenue – similar to Arlington and Lexington for example. I can further expand on what I have done to date to support the bike path as well as what my intentions are if I am elected in a telephone conversation.

    Finally, I appreciate your efforts in getting information out to the voters in Stoneham. I strongly recommend that you contact all the candidates by phone to fully provide an objective and comprehensive opinion to your readers. I imagine all four candidates would take you up on this opportunity.

    Best regards and thank you for being involved in your town.

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