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Notice 7/13/16

Sam Obar 180 has ceased active publication. Thank you for reading for 7 years.

Mackenzie, Stanton win Selectmen race

June 4, 2016

Nancy Mackenzie won a victory Saturday in the hotly contested Walpole Selectmen race, defeating Sewer and Water Commissioner Tom Brown in six of eight precincts, with a margin of more than 200 votes between them according to unofficial results, to gain back a third term on the town’s highest board. Voters also re-elected Selectman Jim Stanton, who was the highest vote-getter.

Voters re-elected Sewer and Water Commissioner John Spillane, in a field of three candidates. Precinct 8 RTM Joseph Moraski, and business owner Marc Romeo each won seats on the Planning Board uncontested. They fill the open seats left by departing members Richard Mazzocca and Richard Nottebart.

Full Results

Election results will be posted on 180

June 3, 2016

As in the past, and now for the last year, 180 will provide town election results after the polls close at 8 p.m. tomorrow night, both here and on Twitter.

Tom Brown and Jim Stanton are still the slight favorites in the Selectmen race, while John Spillane is the favorite among three candidates vying for a Sewer and Water Commission seat. Marc Romeo and Joseph Moraski are running unopposed for two Planning Board seats. A number of Town Meeting Representatives are running unopposed in six of eight precincts. The only precinct with contested RTM races are Precinct 1 and Precinct 7.

You can see a sample ballot for all eight precincts here.

See you at the polls.

 

For Selectman, 180 endorses Brown

May 31, 2016

Anyone who has followed Walpole town politics over the last year has witnessed the staggering disrespect that the Town Hall Establishment regularly shows toward Selectman David Salvatore. While Salvatore is fighting for taxpayers, advocating for more transparency, and pushing back against unsustainable spending, town staff, enabled by his own fellow Selectmen, have put up roadblocks every step of the way.

The amazing reality is that none of the things Salvatore is advocating for should be cause for disrespect in any way. There are small items and big items. Salvatore exposed Open Meeting Law violations. He opposed giving unsustainable pay raises to town employees. He opposed hiring a police chief, an important position, until it was properly put on a Selectmen agenda. He has opposed having dog-and-pony shows for the interviews and hirings of new police officers and firefighters. He identified serious flaws with proposed new bylaws for Walpole Media Corporation that no one else took the time to see. He took a courageous position against giving a tax break to a large corporation, because he knew it was robbing our taxpayers and future generations.

Salvatore is doing it while facing the most obstinate, out-of-touch Board of Selectmen majority our town has ever seen. He is getting no cooperation from his fellow Selectmen, and is routinely sneered at, yelled at, and told to sit down and shut up during meetings.

The reason that Salvatore is facing so much difficulty getting his reforms implemented is because the Town Hall Establishment that held power in town during the override-heavy 2000s knows it is on the verge of extinction, and the only way to fight back is to embarrass him. After a string of crippling election losses in 2014 and 2015, starting with the landslide defeat by the voters of the largest tax hike in Walpole history and capped off by Salvatore’s ascension to the Board last year, the pro-override faction is badly wounded. Those of us in Walpole’s great silent majority can seal their fate once and for all, and give power back to the people again, by giving Sewer and Water Commissioner Tom Brown a well-deserved promotion to the Board of Selectmen.

A vote to elect Brown to the Board of Selectmen means Walpole can more effectively move away from the tired manage-by-override mentality at Town Hall. Enough is enough. Let’s keep up the momentum and finish the job we began last year with Salvatore’s election.

180 enthusiastically endorses Tom Brown for Walpole Selectman on Saturday, June 4.

As salaries went up, total payroll remained steady

May 9, 2016

Even as town employee salaries went up last year, and the number of employees earning more than $75,000 continued to rise, the total payroll stayed almost level last year from the year before, according to recently-released town payroll records.

The total 2015 town payroll was $53,172,522.37, up only slightly from 2014, when the town paid out $53,128,412.35.

School Superintendent Lincoln Lynch was the highest-paid employee in the town of Walpole last year, bringing in about $194,248. That compensation included a base salary of about $182,000 and stipends totaling $11,000. Lynch earned a total of about $183,000 in the year prior.

Town Administrator Jim Johnson earned $162,720 last year. Lynch and Johnson were just two of the 77 town employees who were in the $100k club last year. Dozens of police officers and firefighters, along with a multitude of municipal department heads and school teachers and employees also received more than $100,000.

The trend of Lynch’s salary over the past few years suggests that he, and at least several police officers, are likely to be the first employees in town history to break the $200,000 mark when 2016 payroll records become available.

Total overtime costs in 2015 were $1,720,055, up from $1,609,307.98 in 2014. Total stipends went from $2,958,147.52 in 2014, to $3,070,486 in 2015.

The total number of employees earning more than $100,000 in 2014 was 68. For comparison purposes, this number was just 30 in 2009.

In 2015, there were a total of 314 town employees who earned more than $75,000. Out of the 637 employees who earned more than $30,000, indicating a full-time position, that figure represents almost half. That is an indication of an unsustainable top-heavy payroll, further reinforced by statistics from the Mass. Department of Revenue that have long shown that Walpole’s payroll is substantially larger than other towns with a similar number of employees.

In 2014, the town had 650 employees who earned more than $30,000. As individual salaries have gone up, there has been less money to go around, resulting in a reduction of 13 employees earning more than $30,000 this year. The ever-rising individual salaries means there will be less money to hire teachers and police officers going forward, as town funds increasingly go to those at the top of the unsustainable payroll.

The salary data is exclusively available on 180.

In a departure from past Town Reports, the 2015 Annual Town Report only reports gross pay for each town employee, omitting base pay, stipends, and overtime. Town Administrator Jim Johnson told Town Meeting Representatives last week that the town decided to only report gross pay because it would be “less confusing.” But RTMs John Hasenjaeger and Ann Ragosta criticized Johnson, arguing the decision to omit the information about stipends and overtime was a reduction in transparency, and would only cause more confusion about the composition of town employee salaries.

Schools to pursue ambitious building plans

March 28, 2016

The Walpole School Committee is laying the groundwork for another override, but expects it will take at least a few years before voters will get their say.

The School Committee voted Thursday to submit “Statements of Interest” to the Mass. School Building Authority as the first step of what is expected to be a multi-year process to plan for and eventually combine the town’s two middle schools and construct a new high school. Selectmen will be asked to vote on the SOIs at their meeting Tuesday.

School Superintendent Lincoln Lynch said the town’s two middle schools, Johnson Middle School on Robbins Road and Bird Middle School on Washington Street, were identified by the Maguire Group in 2013, and by building and school officials, as high building priorities because they are over-crowded and out-dated.

Bird was constructed in 1961, while Johnson opened in 1967. Neither building has been renovated since their construction. During the School Committee’s March 10 meeting, Lynch said that they were both “outliving their useful life … and are no longer adequate for 21st century educational program for our students.”

The SOIs list a litany of concerns at both middle schools, including an “insufficient” number of parking spaces at Johnson, a computer lab that is “rarely used” because it does not have enough computers for larger classes, and science classrooms that are smaller than state standards require.

The School Committee said the high school, last renovated and expanded in the early 2000s, is too small for a student population of about 1,200, because of insufficient parking, narrow hallways, and small classrooms. The School Committee wrote in their SOIs that even with the 2001 renovation, education needs have changed in the 15 years since, which means the district needs more space for engineering and robotics classes. One area of concern is the media center, which was expanded and modernized as part of the 2001 renovation, but is now apparently too small and does not allow for “collaborative learning.”

The School Committee is hoping to construct a new high school at the site of the existing Bird Middle School, and to convert the high school on Common Street to a combined middle school. It is not clear at this time what Johnson Middle School would become, but the SOIs suggest that it would be “repurposed to meet the growing space needs of the Town of Walpole.” If the building can be repurposed for town needs, it is not clear why it is no longer suitable as a middle school.

The SOIs do not indicate whether the district would seek to relocate the existing high school fields, including Turco Field, to the new high school site, and what would happen to the existing fields at the Bird Middle School site.

The district’s enrollment projections suggest that middle school enrollment is on a decline, which the School Committee believes will boost the case for creating efficiencies by combining schools. Although common sense would suggest that declining enrollment and the resulting efficiencies of combining buildings would also correspond to a need for fewer teachers and lower school spending, that side of the issue hasn’t been discussed by the School Committee.

The SOIs by themselves do not cost the town any money, or create any commitment on the part of the town. But according to Lynch, about 200 SOIs are submitted to the MSBA every year, of which only about 15 will end up being approved each year. Lynch said he anticipates Walpole’s SOIs will not receive approval until at least 3 – 5 years from now. The MSBA requires all SOIs this year to be submitted by April 8. Although the School Committee had initially believed they might submit SOIs next year, they decided to move faster in an attempt to get into the MSBA’s queue sooner.

Lynch said the MSBA is funded from a portion of the state sales tax, which Walpole residents pay into, but should be looking to get money out of. The MSBA would potentially provide grant funding to pay for any school renovations or construction, but he said a local debt exclusion override will ultimately be needed.

The SOIs indicate that the School Committee is planning to conduct a study to examine the district’s space needs that “will create a master plan for improvements based on relative needs and cost effectiveness.”

Lynch said the SOIs will request the MSBA to “partner with us to study our current facilities, and synthesize our elementary projections, our educational vision for these buildings, as well as the physical plant, and the costs associated with that physical plant to determine the best course of action.” Lynch suggested that the only course of action the School Committee would seriously consider is to combine middle schools. Simply doing nothing is an option he wouldn’t recommend, he said.

Selectman David Salvatore became the first member of his board to publicly come out against the plan, objecting to putting all middle school students into one building. “Imagine your 6th grader being thrown into a school twice the size of the current middle school,” Salvatore said on his Facebook page, pointing out that middle school is a time in a student’s education when they are making the difficult transition from adolescence into their teenage years, and shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle of a large school.

Salvatore said the decision to combine middle schools is a question of educational philosophy, not an issue that should be decided by building consultants. “We paid engineers to make school policy,” Salvatore said.

“Both middle school buildings have a lot of life left,” Salvatore said. “As to the high school, clearly it does not need replacing as the plan is to move the middle school students there,” he said.

“Making the change to the middle schools is all about justifying a new high school – it is about creating a showplace. Excessively spending on replacing buildings that have a lot of life left will create budgetary pressures that will make it hard to recruit and retain great teachers. I will take an old building with great teachers any time,” Salvatore said.

Selectmen Chairman Cliff Snuffer, entering the final weeks of his term in office, has previously expressed opposition to the school department’s building plans, but has not offered public comment on how he will vote Tuesday on the SOIs. A majority of the Board will likely end up supporting the plan.

A few comments about 180

March 14, 2016

Recently, my life took a new direction, when I relocated from my childhood home in Precinct 4 where I launched my first RTM campaign, to Precinct 3. Under the terms of the Town Charter, I am permitted to continue to represent Precinct 4 as an RTM until the next regularly scheduled town election, which is when my three-year term in office is slated to expire anyway, but I would have to run for a new term from my new precinct in order to stay in Town Meeting.

Today I am announcing that I will not be a candidate for another term in Town Meeting this year.

I also anticipate discontinuing this blog, 180, this year, but have not decided a specific timeline. The responsibilities of my work in commercial real estate, which I love, do not leave me with as much time to devote to this blog as I would like. Blogs are only successful if they are regularly maintained. If my time commitments become more flexible going forward, I may choose to continue 180, but this remains to be seen.

I intend to continue to serve in the other civic capacities that I am involved in, such as Capital Budget Committee, Historical Society, and Historical Commission. These committees have given me the opportunity to channel my passions toward specific causes that I care about – on the Capital Budget Committee, directly having an impact on reforming town spending; and focusing on historical preservation as a Commissioner and Historical Society Director. I may also return to Town Meeting one day in the future, if the time is right, and if the chance to make a difference is available.

I came to the decision not to run again last summer, and spent the months since then wrestling with whether I had made the right choice. Over this time, I have concluded that I made the right decision.

First, I have become exhausted and tired of the pressures of Walpole town politics. The longer I have been involved in town politics, the more I have come to despise the backstabbing, grudge matches, vendettas, special interests, political games, and police intimidation. I want nothing to do with it anymore.

For more than five years, I have had a target on my back. I now want to step away from the limelight, stop making enemies, and work in a more behind-the-scenes role to advance the issues I care about. I will still be around, and active, but I’m not going to be on the front-lines.

I have also come to realize that while I love politics in general, I personally am not a natural politician. Politics is very much a bloodsport, and I know this first-hand. After many years of relentless campaigns, I have discovered that I actually don’t particularly enjoy asking people for their vote, or talking about myself to win political support. Instead, I thrive when I’m in the background, supporting others who are willing to make the sacrifices to run for office.

Not everything about Walpole politics is bad, of course. This is a wonderful town, and it has been good to me. There are many great people who have chosen to get involved for all the right reasons, which is why our town is going in a new, more positive direction now. I am proud to consider some of these individuals my closest friends, mentors, and confidantes. I wish them all the best in their continued fight for good government that is accountable and responsive to the people. I am not abandoning the cause, so much as I fully intend to work with them in a different capacity. The fight is worth fighting.

Walking away from this successful blog, too, is hard. I hope 180 readers will find alternate sources of information, and will continue to stay involved and informed. Only by continually asking tough questions, and holding decision-makers accountable, can you bring about reforms in your government. Don’t ever forget that government belongs to YOU, the citizen and taxpayer, and NOT the politicians.

I will do my very best to keep the people informed about their government as long as I live in Walpole.

I will sum up by quoting Teddy Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Thank you for everything!

— Sam

Moraski to run for Planning Board, Southwood for S & W

March 11, 2016

Longtime Walpole Precinct 8 Town Meeting Representative Joseph Moraski will make his first foray into town-wide elected politics, with a run for Planning Board in the June town election.

Moraski confirmed that he took out nomination papers yesterday.

Moraski, a resident of Buckboard Drive, is a leader in an effort in his neighborhood to reduce the impact of a proposed subdivision at the former Sunnyrock Farm on North Street. He was the author of a citizen petition at the Fall 2015 Town Meeting to impose a temporary moratorium on Open Space Residential Development, a measure that passed unanimously.

Moraski, who has bipartisan respect in Town Meeting even though he is a staunch fiscal conservative, enters the race as a clear front-runner for one of the two available seats, as incumbent Richard Nottebart has announced he will not run again, and incumbent Richard Mazzocca appears to be stepping down as well.

Moraski has been a member of Town Meeting off and on for several decades, and has also served on the Finance Committee and a number of other town boards. He is a current member of the Personnel Board.

Ken Southwood, a Precinct 5 Town Meeting Representative, took out nomination papers for Planning Board and Sewer and Water Commission. Southwood announced on Facebook that he intends to run for Sewer and Water Commission. Precinct 6 RTM James Paul Taylor and incumbent John Spillane also took out nomination papers for the one seat available on Sewer and Water Commission.

In other election news, Town Moderator Thomas F. Brady appears to be headed toward re-election without opposition.

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