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Year in Review 2010 – Part 1

January 1, 2011

Sam Obar 180 turned two years old on December 31. This has been a great two years, and this blog has become well-known throughout town. As always, thank you all for your readership.

It has been an interesting year. Here is the Walpole year in review, 180-style.

Part I (Part II coming this week):

New business opens
A husband and wife duo opened Dick and Jane’s Candy Store in Walpole Center, joining Saltwater Paradise, a tropical fish store which had also opened in downtown just a month earlier. Both Dick and Jane’s and Saltwater Paradise closed within a year.

Robbins Road residents speak to Selectmen
In the first of many discussions during the next six months about the proposed Robbins Road police station, Selectmen held a meeting at Johnson Middle School. Area residents were invited to attend, and many shared concerns and asked questions with selectmen. A large group of Robbins Road residents later formed a political group, Walpole 2020 to defeat the Proposition 2.5 override to fund the new station in the June election.

Candidates for Governor
The two major-party candidates for governor, Charlie Baker and Deval Patrick, made stops in Walpole during one week. Patrick attended a private, invitation-only fundraiser in East Walpole, while Baker actually got his hands dirty by meeting with residents and taking a walking tour of downtown. Patrick’s visit was the first in his entire four-year term. Baker gave a speech in the parking lot of Westbury Farm Restaurant and told residents he would not only cut waste, but would also restore the local and prison mitigation money Governor Patrick had cut from the budget.

Candidates for Principal
The two finalists for the principal’s position at Walpole High School attended a meet-and-greet with the Student Council, parents, and teachers. Scott Holcomb, an assistant principal in Seekonk, and Stephen Imbusch, an assistant principal in Walpole, both presented themselves as ambitious leaders who would seek to maintain Walpole High’s strong commitment to academics (and athletics.)

Regionalization talks begin
Town Administrator Michael Boynton became a trailblazer in the movement to regionalize municipal services in the face of drastic local aid cuts statewide. Boynton sent emails to dozens of area town managers about regionalizing some town programs, and reported that many had been open to the proposal. “I think we owe it to the taxpayers to look into this,” Chris Timson, chairman of the Board of Selectmen said. Among the town departments Boynton suggested regionalizing were Veterans services, health and library services, Animal Control, dispatching and engineering. Boynton told 180 that virtually any town department could theoretically be regionalized. To this day, however, no town departments have been successfully regionalized, although attempts were made to combine Animal Control and Veterans Services with other towns.

Allied Recycling gets first major rejection
With lawsuits raging or about to be raging from the Attorney General’s office and from an independent group called Clean Water Action, Allied Recycling was unable to get permission from Selectmen to install two fuel tanks at their Route 1A facility. Allied was being sued by Clean Water Action over stormwater regulations, and there were reports that the Attorney General’s office, too, would be suing Allied. Selectmen Chris Timson and Al Denapoli voted to give Allied more time to work out its problems.

High School principal chosen
After an extensive search and review process, School Superintendent Lincoln Lynch announced that Stephen Imbusch, Assistant Principal at Walpole High School, would be elevated to the role of principal at the school. “Throughout the exhaustive four month selection process, Mr. Imbusch exhibited an authentic desire to advocate for the success of every student,” Lynch wrote in a statement announcing the choice. Soon after, Superintendent Lynch told a journalist in an exclusive interview that former principal Alan Bernstein had not been an effective school leader.

WTA makes historic concessions
The Walpole Teachers Association, the collective bargaining unit representing all Walpole school teachers, voted 78% to 22% to accept cuts to their wages and health care benefits. The concessions reduced the school department’s budget deficit from $2.1 million to $1.4 million, a savings of nearly $700,000. The concessions included a decrease in teachers’ cost of living adjustments, reductions in tuition reimbursements, and higher health insurance co-pays. “Today is a proud day for the Walpole Public School community,” School Superintendent Lincoln Lynch wrote in an email to reporters on March 19, the day of the vote.

A battle raged throughout town, although mostly centered in East Walpole, over whether or not Siemens, Walpole’s largest taxpayer, should be allowed to upgrade to Biosafety Level 3, which would allow the company to handle risky viruses. Town officials were accused of trying to ram through Town Meeting articles that would allow Siemens to go through with the upgrade. Town Hall tried to ignore the residents, holding meetings with Siemens officials without notifying residents directly, and attempting to push the initiative through to the Town Meeting floor with as little input from citizens as possible.

After being questioned by a journalist, Town Administrator Michael Boynton wholeheartedly rejected the notion that the town was trying to ram through the biotech initiative.

Trash Limit Reversal
In an unprecedented decision, the Board of Selectmen rescinded a previous vote to forbid Walpole homeowners from throwing away more than two 30-gallon trash bags per week. The Board had received a lot of criticism from residents, and did not have the spine to withstand the criticism. Selectman Chris Timson was the only member of the Board who had the courage to stick to his original vote, while Selectwoman Nancy Mackenzie and Selectman David Sullivan gave in to the pressure and changed their votes.

Walpole Day
On the third annual Walpole Day, Walpole was host to dozens of politicians and political candidates. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick came to town to campaign, for only the second time in his entire term (the first time having been in February), along with his Republican gubernatorial opponent, Charlie Baker, and many other political candidates.

Town Meeting
(Photo generously contributed by Mike Demarais)
Town Meeting was unusually long and tense, as RTMs roundly rejected the construction of a police station on Robbins Road. Town Meeting could have been more controversial, however, had biotech been brought up. But the biotech articles were taken off the warrant just before Town Meeting began, after they went up in smoke after concerns arose over the how the town’s aquifer played into Siemens’ plans. Town Meeting also approved a plan to raise hundreds of thousands in additional revenue by adding an extra tax to restaurant patrons throughout town to support the school system.

Rebel Flag
A local resident who put up a Confederate flag on his property next to Turco Field caused a controversy when The Boston Globe featured a story about the flag on the front page. Multiple other news agencies quickly followed suit, and The Walpole Times published its own story about the controversy soon after. The School Committee put up a sign in front of the flag, disclaiming any connection to the flag, but the sign was vandalized soon after in what is believed to be a vandalism incident unrelated to the mascot itself.

Town Election
After an interesting election season, during which biotech and a new police station became major campaign issues, Eric Kraus and Mike Berry emerged victorious in the town election. Berry won on a platform of enhancing Board communication with residents, while Kraus made bold promises to improve the town’s economic development strategies. Incumbent David Sullivan was soundly voted out of office, and Patrick Shield, who also ran in 2009, came in third place for the second year in a row. On the same ballot, the police station was overwhelmingly rejected, with 80% of Walpole voters voting against the station.

Poll results shine negatively on Walpole
In a poll published on 180, 68% of survey respondents said they felt Walpole did not live up to its nickname of “The Friendly Town,” and 41% said they thought their property taxes were too high. 80% said they were not happy with the direction the town was going in, and a whopping 77% said they thought the performance of the Board of Selectmen, before the June election, was poor. Town Administrator Michael Boynton, on the other hand, got slightly better marks, as only 31% rated his performance as poor, while 25% said he was either “Good” or “Great” (the remainder said he was “Okay”.)

Elm Street School attends Invention Convention
The Elm Street School was the only elementary school to participate at the Invention Convention held at Bridgewater State College. They placed third out of twenty five total entrants, meaning that 22 groups of older students LOST to a group of Walpole fifth graders. Elm Street students created the “convertibrella,” which is a bike with an umbrella.

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