Glenn Kessler

Swampscott set to strut its stuff

ITEM PHOTO BY SPENSER HASAK
Glenn Kessler, organizer for Swampscott’s Got Talent, practices the song “Cinnamon Girl” by Neil Young and Crazy Horse.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Swampscott will be showing off its talent next month.

The fifth annual “Swampscott’s Got Talent” show will be Sunday, May 7 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Swampscott High School. Tickets are $7 at the door. The show is open to all ages, and expands beyond Swampscott residents to include those who work in or for the town, but who might live elsewhere.  

Tryouts are May 1 and 2 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the high school. A dress rehearsal will be Friday, May 5 at 6:30 p.m.

“I think it’s a great community event,” said Swampscott resident Glenn Kessler, who organizes the talent show. “There’s a lot of emphasis in town on sports and that’s understandable. But I think there’s a lot of talent that we have here that people don’t know about.”

Some of the proceeds from the show, including ticket and food sales, and donations from local businesses, will be benefit the Class of 2018, and Media Arts and Media Literacy.

Kessler, who has been organizing the show by himself for the past two years, said half of the proceeds will go toward the Gary Sinise Foundation, a nonprofit which benefits veterans, first responders, their families and those in need. Sinise is an actor who played Lt. Dan Taylor in Forrest Gump, among other movie and television roles.

“We’re fortunate enough to live in a beautiful town like this,” said Kessler, 64. “But most of us haven’t had to deal with having to go to war or having to put their lives on the line as first responders … By giving back to an organization like this that helps people that have protected us and defend us, I think that’s something that the town and the kids in the class can all be very proud of.”

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Kessler, who also performs in the show with his band, Gerry and the Atrics, said the event usually raises $2,000 to $2,500. He’s hoping that with the addition of the Gary Sinise Foundation as a beneficiary, more organizations will want to donate more.

Kessler said the show started as an idea from the Recreation Commission, when he was a member. The event was run by the commission for two years, and was continued by Kessler and David Van Dam, a selectman at the time, before Van Dam dropped out.

Kessler’s daughter, 16-year-old Mallory Kessler, a junior at the high school, co-produces the show and also serves as stage manager.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Mallory Kessler said. “It actually raises a lot of money for charity and for our class.”

There are usually 20 to 22 acts in the show, which are mostly dancers, singers and musicians. In the past, acts have ranged from a young girl who sang a song from the Disney movie, Frozen, to senior citizens line dancing, Kessler said. He said the goal is for people’s faces to hurt from smiling so much.

“We do live in a small town and there’s just a lot of hidden talent out there, and you never know,” Kessler said. “From year to year, it’s always different.”


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Moving and shaking in Swampscott

There isn’t much waterfront activity in Swampscott during the winter but the Harbor and Waterfront Advisory Committee is starting 2017 as a very active governmental body.

Its benign-sounding name is a contrast to the controversy swirling around the committee, beginning with the Board of Selectmen’s decision to not reappoint Mary Ellen Fletcher to the committee.

The five selectmen split over a proposal to expand the committee by adding new members without reappointing Fletcher. Board members cited a potential conflict of interest between Fletcher’s town Finance Committee service and Harbor and Waterfront Advisory Committee membership.

Fletcher took the decision to yank her off the waterfront committee with measured distaste, labeling the move “politics.” Her veiled accusation probably, on closer analysis, holds as much water as the conflict of interest accusation directed at her by the board.

The same can be said of comments made by Fletcher’s fellow committee member, Glenn Kessler, who used words like “retribution” and “political payback” to describe Fletcher’s removal from the committee.

Accusing the selectmen of “payback” assumes the elected officials had revenge in mind when they did not reappoint Fletcher.

‘Political payback’ in Swampscott?

She joined Kessler last fall in questioning town spending related to proposed harbor dredging and breakwater projects. To be clear, no charges of financial mismanagement were leveled and the dredging and breakwater work never got done.

But raising concerns about potential conflicts of interest doesn’t hold much water, as Selectman Patrick Jones pointed out, unless Fletcher demonstrated a history of conflict.

It is interesting to note Jones and Donald Hause, the board’s freshmen, split on the vote to take Fletcher off the committee. Before the board voted unanimously to expand the committee from seven to nine members, Hause voted to not reappoint Fletcher and Jones voted to retain her.

The board added irony to disenchantment when it voted, in a separate measure, to reappoint Harbormaster Lawrence Bithell with the title of “ex-officio.” The move is apparently a formality to provide the town with a harbormaster in name only while officials conduct a search for an interim harbormaster to replace Bithell who is on paid administrative leave and facing criminal charges for using an expired license plate.

Fletcher and Kessler warned the decision to not reappoint her might deter other civic-minded citizens from volunteering to serve on town committees. The selectmen all but debunked that claim with their decision to expand the harbor and waterfront committee by drawing on a pool of volunteers willing and able to serve on the committee.

Who knows how the charge-countercharge episode will shape town politics in the year ahead. But if a debate over committee membership can ignite accusations, just imagine what other storms are brewing on the town’s political horizon.

‘Political payback’ in Swampscott?

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Mary Ellen Fletcher was the only sitting member not reappointed to the Harbor and Waterfront Advisory Committee by the Board of Selectmen recently. The board said it was nothing personal, but she claims it is backlash from her questioning how town funds were spent for two waterfront projects.

“I saw it coming the day after the editorial in the Lynn Item came out,” Fletcher said, referring to an October editorial after she and two other harbor and waterfront advisory committee members brought up the waterfront projects’ spending. “I knew that this was going to happen. I didn’t know it for a fact. It was my gut feeling. The rumor out there was that it made the selectmen look bad.”

Fletcher, along with two other harbor and waterfront advisory committee members, Milton Fistel and Glenn Kessler, appeared before the selectmen last October to present two instances of how the town overspent on waterfront projects, harbor dredging and a proposed breakwater that haven’t moved past the study stage.

“I can’t help but think there was retribution,” said Kessler. “I just got the feeling this was political payback.”

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Kessler spoke in favor of Fletcher at last week’s board meeting, asking the selectmen to reconsider their decision not to reappoint her, calling her a conscientious person, hard worker and a real asset. Fletcher said she received a phone call about the decision from Naomi Dreeben, board chairwoman, the night before the meeting.

At last week’s board meeting, Peter Spellios, a selectman, proposed two courses of action related to the harbor and waterfront advisory committee. He suggested increasing membership from seven to nine members, which was approved unanimously.

Spellios also proposed reappointing six of the incumbents, not reappointing Fletcher and adding three new members. That recommendation was also approved, but split the board 3 to 2, with Laura Spathanas, vice-chair, and Patrick Jones voting against it.

Dreeben, Spellios and Donald Hause voted in favor, citing a potential conflict of interest as Fletcher started serving on the finance committee last spring. They said there could be a potential conflict if financial matters relating to the harbor and waterfront advisory committee came before the finance committee.

“I would support not reappointing her,” said Hause. “I want to stress that’s not personal or an indictment on her capabilities whatsoever.”

The three new members are Mark Wolinsky, Ulf Westhoven and Ryan Patz. The members reappointed were Jackson Schultz, Mounzer Aylouche, Fistel, Kessler, Jacqueline Kinney and Neil Rossman.

Harbormaster Lawrence Bithell, who is on paid administrative leave and is facing criminal charges for use of of an expired license plate, was also reappointed as ex-officio. Interim Town Administrator Gino Cresta and the selectmen are actively looking for an interim harbormaster to replace Bithell.

Spathanas and Jones argued that Fletcher could recuse herself from any finance committee vote pertaining to financial matters with the harbor advisory committee. Jones said he might be more convinced if there was a history of the conflict happening.

“I’m not convinced there yet with this particular person because of the due diligence they do provide,” Jones said. “It’s someone who does put in a lot of time with things.”

Spathanas questioned why the selectmen would take away something Fletcher is passionate about, by taking her off the advisory committee. Despite those arguments, Dreeben said she was still concerned about a conflict of interest, but recognizes Fletcher’s value as a volunteer. The decision had nothing to do with the substance of the person, Spellios added.

“Mary Ellen Fletcher is knowledgeable and well-informed on issues,” Dreeben said when asked if the lack of reappointment was a political move related to the town spending questions. “We greatly value her work on the finance committee.”

Fletcher said the conflict argument didn’t make sense to her. She said if there was a finance committee vote pertaining the harbor advisory committee, it would be a no-brainer that she would recuse herself. The harbor committee also has no fiduciary responsibility, and simply acts as an advisory to the board of selectmen, she added.

“This is just politics,” Fletcher said. “This is not life or death or that serious. It’s just disappointing, that’s all. I have every intention of continuing to be a good volunteer in my community … I don’t think their judgment was in the best interest of the community. It’s just so crazy. If they thought there was any issue of conflict, why did it take them seven months to bring it up?”

Fletcher and Kessler said the incident may deter others from volunteering.

“To reappoint six of us and to not reappoint her, I thought that was both rude and disrespectful,” said Kessler. “You’re really doing a disservice not only to Ms. Fletcher but to the town … I have to say that just leaves a sour taste in my mouth.”


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Town spending facing scrutiny in Swampscott

Swampscott Town Hall (Item file photo)

By Gayla Cawley

SWAMPSCOTT — Members of the Harbor and Waterfront Advisory Committee are questioning how town funds were spent for two waterfront projects.

In 2011, Town Meeting members approved $95,000 for a harbor dredging project, but the project halted after a study identified eelgrass in the harbor and estimated a $3 million to $4 million price tag to remove the vegetation.

“In order to dredge the harbor, the eelgrass would have had to be removed,” town resident Mary Ellen Fletcher said.

A member of the Harbor and Waterfront Advisory Committee and Finance Committee, Fletcher outlined for the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday the dredging project’s financial history. With the goal of allowing boats to be moored without getting caught in the sand, former Town Administrator Andrew Maylor requested money from the Seaport Council for the project early in 2011 and was granted $475,000.

The state money was to account for 75 percent of the project, with Swampscott responsible for the other 25 percent. But the project never moved past the study stage with the total cost whittled down to $94,180,

Fletcher and Harbor and Waterfront Advisory Committee members Glenn Kessler and Milton Fistel showed the selectmen invoices Wednesday to buttress their argument that the town should have only been responsible for 25 percent, or $23,545.

The three committee members pointed a proverbial finger at outgoing Town Administrator Thomas Younger in detailing how Younger sent a letter to the Seaport Council looking into funds for a breakwater in 2014.

The three laid out a financial argument for their claim that the town ultimately paid more than it was required to pay in connection with the breakwater study.

Designed to be built from large boulders and intended to protect the harbor from southeast and southwest waves, the breakwater was recommended for design last February by the Harbor Committee.

But, like the dredging study, the breakwater plan was halted in the spring when the committee voted not to proceed with either dredging or breakwater plans until spending concerns were resolved.

Kessler said he subsequently began assembling financial documentation related to the projects. Using the documents, Kessler, Fletcher and Fistel outlined how the state approved funding $115,738 for the breakwater study, or the equivalent of an 80 percent state share of the project costs with the town responsible for the other 20 percent.

But the three said the study’s price tag was ultimately only $61,863, meaning the town’s share should have been $12,372.

The study showed that a breakwater project would cost about $7 million, but if stones could be acquired from the Boston Harbor dredging project, the cost could be driven down to around $5 million.

Fletcher said the full $95,000 approved at Town Meeting for the dredging project was used by the town to pay for part of the cost of the two studies, which totaled $156,043. She said that means the town overpaid by $59,082.

Town Accountant Dave Castellarin could not be reached on Wednesday to verify that the town spent all of the funds approved at Town Meeting.

Fletcher questioned why funds approved at Town Meeting for a dredging study would be partly used on one for a breakwater, a separate project.

“What Tom Younger needed to do was say we need to go back to Town Meeting,” she said. “Dredging doesn’t work and I need money for a breakwater … Town Meeting could have said we’re going to study a breakwater.”

Younger declined to comment on the committee members’ account Thursday, except to say, “We’re currently reviewing it.” He is slated to start his new job as town of Stoneham administrator on Oct. 17.

Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, confined her comments on the waterfront spending concerns to saying:

“This is a very unusual situation and I haven’t seen another one like this ever. So, it’s certainly unique and we will certainly be looking into it.”


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Swampscott’s got talent

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Glenn Kessler, left, and his daughter Mallory are organizing and co-producing the fourth annual Swampscott Talent Show that will take place on April 3 at Swampscott High School.

BY GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — A father and daughter team wants to see Swampscott show off its talent.

Glenn Kessler is organizing and co-producing the fourth annual Swampscott Talent Show with his daughter Mallory Kessler, a sophomore at Swampscott High School.

The talent show will be held on Sunday, April 3 from 1-4 p.m. at the high school auditorium. Kessler said proceeds from the show will benefit high school students, with an emphasis on his daughter’s class which would help them for the next two years until graduation.

“The majority of the money is going to the sophomore class because they’re the ones sponsoring it for me,” Kessler said.

He said some money might also go towards audio visual equipment for a silent auction that Tom Reid, a TV production teacher at the high school, puts on every year.

Tryouts for the show are on Monday, March 21 and Thursday, March 24 from 6:30-9 p.m. at the high school. The dress rehearsal is on Thursday, March 31, also at the high school.

Kessler said the show is for Swampscott residents, but certain exceptions can be made. For instance, he said if there are people who work for the town, such as teachers, but live in another town, they could be in the show.

“That’s where you can bend the rules,” Kessler said.

Kessler said he is hoping there will be about 20 acts in the show. So far, he said there are about seven committed. He is one of the talents and for the past three years, he and a friend sang a guitar duet.

Two years ago, Kessler said one of the acts was a little girl, no older than five years old, who sang the song “Let It Go” from the Disney movie “Frozen,” while she held her older sister’s hand.

“We’re trying to make everybody’s face hurt from smiling,” Kessler said.

Kessler said another act that made everybody laugh in a past show was a dog playing the piano. He said the show is open to all ages and there would be no prize or winner.

“This concept really isn’t about having a winner or a loser,” Kessler said. “It’s about a town coming together and showcasing its residents. They win just by doing it.”

The show has historically been successful with hundreds of people coming to watch.

Kessler said Mallory hasn’t decided if she’s going to be in the show yet, but she sang one year.

“I would like her to be in the show,” Kessler said. “She has a pretty voice and plays the guitar a little bit.”


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.