Another Annual Belmont Town Meeting is retired. (May 29). It was done early enough for a few cold ones with some fellow TM friends at Conley's. The turnout was skimpy, with only 194 (out of 288 TM members) voting in the standing vote around 8:50; that was horribly disappointing.
Town Clerk Salary
As most expected, the longest discussion was another sequel to the Town Clerk's salary saga. The second sequel to Men In Black was a bit better than this one, though the young Agent J was far more compelling than any arguments Tuesday night.
I voted "no" on Bob McLaughlin's amendment to set the salary at about $66k. I found myself agreeing with aspects of various arguments, both during the meeting and in many conversations the previous month. The Clerk knew the salary before the election, so live with that. A 25% raise? Yow. But then that position got a 26% cut in 2010. Belmont's Clerk makes less than the other department heads, and I know the salaried staff in that office work many more hours than regular Town Hall business hours of 8-4. (Go by Town Hall after most staff have left for home.) I think the Clerk and her staff has done much to drag Belmont out of 1859 and into the 21st century. The individual salaries of other dept heads are buried in larger line items of the budget; debating all those would provide great entertainment, but all inappropriate for Town Meeting discussion. Overall, I detected less rancor than in previous discussions on this topic, which is a good sign for TM.
Kathy Baskin used the word "micromanaged" when describing how the WC and BOS have handled this issue. Of course those two boards tend to do that in many areas. A phrase a former boss used for this kind of thing seems appropriate here: they are "lost in the weeds". A strong and clear position from the BOS would have probably tightened up discussion, but, from what I gather second hand from the BOS meeting last week (which I did not attend), they were too wishy-washy, deferring to the WC. The Selectmen should drive Town policy in this area.
With the standing vote (97-94), I found the mix of yes vs no voters quite interesting in that I saw no pattern. On both sides were townies and newcomers, young and old, liberals and conservatives, new to TM and long-serving - both positions were well represented by everyone. I love it when that happens.
If the amendment was to set the salary at anywhere within Grade 18 on the pay scale (where most people seemed to think this position falls) rather than 6% below it, I probably would have voted yes.
We pay elected reps to various state and national office the same whether they're in their 1st year or 20th. Why are we in Belmont going so obsessed over controlling such small amounts of money? How about just setting the salary of those elected officials (Clerk and Treasurer) to the midpoint of the appropriate pay grade and stop thinking about it?
Speaking of micromanaging - the Board of Assessors gets different amounts based on their credentials. (in the $2400 range) My first question is why do they get anything at all, where the School Committee gets zero? I've asked about this a few years ago, and the lame answer I got was "tradition". Thanks, Tevye.
The discussion of the initial steps of the rehab of our incinerator site had some people asking (or at least thinking about) bigger picture questions, like what do we want to do with that site. Moderator Widmer kept things focused, but future use of this site deserves some dedicated discussion, though I'm not sure in what forum. My neighbor (who is in TM now) did not even know where it is. For this article, Director of Community Development Glen Clancy could have headed off some confusion by stating at the start that we have a fund of $4M+, where that money came from, and that this article was simply for permission to spend some of that money for a specific purpose. The doubts about the ownership are hopefully not a problem waiting to bite us.
Do the Minuteman people just not get it? Expressing his frustration, Jack Weis (Belmont's rep to their School Committee) summarized the administration and Minuteman School Committee drive to move forward with a feasibility study despite disagreement and concerns from member towns about scope, enrollment, funding models. Today's (May 31) Globe has a decent piece on the whole issue, Minuteman waiting for state vote on study. Over the past year or two, it seemed Minuteman had been making progress toward more reasonable costs, transparency, and cooperation. Poof, gone. It'll come back to bite them. Smithers, release the hounds.