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Former mill site enters next chapter in storied history

November 26, 2014

The ongoing demolition of the abandoned buildings on the South Street Superfund site effectively marks the end to a long and storied chapter in local history that brought both good and bad to the town of Walpole over two centuries.

The west side of the street, which has been fenced off and abandoned for more than 20 years, has essentially been stigmatized as a toxic waste dump for the generation growing up in Walpole today. But while its long history has indeed included an association with toxic substances, the site was a major part of Walpole’s industrial history during its heyday.

Walpole town officials hope to redevelop both the east and west sides in the coming years for municipal use.

The site was used continuously by various industries and enterprises from the 1700s to around 1986.

There are few specific details of operations at the site during the 1700s, however there is some evidence of various mills and a forge being located there, all powered by the Neponset River that traverses the site.

Around 1811, John Blackburn started the Blackburn Privilege east of the site, where the Town Forest is today. Soon after, in 1812, the Union Privilege began operating on the west side. These were two of the 10 privileges established along the Neponset River in the 1800s.

The term “privilege” refers to a grant by the government allowing commercial use of the river for water supply and power.

Blackburn and his son, George, used their privilege to power the manufacture of both machinery and cotton yarn. Their facility eventually burned down, sometime in the late 1830s or early 1840s, and both father and son apparently moved on to other pursuits.

In 1846, Blackburn’s other son, John, teamed up with Ollis Clap and replaced the burned building with a new factory to manufacture stoves, machinery, and iron castings. This operation apparently ceased around 1854.

Meanwhile, in 1813, the Union Privilege, on the west side of the site, was taken over by Oliver Clap & Co, operated by Oliver and Warren Clap, Daniel Ellis, Daniel Payson, and Edward G. Cundal. This company eventually turned into the Union Manufacturing Company, dealing with cotton and wool textiles.

According to Willard DeLue’s “Story of Walpole,” published in 1925, their factory was “four and a half stories high and 60 X [by] 40 feet, being surmounted by a bell tower.”

Between about 1850 and 1872, Manning, Glover, & Company, owned by Charles Manning, Henry R. Glover, and Jerome B. Cram, used the site to manufacture curled hair mattresses and cotton batting and wicking. It is believed that this company occupied most of both the east and west sides of the site.

After 1872, Manning left the company, and it became Cram and Glover. The factory employed about 24 workers in 1875, according to DeLue.

The factory continued operation until 1881 when a fire destroyed most of the buildings, according to DeLue. After this time, the main operation at the site was the Union Carpet Lining Company. This business ceased in 1891 upon the death of its owner, Stephen Pember.

Industrial processes conducted at the site by this time involved some hazardous substances like chromium, arsenic, and mercury.

Between 1891 and 1900, there are no records indicating specifically what occurred at the site.

Around 1900, the Massachusetts Chemical Company, based in South Boston, bought the land on both sides of the street. Shortly after the acquisition, they apparently constructed some buildings, including what is now the abandoned factory located on the west side of the street. Mass. Chemical was in the business of manufacturing rubber heels and soles for shoes.

Mass Chemical sold the rubber to Foster Rubber Company of Boston, under the brand names “Catspaw,” “Foster,” and “Orthopedic.” Mass. Chemical held many patents for various rubber goods. Their products included the Walpole Rubber Heel for horses and Walpole Hot Water Bottles.

The Walpole Shoe Supply Company was organized in 1908 as an offshoot of Mass. Chemical to manufacture shoe supplies for the rubber.

In 1909, Mass. Chemical opened a factory in Granby, Quebec, Canada “to meet the large trade in Canada and avoid the duty on the goods manufactured at Walpole,” according to a company historical document. The Granby factory was called the Walpole Rubber Company, Ltd.

In 1910, the different parts of the company were brought under one name, the Walpole Rubber Company, with factories in Walpole and Granby, and sales offices in Boston and Montreal. It maintained offices all over the world, including in New York, Chicago, London, Paris, Berlin, and Brussels. Around 1910, it boasted of having total capital of $3 million (almost $80 million today), half of which was in the form of common stock. They claimed to own about 50 acres of land on South Street, with two dams that produced power from the Neponset River and mill ponds.

In 1911, an ad published in various publications including the Providence Evening News boasted that the Walpole Rubber Company was at the time “the largest maker of friction and rubber tapes in the world” with more than 10,000 pounds produced every day.

multibestos

A 1916 drawing of the thriving Standard Woven Fabric Company, later Multibestos, on South Street, which employed up to 300 workers at its height. The left side of the photo is the east side. (Image taken from the May 1916 edition of “The Motor Truck” magazine.)

The company’s historical documentation suggests that the buildings at the site in Walpole were state-of-the-art for the time period. Their largest building had automatic sprinklers, a separate brick walled staircase, and elevator wells.

In 1912, the company changed its name to the Walpole Tire and Rubber Company.

Unfortunately, the company went into receivership in 1913. One record indicates that this might have been a result of the failure of the Atlantic National Bank in Providence. The company maintained profitability but eventually was forced to sell off its assets.

One of the company’s dams sits abandoned today near the South Street site, in the town forest behind the High School. The same dam site had been used previously by Blackburn, and had been rebuilt by Mass. Chemical for hydroelectric power.

In 1915, the buildings on both sides of the street were taken over by the Standard Woven Fabric Company, a manufacturer of asbestos and brake linings. The company moved its existing factory from Framingham to the bigger facility in Walpole.

An article in the May 1916 edition of The Motor Truck magazine described the company’s new plant in Walpole as having “175,000 square feet of floor space … and 75 acres of land available for future expansion.”

“The aggregate value of the plant and real estate was put at well over $500,000,” according to the article. That is equal to more than $10 million in today’s dollars.

The company changed its name to Multibestos in 1920.

The company was a leading manufacturer of asbestos brake linings, gaskets, and asbestos-woven products, and secured a number of patents. During its height, in the 1920s, it employed as many as 300 people, according to DeLue. The company had offices and salesmen all over the country.

The boom times did come at a cost, though.

Multibestos, along with most other companies in its industry, did not take precautions to protect its workers from the effects of carcinogenic asbestos dust. Workers had direct contact with asbestos, without any ventilation or protective masks. Early on, this disregard for workers’ health may have been because the extent of potential health effects from asbestos was not fully understood by factory owners, workers, and health professionals. However, even as many of their workers were getting sick in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Multibestos still did little to protect their workers.

Up until its harmful effects were fully recognized, asbestos, a naturally-occurring mineral that comes from mines, was a hot commodity in many different products, particularly automobile brakes.

multibestos_1

Caption from September 25, 1917 edition of The Automobile Journal: Group of Standard Woven Fabric Co. Sales and Branch Managers at the Convention Recently Held at Company’s Plant, Walpole, Mass. Those in the picture: Bottom Row, Left to Right, H.F. Marquardt, C.K. Everett, T.J. Daley, F.W. Dilger, C.O. Anthony, R.D. Northup, D. Hollingsworth, H. Tipper. Middle Row, Left to Right, E.O. Christiansen, M.D. Davies, T. Howard, J.C. Donnelly, H.E. Fannon, R. Everett, S. Bell, M. Voorhees, D.E. Bailey, F.J. Gleason, M.J. Cornelius, T. Lamb, W.H. Williams, C.W. Blackman. Top Row, Left to Right, P. Gardiner, F.V. McGraw, W.J. Mahoney.

The experiences of John Lightbody, of Walpole, chronicled in Walpole Times articles in 1987 and 2004, show just how fatal the conditions at the factory turned out to be for the workers there. Lightbody was one of a number of workers during the 1930s who received compensation from Multibestos as a result of health effects of working in close contact with asbestos dust. The working conditions ended up costing him his life.

According to the Times accounts of his experience, Lightbody began working at the Multibestos factory in 1918. After about a month, he was assigned to the “small weave room” where 16 looms were used to weave asbestos. He worked for about eight years in that room, feeding asbestos “yarn” into the looms and repairing the machines.

Bags of raw asbestos were delivered to the Multibestos factory by train. The tracks ran under Common Street and along the Town Forest. The abandoned railroad easement is still located behind the east side of the site.

“A naturally fibrous mineral, asbestos came to the Multibestos factory in a form resembling yarn. This yarn was tightly wound onto big iron spools called beams. During the production process, the beams of asbestos would be unraveled and pulled onto the looms,” wrote the Times.

During the production process, friction created asbestos dust that covered everything in the room on a daily basis. Lightbody routinely came home with white dust all over his clothes.

The factory had no air circulation systems. Sometimes, employees could use ventilators but “they were so hard to breathe through that it was practically impossible to complete any physical labor while wearing one,” according to the Times.

At one time, a water system was installed in the factory to spray the dust down, but this practice was ended after only a few months. Workers attempted to wet down the asbestos yarn to control the dust, but this was ineffective because it rotted the yarn.

Within only five years of employment at Multibestos, Lightbody developed a cough that worsened as he got older. After the first year of his cough, he consulted medical professionals and was advised to stop working in close proximity to asbestos dust. The company allowed him to work a lower-paid job as a truck driver.

But in this new job, he still had contact with asbestos dust. One of his jobs was to take the dust that had been swept off the factory floors and truck them to a dump on another part of the property. He would sweep the dust out of the back of his truck.

Multibestos truck drivers like Lightbody earned between $20 and $30 per week. During the 1920s, this was a decent salary – equating to about $200 per week in today’s dollars. Workers in the weave room usually earned more money.

In 1933, Lightbody’s health began to worsen, including dramatic weight loss, constant coughing, and generally poor eating and sleeping. He quit his job that year.

The next year, he and the company both appeared in a hearing in front of the state’s Industrial Accident Board (IAB) so that he could argue for disability pay. Doctors testifying on behalf of Lightbody said that “he suffered from a mild case of tuberculosis which had been aggravated to a disabling condition as a result of his exposure to asbestos,” according to the Times.

Doctors testifying on behalf of Multibestos argued that Lightbody’s symptoms were solely because of tuberculosis.

The IAB eventually ruled in Lightbody’s favor, but his compensation was less than he would have received if he still worked at the factory. He received $680.24 in retroactive pay, and $15.46 per week afterward. He also was unable to ever work again.

Lightbody passed away at age 49 in 1938, leaving young children behind. His wife, Clara, had passed away in 1934, and his family speculates that her cause of death, cancer, came about from contact with asbestos dust while cleaning her husband’s clothes.

Around the same time Lightbody and other workers were seeking compensation from Multibestos for their ailments, in the depths of the Great Depression, the company was also running into financial difficulty. The company, owned by Dewey and Almy Chemical Company, sought four different tax abatements from the town starting with its 1932 taxes, and continuing to 1935. The company claimed it was unprofitable and that the tax burden was “excessive,” according to news accounts from the time. The company was prepared to leave Walpole if they didn’t get the abatements.

The abatements were controversial in town at the time, with some arguing that it set a precedent for other companies to claim similar abatements. The factory’s significant impact on the local economy, however, apparently convinced Town Meeting to approve the abatements to preserve the local jobs.

Instead of paying an annual tax of about $15,000 in each of those years, the company paid about $7,000 in each year. This is about $121,000 in today’s dollars, compared to $260,000 that the town would have gotten without the abatement. This is an illustration of just how much Multibestos contributed to the tax base, at a time when industry was a fundamental part of the town’s economy.

In the end, the company shut down anyway, in 1935. The assets and company name were sold to the Raybestos Co. of Connecticut, which still exists today.

About 90 workers filed disability claims against the Multibestos company when they left Walpole in 1935, and they were given large lump sum payments of between $1,000 and $2,000.

According to 1987 testimony to Walpole Selectmen by asbestos author and expert Paul Brodeur, at least 1,000 workers from Multibestos in Walpole died from asbestos-related diseases, and as many as 3,000 workers may have been exposed to asbestos dust during the factory’s 20 year run in Walpole. However, many asbestos-related diseases were misdiagnosed, and some diseases take up to 40 years to materialize from asbestos, meaning that the exact death toll may be hard to determine.

In his 2005 book “Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects,” author Barry Castleman suggested that Multibestos’ parent company knew the risks of the working conditions. Castleman wrote that Bradley Dewey, the president of Dewey and Almy, “was interested in the subject of asbestosis and corresponded with a state official and others about it.”

According to Castleman, “Dewey was … convinced that asbestosis was ‘a very serious and sometimes fatal disease.'”

An article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune from 2003 indicates that Liberty Mutual, which insured Multibestos between 1916 and 1931, at one time suspected a possible link between asbestos and poor workers’ health.

In the article, headlined “Health studies drew little action,” journalist Greg Gordon wrote that Liberty Mutual conducted a study in 1929 at the Multibestos plant and “reported one employee dead, apparently of an asbestos disease, a number of others so sick they were unable to perform ‘even slight exertion’ and three with ‘hemorrhages from the lungs.'”

Gordon writes that there is “no record of the study being published.”

Correspondence in files from the Mass. Executive Office of Environmental Affairs suggests that, starting around 1929, the Multibestos factory was the “subject of special attention by the Department of Labor and Industries Division of Occupation Hygiene due to a high incidence of asbestosis complaints resulting in both workman’s compensation claims and related legal actions.” The company also owned a plant in Cambridge, which was the subject of similar concerns.

Several decades after Multibestos’ closure, in 1988, the Mass. Department of Public Health, in collaboration with the Walpole Board of Health, conducted a survey intended to determine the extent of the health effects. The study showed that “exposure to site-related asbestos was limited to a small percentage of those individuals either living in the same residence as those occupationally exposed to asbestos or those living within a half-mile radius of the site.”

Some Multibestos workers, and their family members, did not seem to be affected by the factory conditions and lived long lives. One former Multibestos worker, Peter Turco, later became a member of the Walpole Board of Assessors and passed away in 1989 at age 78.

Frank Erker, who is believed to have been the last remaining former Multibestos worker living in Walpole, died at age 99 in 2014. Erker worked for three years at a warehouse on the site, starting at age 18, in 1932. He told The Walpole Times in 1987 that he did not have much direct contact with asbestos dust.

Lightbody’s son, Steele Lightbody, still lives on Washington St. in Walpole and appears to be in good health at 90 years old despite being in contact with some of the dust his father brought home early in his life. He lost his mother at age 10, and his father at 14.

Countless other children and grandchildren of former Multibestos workers are still alive and are living around the country, their precise health conditions unknown.

After Multibestos’ relocation to Connecticut, the South Street site was taken over by Industrial Properties, Inc. IPI sold different parcels of the site to several different parties, including the Kendall Company, and companies owned by members of the Shaffer family like the BIM Investment Corporation.

Kendall used the old factory on the west side primarily for storage until they began using it for a cotton mercerizing operation in 1947.

As part of Kendall’s operation, fibers were washed and bleached prior to fabric production, and waste was discharged into two lagoons on the property.

Their operation on the west side lasted until the mid-1980s. Kendall stopped using the first lagoon as a disposal area in 1982, while use of the second lagoon stopped in 1985.

Kendall sold their land to investment companies owned by members of the Shaffer family, shortly after ending operation. The factory has been abandoned ever since, standing as a symbol of the demise of Walpole’s industrial strength – which came at the expense of many workers and their families.

The east side of the site was used starting in 1935 by various other smaller businesses. These included the Holiday Coffee Company, and a wastepaper recycling plant, known as P. Shaffer and Company, that took over one of Multibestos’ former buildings.

The Shaffer Company’s building burned down in a significant blaze in 1957 that required about 150 firefighters, including from surrounding towns. High school football players had to leave the practice field nearby to assist. The fire was so devastating that nearby homes on Gleason Court were also destroyed.

A front page Walpole Times article shortly after the fire reported that “workers were pulled to safety only minutes before every window in the building belched forth giant, licking tongues of fire.”

The Times account says that the building contained “waste paper and rags, bailed tightly and stocked closely.” These exploded soon after the fire started.

About 60 workers were employed at the plant at that time, according to the Times.

A view of South Street factories, sometime between 1937 and 1957.

A view of South Street factories, the date is unclear but is believed to be sometime between 1935 and 1957. (Source: Walpole Historical Society, reprinted with permission.)

After the fire, the buildings on the east side remained vacant until they were demolished and buried on site around 1972. Since that time, the site has been occupied by smaller buildings primarily used as warehouse space for companies like Stop & Shop and Jacobsen Brothers Movers. The only business still in operation at the site is Cosmec, which operates a small machine shop with a few employees.

Multibestos’ massive dump on the west side, along the Neponset River, remained uncovered for decades, and many residents of town recalled playing there as children. The dump, which included piles of old brake linings and stringy fibers, was not reported to the EPA until 1986 by a Board of Health member.

Soon after the dump was discovered, the EPA and the DEP both ordered cleanup funded by the “responsible parties” to the contamination, which was initially made up of three parties – Shaffer Realty Trust, and BIM Investment Trust, both of which owned and still own the property; and W.R. Grace, Inc., which had acquired Dewey and Almy in the 1950s.

Kendall, which later became part of Tyco Healthcare and then Covidien, also agreed to be designated a “responsible party” during the late 1990s.

The site was added to the EPA’s Superfund National Priorities List in 1994.

As part of the cleanup, in 1992, a 400-foot aluminum culvert was installed to cover the Neponset River that runs through the site. Soils at the site that contained more than 1 percent of asbestos were excavated and consolidated into a smaller area, parallel to the river and culvert, and sealed with a 30-inch soil cap. The soil cap was covered by vegetation to prevent erosion. A fence was installed to protect the site, and the mound itself, from disturbance.

This culvert and pile of soil remains at the site today, and will stay in place after the town takes over the property. The town plans to build a parking lot next to it, and will be responsible for maintaining the grass on top of the cap and culvert. The EPA and the Board of Health both say that the site poses no health risk to the community. The mound legally can not be disturbed due to a deed restriction.

The EPA determined during the early 1990s that on-site soils, sediments, and groundwater were “contaminated with inorganic chemicals, including asbestos, lead, arsenic, and nickel, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and non-volatile organic compounds.” For the last 20 years, the site has been gradually cleaned up, with significant progress made within the past year.

The “responsible parties” will fund the demolition of the abandoned factory building on the west side. The buildings on the east side will be demolished soon as well, funded by both the town and the “responsible parties.” Health Director Robin Chapell told Town Meeting in October that the “responsible parties” are now tied to specific benchmarks to ensure the cleanup process continues as scheduled.

A tribute to Tom Driscoll

November 22, 2014

Tom Driscoll, RTM from Precinct 4, and longtime town appointed and elected official, passed away unexpectedly last Friday at age 69. He had served the town in a number of capacities, including Finance Committee member, Planning Board member, and Insurance Advisory Committee member.

If you know anything about politics, especially in Walpole, you probably know that there can be a lot of reason for cynicism. You never really know who to trust. You sometimes don’t really know where some of our elected officials stand. You wonder if our representatives and elected officials are really fighting for the best interest of the people, or if they are fighting for themselves.

Tom Driscoll epitomized the best side of politics. Walpole lost a great public servant when he passed away last week. On a more personal basis, I also lost a very good friend. I feel very humbled and privileged to have had a chance to know him.

I was somewhat shortchanged in that I knew Tom for a shorter time than many of his other friends did. I only knew him for one and a half years, but looking back it seemed like much longer. However, during the course of our friendship, I got to know him both as a man and as a politician. Loyalty – to his family, his friends, and his community – is really his most significant character trait. Loyalty is really an underrated virtue in our society, especially these days, but Tom understood its value.

My first interactions with Tom were some time in late 2012, when somehow he stumbled on to my blog and posted a comment on an article about Walpole prison mitigation money.

“Thanks. Very interesting and facts we wouldn’t learn from elected or appointed officials,” Tom wrote, before breaking into one of his trademark short essays about over-taxation from the state and the lack of local aid coming back to cities and towns.

Let me be clear about this: prior to this comment on my blog, Tom was something of a legend in my mind. When I first got involved in local politics, shortly before the power plant controversy of 2007 and 2008, Tom’s vigorous speeches at the microphone at various Town Meetings stuck in my mind even all these years later. I had admired him from a distance for some time, but never got the opportunity to speak to him. And then all of a sudden, here was the great “Tom Driscoll” commenting on my blog. Wow!

A couple months later, Tom and I met for the first time, through mutual connections, when the two of us volunteered to join up and collect signatures for a U.S. Senate candidate outside the Walpole Stop & Shop. While standing out in the cold, just the two of us, he regaled me with stories about his time in town politics, while I peppered him with questions. At that time, Tom also had a lot of questions for me – one of the traits I always liked about Tom is that it was never all about him. He always wanted to know how others were doing, and what they were up to. And he would remember everything you told him, and would follow up with you later on.

A relationship that began outside the Walpole Stop & Shop quickly turned into a much stronger friendship. Since that day, the two of us have collected many hundreds more signatures outside grocery stores, stood out in all types of weather holding signs for political candidates, and had many hours of conversations over the phone and in his living room. The topics of our conversations ranged; we covered everything from Conservation Commission issues to his time as a Vietnam veteran. But politics, of course, was usually the main discussion and we never ran out of things to talk about. In most cases, I would just sit back and listen because he had so much knowledge and wisdom to share.

I got to know his wife, Debbie, too, through many of those conversations in his living room. She was just as kind as he was, and it was obvious that the two of them were very close. This, again, was a function of Tom’s undivided loyalty to his family. He spoke often of his wife, and his two grown children and grandchildren.

His loyalty to his friends and his community was evident in much of his political activism. One thing that stands in my mind is that Tom stood out every Saturday starting this past August, until Election Day in November, on either the Walpole or Norwood town common, holding signs for his dentist and longtime friend Tim Hempton who was running for state rep. He even did this in a drenching rain storm, and under very hot sun. He also took an entire day off from work (he still ran his own business and worked full-time, even at age 69) on Election Day to hold signs at Old Post Road School. How many people would be so loyal to a friend that they would take an entire day off from work to hold a political sign for them?

I would reiterate what former Selectwoman Joanne Muti wrote recently, which is much better than I could have written myself: “What was remarkable to me is that Tom would stand at the polls all day long and never ask for anything in return other than good government.”

Tom also had a reputation for being a steadfast conservative, which he wouldn’t deny, but I also got to know him well enough to say with certainty that political ideology was not the overriding cause that drove him and his efforts. Above all else, he was very loyal to his town, and he wanted what was best for Walpole.

This intense loyalty to his community manifested itself in his long-running devotion to fighting bad developers and contamination of the aquifer, starting in the 1980s with his fight against Walpole Park South. Through just about every major battle against bad development for the past two decades, Tom was always among those leading the charge. You can say what you want about Tom’s political views, but everyone in town has to agree that Tom was a big advocate for protecting our drinking water, and for preventing toxic businesses. We are all unquestionably better off today as a town because of his relentless vigilance.

This desire to only seek what was in the best interest of the community transcended political ideologies. When he passed away, he was still in the process of waging a battle in the state legislature for the passage of House Bill 732, which would strengthen oversight of licensed site professionals. Tom felt very strongly that the bill would protect residents of the community, and he solicited the support of Democratic Rep. Lou Kafka, and other Democratic legislators. He routinely expressed his disgust with the fact that some Republicans in the state legislature were unwilling to support the legislation for fear of being seen as too environmentalist. He pressured many town officials to send letters of support for the bill, and was furious when certain officials were reluctant to do so. Unfortunately, he will never get to see the passage of the bill, but it surely would not be where it is today in the legislative process without his efforts.

Tom did get into a lot of trouble, too. Indeed, he made plenty of enemies. But in order to upset the Establishment and the status quo at Walpole Town Hall, you often have to ruffle some feathers. Everything that he ever did in politics was driven by what he believed was best for the town, and he put his heart and passion into what he did.

Even up to the day he passed away, Tom was still participating in town politics, looking out for the best interest of the entire community. Just 48 hours before his departure, last Wednesday, he attended a Selectmen meeting, with town health insurance as the main agenda item. As an insurance professional, and a longtime member of the Insurance Advisory Committee, Tom has always been very passionate about insurance issues. I did not attend the meeting, but those who were there said Tom got very hot under the collar (very characteristic of him), and vociferously advocated for a change in health insurance that would benefit not only taxpayers, but also union members whose health insurance dollars he felt were not being spent efficiently under the existing structure. He genuinely felt that union members would benefit from the change, just as much as taxpayers. The next day, just hours before his death, he was sending out emails to various friends in town government emphasizing his concerns and expressing disappointment that Selectmen had voted to delay a vote on the issue for 30 days.

In retrospect, attending that meeting, and standing out holding sign for hours on Election Day, was probably not good for his health. But if those activities during the last month of his life contributed in any way to Tom’s passing, I think that he might have liked that politics and health insurance, two of his biggest passions, were among the last issues he got to talk about in his life. It was an appropriate capstone to his political career and to his life as a whole.

The number of people who came out to attend Tom’s wake on Monday was a tribute to how many friends he had made. I don’t think he really even knew just how well-liked he was. He was always so humble about his relationships and connections with other people.

I feel very grateful to have known Tom, and to have had a chance to be in his inner circle of “friends.” In the blood sport that is Walpole politics, I can say with all honesty that Tom was one of the few that I trusted, and the only one I knew who had all the answers I needed. I know that he is looking down on us today, keeping an eye on the town’s water supply and tax dollars for the benefit of all of us.

Why the override lost

November 5, 2014

Most citizens don’t mind paying taxes, or even paying more in taxes, if they believe their money will be put to good use. Our government requires taxes to run its day-to-day operations, to deliver services, and to invest in infrastructure and public buildings.

The facilities override on the Nov. 4 ballot was defeated by a 55 percent to 45 percent margin, more than 1,000 votes, because it did not elicit confidence in taxpayers that their dollars would be well spent.

More importantly, the override failed, by a wider-than-expected margin, because Town Hall is out of touch with the economic realities of the community. It lost in every precinct except Precinct 4, home of the Superfund site where a police station and senior center would be built.

This override was really a referendum on the misguided leadership of Town Hall.

In the end, our town departments, and our taxpayers, deserved much better than the $30 million facilities plan proposed by Selectmen. The results should be disappointing not only for Selectmen, a few of whom staked their own legacies on it, but also for the rest of us who can now see that we are served by a Board of Selectmen that just does not represent us. Our own Selectmen have failed us and reduced our confidence in their leadership.

Our town committees and staff have the combined brainpower, from all different parts of the political spectrum, to develop a plan for new buildings that does not involve the same tired tactic of raising taxes. It is not easy, nor is it necessarily politically convenient to think strategically about funding alternatives. But this method of investing in infrastructure without higher taxes has paid off in other towns, like Bellingham and Carver.

Instead of thinking outside the box, Selectmen took the easy way out – devoting their efforts to selling a tax increase they argued was a panacea to the town’s building problems, with a hodgepodge of buildings jammed into a $30 million blank check based on vague and subjective cost controls. They became so focused on the sales pitch that they forgot the people they were elected to serve – people with modest means who are now limping out of the worst economic recession in decades.

Town Hall is stacked against the little people. The plan rejected by a majority of voters on Tuesday had received resounding support from all sectors of town government. The Board of Selectmen approved the plan unanimously, all but one member of the Finance Committee approved it, the Capital Budget Committee and Sewer and Water Commission supported it, and Town Meeting Representatives favored it by more than a 2/3 margin. Town officials poured a lot of their own money into a political action committee (PAC) to sell it to the voters. Override opponents ran a grassroots operation on a shoestring budget, and were outspent and outworked tremendously. Yet after all that, voters still rejected it decisively, showing just how tone-deaf all of those officials really are.

How is it that so many town boards and committees, with the exception of one Finance Committee member, failed to recognize that the plan was too big, too wayward, too overwhelming, too vague, too expensive, and too much for the town’s taxpayers to bear? How is it that none of these officials thought that maybe a better approach is to live within the town’s means, come up with alternatives, and build what we can afford in a measured approach? How were all these town officials so out of touch with the people they represent?

Going forward, Selectmen need to explore a more reasonable approach to facilities that does not amount to a utopian vision of grandeur more fit for a town like Wellesley than Walpole. We can afford new buildings within our operating budget by being smart and creative about our spending, and being inclusive in our decision-making.

For starters, Walpole Selectmen should ask Town Meeting Representatives in the spring to appropriate $9 million, already available, to a new police station on the former South Street Superfund site. Selectmen should follow that with a structured plan to use new growth in taxation and more frugal spending to bond other building projects over the next 20 years without a tax hike.

FACILITIES OVERRIDE FAILS

November 4, 2014

Walpole voters today rejected a $21 million Proposition 2.5 tax override by a decisive margin, delivering a big blow to a Town Hall that had overwhelmingly supported the plan and put the full brunt of their political will behind attempting to sell the plan to voters.

The override lost by a 55 to 45 percent margin, 1043 votes, town-wide.

It lost in all precincts except Precinct 4, home to the South Street Superfund site where the police station and senior center were proposed.

Turnout town-wide was 64 percent.

Selectmen chairman Mark Gallivan told The Walpole Times this evening that Selectmen would re-assess the building situation and would likely put another plan forward before voters in the town election in June.

Incumbent Rep. John Rogers beat challenger Tim Hempton in Walpole by 66 votes. Rep. Rogers also won Norwood. The Walpole Times has coverage of the State Rep. race here.

FULL RESULTS HERE.

Override Results:

Precinct 1…
Yes: 514
No: 657

Precinct 2…
Yes: 636
No: 783

Precinct 3…
Yes: 615
No: 709

Precinct 4…
Yes: 683
No: 570

Precinct 5…
Yes: 522
No: 629

Precinct 6…
Yes: 553
No: 870

Precinct 7…
Yes: 590
No: 742

Precinct 8…
Yes: 594
No: 790

Election 2014 results here

November 3, 2014

The results for Walpole’s Question #5, the facilities override, will be posted here, and on the Sam Obar 180 Twitter beginning when polls close at 8 p.m. Tuesday, November 4. You can also check the separate Sam Obar Twitter throughout the day for occasional updates.

In addition, 180 will post town results for the statewide races. Charlie Baker is expected to do well in Walpole in his race for governor, but political observers are waiting to see if he will top Scott Brown’s 9,002 votes (64 percent) in Walpole from 2012 – a record high for a Republican statewide candidate in Walpole. In his 2010 race, Mr. Baker scored 6,039 votes in Walpole in an election with lower turnout than in 2012. In all likelihood, he will win somewhere between 7,000 and 8,500 votes in Walpole this year.

In the state rep. race that covers half of Walpole (Precincts 1, 2, 6, and 7) and all of Norwood, Republican Tim Hempton will need to roll up big margins in Walpole in order to overcome incumbent Democratic Rep. John Rogers’ base in Norwood.

Mr. Hempton needs to top the numbers that Jim Stanton received in his own unsuccessful races against Rep. Rogers in 2010 and 2012. That means Mr. Hempton likely needs at least 4,000 votes in Walpole. Mr. Stanton received 3,466 votes in Walpole in the 2012 election, and about 3,029 votes in 2010. In both races, Mr. Stanton won Walpole but not by a big enough margin to avoid being swamped in Norwood.

All indications are that Rep. Rogers has the upper hand in his race for re-election, but he has been worn down after three consecutive competitive election campaigns. Mr. Hempton has made inroads in Norwood and has benefited from the base developed by Mr. Stanton. Republicans and conservative independent voters are more enthusiastic about voting this year than in the past two elections. Mr. Baker is expected to win in the district, so Mr. Hempton only stands to benefit from his coattails. Democrats do not have an inspiring gubernatorial nominee on the ballot this year to boost party turnout like they did in 2010.

Ultimately, it is hard to beat a long-time, well known incumbent with institutional support like Rep. Rogers. If Mr. Hempton prevails against the odds, it will be nothing short of an upset, but it is a very doable upset. The election will be close, no matter how it turns out.

The override vote is expected to be close. Shortly before the 2012 town election, with a school-oriented override on the ballot, most political observers had a pretty good read on the ground that the override supporters had momentum going into the vote. In this case, with an organized ground game working hard on both sides of Question #5, it is hard to gauge how the override will fare. The final results will likely come down to which side had a better message and which side was able to distribute this message to a wider audience. The override is favored to win in three of eight precincts, expected to lose in at least two precincts, with a few other precincts likely being the deciding factor.

No matter how you plan to vote, or who you plan to vote for, the most important thing is to remember to VOTE.

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.

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