Walpole Selectman Chris Timson, running as an independent for state representative in the 9th Norfolk district in the upcoming January 7 special election, has so far raised more than $10,000 for his campaign, according to his pre-primary fundraising report filed with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance this week.
For a special election race, and as an independent, that’s not a bad cash haul, but he still raised far less than Republican candidate Shawn Dooley. Dooley is the frontrunner in the race, given that the district is strongly Republican and has not been held by a Democrat in more than two decades. Democratic candidate Edward McCormick is not expected to have a strong shot at victory, but could benefit from voters splitting between Timson and Dooley.
Most of Timson’s donations, which are from the time he announced his campaign in late October through November 22, came from people in Walpole or from outside the House district. That indicates that while Timson’s base in Walpole may be strong, he still has work to do getting his name out in the other communities in the district.
The only precinct in Walpole that is in the district is Precinct 5. The district also includes all of Norfolk, Plainville, and Wrentham, and parts of Millis and Medfield.
Timson collected donations from a range of current and former Walpole officials and other local notables, including one of his colleagues on the Board, Michael C. Berry (a Republican), and former Selectmen Eric Kraus, Michael Caron, and Al DeNapoli.
Berry donated $30 to Timson’s campaign, while Kraus donated $500. Caron and his wife donated $150 each.
Timson also collected a $250 donation from former Town Moderator and attorney Jim Brady. Bob Conrad, the owner of Conrad’s Restaurant in Walpole and Norwood, donated $250.
Planning Board member Richard Mazzocca, who lives in the district, donated $200 to Timson. Precinct 5 RTM Joanne Mulligan donated $100.
Dooley reported taking in $21,376 during the same period. Dooley had slightly more time to raise money, because he started his campaign almost a month before Timson did. On top of that, Dooley had more than $17,000 already on hand at the beginning of his campaign, for a grand total of $38,627. In total, Dooley’s campaign spent more than $17,000, while Timson spent only $67.15. His campaign, however, is also in debt to Timson for a Raffael’s fundraiser last month that cost $700.
McCormick reported spending and receiving nothing.
Timson, despite the fact that he is an independent, has been actively campaigning across the district and appears to be convinced he can win. In a special election, particularly in the middle of the winter, turnout will be low and activists in both major parties can be easily caught napping. There are also reports from the ground that Dooley is being seen skeptically by even some local Republicans. That said, the district is currently the most Republican-leaning state House district in the state.
Dooley’s heavy fund raising and campaign spending shows that he is not taking victory for granted.
Both McCormick and Dooley are from Norfolk, but are both largely unknown in the other communities in the district, just like Timson.
Timson has argued that he is a fiscally conservative Selectman, and he has touted his past support of both former Senator Scott Brown and Congressman Stephen Lynch, both seen as relative moderates in their respective parties.
On the other hand, Timson also supports a higher minimum wage, though said he doesn’t know how much of an increase, and he supported a $3 million property tax hike in Walpole in 2012.
The two other candidates in the race, including Dooley, also support a minimum wage hike.
Timson has not committed to caucusing with either party, if elected.
Although independents don’t normally get very far in political office, independents have in fact served in the state House of Representatives before. The last, and longest-serving, independent to serve in the Mass. House was David Gately, from Waltham. He left the House in 2000 after serving for almost a decade. He did not get very good committee assignments because of his refusal to caucus with either party, but he relished his independence.
Jay Gaffney, Saundra Graham, Marie Parente, and William Lantigua are among those in Mass. who have, since the 1970s, won state rep. races as “unenrolled” candidates. Graham, Parente, and Lantigua all later caucused as Democrats, however they did win election as independents.
The 9th Norfolk seat was vacated upon Dan Winslow’s unfortunate resignation a few months ago to pursue a career in the private sector.
Sewer and Water Commissioner Pat Fasanello has walked out of the last two consecutive Sewer and Water Commission meetings, because they weren’t being recorded. Is his decision to walk out of these meetings a good idea or a bad idea?
Walpole taxpayers should take as much advantage of the MBTA’s bus and train lines to Walpole as they can, because boy are they are paying for it – and not just in the form of a higher gas tax.
Walpole taxpayers currently pay about $514,000 per year to the MBTA, in exchange for access to the MBTA’s services, including commuter rail (Franklin/Forge Park line) and the 34E bus that travels from Forest Hills to Walpole.
State law requires each of the 175 communities served by the MBTA to pay an annual assessment to the MBTA, based on a complicated formula that factors the town’s population, access to regional transportation authorities, and its distance from Boston. The assessment is automatically taken out of the town’s local aid and other state revenue sources each year.
A town pays the same MBTA assessment regardless of how frequently the commuter rail trains or buses actually stop in their community. Similarly, hypothetically, even if nobody in Walpole actually uses the bus, the town still pays the same amount and would see no financial benefit from asking the MBTA to end the bus service because of low usage.
According to Patrick Shield, who handles constituent services for State Senator Jim Timilty, the formula assigns a weighted number to each community, based on which of three MBTA service delivery areas it is located in. There are 14 municipalities in the so-called inner belt service area, 73 communities in a middle belt, and all remaining communities in an outer belt. Walpole is in the middle belt.
Each municipality’s share is equal to its weighted percentage of the total population, which is calculated by multiplying its most recent US census population, by its assigned weight.
For example, the city of Boston’s weighted share is 48 percent, while Walpole’s share is .30 percent, and Mansfield’s is .09 percent. That is even though Mansfield and Walpole have similar populations. Mansfield, though, does not have MBTA buses, though they do have access to GATRA, a regional bus system.
Communities that are served by regional transportation authorities, such as GATRA or BAT, receive a credit on their MBTA assessments in the amount that they are assessed for the RTAs. That means that communities such as Mansfield end up paying only $252 in their annual MBTA assessment – compared to Walpole’s $514,000. Mansfield’s original MBTA assessment is $151,805, but they pay $151,553 to the RTA.
Shield pointed out that “because the MBTA still requires that credited amount (that the community would pay in their MBTA assessment if they did not have an RTA), the burden of the credit amounts is redistributed to non-RTA member communities based on the original weighted formula.”
In other words, communities like Walpole end up paying the bill for communities like Mansfield that don’t pay into the MBTA yet get its services. Very fair! Isn’t the state legislature wonderful, always thinking of ways to support our cities and towns on equal footing?
By the way, as an interesting fact, under the state’s Proposition 2.5 law, a town’s MBTA assessment can not increase by more than 2.5 percent in a year unless the state Dept. of Revenue can demonstrate to the State Auditor’s Division of Local Services that the increase is due to new service.
According to the latest available ridership statistics (available at this link) compiled in Fall 2012 on behalf of the MBTA by Urban Transportation Associates, passengers getting on and off the 34E bus at its Walpole and East Walpole stops typically represent around 10 percent of its total passengers in each direction. During the week, around 200 people, or fewer, use the MBTA bus in Walpole. On weekends, the number of riders getting on and off the bus in Walpole drops dramatically, as would be expected.
The statistics indicate the 34E bus has around 16 daily stops in Walpole and East Walpole (the 34E bus also generally allows passengers to get off anywhere along the route even if it is not at a dedicated stop.) Over the course of a weekday, the statistics indicate that the 34E brings about 1667 passengers inbound to Forest Hills in Boston, of which about 181 came from Walpole.
This past summer, Walpole Selectmen appointed Town Administrator Michael Boynton to represent the town on the MBTA Advisory Board. Each elected board or official in each of the 175 cities and towns served by the MBTA may appoint someone to represent them on the Advisory Board. Each voting member has one vote plus fractions of votes equivalent to their community’s weighted proportion of the MBTA deficit.
In the past, Selectmen have appointed members of the public to represent the town on the Advisory Board, instead of the Town Administrator. Within the last ten years, the Town Administrator has generally taken on this role, however.
When he was appointed, Boynton did not publicly comment on what he hoped to achieve as Walpole’s representative.
Boynton refused to answer questions from 180 about his role on the MBTA Advisory Committee, or if he thinks the MBTA’s funding formula should be reformed.
MBTA 34E ridership summary for all Walpole stops (Fall 2012, compiled by Urban Transportation Associates):
|Route||Day of the Week||Direction||Total Ons||Total Offs|
|WALPOLE ONLY (% of all 34E ons/offs)|
|Route||Day of the Week||Direction||Total Ons||Total Offs|
For the second meeting in a row, Walpole Sewer and Water Commissioner Pat Fasanello walked out of a Commission meeting this week, because he could not persuade his colleagues to record the meeting.
Fasanello did the same thing at the Commission’s October 28 meeting, after he argued that the Commission’s September 23 meeting minutes were not accurate, and was unable to get the Commission to vote to record its meetings. He walked out of that meeting in protest, and vowed afterward, in a conversation with 180, to do the same at every meeting in the future until they are recorded.
Commissioner Jimmy Taylor also walked out of last night’s meeting to support Fasanello. Because of their absences, along with the absence of Commissioner Ken Fettig, the five-member Commission was left without a quorum to conduct its business. The Commission had an extensive agenda, including a conversation about water quality issues with residents of Morningside Drive, and discussion with developer Michael Viano about sewer work at his new development at the old Sunnyrock Farm.
There is no state law preventing a small group of town board members from meeting informally and even taking straw votes on issues, but this would not be considered an official meeting, and no votes can be taken. Any votes that are taken could potentially be overturned by lawsuits. Under Robert’s Rules of Order, which most government boards use to conduct their meetings, the only business that a committee may conduct without a quorum present is a vote to adjourn, a vote to fix another time to which to adjourn, a vote to recess, or a vote to take measures to obtain a quorum.
After Taylor and Fasanello left, the Commission proceeded through a few agenda items, but had to postpone their appointment with Viano, and other agenda items, to a future meeting.
Fasanello told 180 last night, after he walked out, that he wants to send a message that more transparency is needed. In many cases, members of the public do not even attend Sewer and Water Commission meetings, meaning that meeting minutes are currently the only way for the public to know what occurs at those meetings.
“I feel like anything we do at that meeting, unless it’s recorded, is bogus,” he said.
Fasanello said he plans to walk out of the next Commission meeting in December as well, if it is not recorded. But in January, if he still doesn’t get his way, he will bring his own recorder and will start recording meetings on his own. Under the state’s Open Meeting Law, anyone is allowed to record a public meeting as long as
no one in the room objects all individuals in the room are aware. The recorder could not be used as the Commission’s official record, however Fasanello would be allowed to refer to it during discussions on meeting minutes.
Update 11/19/13: Selectmen plan to vote at their Dec. 3 meeting on a proposal, presented by Chairman Mark Gallivan, to create a seven-person task force to review the town’s cable access needs, and to make recommendations going forward. On this task force, there would be one representative of Selectmen, one representing School Committee, one representing town government as a whole, and four members of the public who would apply to serve. Gallivan suggested in his remarks that this task force would review whether it is possible to create a new independent entity to run cable access, and that the task force would be free to explore all possibilities for cable access without WCTV.
Less than a year after being elected, Kathy Hasenjaeger has stepped down from the Walpole Community TV Board of Directors out of continued frustration with the cable station’s current state of affairs.
In a resignation letter that she sent to the four other members of the Board - Bill St. George, Guy Giampapa, Paul Clerici, and Michael Power - last week, Hasenjaeger said she felt “compelled to resign” because of “deep regret and frustration” with her inability to help reform the embattled cable station.
“I have spent many hours trying to improve things on behalf of Walpole cable subscribers,” she wrote. “However, I have been thwarted at many turns. I now realize that I will continue to remain in the minority with the current Board and, in frustration, I hereby submit my resignation,” she wrote in the letter.
A major source of her frustration was that the other members of the Board would not agree to institute five major reforms that Selectmen had demanded from WCTV during cable negotiations last year and earlier this year in exchange for allowing the station to continue to serve as the town’s cable access provider.
Selectmen asked the Board, in those five reforms, to open their meetings to the general public, to subject themselves to state ethics laws, to conduct annual financial audits of the organization’s operations, to permanently end compensation of Board members, and to allow representatives of the Selectmen and School Committee to serve on the Board.
According to Hasenjaeger, the Board had agreed in discussion to change their composition to allow for one appointed member each from the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee, respectively. They also did stop paying themselves annual stipends, which they had done from 2010 until 2012. The organization also conducts annual audits. Other than that, the Board still refuses to open their meetings to the public and it has resisted calls for more accountability and transparency in their finances.
Selectmen have directly criticized St. George, the president of the Board, in particular for using WCTV funds to hire himself to design the station’s advertising and promotional materials, and also obtaining a job for his wife at WCTV as a receptionist.
St. George and other Board members have argued that they should not be required to open their meetings to the public because they are a private organization, and that they believe the town is intervening too much in their financial affairs and operations, possibly in an effort to take their lucrative revenue stream for town use.
Selectmen, unable to get the Board to agree to all five provisions, ratified a new cable contract with Comcast this summer that effectively cuts off WCTV’s revenue stream permanently, by directing all PEG revenue, from now on, to the town, to then be appropriated by Selectmen. The previous contract between the town and Comcast sent all Comcast PEG money directly to WCTV – more than $200,000 per year.
The town’s existing contract with Verizon, the town’s only other cable provider, already appropriates all Verizon PEG revenue to the town for appropriation. In practice, this money has been appropriated to WCTV.
PEG revenue comes from a 5 percent tax on the bill of each Walpole cable subscriber. The money can only be used for cable access-related expenses, per federal law, even though the money is now under the control of Selectmen.
At their meeting this upcoming Tuesday, Selectmen will present plans on how Walpole cable access channels will operate without WCTV. It is not known whether Selectmen plan to establish a new independent, non-profit entity that will provide cable access in town, or whether they will run cable access as a government operation. Most likely, the ultimate arrangement will be a mix of the two. It is possible that if WCTV begins cooperating with the town, they could apply through Selectmen for access to the PEG revenue going forward. WCTV itself will still be able to operate with about $1 million that it has saved up over the years, though it remains unclear what their future is or what their plans are for the money.
In her letter, Hasenjaeger said she felt strongly “that the Town should not take over and run public access television,” and was disappointed that her Board’s recalcitrance may have forced Selectmen to move in that direction.
In an interview with 180 after she submitted her resignation, Hasenjaeger said Selectmen have unfairly criticized the station and Board as a whole, rather than focusing on just a few Board members who evidently want to play by their own rules and are tarnishing the organization’s reputation. Hasenjaeger noted that neither she nor Power were on the Board at the time the Board paid themselves, and Hasenjaeger has never sought to profit from the cable station.
Hasenjaeger, who has hosted a show on the cable station for more than a decade, said her major goal on the Board was to work in the best interest of cable subscribers. She was supportive of the reforms that Selectmen wanted to implement, but also maintained concern that the town wanted to take WCTV’s money and PEG revenue stream for expenses unrelated specifically to cable access.
The core of the station itself, with its rich history in the community, should be preserved, she said.
One move that Selectmen roundly criticized was the Board’s proposal to move their studio to a new location on South Street. There was a perception that Hasenjaeger, who is a real estate agent in town, wanted to directly profit from the transaction. But Hasenjaeger said she volunteered her time to find the new studio site, and had no intention of earning a commission from the deal. She advocated for the relocation because she felt it was important for the station to have a fresh start.
Hasenjaeger is not the first member of the WCTV Board to resign since January’s election. At that election, Hasenjaeger was joined by Daniel Ryan as new members of the Board, replacing Jack Lee and Charles Sudhalter. Ryan, like Hasenjaeger, came in to the Board as an outsider who aimed to implement reforms, but he resigned shortly after being elected, out of similar frustration as Hasenjaeger. Ryan was replaced by Power, who was the runner-up in the January election.
Hasenjaeger said she wished Ryan had stayed on the Board, because they could have worked together to fix the station’s issues.
Both St. George and Giampapa will be up for re-election in January, in an election that will be open to all town cable subscribers. Residents who are interested in reforming WCTV, which, even though it has lost its revenue stream from the new Comcast contract, still has control of almost $1 million that has been saved up from the PEG tax on cable subscribers, are encouraged to participate in that election. Details will be published on 180 when they are known.
For background of the WCTV saga, read 180′s article from February here.
I have decided, after considerable thought, to take a hiatus from my Walpole Times column (“Obar on the Issues“) for the indefinite future and to instead focus on 180, and on other activities in my life.
I would like to thank Keith Ferguson, the editor at The Walpole Times, for giving me an incredible opportunity, for being a really tough editor, and for always demanding the highest standards. He has taught me many important journalism skills. He gave me an opportunity that I am not sure some other newspaper editors would have.
Perhaps most importantly, it is the readers that drive every newspaper column. Your readership, and your comments on each column, made it a lot of fun. I enjoyed reading and responding to your comments, even the negative ones. I hope that you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing. When I first started, I said that I hoped my columns would “help foster a more vigorous town-wide discussion of local issues.” I hope that I was successful in doing that.
I hope to continue to make meaningful contributions to the political scene here in Walpole, on this blog, as a Town Meeting Representative, and in letters to the editor. I also won’t rule out restarting the column at some point in the future.
This blog is important to me because it gave me my start in the local political scene. I am loyal to it, and I plan to keep this up. Also, it gives me much more control over content, and no space limitations as a newspaper does. Nothing will change on this blog.
I want to be clear that the decision to step away from my column was mine alone, and no one pressured me to do it. As most readers are probably well aware, I would have had it no other way. I am ending this column, for the time being, of my own volition, with no regrets. I don’t want anyone to think that they have defeated me or forced me to retreat from my beliefs.
This winter, I plan to get a real estate salesperson license. I am excited about doing something new. I’m not sure if I would get a lot of money from real estate, but I’d like to see how I do. It will be a good break from politics, which has started to consume my life. I also have some other things that I would like to pursue.
As always, thank you for reading, and see you around town.