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Endorsement for governor: Charlie Baker

October 29, 2014

When Charlie Baker first ran for governor in 2010, he had the misfortune of being a first-time candidate, running against a charismatic politician, at a time when state Democrats were eager to avenge for the loss of a critical U.S. Senate seat taken away from them earlier in the year.

One of the biggest reasons why Mr. Baker failed in 2010, against Governor Deval Patrick, is because Mr. Baker is a better administrator than a politician. Mr. Baker is perhaps overqualified for the position of governor, but voters often prefer voting for someone who makes them feel good, and who tells them what they want to hear. He was criticized for being too much of a policy wonk, and for focusing too much on the budget bottom line rather than on the people affected by the bottom line.

In this year’s campaign, Mr. Baker has made an effort to run a more upbeat campaign without getting stuck in the weeds of policy minutiae. This approach to campaigning may well pay off for him on Election Day. Shame on us, the voters, for allowing style to trump substance.

But Mr. Baker’s biggest liabilities – that he is not a polished speaker, and he lacks charisma that other politicians possess – are in fact what makes him such a great choice for governor. Mr. Baker is better at actually doing the job of governor, than just talking his way into the job like most politicians.

If the gubernatorial campaign was a job interview, Mr. Baker would get the job handily. If we treat the governor’s job as what it is – an executive position that oversees expansive bureaucracies with a wide range of stakeholders – Mr. Baker’s previous work in both the public and private sectors makes him clearly qualified for the job.

Mr. Baker worked during the 1990s for two moderate Republican governors – Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci. Both of those great governors served the Commonwealth ably despite their party affiliation. Mr. Weld and Mr. Cellucci may have been members of that dreaded party that a large subset of Massachusetts residents seem to hate so much, but they worked with Democratic legislatures to enact historic tax relief, reduce government spending, and strengthen the economy.

There is a reason why Massachusetts voters kept Republican governors for 16 years straight between 1990 and 2006 – voters trusted them to keep an eye on the Democrat-dominated legislature. This two-party system of governance paid off in our state when it occurred.

Mr. Baker is seeking to govern in the mold of both of those governors. He will also draw on the skills, and lessons, he learned from working for them. During the Cellucci administration, he had the unenviable task of coming up with a financing plan to the Big Dig fiasco, working with a wide range of government officials and stakeholders. The plan, which required heavy borrowing to make up for the project’s financial shortfall, was politically difficult but ultimately was supported by legislators in both parties at the time. He did the best he could to address a serious financial problem.

After leaving government, Mr. Baker went to the private sector where he skillfully steered Harvard Pilgrim out of bankruptcy as its CEO. His work there has earned accolades on all sides of the political spectrum. He had to make a lot of tough decisions, including laying off employees, increasing premiums, and cutting expenses, but he did it with compassion and honesty. The company likely would not have survived at all without his leadership. Some of his strongest supporters in this year’s election have been people who he worked with at Harvard Pilgrim, who saw first hand just how hard he worked to save their jobs and the company.

He also served as a Selectman in his hometown of Swampscott, where he focused primarily on budget issues and was credited with helping to bring a business approach to the town’s fiscal issues. Owing to that experience, Mr. Baker will be the first governor since Governor Cellucci who has served in local government and understands the impact of unfunded mandates and local aid cuts.

As governor, Mr. Baker would resort to tax hikes not as a first option, but as a last resort. He would review the state budget with the same business-oriented, responsible approach that he used in turning around Harvard Pilgrim’s budget in the 2000s, and the state budget in the 1990s. Like Governors Weld and Cellucci, Mr. Baker recognizes that state government isn’t evil, but it can do a lot of things a lot better. Citizens don’t mind paying taxes, but they want to see those dollars spent efficiently, with quality services in return.

Mr. Baker’s opponent, Martha Coakley, a career prosecutor with no business or municipal government experience, has shied away from offering specific policy proposals on the campaign trail. She seems to be more interested in coasting into the job than in doing the job well. Where does Mrs. Coakley stand on property tax relief? What about unfunded mandates on our cities and towns? Does Mrs. Coakley have any specifics on cutting red tape for businesses, or on reforming state agencies such as the Department of Children and Families or the welfare system?

With just a week to go until the election, Mrs. Coakley has not answered any of these questions, because she knows most residents won’t like the answers she is going to give. That’s not characteristic of someone who would do a good job as governor – that’s characteristic of someone who will do and say anything to get elected. That’s not the kind of leadership we need.

For a clue on the types of people and influences that Mr. Baker will choose to surround himself with in his administration, one needs to look no further than the person he chose to be his Lieutenant Governor.

Mr. Baker’s running mate, Karyn Polito, has an impressive resume of both political and business experience. Besides having served as a Selectman, as a member of the State Lottery Commission, and as a state representative, Mrs. Polito serves in her local Chamber of Commerce, and runs a business.

Due to her experience, she would serve as an important advocate in the Baker administration for municipal and legislative officials. And unlike Mrs. Coakley’s running mate Steve Kerrigan, whose only major claim to fame is as a hyper-partisan Democratic Party activist, Mrs. Polito would be very qualified for the position of governor in the unlikely event Mr. Baker had to step down.

Although Mr. Baker is extremely moderate, which has turned off many conservatives in the state, he does promise to bring back sound fiscal prudence to state government. Mrs. Coakley can not deliver on that at all. Conservatives who wish to sit out this election out of anger over Mr. Baker’s policies are simply hurting their own cause. A true fiscal conservative, with an array of relevant experience that makes him qualified for the job, like Mr. Baker, is a much better choice than a slick politician like Mrs. Coakley. As shown during the 1990s, Massachusetts has worked best, and seen the most prudent financial management, when it is governed by two parties, rather than one.

If you think it is time for a fiscally conservative, prudent financial overseer who can provide two-party balance on Beacon Hill, Charlie Baker deserves your vote for governor.

Official Town Meeting facilities roll call is wrong

October 28, 2014

Due to Town Clerk error, two Town Meeting Representatives have been permanently recorded as having voted in favor of Article 17, the Board of Selectmen’s proposed facilities plan, at last week’s Town Meeting, when in fact both RTMs voted “no.”

Tim Hempton, a RTM from Precinct 1, and John Vaillancourt, a RTM from Precinct 5, were accidentally marked by the Town Clerk as “yes” in favor of the measure during last Wednesday’s roll call vote. In reality, both RTMs voted “no” during the roll call, as attested by witnesses. Mr. Vaillancourt himself was one of the plan’s most vocal opponents – even submitting a substitute motion of his own that would have modified the plan to avert an override.

After both Mr. Hempton and Mr. Vaillancourt were informed of the error by other RTMs after Town Meeting, they attempted to have their votes changed by the Town Clerk to reflect how they had truly voted. But the Town Clerk said the votes could not be changed unless the vote itself had been brought up for “reconsideration” at Town Meeting.

As a result, Mr. Hempton and Mr. Vaillancourt are permanently recorded in Walpole Town Meeting annals as having voted in favor of the plan, with no recourse.

It is unknown whether there are potentially other mistakes in the roll call as well. The two-vote difference, however, would not be enough to overturn the results of the vote. The article passed with 2/3 support.

The Town Clerk is responsible for calling the roll and recording the votes at Town Meeting.

The official roll call from the Town Clerk, with the inaccurate votes, records Article 17 as having passed with a vote of 94-34. 180’s official version of the roll call, including the correct votes, indicates the measure passed 92-36.

Support Coalition at fundraiser

October 28, 2014

The Walpole Coalition for Alcohol and Drug Awareness is doing some great work in boosting public awareness to the issue of alcohol and substance abuse in Walpole.

The Coalition needs your support. Please consider helping the Coalition’s efforts by going out to eat at Texas Roadhouse on Wednesday, November 12 and showing this flyer. For showing the flyer, you will not pay any more or less on your meal than you normally would, but 10 percent of the cost will be donated to the Coalition.

180 is proud to support this good cause.

 

Endorsement for State Rep, 12th Norfolk District: Tim Hempton

October 27, 2014

Our next governor, Charlie Baker, needs allies in the state legislature to help reform mismanaged state agencies, increase efficiency with our tax dollars, and to boost transparency and ethics across state government.

Suffice it to say, the incumbent representative in the 12th Norfolk District, Democrat John Rogers, has taken votes that leave much to be desired on many of these issues. The district can do better with a representative more in tune with the district. Local dentist Tim Hempton, a longtime resident of Walpole, fits the bill quite well.

Dr. Hempton, who runs his own practice in Dedham and also used to be a faculty member at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, has run a campaign in the mold of another local politician that 180 admires – Joe Monahan, who, as an upstart candidate, came within 300 votes of knocking off a supposedly “invincible” incumbent Selectman earlier this year. On the campaign trail, Dr. Hempton has echoed many of the same themes that gave Mr. Monahan so much traction in his own race. Voters are not happy with the direction the town, the state, and the country are going in. They want leaders who are receptive to their concerns, particularly about pocketbook issues. They crave government services that work well, without incompetence or inefficiencies. They are disappointed when government leaders fail them.

Dr. Hempton, like Mr. Baker, has pointed to several specific areas where the state government can manage our tax dollars better. He wants to see the state reduce welfare fraud, stop spending money on excessive state office renovations, reduce state employees and salaries, and push for better oversight of state agencies such as the state crime lab that ended up costing taxpayers millions of dollars after a scandal in 2012. While reducing these costs, Dr. Hempton wants to see more money directed to local aid and education, to reduce the property tax burden in our cities and towns.

Unlike the incumbent, Dr. Hempton also favors more transparency in our famously secretive state legislature. Simple things, such as ending the legislature’s exemption to the Open Meeting Law and the public records law, and publishing all committee votes online can go a long way toward making government more accountable to the people.

As a business owner himself, Dr. Hempton has proposed common sense ideas to make it easier for businesses to survive in our state’s notoriously bad business climate. He has proposed specific ideas for growing jobs, such as an interesting proposal to revamp the state’s regulations on freelancers.

Dr. Hempton has campaigned hard across the district, cutting into Rep. Rogers’ base in Norwood and building on the support that Walpole Republican Jim Stanton received when he ran against Rep. Rogers in 2010 and 2012. Even though he is running against an incumbent with a lot of bad history, Dr. Hempton has run a positive campaign focused on the issues and has vowed not to go negative, no matter how bitter the race becomes. He has worked hard to earn the support of the district’s residents, and has taken the time to understand the issues that people care about.

Who do you trust more to serve your interests on Beacon Hill – a dentist or a career politician? It is time to elect Tim Hempton as the district’s next State Representative.

(The 12th Norfolk District consists of all of Norwood, and precincts 1, 2, 6, and 7 in Walpole.)

Officials move to cut off debate on facilities plan

October 24, 2014

Walpole officials don’t even seem to be confident enough in their own flawed facilities plan to be able to defend it in a public forum. They and their supporters shut down debate on the measure at Town Meeting on Wednesday evening.

Town Meeting Representatives had to sit through a 1-hour-long presentation, in what amounted to a sales pitch, by Selectmen on the proposed $30 + million facilities plan, and then only a few RTMs were allowed to speak about the plan before Finance Committee member and Precinct 4 RTM Joe Denneen moved to cut off debate. His motion to end debate and take a vote, known as “moving the question,” passed by voice vote.

Mr. Denneen’s move to end debate was briefly questioned by Precinct 1 RTM John Hasenjaeger, who argued that Mr. Denneen, as  Fin. Com. member, has had months to discuss the facilities issue while most RTMs only had one night to discuss it. Mr. Hasenjaeger pointed out that a mailing error had caused the Town Meeting Warrant to be delivered late, so some RTMs could be coming into Town Meeting unprepared. Moderator Jon Rockwood still allowed Mr. Denneen’s motion to end the debate, but also allowed two RTMs who had been waiting to speak prior to Mr. Denneen’s motion, to speak.

Precinct 5 RTM John Vaillancourt, who managed to speak before Mr. Denneen cut off debate, submitted a substitute motion that would have funded a police station on South Street without an override. But Selectman Cliff Snuffer, also a Precinct 2 RTM and a vehement override supporter, quickly moved to cut off debate on that motion, too, effectively depriving voters of a chance to hear alternatives to the plan Selectmen have proposed. Mr. Vaillancourt’s motion was voted down with absolutely no debate or discussion allowed on it.

Precinct 8 RTM Joe Moraski submitted an unknown substitute motion of his own, but Mr. Rockwood did not consider his motion valid because it was submitted after debate was cut off.

Under Town Meeting rules, a motion to “move the question” is non-debatable and a vote is taken immediately. The motion requires a 2/3 vote.

Although it was brief, the debate about the facilities plan was tense at times. At one point, Mr. Rockwood ruled that Selectmen Chairman Mark Gallivan had made a comment toward an RTM that was “out of line.” At several points during the meeting, certain groups of RTMs clapped and jeered about particular points that were being made.

The plan eventually passed Town Meeting after a roll call vote, 92-36 (according to 180’s count), with 128 RTMs present (out of 150 total.) The measure needed 2/3 support for passage.

Selectman Jim Stanton, who was elected in June espousing fiscally conservative views, supported the plan as a Precinct 2 RTM, however his wife, Judy Stanton, opposed the plan.

Town Meeting will reconvene Monday to vote on the proposed acquisition of Sharon Country Day Camp on Common Street.

Voters will cast their ballots on November 4 on a $21 million override to go toward the facilities plan. Selectmen plan to use about $9 million already available to the town to supplement the override.

Endorsement for County Commissioner: Michael Soter

October 22, 2014

180 is endorsing today in the race for Norfolk County Commissioner. Endorsements for governor and state representative will be published next week.

The race for County Commissioner has largely stayed under the radar in this year’s election, and the incumbent Commissioner on the ballot would probably prefer it that way. After all, if people knew we had a County Commission in the first place, and understood what it does, they probably would not be too happy with the incumbent’s failure to do much of anything productive or meaningful for the county’s residents. The town of Walpole pays almost $200,000 per year in a county assessment, to keep the county government running. Yet can anyone point to any tangible benefits to our town from paying that?

The County Commission, made up of three members, is the chief executive body of our county government. They oversee a $26 million budget, including the Norfolk County Agricultural School in Walpole, the Norfolk Registry of Deeds, an Engineering Department, and even a golf course.

The problem with the county government, of course, is that, in its current form, it is just an unnecessary level of government that each town in the county must pay for yet gets little out of. Most other county governments in the state have long been abolished. Even the Norfolk County Sheriff and county courts, two of the most visible county-wide functions, are funded and operated by the state, rather than by the county itself.

In 2012, the town of Brookline actually voted, through their Town Meeting, to file a home rule petition in the state legislature to secede from Norfolk County because they were paying more than $700,000 in annual county assessments, more than any other town in the county, but were getting little in return. So far, the petition has not succeeded and they are still in the county, but they are recruiting support from other county Selectmen to secede.

Bellingham Selectman Michael Soter, who is running as a Republican against incumbent five-term Commissioner Peter Collins, recognizes that Norfolk county government needs reform if we are to have it at all. Either it should provide government services at a regional level, just as county governments in most other states do, or it should not exist at all. County governments in most other parts of the country provide regional services such as Assessors, Planning, Engineering, Public Works, Personnel, and even law enforcement through county sheriffs.

This regionalization, of course, reduces the cost to cities and towns, and in turn reduces the property tax burden. If Norfolk County government is going to have an Engineering Department, for example, the cities and towns that make up the county should be able to use it to reduce the costs of running their own Engineering Departments.

Mr. Soter will advocate for efficiencies for cities and towns at the county level to ensure that towns like Walpole will get some benefit out of the money they pay to the county. He knows that regionalization is important, because he recognizes the reality of municipal budgets from his work on Bellingham’s Board of Selectmen.

During his term as Selectman, Bellingham has introduced zero-based budgeting which has produced several years in a row of budget surpluses, designed and started work on a new police station without an override, increased staffing in its police and fire departments, and all the while kept taxes and water rates low. Mr. Soter knows how to cut spending and taxes, and knows the pressures that cities and towns face. Mr. Soter also has extensive business experience, working in sales.

Due to its low visibility, the Commissioner position isn’t exactly a launchpad to higher office. So Mr. Soter isn’t running to boost his own political prospects. He just wants to see a county government that is more responsive to the needs of its 28 cities and towns.

Do you even know what your money is being used for in the county government? If you are struggling to find an answer, you know it is time for a change. Vote for Mike Soter for County Commissioner on November 4.

Town Meeting should be postponed

October 15, 2014

For the third time since 2012, the language of the town charter, and its effect on Town Meeting, is being tested.

Chapter 88, section 3 of the Walpole Town Charter states that “the Finance Committee shall act, on all articles on the [Town Meeting] Warrant, as an advisory committee to the Town and shall report in writing its recommendations. These recommendations shall be distributed to each residence not later than seven days prior to each Annual or Special Town Meeting.”

Pursuant to this provision in the charter, a copy of the Town Meeting warrant with the Fin Com’s recommendations are customarily sent to each Walpole residence at least seven days before each Town Meeting.

This year, before the upcoming Fall Annual Town Meeting, the warrants apparently got sent in the mail but there was a mailing error that delayed their delivery. As of last night, the mailings are believed to be stuck somewhere in the state of Maine.

As a result, the warrants still have not been received by all Walpole households, with fewer than seven days to go before next Monday’s scheduled Town Meeting.

Town Meeting Reps are set to vote on some big-ticket items, including the $30 million facilities project, and a $4.5 million purchase of Sharon Country Day Camp.

The Board of Selectmen has posted the entire warrant with Fin. Com. recommendations on the town website, and is also planning to send out another copy of the warrant to each residence by mail. Selectmen also requested an opinion from Town Counsel as to whether Town Meeting should be postponed to allow the warrants to be received by residences at least seven days before the meeting. However, the Town Counsel has in the past set the precedent that the town charter is meaningless if there are no enforcement mechanisms in place to ensure its provisions are followed to the t. This provision of the charter has no enforcement mechanism in place to prevent Town Meeting from taking place even though the warrants have not been distributed to all residences.

Even though the town has posted a copy of the warrant and Fin Com recommendations on the town website, this is obviously not an acceptable way to reach each “residence” in town, as per the town charter. Many residents may not have access to the internet. The charter is intended to protect the residents of the town who may not have access to the internet or may not have the resources to get the information they need about town issues other than through mail. This is an issue of good government, and obeying the letter of the law, as stipulated in the town charter.

Town Meeting next week should be postponed to allow all residences to receive the Town Meeting warrant at least seven days beforehand. This is in the best interest of the town, because it protects the meaning of the town charter (our town’s Constitution). Also, and perhaps more importantly, if Town Meeting is allowed to proceed, the town opens itself up to lawsuits related to the votes taken at Town Meeting. A lawsuit could be filed to prevent the town from moving forward with the purchase of the Day Camp or the facilities plan, if both were approved at Town Meeting.

Interestingly, another provision of the Town Charter requires that Town Meeting be held “annually at 7:30 p.m. on the third Monday in October.”

However, this provision also states that “​In case of an emergency, the business of the meeting may be adjourned for no longer than two weeks.​”​ It really depends on what the definition of “emergency” is.

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