Mary Ellen Fletcher

Swampscott goes to market

PHOTO | PAULA MULLER
Emily Goncalves of Salem checks out the tomatoes at Clark Farm Stand at the Swampscott Town Hall green on Sunday.

By MATT DEMIRS

SWAMPSCOTT— Over 15 vendors and hundreds of residents from all over Massachusetts and New England gathered Sunday at the Swampscott Farmers Market for its opening day at a new location.

“This is a great opening day,” said Swampscott Recreation Department director Danielle Strauss. “We’ve created more community space like chairs and seating so families can come down and hang out play corn hole, giant jenga, and have a cup of coffee.”

Strauss said the location has also brought in a lot of walking traffic from the beach, which was something the market didn’t get a lot of behind the high school.”

The market is now held on the lawn of Swampscott Town Hall after moving from the parking lot behind Swampscott High School.

The new location gives beach strollers a chance to pop in on the action.  

That’s exactly what Mark Krupski did when he saw the market on a bike ride from Boston to Marblehead. He was enjoying a cannoli from Prezioso: The Cannoli Corner.

The cyclist from Minnesota, who said he is taking a three-week class at Harvard, had intentions of riding to Marblehead but had to stop to check out the crowd, live music, and vendors when he was riding by. Once he saw the sign for Cannolis, he was hooked.

“You gotta have a cannoli whenever you can,” he said.

Various vendors came out for opening day, like K Cake Creations, a local Swampscott bakery service, Postcard Coffee, and Ackermann Maple Farm, who hails all the way from Vermont with natural maple syrup flavor the state is known for. They’ve been coming to the market for four years now.

Vendors saw great business in the new spot.

Kate Weakley of The Fish Market Marblehead said the lines were instant. After selling out of salmon burgers in the first hours, the owner, Deb Lewis had to make another delivery.

The market, which welcomed dogs, even had a vendor dedicated to families’ four-legged friends. CEO of Michael Moran’s Natural Pet Food, Mary Ellen Fletcher has been coming to the market since the beginning and believes the new location is great.

“The first weekend always has a great showing of people,” she said.

Rachel Bennett, of the new Lightning Coffee shop in the Lydia Pinkham building, was spotted in the crowd. The Lynn business owner, who lives in Swampscott, said she hopes to bring some roasting of her own to the market although she’s unsure of when that may be.

The only downside of the new location, Strauss said, is the lack of parking since customers are left to mainly park along side streets.

Nonetheless, the opening day was much loved.

“I like where it is now,” said the retired public school teacher and resident Mary Clain. She started attending the Farmer’s Market at it’s inception in 2012. “It’s more open with views of the water and there are a lot more people.”

The Farmers Market takes place at 22 Monument Ave. every Sunday, rain or shine at 10 a.m. to 1 p.m until October.


Matt Demirs can be reached at mdemirs@itemlive.com

 

 

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.