vote

City slows construction as population grows

By STEVE FREKER

MALDEN — City Councilors cited Malden’s rapidly-growing population in deciding to extend and expand a city moratorium on residential construction.

“We have to address this issue directly. Our population as a city is growing at a rapid rate and everyone has to be aware of it,” said Ward 6 Councilor Neil Kinnon.

Kinnon and fellow Council Ordinance Committee members will ask their council colleagues to extend the moratorium through Dec. 31. Kinnon and Councilor-at-large Craig Spadafora, the committee’s chairman, said the extension will allow time to conduct a population growth survey and develop growth projections.

The committee recommendations have already undergone Planning Board review.

It was Kinnon who proposed the one-year residential construction moratorium passed by voters in November 2015 and put into effect in January 2016.

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The moratorium prohibited construction of any residential building with five or more housing units in the city, except in sections of the downtown designated as Residential Overlay Districts and also the Rowe’s Quarry site.

In previous votes, councilors extended the original five-plus unit residential construction moratorium from January 2017 through June of this year. Councilors during the last few months  discussed an additional moratorium with their concerns converging on municipal resources, including infrastructural components and traffic volumes, being strained by Malden’s population growth.

Under Spadafora’s direction, committee members will detail their recommendations in a report to the full council. Committee members are not stopping at a moratorium extension when it comes to their close review of population and residential construction needs in Malden.

They are in favor of a proposal to restrict the height of future residential units to three stories. Spadafora and Kinnon noted there are other proposed changes to residential and other construction in the city “in the works.”

  

Swampscott rail trail leads to the polls

COURTESY PHOTO
Pictured is a map of the proposed rail trail.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Voters will head to the polls later this month to decide whether to allocate funds that would allow plans for a proposed rail trail to move forward.

At Town Meeting, by a 210-56 vote, members approved allocating $850,000 for the design and engineering of the trail location within the National Grid corridor, as well as the legal fees and costs for acquisition of easement rights.

But a group of residents against the trail, including abutters, who have been vocal in their opposition, fought the vote, and spearheaded a citizen’s petition that garnered enough signatures to force a town-wide special election.

The Board of Selectmen have set the special election date for Thursday, June 29, where voters will be presented with the same question voted on and approved at Town Meeting last month.

The citizen’s petition garnered nearly 900 certified signatures, or more than 5 percent of the registered voters needed to challenge a Town Meeting vote, as required by the town charter.

The town charter (Section 2-6) reads that votes, except a vote to adjourn or authorize the borrowing or money in receipt of taxes for the current year, passed at Town Meeting, don’t go into effect for five days, and can be challenged within that timeframe by filing a petition with the Board of Selectmen, asking that the question be submitted to the town’s voters.

Officials have said $240,000 of the funds would be used to hire professionals for design and engineering costs. About $610,000 would be for acquisition of easement rights, where the town would work with the property owners (National Grid and/or other parties) to secure the rights. This may be done through eminent domain or by donation/gift of the land.

The funds would not be for construction of the trail, which would be financed through donations, grants and private funds, officials said.

Officials have said National Grid pays property taxes for the 11 parcels that make up the utility corridor, but doesn’t have clear title on all of them. Through a title process, numerous owners have been identified, which could include abutters.

Schools come up $75K short in Saugus

The two-plus mile, 10-foot wide trail would run from the Swampscott Train Station to the Marblehead line at Seaview Avenue, connecting with the Marblehead rail trail, which also links to trails in Salem.

Paul Dwyer, a Swampscott resident who lives along the proposed trail, has said the group decided to start the petition drive after losing the Town Meeting vote. He said previously that people have a problem with eminent domain, which is the wrong thing to do your neighbors, and that with so many financial needs in town, the trail is a luxury and a want more than anything else. He has said the town doesn’t need it and can’t afford it.

Other opposition to the trail has included safety and privacy concerns from neighbors. Residents in support of the trail have spoken about how it would provide free exercise and a way for people to get out in nature.

Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said previously that she thinks Town Meeting is a good representation of the rest of the town, and that she was confident the town-wide vote would be consistent with the Town Meeting vote.

Town Clerk Susan Duplin said an election usually costs the town between $10,000 to $12,000 for things such as ballot printing, poll workers and supplies.

Duplin said ballot questions typically draw a large turnout. For the November 2014 state election, the town had a new school question on the ballot, and a turnout of 67 percent. For the January 2010 special town election, where voters were presented with a question for a new police station, there was a 62 percent turnout.

“Prior history shows questions on the ballot definitely get the voters out,” Duplin said. “With that said, I’m predicting at least a 60 percent voter turnout for the June 29 special election, but (it) could be even more.”

Absentee ballots will be available at least three weeks before the election, no later than June 8. In order to qualify for an absentee ballot, the voter must be unable to vote at the polls on Election Day, because of absence from the voter’s town during normal polling hours, physical disability preventing them from going to the polling place, or religious belief. A family member may also apply for an absentee ballot for the voter, Duplin said.

Voter registration deadline is no later than 8 p.m. on Friday, June 9, and the town clerk’s office will be open for that deadline. Voters will also be able to come in and vote absentee. Early voting only applies to state elections, Duplin said.

Polls will be open during the election at three locations: Precincts 1 & 2 at Swampscott Senior Center, 200 Rear Essex St.; Precincts 3 & 4 at First Church Congregational, 40 Monument Ave.; and Precincts 5 & 6 at Swampscott Middle School, 207 Forest Ave.

Voter registration can be done online, an application can be downloaded, or voting status can be checked at the secretary of state’s website at www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/eleidx.htm.


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

Meeting to consider Saugus school vote

COURTESY PHOTO
Pictured is a rendering of a possible new school in Saugus.

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS Town Meeting members will be asked Tuesday to decide whether residents will hit the polls on June 20 to vote on a new middle-high school.

The School Building Committee recently approved a total project budget investment of $186 million, which includes an investment of $160 million for a proposed grades 6-12 combination middle and high school.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) will reimburse the town at a minimum rate of 53 percent which is expected to increase of eligible approved project costs.

In addition, a $25 million district-wide master plan would restructure the district to include an upper elementary school for grades 3-5 at the existing Belmonte Middle School and a lower elementary school for Pre-K through grade 2 at the Veterans Memorial Elementary School. The master plan is a town project and is not being pursued through the MSBA. The town’s share of the total project would be an estimated $118 million, bonded over a 30-year period.

Town Manager Scott Crabtree said the town’s recently earned S&P AA+ bond rating, which is the highest rating in the town’s history, will save taxpayers an estimated $7.2 million in savings over the life of the bond.

A fact sheet provided by Crabtree details the cost to residents with average home value assessments. According to The Warren Group, in March, the median home value in Saugus was $374,950.

At $375,000, the cost would be $76 in 2018, $118 in 2019, and would continue gradually increasing until reaching $541 in 2024. The cost would then begin to gradually decline.

With a home valued at $300,000, a resident would contribute an estimated $61 in 2018, $94 in the second year, and peak at $433 in 2014. If a resident’s home is valued at $150,000, they would pay $30 in the first year and peak at $216 in 2024.

On June 20, voters will need to approve both ballot questions for either initiative to move forward, Crabtree said.

The first question will ask residents to support the middle-high school building. The 270,000-square-foot school will have a 12,000-square-foot gymnasium, 750-seat auditorium, capacity for more than 1,300 students, state-of-the-art science labs, a sports complex, walking paths, and student gardens.

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The second question will ask residents to support the District-Wide Master Plan Solution, which will provide money to renovate and improve the Belmonte Middle School and Veterans Memorial School to be reused as the town’s only upper and lower elementary schools.

Town Meeting Members will also vote Tuesday on the School Department’s budget. Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi proposed cuts to the School Committee on Thursday that would make up for a potential $900,000 gap.

The School Committee voted a $29.6 million budget but the Finance Committee is supporting Town Manager Scott Crabtree’s recommendation for $1.6 million less. After making adjustments to the department’s critical needs, DeRuosi said the district would still face a $900,000 shortfall.

To help close the gap, DeRuosi proposed closing the Ballard Early Education Center, which has several curriculum-based preschool classes, about five of which are integrated classes of both regular and special education.

This year the school has 118 children, though some are half-day and part-time students. Moving the program would save the district between $140,000 and $145,000, he said.

He originally suggested relocating the more self-contained classes to Saugus High School and the more inclusive classes to Veterans Memorial Elementary School but parents didn’t agree that a high school setting was the best place for their children.

He recrafted the plan, moving all children to Veterans Memorial instead. The Ballard students would use two classrooms and a first and a third grade class would see an increase in size to 27 and 28 students. He plans to allow parents to opt to send their children to other schools with smaller class sizes and expects the numbers will drop by the start of the school year.

Krista Follis, who has a 4-year-old son at Ballard, said she appreciates the changes DeRuosi has made to the plan but feels very uneasy going into June without knowing where her son will attend school.

A custodian and clerk who work at Ballard will be transfered to fill open positions from retiring employees at Veterans Memorial. The Ballard nurse will move to the high school to fill one of two vacant positions. A second vacant nursing position will not be filled. A kindergarten teacher at Veterans Memorial will be moved to fill an open position at Lynnhurst Elementary School.

“There will be a time that the early education center will not be in a stand alone building, it will be part of a Pre-K to (grade) 2,” said DeRuosi. “We’re making those moves now.”


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemilve.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte

Saugus ready to leap

The town is wasting no time in launching one of the most ambitious local public school building projects undertaken in Massachusetts in recent years.

With a price tag of $186 million, the three-school project rivals the unsuccessful attempt by Lynn public officials three months ago to build two new middle schools. Like their Lynn counterparts, Saugus officials are asking town voters to approve the school projects and the spending associated with them.

Unlike Lynn officials, Saugus leaders hold an ace when it comes to convincing town residents why the massive school project makes sense. Saugus has a AA+ bond rating that local officials claim “will save the taxpayers of Saugus an estimated $7.2 million” in borrowing costs.

But that estimated savings is only part of the equation officials are presenting residents in their bid to win voter approval for the school projects on June 20.

Town leaders are asking voters to endorse a school building plan that harnesses the town’s advantageous borrowing position with a state reimbursement formula that has residents investing 30 cents on the dollar into school construction.

Meeting to consider Saugus school vote

The city of Lynn’s uneasy financial situation, including worries about layoffs, put city leaders behind the proverbial eight ball even as they attempted to show voters why building two new middle schools made sense.

A small fraction of Lynn residents went to the polls in March and squashed the two-school proposal and a tax increase to pay for it. Saugus town leaders aren’t showing any signs they are worried about bringing their three-school plan with its mix of state and local funding and new construction and renovations to the voters.

It’s not a huge stretch for municipal leaders sitting on a stellar bond rating to tell voters top-notch schools will improve their town’s already-rosy financial picture. The easiest analogy is spending money on a home in anticipation of bolstering the property’s market value.

School spending critics — and it’s never hard to find a critic in Saugus — will crow about tax hikes and spending money on a school megaproject. But Saugus isn’t just planning to build a new middle-high school and renovate Belmonte and Veterans Memorial schools. The town construction plan is based on a bold concept for realigning public education in the town.

The plan calls for a pre-kindergarten to second grade school and a grade three to grade five school called an “upper elementary” school. Those primary school education ideas combined with the middle-high school concept give Saugus a chance to tailor education programs to the phases children and adolescents go through on their way to young adulthood.

The message town leaders are delivering to residents in advance of the June 20 vote is that Saugus stands on the threshold of becoming a top-flight school district. They are asking residents to take a quantum leap into the future and it’s a safe bet town residents will make the jump.

Mulling a school move in Peabody

By ADAM SWIFT

PEABODY — The City Council is supporting the lease of downtown office space for school administration, but some councilors question how that move will affect long-term plans for the district.

Thursday night, the council voted 7-3 to enter into a lease for 6,000 square feet of office space at 27 Lowell St. With the lease, about 18 school administrators will move from their current offices at the otherwise unused Kiley Elementary School in West Peabody.

“This will benefit the city in a number of ways,” said Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. Having the office for the superintendent, assistant superintendent, finance director and other administrators downtown puts them closer to a greater number of students and families and should help spur local businesses, the mayor said.

The new offices will also provide a more professional setting.

“The conditions at the Kiley School are subpar,” said Bettencourt. “It is a substandard building that we have concerns about and not a professional space worthy of the talent working in the school administration offices.”

The office space at 27 Lowell St. is owned by Luciano Dinis of Peabody. The rent for the first year of the lease, according to the agreement, is $6,000 per month. That rate rises to $6,500 per month in July of 2018, and $7,000 per month in July of 2019.

The majority of the lease costs will be offset by energy saving costs at the Kiley School, Bettencourt said. The city currently spends about $90,000 per year on utilities at the Kiley, he said.

While a number of councilors supported moving the administrators out of a subpar building and closer to City Hall, there were questions about how the move would play into the potential future renovation of the Kiley School.

Ward 1 Councilor Jon Turco said the city sent a statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) for the renovation of the Kiley School. If the MSBA gives the okay, the state could reimburse up to 56 percent of the potential $15 million in renovations needed to bring the school back online as classroom space.

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Using the Kiley School for some special education and early childhood education programs would free up space at other elementary schools in the district and help ease overcrowding, according to Bettencourt.

If the reimbursement is not approved by the MSBA, Turco said the district could be faced with larger redistricting issues.

“The issue I have is that we are moving the school administration out of the Kiley in hopes of getting the MSBA loan to renovate the Kiley and maybe move some kids out of the Brown and other schools,” said Turco. “If that doesn’t happen, I’m asking (Bettencourt) as the chairman of the School Committee and the mayor to look at redistricting and see what we can do to alleviate overcrowding in the schools.”

Council President Joel Saslaw suggested the council hold off voting on the lease for 60 days to see if the MSBA approves the Kiley proposal. The state agency is expected to make a decision on the statement of interest in July, according to Bettencourt.

Turco also questioned why the city was looking to lease the former Lowell Street law offices when the building was up for sale just over a year ago for about $550,000.

“You had said you were looking to relocate for several years,” said Turco. “The total lease amount over five years is approximately the same amount as the purchase price for the building. Why didn’t we just purchase this building so we would have something to show for it after five years?”

School administration and the mayor considered purchasing the building, but Bettencourt said there were several factors that played into making leasing more desirable. He said the cost of upgrades to the Lowell Street building would significantly add to the cost, and that he also did not consider the move a long-term solution to housing the school administration. Future renovations or additions to the high school could include space for district administration offices, the mayor said.

Ward 6 Councilor Barry Sinewitz voted against the lease, saying he would rather see the schools utilize existing space at the high school or another school rather than leasing new office space.

Saslaw and Councilor-at-Large Anne Manning-Martin also voted against the lease agreement.

Baker: I like Tom — but I’m with Judy

By THOMAS GRILLO

SALEM — Popular Gov. Charlie Baker could make the difference in re-electing Republican Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy in what could be a close race in November.

“I have known the mayor for quite a while and I will certainly support her re-election,” the Republican governor told The Item on Wednesday. “That said, I have a good working relationship with Sen. McGee … they are two fine people and that’s good for the city of Lynn.”

Last week, state Sen. Thomas McGee (D-Lynn) kicked off his bid for mayor at the Knights of Columbus. The senator told the crowd he was running because he loves the city and the values Lynn represents. Kennedy launched her bid for a third term last month and pointed to dozens of accomplishments.

The race comes amid financial troubles for the cash-strapped city. The 2017 and 2018 budgets continue to pose challenges for Kennedy’s administration. She has asked department heads to make cuts. Some managers may have to trim up to 8.5 percent in their personnel budgets, a request that could lead to layoffs.

I am the best person for the job, McGee says

Kennedy and McGee were behind the failed measure in March to build a pair of middle schools. Voters overwhelmingly rejected increasing their real estate taxes by $200 or more annually for the next 25 years to pay for them.

But they are on opposing sides of an added meals tax that would go into the city’s general fund. McGee supports the idea of adding .0075 to the state’s 6.5 percent meals tax, while Kennedy vetoed the plan last week.

Baker is the most popular governor in America, according to a poll by Morning Consult, a Washington, D.C. research firm. The survey ranked him No. 1 with a 75 percent approval rating. The governor’s disapproval rating is a modest 17 percent, the survey said.

When asked how he would help Kennedy win, Baker declined to be specific.

Consider the progress we’ve made, Kennedy says

“I have a day job, which is pretty busy and chews up lot of my time,” he said. “But if Mayor Kennedy would like me to support and help her, we will do what we can. As I said, I have a lot of respect for Sen.  McGee and those two folks bring a lot to the table for the city.”

While Baker and McGee are native sons of the North Shore, the governor acknowledged he and the senator do not have the same close relationship shared with Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh.   

“Mayor Walsh and I talked every day for more than a month during those snowstorms shortly after I took office,” he said. “That cemented the relationship, it’s just different.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

Lynn teacher joins the march

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN Miriam Rodriguez-Fusco is one of hundreds of teachers planning to attend the Rally for Public Education Saturday at the Boston Common.

The speech and language therapist in the Lynn Public Schools and parent of a third-grader at the Aborn Elementary School plans to board a bus in Lynn for the trip into Boston.

Rodriguez-Fusco, an educator for nearly two decades, said she feels strongly about her son’s future and the challenges of public school funding as traditional schools compete with charter schools for limited cash.

“We must raise our voices so that we can stand up to Trump and tell him we need adequate funding for public education that is free and not privatized,” she said.

The protest is sponsored by the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) and the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance, a grassroots organization of students, parents, educators, and concerned community members who are dedicated to preserving public education.

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The Alliance said since Donald Trump was elected president, they have been standing up for women, immigrants, science and now they’ve turned their attention to public schools.

Protesters plan to meet on the Common at 2 p.m. and later march to the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center on Boylston Street where delegates from MTA’s Annual Meeting are meeting.

On the recent vote to defeat funding for a pair of middle schools in Lynn, Rodriguez-Fusco said she was disappointed.

“No one wants to pay more taxes,” she said. “But we’re talking about the children who are our future and we have to invest in them or we will never have better.”   


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

A taxing decision for Lynn council

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Five surrounding communities have raised nearly $20 million since 2009 by adopting the local option meals tax and the City Council wants a share of it to keep layoffs at bay.

Some restaurant owners say they favor the tax because it will fund services at a time when the city is cash-strapped, while others are not so sure and some won’t say.

In a lopsided 10-1 vote last week, the panel opted to impose a .0075 percent tax on top of the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax on meals. The new levy would add 75 cents to a $100 dinner bill, about 19 cents to a $25 meal and raise $700,000 annually for the city.

In 2009, the Legislature authorized communities to add the new fee on meals. While the sales tax goes to the general fund, the local option is given to the community to spend as it wishes. About half of the state’s cities and towns have adopted the change and have raised nearly $652 million.

Like other Massachusetts cities, Lynn has struggled to pay for schools and public safety. The Council said the time has come for the small increase that could do so much good.

“We are hurting financially, this will bring in some good revenue and the measure is long overdue,” said City Councilor-at-Large Buzzy Barton. “If I have breakfast at Brothers’ Deli, my $10 meal will only cost me another 8 cents.”

Robert Stilian, owner of the Old Tyme Italian Cuisine, said while no one is wild about a new tax, the amount is so small that it shouldn’t discourage anyone from eating out.

“At first I was quite upset, but I don’t think most people will even notice and I doubt it will have much of an impact on people’s decision to dine out,” he said.

Stilian noted that many other communities have adopted the tax.

“If it’s something that will benefit the city I understand why they’ve proposed it,” he said.  “For restaurant owners, unfortunately we have to pass on the cost to customers.”

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Taso Nikolakopoulos, owner of John’s Roast Beef & Seafood and a candidate for an at-large seat on the City Council, said he’s for it.

“Given the city’s financial crisis, I favor it,” he said.

George Markos, owner of Brothers’ Deli, said if the city adopts the new tax, he hopes they will use the money for public safety and schools.

“I will contribute to anything that is good for the city,” he said.  “But I would rather see the money spent on police, fire and schools because nothing is more important than safety and education.”

Peter Caron, the city’s chief financial officer, said the added revenue will reduce the chances of layoffs among city employees amid a budget crunch. He said Lynn is the only city in Essex County that has not opted to impose the additional tax.

Ward 6 Councilor Peter Capano said he favors the hike, and the sooner the better, as a way to restore cuts to the police and fire departments.

“We heard testimony from public safety officials at the last meeting of the necessity to fund police and fire,” he said. “I favor this.”

Councilor-at-Large Daniel Cahill said Lynn residents are already paying the tax when they eat out of town.

“Every other surrounding community has levied this tax upon us and we are just catching up,” he said. “We are under significant time constraints to implement this program to stave off layoffs in our police and fire departments.”

Blueprint could help close ‘achievement gap’

But Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy is expected to veto the plan, setting the stage for an override.

“I can’t in good conscience agree to impose a new tax on Lynn residents less than two months after voters resoundingly rejected a proposed tax increase for two new schools,” she said.  “I heard them loud and clear. To approve it is being tone deaf and not listening to what the voters clearly told us.”

Kennedy is not moved by the fact that the amount of the increase is so small.

“A tax is a tax,” she said. “We have to show the people of Lynn we are trying to live within our means as much as possible,”

Ward 1 Councilor Wayne Lozzi agreed and was the sole vote against the new tax.

“I am not inclined to support any tax,” he said. “In this instance, I was willing to support it if they designated the money towards public safety. But the city said they can’t do that and I can’t support it.

James Roumeliotis, owner of Superior Roast Beef, agrees. He  said while the city may be hurting for cash, he’s not sure diners should be asked to pay more.

“I’d rather not have it, people are already being taxed enough,” he said.

Not everyone was willing to discuss the possible change. Thomas Dill, owner of the Lazy Dog Sports Bar, did not return a call seeking comment. Chris Rossetti of the Rossetti Restaurant declined comment and chef Matt O’Neil of the Blue Ox did not respond to multiple requests for comment.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

For Colucci challenger, youth are priority

COURTESY PHOTO
Pictured is Eliud Alcala, who is running for Ward 4 City Councilor.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Eliud Alcala has launched a campaign to unseat the city’s longest serving city councilor.

The 41-year-old family counseling doctoral candidate is making his first bid for public office against Ward 4 Councilor Richard Colucci, who has served on the panel for 15 years.

“I want to represent all of Ward 4 and offer voters an alternative,” he said.

Alcala, the former campaign manager for School Committeewoman Maria Carrasco, said if elected his first priority will be to implement youth programs.

“We should provide career pathways and programs that engage youth in our community,” he said.

He was unsure about the cost of the new initiatives such as an English as a Second Language program he would like to see relaunched at the Ford Elementary School.

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“That program helped lots of people and we need to seek grants and be creative to pay for it,” he said.

He has also proposed that the city hire an interpreter to assist Spanish-speaking residents seeking services at City Hall.

“As I knock on doors in the ward, people tell me translators are not available at City Hall,” he said.

Alcala said he did not know how much such a position would cost or how the new post would be paid for amid the city’s budget crunch.

He does favor implementation of the .0075 percent meals tax option under consideration by the City Council that would add about $700,000 to the city’s coffers annually. In addition, he voted to support construction of two middle schools in the special election last month which was defeated.

The West Lynn resident was born in the Bronx neighborhood of New York City where he was raised by his parents who immigrated from Puerto Rico. The family moved to Lynn in 2000.  


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Eagle lands on Saugus agenda

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS — The Saugus Planning Board will discuss whether four properties near Route 1 should be rezoned at Thursday’s meeting.

The panel will make a recommendation on two proposed articles for Town Meeting, which resumes on Monday, May 22 at 7:30 p.m.

Eagle Road residents are asking that their properties, currently zoned strictly for residential use, be rezoned for commercial use, said chairman Peter Rossetti. The proposal affects four properties on the road, which is located behind Barn Carwash and C & P Imports.

Rossetti said at least one of the four existing homes is vacant and has been for several years.

“A lot of people really don’t want to live that close to Route 1,” said Rossetti.

Young and old in concert in Nahant

The Planning Board will also discuss altering plans for a development on Winston Street. Eight years ago, the panel and Town Meeting approved a 10-unit condominium building to be built on the former Alco Food Products, Inc., site. Part of the agreement was for developers to include one affordable unit, Rossetti said.

But in almost a decade, the work has not been completed. Developers returned to the Planning Board earlier this year to request a change in the plan. Rather than constructing one 10-unit building, they want to build two duplexes and one triplex. None of the seven units would be lower priced.

Rossetti said the use wouldn’t qualify for the same zoning and Town Meeting members would need to take a vote. Prior to the May 22 meeting, the Planning Board needs to determine whether it will be considered a zoning article, which requires two-thirds of the vote, or whether it’s considered a modification of the original request eight years ago, which would require a majority vote.

The board’s recommendation will be given to the Finance Committee, which will make a recommendation before the start of the Town Meeting.


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

Swampscott means business on licenses

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT Town officials have requested an increase in all-liquor licenses in Swampscott, which they hope will attract new businesses.

“We’re hoping that we can receive a few additional licenses, so we can continue to focus on economic development and bringing additional investments to Swampscott,” said Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald.

Town Meeting members on Monday will be asked to authorize the Board of Selectmen to petition the General Court for special legislation allowing the board to issue eight additional all-liquor licenses.

“This article would provide additional business opportunities in our commercial districts, such as Humphrey Street and Vinnin Square, where eating establishments would like to operate with a liquor license,” the warrant article reads. “The 14 existing licenses are currently granted in full.”

The town’s newly updated Master Plan calls for some strategic focus on Humphrey Street, Vinnin Square and the railroad station neighborhood, in terms of revitalizing some of the businesses and restaurant opportunities, Fitzgerald said. He said the increase would bring the right investments to Swampscott, and would bring a robust business quarter in those areas.

Fitzgerald said a few weeks ago, the Board of Selectmen issued the town’s last all-liquor license, which encompasses alcohol, mixed drinks, beer, wine and cordials. The town also offers beer and wine licenses, and a temporary beer and wine license, he said.

Illegal loaded handgun off the streets

Last week, a restaurant applied for a liquor license that the town doesn’t have, Fitzgerald said. He said the increase would be an opportunity to bring new investments or new opportunities to Swampscott that would be lost to another community that has the licenses available.

He said existing restaurants in town may want to apply for the additional liquor licenses, but the primary focus is on attracting new businesses to Swampscott. In addition, Fitzgerald said as officials look at ways to reduce the town’s overall residential tax rate, finding ways to increase the commercial tax rate will be part of that discussion.

If the article is approved by Town Meeting, Fitzgerald said the town would work with the legislative delegation, and the increase would have to advance to General Court for a vote by the legislature. Over the years, he said the legislature has seen fit to grant communities additional licenses.

Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said the full liquor licenses are given out by the state based on the population in the town. Swampscott has 14, based on about 14,000 residents. She said the board is asking for an exception because “this is the kind of business that can succeed in Swampscott.” Restaurants would really like to have full liquor licenses, she added.

“The businesses that we want to encourage are interesting eateries,” Dreeben said. “We need the liquor licenses to bring those to town.”

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

 

Saugus to give streets a facelift

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SAUGUS Town Meeting members zipped through most of the warrant on Monday with little to no discussion.

Town Meeting members voted to raise and appropriate $642,035 for street resurfacing, handicapped ramps and sidewalks, which will be reimbursed by the state under Chapter 90.

Town Meeting also authorized the treasurer, with the Board of Selectmen, to borrow $662,100 at 0 percent interest from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) Local Pipeline Assistance Program for designing and constructing improvements to the water pipelines.

Members voted to appropriate $224,212 from the premium paid to the town upon the sale of bonds issued to repair the Belmonte Middle School, which is the subject of a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion, to pay costs of the project being financed by such bonds and to reduce the amount authorized to be borrowed for the project, but not yet issued by the town, by the same amount.

An article requesting that Town Meeting vote to create a study committee that would evaluate benefits and costs associated with Saugus Public Schools providing free, all-day kindergarten was referred back to the School Committee.

Nowicki a circular sensation for St. Mary’s

A revolving fund was reauthorized for supporting recreational programs for the community. Revolving funds were also reauthorized to support the water system cross-connection program, programs and activities at the Senior Center, the Senior Lunch Program at the Senior Center, and the Town of Saugus Compost Program.

The only debate was centered around whether a nonbinding resolution, not listed on the warrant, should be read and voted on. Town Meeting members were torn on whether the resolution, made by another member, Albert DiNardo, should be read.

Ultimately, a vote allowed the resolution to be read by DiNardo, which says that the cost of health insurance for Saugus employees and retirees is increasing at a double digit percentage rate.

“The projected FY18 cost of health insurance for Saugus is $13.3 million of an approximately $90 million Saugus annual budget,” the resolution reads. “Let it be resolved that the Saugus Finance Committee provide the Saugus Town Meeting with an analysis of past health care costs, trends, and provide a three- to five-year future forecast of costs and report back to the Town Meeting.”

The resolution passed after a roll call vote.

Town Meeting will reconvene on Monday, May 22, to take up the rest of the articles on the warrant.


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

Almost 6 months since Trump elected president

PHOTO BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington.

Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States on Nov. 8 — well, early-morning Nov. 9.

It’s been almost six months since the election that shocked many Americans. And likely for some, the shock hasn’t worn off.

Tell us how you felt election night, and now.

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Malden could limit pot shop locations

By STEVE FREKER 

MALDEN — City councilors are taking a swing at recreational marijuana with an eye toward trying to keep pot outside city limits.

Massachusetts voters approved legalization and taxation of recreational margin by a 52-45 margin last November. Language approved by voters outlines ballot votes and other measures cities and towns can take to limit recreational marijuana distribution.

Councilor Neil Kinnon previously urged city officials to determine if Malden can stave off potential marijuana vendors with an edict disallowing such establishments unless or until marijuana was declared legal at the federal level.

Joined by council colleagues, Kinnon voted Tuesday night to stall potential siting of recreational marijuana retailers in Malden until pot is legalized by the federal government. Ward 3 Councilor John Matheson authored the siting resolution.

Federal law at this time prohibits both possession and sale of marijuana. Some supporters and opponents are wondering if the Trump administration will approach legalizing it at the federal level over moves by individual states to legalize medical and recreational marijuana.

House burns in Saugus

Councilor Craig Spadafora, the council ordinance committee chairman, wants to create a new business category called “Adult Speciality Retail Sales” for alcohol, tobacco and marijuana retailers.

Spadafora said creating the new category sets the stage for zoning changes restricting where businesses defined under the category language can be located.

“We need something on the books to deal with (marijuana sales) if the issue should arise,” Spadafora said. “Right now there’s nothing there for this category.”

Permits, Inspections and Planning Services Director Chris Webb confirmed the need for a new regulation.

Zoning changes require Planning Board approval, as well as a public hearing process. The Planning Board could hear the matter as soon as June.

Specific discussion on potential zoning changes will resume at the next ordinance committee meeting.

 

Push to name baby giraffe ‘Gio’ falls short

COURTESY PHOTO
Giovanni “Gio” Maggiore died at age 6 of a congenital heart problem.

By STEVE FREKER

MEDFORD — The bid by hundreds of schoolchildren and others across the city of Medford united in a push to memorialize a lovable 6-year-old local boy has fallen short.

The family of the late Giovanni “Gio” Maggiore led a local and regional voting drive to name a baby boy giraffe with the moniker, “Gio”. The baby giraffe was born to April the giraffe at the popular Animal Adventure Park in upstate New York, shortly after the Brooks School first-grader died from a serious congenital heart problem.

Students at the Brooks School got behind the voting drive and it swiftly spread around most of the other Medford schools. “Gio” made the top 10 in the voting finals, which ended Sunday, April 30.

Animal Adventure Park officials announced Monday that the newborn giraffe will be called “Tajiri,” the name that topped the voting list.

Tradition comes to a ‘head

April, the mother giraffe, was the subject of a record-breaking internet live-stream as she endured what seemed to be an never-ending labor. She finally gave birth over Easter weekend, around the same time Gio was laid to rest.

Gio was a friendly, outgoing boy who embraced the positives in life and just loved giraffes, according to his mother, Maya, who is a teacher at the Columbus School in Medford.

“It was his favorite Halloween costume and even his first pacifier had a giraffe printed on it,” she said.

Tradition makes a stand in Marblehead

Town Clerk Robin Michaud’s name is not on the May 9 Marblehead election ballot but Michaud won a resounding vote of confidence at Monday’s Town Meeting when participants voted 389-166 to defeat a petition to make the clerk’s job an appointed rather than an elected post.

If the vote had gone the other way, appointment proponents would have had to jump through several hoops during the next two years before the clerk’s job became an appointed position. The petition dominated Monday night’s Town Meeting debate with Michaud speaking against it. She simultaneously exerted her independence and demonstrated her popularity by urging Town Meeting to view an elected clerk as a Marblehead tradition. She also warned that an appointed clerk could face pressure from town elected officials, notably the Board of Selectmen.

The chief proponent for an appointed clerk made what almost has to be viewed as a dig at Michaud when he suggested appointment, rather than election, could make the clerk’s office run more efficiently.

Marblehead’s neighboring towns appoint clerks, in the case of Swampscott, Lynnfield and Saugus where the town manager is the appointing authority. Nahant just elected its clerk, the popular Margaret Barile, but the emphasis on appointment offers an insight into the clerk’s role from one community to another.

If there is one job in town government that is most closely identified with an individual’s personality, it is town clerk.

Tradition comes to a ‘head

Clerks are the face of town government: They help people fill out and file birth and death certificates and, in towns such as Nahant, they preside over the annual rite of summer better known as beach permit renewal.

Clerks also preside over elections in many towns and that role can and does bring them into conflict with elected officials. It’s been a long time since a North Shore clerk stood up and said elected officials were attempting to exercise undue influence on the clerk’s office. But clerks know exactly what is going on in town government. They know who is feuding, who is looking to get someone a job and who is saying something different from what they are doing.

It is interesting — if not a little amusing — to note that Marblehead Town Meeting members voted by secret ballot on the appointment question. Imagine more than 500 people lining up with pencils and pieces of paper to make a decision that could have been affirmed with a show of hands.

A Lynnfield Town Meeting member had the nerve to propose a secret ballot vote on the controversial rail trail proposed for that town. The idea went down in flames and the resulting vote gave trail proponents a one-vote victory.

Marblehead’s secret ballot saw residents strike down the appointed Town Clerk proposal by more than a two-to-one margin. It confirmed what Michaud must have known before Town Meeting started on Monday: She is a popular town official who is viewed as efficient and hard-working and independent.

We need more police on the streets, Ford says

ITEM PHOTO BY SPENSER HASAK
Rick Ford is running for city councilor at large.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN  — Rick Ford, the former city councilor who gave up his seat two years ago, wants back in.

“I miss being involved,” he said. “I got three calls from constituents during the last snow storm who don’t even know I’m out.”

Ford, who served as the Ward 7 councilor from 1998 to 2016, chose not to seek re-election following a foot injury. On Tuesday, he pulled papers from City Hall to run for councilor-at-large.

The 60-year-old is co-owner of the Little River Inn, the popular diner on Boston Street where the McNulty sandwich a fried egg with bacon, ham or sausage, topped with cheese on an English muffin is a customer favorite.

He joins a field that includes incumbents Buzzy Barton, Brian LaPierre and Hong Net. Daniel Cahill chose not to seek re-election, leaving one at-large seat open.

Additional candidates include Taso Nikolakopoulos, owner of John’s Roast Beef & Seafood, Jaime Figueroa, a 28-year-old Suffolk University student, Brian Field, who works at Solimine Funeral Homes, and John Ladd, president of Precision Property Brokers.

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The top issues facing the city, Ford said, are police protection, building new schools, and development of the city’s waterfront.

“I’d like to help police,” he said. “We don’t have enough officers on the street and anything I can do, like finding grant money would be good. The waterfront development is key to the city’s economic growth.”

On last month’s school election, Ford said he voted for the controversial $188.5 million project to build a pair of middle schools. But the measure failed by a lopsided margin.

“My son is a teacher at the Thurgood Marshall Middle School,” he said.

Ford’s proudest accomplishments as councilor, he said, included constituent work helping to get homes built on the former Lynn Convalescent Home site on Boston Street, supporting construction of a new Washington Street police station, keeping the Ward 7 fire stations open, and ensuring environmental cleanups at the former Empire Laundry and Carr Leather sites.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

‘Tradition’ up for debate in Marblehead

By GAYLA CAWLEY

MARBLEHEAD — Town Clerk Robin Michaud is against a Town Meeting proposal that would be a step toward making her position appointed, rather than elected.

A citizen’s petition, sponsored by Charles Gessner, a Marblehead resident and former chairman of the Finance Committee, would see if the town will “vote to change the position of town clerk from elected to appointed by the Board of Selectmen.”

“To the best of my knowledge, the town clerk issue has not been proposed before,” said Town Administrator John McGinn in an email. “If Town Meeting approves the article, the issue would go on the town election ballot as a referendum in May 2018. If it passes on the ballot, it would go into effect in May 2019.”

Town Meeting is May 1 at 7 p.m. at the Marblehead Veterans Middle School auditorium.

“I am against changing the position to an appointed position,” said Michaud in an email. “The town clerk is the chief election official for the town and it should stay independent from the elected board of selectmen, who is the appointing authority for the town. By remaining independent, the clerk can maintain the electoral process of the town without being pressured by the board they report to, a board that is on the town ballot every year. This in itself could create a conflict of interest.

“Changing this to an appointed position takes the voice away from the 15,000 voters in town,” Michaud continued. “The decision will be at the discretion of the five-member board and the town administrator. There is no reason to take the responsibility and right away from the voters. If the voters aren’t happy with the town clerk’s performance, they can decide to elect a new one.”

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Gessner said he thought the change would improve the efficiency of the clerk’s office. He said he doesn’t have a “personal ax to grind” and that there isn’t anyone else who could apply for the job who has as much experience as Michaud.

Right now, he said the clerk is an independent position (elected for a three-year term) and there isn’t any oversight and no way to integrate the clerk’s efforts into the town management. At times, Gessner said, he suspects the clerk could use some help, such as from the nearby selectmen’s office. Last year, during early voting, which attracted long lines, he said if the town administrator was in charge of the clerk’s office, the process could have been more efficient. He said the town administrator could have gone to the clerk ahead of time to ask for extended hours.  

There would be no financial impact in the change, Gessner said, and therefore, the finance committee has taken no position on the article.

But Michaud said there’s a reason why the town clerk position has remained an elected one. She said an elected town clerk has to be a resident, and if the job becomes appointed, that wouldn’t be the case. As a resident, she said the clerk knows what’s important to the voters and the community.

“Currently, there are 312 towns in Massachusetts with only 86 having appointed town clerks (and) 226 have elected town clerks,” she said. “Elected town clerks have served Marblehead and towns through the Commonwealth for hundreds of years. In a town full of tradition, we should keep this tradition too. The tradition has stood the test of time because it works.”


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

 

3-pronged approach to pot in Peabody

By ADAM SWIFT

PEABODY — Last November’s vote to legalize recreational marijuana in the state has created a haze for state and local legislators.

As the state legislature works through the details of the legalization process, the Peabody City Council is taking a three-pronged approach to pot sales in the city. Thursday night, the council’s legal affairs committee is slated to discuss proposed language for a zoning amendment that would place a moratorium on recreational pot sales in the city until June 30, 2018.

“We have to make sure that the decisions we make will be legal,” said Joel Saslaw, the council president. If the moratorium goes into effect, Saslaw said it will give the council time to see how other legalization efforts play out on the state and local levels.

In addition to the moratorium, the council is also moving forward with the establishment of a medical marijuana sales zone along Route 1 and a ballot referendum seeking the outright prohibition of recreational marijuana sales.

The council is meeting with the Planning Board in May to discuss the zoning change allowing for the medical marijuana sale. Currently, medical marijuana sales are prohibited in Peabody.

Violent acts terrible but not random, mayor says

Saslaw said he is open to the medical marijuana sales if it brings in revenue for the city and if it does not affect the ability to ban pot sales if voters approve the ballot measure in November.

“I think that there are still a lot of unanswered questions,” said Saslaw. “If we do have to have medical marijuana, we need to have it in the right zone so it’s not across the street from a school or a playground. If we’re going to accept the fact that we need to have it here by law, it’s the smart move to put it in its proper place.”

Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. said he has come around to seeing the value of medical marijuana for those in need, but that he is still a staunch opponent to allowing recreational sales in the city.

The council’s legal affairs committee meets at City Hall at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday.

 

Time for adult conversations

ITEM PHOTO BY JIM WILSON
State sens. Michael Rodrigues and Thomas McGee speak during a meeting with The Item.

State Sen. Michael Rodrigues delivered one of the all-time classic understatements on Thursday during an interview with fellow Sen. Thomas M. McGee and The Item editorial board.

“It’s very difficult to have an adult conversation about taxes,” said the Westport Democrat.

Truer words were never spoken.

A minority of Lynn voters went to the polls on March 21 and rammed a plan to build new public schools into the ground with the force of a piledriver. The argument against the schools revolved around protecting open space and cemetery land. But voters saw red when they were asked to approve a property tax debt exclusion to pay for new schools.

On the other extreme, statewide gambling proponents promised to open the floodgates and pour new tax money into Massachusetts. They pointed to tax revenue from two casinos and a slot parlor as a solution to everything from beefing up police forces to boosting the state’s economy.

Rodrigues and McGee have been crisscrossing Massachusetts with fellow senators as part of Commonwealth Connections. Billed as a listening tour, the series of forums, including one planned next Tuesday in Lynn and another scheduled for that night in Peabody, are aimed principally at collecting and prioritizing ideas for fixing Massachusetts’ transportation infrastructure.

Opposition mounts to Munroe school site

As chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation, McGee has repeatedly pointed out how the state’s infrastructure is deteriorating. He has urged legislators, businesspeople, and fellow Lynn residents; as well as people statewide, to talk about how to pay for billions of dollars worth of needed transportation improvements.

He pointed out how tax discussion degenerate into “divisive” debates over prioritizing public spending. Echoing McGee’s point, Rodrigues observed how “everyone is dug into their own box” when it comes to protecting state-approved tax credits lessening the burden on a specific population or business sector.

McGee can’t be blamed for sometimes thinking he is whistling past the graveyard when he points out how improving transportation is a universal challenge everyone has to think about in dollars and cents. He points to the deteriorating General Edwards Bridge — a gateway to the city — as an example of a major expense that cannot be ignored.

Put in simpler terms, McGee is urging a statewide conversation on how to pay for transportation improvements that not only benefit Massachusetts’ economy but prevent disaster and loss of life.

He is not encouraged about the possibility of federal money flooding into the state for infrastructure repairs. But McGee isn’t giving up on the notion that Commonwealth Connections can inspire people across Massachusetts to focus on transportation improvement ideas and ways to pay for them.

It’s time for the adults in the room to start talking.  

Protect-Preserve needs to produce

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Don Castle motions at the “no-vote” victory party in this March file photo.

The founder of the “no new schools” movement pledged following the March 21 referendum vote to reach out and work with school officials.

Almost three weeks have passed and that conversation between Donald Castle and the officials he wants to speak with has yet to take place.

Mr. Castle and his Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove campaign defeated the city’s request to fund an $188.5 million plan for a middle school on Parkland Avenue and a second one on McManus Field.

Give Mr. Castle credit; he tapped into voter anger over taxes and tallied a 64 percent to 36 percent win.

He told The Item’s editorial board before the March 21 special election that he opposed construction of the Parkland Avenue school because the city’s forefathers wanted the 44-acre site to be reserved to expand the Pine Grove Cemetery.

He argued that the parcel is too close to Breeds Pond Reservoir, the buildings were too expensive, and the process failed to be inclusive.

Insisting his group is not anti-education or anti-new schools, Mr. Castle said he would reach out to city officials after the school vote and say, “We want to work with you.”

He kept up that refrain the day after the election, saying, “I extended an olive branch to the mayor and the committee to pick another site.”

Schools out in Lynn

Mr. Castle and Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, a school construction supporter, each say they made post-election efforts to reach out and meet, but missed each other’s post-election calls. Castle got a chance to state his case last week during the Pickering Middle School Building Committee meeting. Kennedy made a motion to suspend the rules and allow Mr. Castle to speak.

He declined.

“It was a bag job,” he said following the meeting, “They wanted to pick a fight with me, I’m not going to get into an argument with the superintendent that would make me look dumb. The proponents never sat down with us or called us once. I feel bad for the kids, but now they want to talk to us in the 11th hour. No thanks.”

Sorry, Mr. Castle, you can’t have it both ways. Protect-Preserve won a stunning election victory. But the middle-school enrollment tidal wave threat still looms.

Maybe Mr. Castle wants to hold on to that no new-schools anger and see if it converts into a possible City Council bid.

Maybe he got tongue tied when the opportunity came to actually present city decision makers with his school construction suggestions.

Or maybe it’s time for Mr. Castle and Protect-Preserve to make good on his pre-election statement and offer specific and positive ideas for solving the city’s school space crunch.

Unless they never had any ideas to begin with.

KIPP signs agreement for $20M high school

PHOTO COURTESY OF ARROWSTREET
Pictured is KIPP Academy on High Rock Street.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Two weeks after voters said no to a tax hike for two middle schools, the city’s only charter school is planning to build a $20 million high school, The Item has learned.

KIPP Massachusetts, which operates the Academy Lynn Public Charter School, has signed an agreement to purchase a former parking lot on Munroe Street that has been used as a community garden.

Assessed at $211,000, the parcel is owned by Munroe Partners LLC, operated by Gordon Hall, president of The Hall Co. The new school would include grades 9 through 12 and house 450 students.

“With a new YMCA being built nearby and St. Mary’s building the STEM School, having a new high school on Munroe Street would create a little campus in the downtown,” said Joel Abramson, a KIPP board member. “We are looking to share whatever assets we have with the community and the Lynn Public Schools.”

Hall said his company has agreed in principle to sell the 29,000-square-foot parcel to KIPP. The school is in the due diligence period and a closing date has not been set, he said.  “This is an opportunity to fill one of the missing teeth in downtown Lynn with a civic building that’s needed,” Hall said.

The new school would be paid for by a fundraising effort, tax credits, a possible bond from MassDevelopment, the state’s economic development and finance agency and a portion of the $12,000 per student tuition payments paid by Lynn Public Schools.

Caleb Dolan, the school’s executive director, said with a waiting list of more than 1,000 students, there’s lots of demand for space.

“We are certainly thinking about our future in Lynn,” he said. “We just had a lottery and had a tremendous turnout. There were 800 elementary school applicants for 120 slots. We are certainly thinking about how to hopefully serve more kids and how to be part of the solution in Lynn.”

Earlier this year, MassDevelopment issued KIPP a $5.7 million tax-exempt bond. The school plans to use the proceeds to build a 12,000-square-foot addition to its High Rock Street campus to accommodate 600 students in kindergarten through fourth grade.

MassDevelopment provided the school with a $26 million financing package in 2011, including a tax-exempt bond and New Market Tax Credits to build its existing building.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Committee ponders meaning of ‘sanctuary’

By LEAH DEARBORN

LYNN — The School Committee continued a discussion regarding the concerns of immigrant students on Thursday.

Member Maria Carrasco initiated the conversation at the previous committee meeting, saying she has been approached by a number of students who are worried about U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) entering the schools.

In response, attorney and committee member Jared Nicholson drafted a resolution meant to clarify the law and reassure students.

Nicholson read aloud from the resolution, which stated the Lynn Public Schools’ commitment to providing a safe learning environment.

The resolution reiterated that city schools do not request immigration status information from students.

School attorney John C. Mihos said the resolution doesn’t constitute a policy change, just a restatement of the laws as they already exist.

Carrasco and committee member Donna Coppola both spoke in support of the concept of becoming a “sanctuary school district,” a distinction that Mihos said would only alter the title of the resolution and not its purpose.

“The word ‘sanctuary’ means protection for somebody who feels chased,” said Carrasco, who argued that the word alone does have some impact.

Saugus Rotary up to speed

Member Patricia Capano said there have been no incidents regarding students and immigration enforcement in city schools. She said the resolution is an attempt on the committee’s part to be proactive.

Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham said she spoke with Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett regarding the subject and was told there have been no deportations in the county.

Carrasco disputed that claim, but said she could not ethically provide the identities of the individuals impacted.

A vote to adopt the resolution was tabled in order to bring the topic to a full committee for further discussion.

Leah Dearborn can be reached at ldearborn@itemlive.com.

Schools out for the time being in Lynn

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy is pictured at a discussion on schools.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — No new schools will be built in the city anytime soon.

That was the decision of a city panel Tuesday that orchestrated a plan for construction of two middle schools to ease overcrowding and replace a dilapidated facility.

Following last Tuesday’s special election where voters resoundingly rejected a request to fund an $188.5 million plan for a school on Parkland Avenue and a second one on McManus Field, the Pickering School Building Committee withdrew its application for state funding.

In addition to taking itself out of consideration for funds, Lynn Stapleton, the city’s project manager for the school proposal, said Lynn had a number of options. They included a plan to split the project into two and build one school first and then a second; build one school and renovate the Pickering Middle School; or build one school and use Pickering as an elementary school.

But the panel seemed in no mood to consider them.

Before the vote to end the city’s bid for school dollars, Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy invited Donald Castle, a founding member of Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, the grassroots organization that campaigned against the schools, to speak to the committee. The mayor said he had an alternative plan. But he declined.

School Committeewoman Donna Coppola voiced concern about where new students would be placed.

“We have kids coming in that will not have seats,” she said.

Edward Calnan said the committee did their job and despite the vote against the schools, the members should be proud of the work they did.

“We were told we needed to provide space for 1,600 students and that’s what we did,” he said. “We did an exhaustive search for sites in the city and came up with the best ones that were the least expensive to make the project viable.”

Off and running in Lynn

Kennedy said it’s clear the voters have no appetite for more taxes and she will honor their wishes.

“The people spoke loud and clear,” she said. “The problem was the price tag and I’m just ready to drop the whole thing. They say insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results. That’s what we would be doing if we did anything but drop it.”

With that, the 16-member group voted unanimously to tell the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the  quasi-independent government authority created to help pay for the construction of public schools, that Lynn won’t be seeking funds.

At the close of the meeting, Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham choked back tears as she expressed her disappointment in the failure of the vote for the new schools.

“Our new Thurgood Marshall Middle School is a model for the entire state and I was hoping that just viewing that could carry an equalized opportunity for all our students,” she said. “But it was not to be.” 

In an interview following the meeting, Castle defended his position not to speak to the committee.

“It was a bag job,” he said. “They wanted to pick a fight with me, I’m not going to get into an argument with the superintendent that would make me look dumb. The proponents never sat down with us or called us once. I feel bad for the kids, but now they want to talk to us in the 11th hour. No thanks.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Off and running in Lynn

PHOTO BY MARK LORENZ
State Sen. Thomas McGee, with his wife Maria, signs his nomination papers as election coordinator Mary Jules watches.

State Sen. Thomas M. McGee’s decision to take out nomination papers Monday and declare his candidacy for mayor kicks off the 2017 municipal election season in Lynn.

It would be easy to call the matchup between Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy and McGee a Lynn mayors race for the ages. But doing so might prompt Kennedy to point out how she essentially ran a write-in campaign in 2009 to defeat two-term mayor Edward J. Clancy Jr.

She beat Clancy only after a recount, but Kennedy received electoral vindication in 2013 by soundly trouncing former City Council President Timothy Phelan, a popular councilor who made the Council Chamber a stage for his agenda during the 2013 campaign season.

The late Patrick J. McManus also did his share to make Lynn political history. In his first run for mayor, McManus took on not only Mayor Albert V. DiVirgilio, but another popular local political figure, John L. O’Brien Jr.  McManus won the election and the only political hiccup he faced during his 10 years as mayor came when he finished second in the 1993 preliminary election behind former Councilor Joseph Scanlon III. McManus went on to beat Scanlon in the final.

McGee hasn’t run a tough, knock-down campaign since 2002 when he won election to succeed Clancy in the Senate. But the 61-year-old Pine Hill resident combines a quiet deliberative manner with an outspoken passion for the the city of Lynn. McGee will surround himself in the coming weeks with smart, experienced campaigners.

Weighing in on possible Kennedy v. McGee race

Like Kennedy, he supported the failed proposal to build two new local middle schools. But McGee and Kennedy kept fairly quiet in the weeks leading up to the March 21 special election that saw the school proposal and a proposed property tax debt exclusion get squashed by the voters.

Both candidates will examine the school vote with a practiced eye and calculate its political ramifications. The strong “no” vote sent a message about city finances and voter anger over a city demand for additional taxes to build new schools.

It also prompted a negative reaction to the city’s newest arrivals. More than one “no” voter took to social media to oppose building new schools and provide educational opportunities for immigrants. Kennedy and McGee are both above this sort of rhetoric, but that does not mean they will not be asked to address it during the mayoral campaign.

McGee in his first comments as candidate for mayor took the smart approach in analyzing the school vote. Now is the time, he said, for the city to “step back and take a deep breath” and then begin a dialogue over “what new schools mean to the community.”

Kennedy, meanwhile, is wrestling with the realities of what it means to be mayor by asking city department heads to make across-the-board cuts.

City finances, schools and a host of other issues, including development, will be on the agenda when McGee and Kennedy face off in campaign debates. Long before the first debate is scheduled, people who like both candidates and have relationships with them will have to pick someone to support or declare themselves neutral. Let the campaign begin.

I think I can make a difference, McGee says

PHOTO BY MARK LORENZ
Election coordinator Mary Jules greets state Sen. Thomas McGee and his wife, Maria, prior to McGee pulling his nomination papers.

By THOMAS GRILLO and THOR JOURGENSEN

LYNN — The city’s worst kept secret that state Sen. Thomas McGee would seek the corner office became official Monday, when the Lynn Democrat pulled his nomination papers from the City Clerk’s office.

“I am excited to … start a discussion on where we can go and build a vision,” McGee said. “I think I can make a difference for the city.”

McGee is expected to face Republican Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy next fall in what would be a no-holds-barred race to lead the city for the next four years.

McGee, 61, was elected to represent West Lynn and Nahant in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1994. After serving four terms, he won a seat in the Senate in 2002 in a district that includes Lynn, Lynnfield, Marblehead, Nahant, Saugus and Swampscott.  

He said his years in the Legislature has made him a unifier who can help bring this city together. In addition to “building consensus,” he said his legislative service has been marked by honing budget crafting skills and pursuing initiatives. He said economic growth and neighborhoods will be the focus of the campaign.

McGee called last week’s school referendum that sought taxpayer support for a pair of new middle schools “polarizing.” He said it’s time to take a deep breath and start a new conversation about the need for new schools.

“It means engaging people,” he said. “We need to talk about what new schools mean to the community.”

Benny Coviello: ‘The mayor of Stop & Shop’

McGee supported the ballot question that sought approval for a 652-student school to be built on Parkland Avenue and a  second facility to serve 1,008 students would be constructed on McManus Field on Commercial Street. The $188.5 million project cost would have been offset by a minimum contribution of $97.1 million from the Massachusetts School Building Authority. But voters rejected the measure by a wide margin.

He is the son of legendary state Rep. Thomas W. McGee who served in the Massachusetts House for nearly three decades and as speaker for 10 of those years.

Kennedy became the city’s first female mayor in 2009, when as city councilor-at-large, she unseated incumbent Mayor Edward “Chip” Clancy by a few dozen votes. She won re-election 2013 when she soundly defeated Timothy Phelan.

The mayor declined to be interviewed.

In a statement she said “I’m looking forward to running on my record. I’m sure the campaign will offer voters a choice between two very different types of elected officials. May the best woman win.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Photo by Mark Lorenz

A note from the publisher

The mission of The Item is “to inform, educate, provoke thought, and prompt a smile in reflecting the communities we cover.”

In an attempt to address the “provoke thought” portion of our mission statement, we will on Monday begin publishing a series titled “Am I a bigot?”

Because of three teaser ads we ran this week, it has already begun provoking thought.

And fury.

Social media went berserk with conspiracy theorists who insisted the ads were in response to the “no” vote to fund two new schools in Lynn.

They were not.

Others insisted we were calling our readers bigots.

We were not.

The series is meant only to provoke thought — specifically, introspection. Note the question is “Am I a bigot?” — not “Are you a bigot?”

Note also the term “bigot.” It does not say “racist.” There’s a difference.

We appreciate reader response. Reader engagement is a reason The Item is on social media.

Jack Herlihy of Lynn let his feelings known by submitting a letter to the editor that I thought was well considered, and one that deserved a reply.

Here’s Mr. Herlihy’s letter and the response I sent him:

Dear Editor,
Page A-5 of the Daily Item, March 21, 2017 [Am I a bigot?]. Really? To whom is this question aimed at? And, insulting to your readers; especially with no context. Shame on you!

Jack Herlihy
Lynn, MA

Mr. Herlihy:

Thank you for taking the time to send the email. As you might guess, you’re not the only one who has commented.
What you and the others read is what’s called a teaser ad. In this case, it’s leading up to a series that begins Monday in The Item.
Similar ads (appeared) in the paper and online (this week).
Respectfully, I ask that you bear with us. The context will be apparent Monday.
In the meantime, please be assured that we did not set out to insult our readers; the intent was to elicit thought, curiosity, and — ultimately — readership.
I would be interested in your feedback once the series begins.
Again, thank you for contacting us and for reading The Item.

Ted Grant
Publisher

The idea for the series originated in a conversation I had with Lynn Attorney Jim Carrigan two years ago. Given our current political climate, now seems an appropriate time to publish it.

As I said in response to Mr. Herlihy, I would be interested in your feedback once you’ve read the series.

My only hope is that it makes you think.

Lynn says no; so what now?

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Cathy Rowe posts early returns Tuesday night at Lynn City Hall.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — One day after a ballot question to build two middle schools lost in a landslide, proponents are reeling from the outcome.

“We knocked on doors and got great feedback from folks, so we were surprised and saddened by the outcome,” said Brant Duncan, president of the Lynn Teachers Union. “I don’t know why there was such large opposition.”

In a special election on Tuesday, voters rejected two ballot questions that would have authorized a $188.5 million plan for a 652-student school on Parkland Avenue and a second school to house 1,008 students on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, a grassroots organization founded to fight the schools, managed to get the no vote out. They argued that the 44 acres near the proposed Parkland Avenue school site should be reserved exclusively for future burial grounds and open space.

At a meeting of the Pickering School Building Committee at City Hall on Wednesday, Lynn Stapleton, the school project manager, thanked the panel for their hard work and acknowledged the sadness in the room.

“It was an overwhelming no vote,” she said. “And the votes came from well beyond where the school was to be located. The outcome was really upsetting, but we will move on.”

Schools out in Lynn

Donald Castle, a founding member of Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, said he plans to meet with the mayor in the coming weeks.  

“We want to give everyone time to consider the results,” he said.  “I extended an olive branch to the mayor and the committee to pick another site. And we ask the City Council to keep the 44 acres for the cemetery.”

The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), the quasi-independent government authority that funds school construction projects, which agreed to fund a portion of the Lynn project, gives the city 10 days to explain why the vote failed and how the city wants to proceed. Under the agency’s rules, the city could withdraw or modify its plan and re-apply for funds by April 7 or meet next year’s April deadline.

One of the options is to build just one school, Stapleton said. Or the city could consider a phased option where construction begins on one school and then another. The other possibility is to simply add more classrooms at the Thurgood Marshall Middle School. The city could also withdraw from the competitive funding process.

Given MSBA’s timelines, if the city decides to go forward with a new plan, nothing will happen until 2020.

Full results of Lynn school vote

But Stapleton suggested this was not the time to make any decisions.

“Emotions are a little raw right now,” she said. “Let’s think about it, schedule another meeting and see what we might come up with for alternatives. We don’t have lots of time. But if you think that you have any kind of plan that might conceivably work, I recommend that we submit it to the MSBA within 10 days and see if we can get them to work with us. Otherwise, your only other option is to withdraw from the program and submit next year and try to get back in.”

Following the meeting, Dr. Catherine Latham, superintendent of Lynn Public Schools, said she was heartbroken for the school children and the city.

“I don’t think the vote was about the money, but I just don’t know,” she said. “I wish I knew.”

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy said she needs time to consider the vote.

“I need to figure out why they voted no,” she said.

Duncan, the union president, said the vote doesn’t resolve the need for more classroom space or the condition of school buildings.

“The Pickering’s roof was leaking significantly on election day from the melting snow,” he said. “It’s the city’s responsibility to come up with a solution.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tigrillo@itemlive.com.

Schools out in Lynn

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Judy Odiorre, Jeanne Melanson, and Marie Muise celebrate the “Vote No” victory at the Old Tyme Restaurant.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN —  Voters said no to a nearly $200 million proposal to build two middle schools Tuesday, rejecting the measure by a decisive margin.

The controversial ballot asked voters to green light construction of the schools while a second question sought approval to pay for them. The first vote failed 63 to 37 percent, the funding question lost 64 to 36 percent.

“I am really proud of my neighborhood grassroots group that stood up for what they believe in,” said Donald Castle, a founding member of Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, an advocacy organization founded to fight the ballot question. “The city, and in particular, the mayor and the superintendent, really need to reassess how they do business with taxpayers.”

Castle said the vote turned on the process, financing, the site that includes land that the founding fathers intended as cemetery expansion, as well as wetlands.

It was a spirited campaign where proponents and opponents took their case to Facebook and in dueling op-ed pieces.  The Item editorialized in favor of the project on Page 1 twice in the final weeks of the campaign.

Of the 8,539 votes cast on the first question, 3,189 were in favor while 5,350 were against. On the second question, of the 8,454 votes, 3,014 were in favor while 5,440 opposed. The no vote was nearly unanimous in every ward and precinct across the city.  

Full results of Lynn school vote

The vote is a setback for Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, the superintendent, the Lynn Teachers Association and nearly all of the city’s elected officials who were in favor of the project.

“I’m disappointed for the students more than anything,” said Kennedy.  

As far as renovating the existing Pickering Middle School, Kennedy said that is not possible.

“We can’t afford it,” she said. “That would be $44 million out of the city’s budget … there is absolutely no way we can afford to renovate Pickering.”

Dr. Catherine Latham, superintendent of Lynn Public Schools, said she was greatly disappointed that the vote to build two new middle schools failed.  

“The greatest investment a city can make is for the education of its children,” she said in an email.  “Apparently our residents are unable to make such a investment at this time. I will continue to work with the state and the city to examine possible solutions to our school needs.”

If approved, the city would have built a 652-student school near the Pine Grove Cemetery and Breeds Pond Reservoir on Parkland Avenue. A second school would have housed 1,008 students on McManus Field on Commercial Street. In making the case for the new schools, Latham said 3,100 students attend the city’s three middle schools. By 2020, enrollment is expected to soar by 20 percent, adding another 600 students to the mix. The new schools were needed to fix a problem of insufficient space and inadequate facilities.

The new schools would have added an additional $200 to the average tax bill for a single-family home each year for the next 25 years.

City Council President Darren Cyr, an enthusiastic supporter of the new schools,  said he was extremely disappointed in the vote.

“I feel sorry for the kids in our city,” he said. “They are the losers. There are no winners.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tigrillo@itemlive.com.

Full results of Lynn school vote

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Devin Robbins, Holly Shorten, and Luise Fonseca celebrate the “Vote No” victory at the Old Tyme Restaurant.

LYNN — Residents overwhelmingly rejected a ballot initiative to fund two new middle schools in a special election Tuesday. According to an election summary report from the city, 8,585 — about 16.3 percent — of Lynn’s 52,599 registered voters took to the polls.

For Question One, 3,189, or 37.35 percent, of voters said yes, while while 5,350, or 62.65 percent, said no. For Question Two, 3,014, or 35.65 percent, said yes, while 5,440, or 64.35 percent, said no.

These numbers reflect 100 percent of the city’s 28 precincts. See the the breakdown of precincts below. The first figure represents Question 1, while the second figure represents Question 2.

Ward 1, Precinct 1

Yes: 389, 358
No: 461, 475

Ward 1, Precinct 2

Yes: 412, 373
No: 533, 556

Ward 1, Precinct 3

Yes: 305, 286
No: 464, 481

Ward 1, Precinct 4

Yes: 235, 222
No: 324, 330

Ward 2, Precinct 1

Yes: 383, 362
No: 412, 412

Ward 2, Precinct 2

Yes: 87, 85
No: 180, 179

Ward 2, Precinct 3

Yes: 25, 24
No: 76, 75

Ward 2, Precinct 4

Yes: 48, 51
No: 93, 87

Ward 3, Precinct 1

Yes: 112, 113
No: 227, 230

Ward 3, Precinct 2

Yes: 69, 63
No: 145, 149

Ward 3, Precinct 3

Yes: 103, 97
No: 163, 166

Ward 3, Precinct 4

Yes: 88, 83
No: 137, 139

Ward 4, Precinct 1

Yes: 30, 27
No: 29, 32

Ward 4, Precinct 2

Yes: 19, 22
No: 29, 28

Ward 4, Precinct 3

Yes: 55, 55
No: 65, 64

Ward 4, Precinct 4

Yes: 68, 64
No: 99, 99

Ward 5, Precinct 1

Yes: 109, 105
No: 313, 313

Ward 5, Precinct 2

Yes: 23, 23
No: 48, 48

Ward 5, Precinct 3

Yes: 24, 21
No: 31, 34

Ward 5, Precinct 4

Yes: 66, 60
No: 81, 86

Ward 6, Precinct 1

Yes: 79, 74
No: 164, 167

Ward 6, Precinct 2

Yes: 14, 15
No: 50, 49

Ward 6, Precinct 3

Yes: 16, 15
No: 28, 26

Ward 6, Precinct 4

Yes: 28, 27
No: 65, 64

Ward 7, Precinct 1

Yes: 142, 137
No: 389, 391

Ward 7, Precinct 2

Yes: 134, 127
No: 335, 343

Ward 7, Precinct 3

Yes: 78, 75
No: 196, 199

Ward 7, Precinct 4

Yes: 48, 50
No: 213, 209

The 6 ‘alternative facts’ of school no-voters

COMMENTARY BY CITY COUNCIL PRESIDENT DARREN CYR

I write as president of the Lynn City Council and for the councilors-at-large. We cannot in good conscience sit by and allow the negative, defamatory statements, distortions and outright lies from the “vote no on two new schools” team go unanswered.  

The negativity and outright venom spewed by the opposition shocks the values that we hold true in our hearts. We are utterly disgusted to read social media posts stating that “those children” from foreign countries who speak with accents do not deserve a quality education.  

The anger and nastiness of this campaign by the “vote no” supporters makes the recent presidential election look like a hug fest.

We as Lynners have a unique opportunity to literally change the lives of more than 100,000 of our children for the next century. It is ironic that the residents of Ward 1 who pay some of the highest property taxes in the city are forced to send their children to a crumbling building that does not meet the educational needs of the 21st century.  

Not so long ago, a former Marblehead state representative told his constituents they should support strong state school funding for Lynn. Swampscott raises captains of industry, he said, who “need very well educated employees.”

As Lynners, we find that statement and such a sentiment to be a slap in the face.  We sincerely hope that no Lynner believes that we should be looked down upon by any other community.  

We are proud to be from Lynn and want nothing but the very best for our families and children.  

We’re not anti-education, ‘no’-voters say

The irony is not lost on us collectively that Swampscott educational leaders have toured the new Thurgood Marshall Middle School and intend to model future construction in their town on this project that was finished on time and under budget. The proposed schools in large part will be modeled after Marshall and the West Lynn site will be almost identical.

“Alternative fact No. 1” put forth by the opposition claims that Lynn can simply go back to the drawing board and select a new site. This is just not true. Lynn has spent almost $1.1 million on architectural drawings, traffic studies, sewer studies and wetland/drinking supply protection studies. There is no more money to funnel into additional studies and plans.  

The plain fact of the matter is that the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) has insisted that one of the schools be located in the East Lynn District. There are no other sites in East Lynn that exist that are financially or environmentally feasible.  

The Magnolia Avenue site is not a viable option. That  land is located in a flood zone. There is an existing Massachusetts Water Resources Authority pipe that runs underneath the playground that supplies water to the citizens from Swampscott and Marblehead.  The site is not large enough to accommodate a 600-plus student facility without taking by eminent domain a portion of the neighboring elderly apartment complex. Such a taking would result in dozens of elderly persons being relocated to new homes.

If the citizens of Lynn reject the two modern state-of-the-art educational facilities, Lynn will go to the end of the line and be forced to submit a new application. Exploding enrollment projects show that by 2021, Lynn will have either double sessions or classrooms with 50 children.  In all likelihood, Lynn would not get back to the front of the line at the MSBA until 2019 or 2020.  

This ensures double sessions or students crammed into classrooms like sardines. But even this ignores the fact that there are no other viable sites in East Lynn. Therefore, it makes no sense to re-apply. Lynn will just dump good money after bad fixing up a Pickering Middle School that can never be adequately rebuilt for today’s middle school educational needs.

Current system not sustainable, Latham says

“Alternative Fact No. 2” as put forth by the opposition states Lynn will be taking multiple homes at the reservoir site. This is just not true. Lynn heard the voices of the opposition and redrew the plans so that only one home will be taken by eminent domain.  

The wonderful woman who was the subject of news coverage several months ago will not lose her home. The younger woman who would be required to relocate has and will continue to be offered every reasonable accommodation. The Lynn City Council has gone on record supporting the idea of moving her home several hundred yards down the road so that she can remain in the home she built.

Opponents ignore the fact that two homes were taken by eminent domain in order to construct Thurgood Marshall. Those relocated for Marshall were residents of Ward 3 and we know for a fact that they were extremely satisfied with the efforts Lynn undertook to relocate them to a new home of their choosing.  

“Alternative fact No. 3” put forth by the opposition states that the cost of the school project will be $5,000 per taxpayer. This figure will be spread out over 25 years. In return, Lynners will see their property values soar. Think about it: Residents with children looking to buy property will not want to buy in Lynn if our schools are an embarrassment. We urge Lynners to take a tour of the existing Pickering.

Quite simply, the physical condition of Pickering is an embarrassment.

The more families are satisfied with the conditions of our schools, the greater the demand will be for our own homes. Our greatest assets are our homes. With the construction of two new schools, our homes will go up in value considerably.  By approving these two new schools, we have just increased our own net worth by tens of thousands of dollars almost immediately.  

“Alternative fact No. 4” put forth by the opposition states that the property is part of Lynn Woods. This outright fabrication can simply be rebutted by the fact that the Friends of Lynn Woods have publicly said that the land is not part of the Lynn Woods Reservation.

“Alternative fact No. 5” put forth by the opposition states that the land is cemetery land. The deeds for the subject land clearly state that the City of Lynn owns this land with no restrictions. An attorney for the “vote no” group has conceded at a public hearing before the Lynn City Council that the deeds on file at the Registry of Deeds contain no restrictions requiring this land to be used for cemetery purposes.

Conversely, the Lynn City Council is on record as supporting the sale of 32 acres to the Pine Grove Cemetery and said deed will state the land will be used solely for cemetery purposes.  Because there exists no deed restrictions or conditions on file at the Registry of Deeds, the Lynn City Council would be free to sell this land to a developer to construct hundreds of new homes.

The Lynn City Council did not seek such a solution. Rather, it unanimously voted to commence the process to transfer this land to the Pine Grove Cemetery Commission at no cost.

“Alternative fact No. 6” put forth by the opposition states that the selection of these sites was done behind closed doors with no public input. All meetings of the Pickering Site Committee have been open to the public.  Three public forums were held where our community could speak up on the proposed sites.

Members of the Lynn City Council have personally met and spoke with the leader of the opposition on almost a dozen occasions. Our city council colleagues have attempted to address or mitigate each and every one of their stated concerns.  

Now is the time for us as a community to step up.  The negativity and anger is unacceptable. We are supporting the two new schools because our only interest is the children of Lynn.  

Our fellow Lynners: Let’s vote yes on two new schools so that our children will have the necessary tools to be captains of industry for generations to come.  


Editor’s note: City Council President Darren P. Cyr wrote this editorial and signed it with fellow councilors Buzzy Barton, Council Vice President, and Councilors-at-large Daniel F. Cahill, Brian P. LaPierre and Hong L. Net.

 

Swampscott wants new schools

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — School officials are seeking state support for a new school building, more than two years after the town rejected a district-wide elementary school.

“I will be submitting two Statement of Interests (SOI) to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) by the deadline of April 7,” Superintendent Pamela Angelakis said in an email. “Hadley School will be the primary submission, while I will also be submitting one for the middle school. The reason behind the two submissions is to demonstrate that Swampscott has a long-range vision for its schools. We’ve spent the last two and a half years reflecting on the last process and developing an Educational Vision K-12.”

In the statement of interest, the district is asked to identify perceived deficiencies in a school building, and also indicates what type of project it thinks is appropriate. The SOI is completed by districts seeking MSBA funding, according to the MSBA website.

Carin Marshall, school committee chairwoman, said the intent for Hadley Elementary School would be for replacement and a new building, while the interest for Swampscott Middle School would be for renovation. The new building to replace Hadley could potentially be the same size or larger, but those details haven’t been determined yet, she added.

The intent with a new school building, Marshall said, is to align with the educational vision. The K-12 educational vision, presented in November 2015, outlines the preferred educational model for Swampscott Public Schools, with that being grade level consolidation. Grade level groupings were determined by developmental, academic and social emotional needs. School officials determined that fifth grade belonged with the elementary level, rather than middle school, as the preferred model.

The existing public school configuration is preschool, three K-4 elementary schools — Hadley, Clarke and Stanley — a grade 5-8 middle school and a grade 9-12 high school. The preferred new configuration would be a pre-K to 2 early education center, grade 3-5 elementary school, grade 6-8 middle school and a grade 9-12 high school, according to the educational vision.

Conceivably, the new school could be part of that goal, possibly a K-2 school, Marshall said, but plans are uncertain at this stage. She said the most likely scenario is a new elementary school, as that is the highest need.

Marshall said the middle school needs some serious renovation, including all new windows and roofs, and would need to be brought up to today’s educational standards. Even though the building is relatively modern, as it was built in 1958, she said “it is still very different from what you would build today for educational needs in 2016.”

City stands to collect $175K for parking tickets

Hadley School is the oldest school building in town and why it’s the primary statement of interest, Marshall said. She said an example of the building’s current condition would be the large amount school officials are paying to replace all of the boilers in that school just to keep it heated and safe for the children.

The cost of the project is more than $400,000. She said the money there is an example of how the building is negatively affecting the town. Conditions at Hadley have caused students to miss school in the past.

“We’re constantly having to put money into this building that’s far past its useful life,” Marshall said. “We’re spending money to keep these buildings limping along and it’s ultimately not fair to the students or all the taxpayers in town. We have to address these issues.”

Going forward, Marshall said all of the K-8 students need new or upgraded facilities.

The effort started after the failed Town Meeting vote in 2014 for a consolidated elementary school on the site of Swampscott Middle School on Forest Avenue. A task force was put together, made up of people for and against the new school, with the intent to put another statement of interest in.

In July 2014, the MSBA gave final approval for a district-wide elementary school in Swampscott. The plans included building a new school for grades 1-4 on land adjacent to the middle school. Clarke School would have been converted to house pre-kindergarten to kindergarten. Stanley School would have been demolished with the land converted to athletic fields and playgrounds. The proposed project cost $52.6 million, and the town would have been responsible for approximately $35 million.

The proposal had to pass two votes, a two-thirds majority at Town Meeting and a town-wide ballot vote requiring a simple majority. Town Meeting voted 140-98 in favor of the school in October 2014, falling short of the two-thirds majority. The school was rejected by more than 2,500 votes on the ballot initiative that year.

“In 2014, the community was presented with a plan without much conversation to address their concerns,” Angelakis said in an email. “Moving forward, once the SOIs are submitted and while we wait to hear if we are accepted back into the program, there will be outreach to the community. The plan for community outreach right now includes community forums, building tours, meetings with individual town boards and committees.

“It’s important to note that no site has been selected at this time and that site determination comes as part of the feasibility study when and if we are accepted by the MSBA,” Angelakis continued.

The school committee is scheduled to vote on the statements of interest on March 22. The Board of Selectmen would also have to approve the statements before the April 7 MSBA deadline, Marshall said.

If Swampscott is accepted by the MSBA, Town Meeting would have to approve funding for a feasibility study. Once the study is completed, architects would be hired to design the building and then Town Meeting would have to approve funding the school. A ballot vote would also be needed for the project.


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

Lynn school election snowed out

PHOTO BY SCOTT EISEN
Lynn City Clerk Janet Rowe, left, and election coordinator Mary Jules help Tim and Deborah Potter cast absentee ballots.

By THOMAS GRILLO

SALEM — As a late season blizzard threatens to shut down the Bay State with more than a foot of snow, today’s high stakes election on funding two new middle schools has been postponed.

Essex Superior Court Judge Peter Lauriat issued the ruling on Monday in response to a request from the city. Less than three hours later, in an emergency meeting, the City Council moved the election to next Tuesday, March 21.

Lauriat approved a request by Richard Vitali, the city’s assistant city solicitor, to delay the special election. While the city had hoped the judge would approve the March 21 date, Lauriat declined.

“The City Council set the date of the first vote, they should set the new one,” Lauriat said from the bench.

That set in motion a swift response from City Hall to call for an emergency council meeting

“I’m glad,” said Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy. “I wanted to make sure we got into court today because it’s becoming more and more evident that it would be a real public safety hazard to have people attempting to go out to vote in a storm like this.”

Current system not sustainable, Latham says

Voters are being asked to pay for a 652-student school to be built near Pine Grove Cemetery on Parkland Avenue. A second facility to serve 1,008 students would be constructed on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

If approved, property owners will be responsible for $91.4 million of the total $188.5 million project cost. School officials said $11 million in contingency funds are included in the overall calculations. If those monies are not used, officials said it would reduce the taxpayer portion by that amount, making the taxpayers’ bill about $80 million. City officials say the average homeowner would pay from $200-$275 a year extra on their real estate tax bill for the next 25 years.

Donald Castle, a founding member of Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, a grassroots organization founded to fight the ballot question, said his group will spend the extra week before the election to convince residents to vote no.

“The fight continues,” he said. “We will keep organizing to oppose this.”

We’re not anti-education, ‘no’-voters say

In a filing to the city on campaign spending, Two Schools for Lynn, the group organized to support the project, reported they raised $11,055 from Jan. 31 through Feb. 24. Much of the cash, $5,000, came from the Lynn Teachers Association. Public officials also made donations. City Councilor and state Rep. Daniel Cahill contributed $500, the mayor wrote a check for $200, City Councilor Brian LaPierre gave $450 and City Councilor Buzzy Barton donated $200.

The group opposing the ballot initiative, Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, failed to file on time. Castle said the report was in the mail and estimated the group raised about $7,000.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

School vote moved to Tuesday, March 21

LYNN — Under the looming possibility of more than a foot of snow Tuesday, the special election on funding two new middle schools has been postponed a week to Tuesday, March 21.

The decision was made during an emergency meeting by the City Council.

Voters are being asked to pay for a 652-student school to be built near the Pine Grove Cemetery on Parkland Avenue. A second facility to serve 1,008 students would be constructed on McManus Field on Commercial Street. The polls will open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

Current system not sustainable, Latham says

We’re not anti-education, ‘no’-voters say

Kennedy makes final push on school vote

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy speaks with the Item at her office.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy won’t say whether she will seek a third term this fall, but the city’s chief executive is sure acting like a candidate.

In a wide ranging interview with The Item this week, the mayor laid out her goals for 2017.

At the top of her list is winning Tuesday’s vote for construction of two new middle schools. The special election on March 14 asks homeowners to approve a property tax increase for 25 years for the $188.5 million project that would build a school on Parkland Avenue and a second in West Lynn.

“Next week will give us an indication of whether we will be able to move forward with providing our students with the same kind of education they receive at the new Marshall Middle School,” she said.  “I just hope there is no confusion that voters need to vote yes on both questions in order for it to pass. If you favor the new schools, vote yes for both or it will fail.”

We’re not anti-education, ‘no’-voters say

While the mayor is optimistic that voters will approve the ballot initiative, she is considering Plan B should the vote fail.

‘We would go back to the Massachusetts School Building Authority and start over,” said the mayor, referring to the quasi-independent government agency that funds a portion of school construction projects. “And hope that within a few years we could turn the vote around.”

While opponents of the school site on Parkland Avenue say a better alternative is to renovate the Pickering Middle School, the mayor said the city lacks the $44.2 million it would take to gut the 90,000-square-foot facility and install new systems, classrooms, gym, cafeteria and labs.

“We simply can’t afford it out of the city budget,” she said.

Current system not sustainable, Latham says

Also in the planning stages is a marketing staffer for the Lynn Auditorium, the city’s 2,100-seat concert hall, that would be paid for by ticket sales.

“We could reach more people and expand if we had someone to do marketing,” she said.

Kennedy is also planning to spend $400,000 for a study to replace Engine 9 on Tower Hill and Engine 7 on Pine Hill with a fire safety building in West Lynn at a cost of $15-20 million.

“Those buildings are 100 years old and continuing to show signs of aging,” she said.  “We would build one facility and perhaps move dispatch into the new station and save on rent.”

The mayor also plans to seek $100,000 in grants to restore the Angell Memorial Fountain at Broad and Nahant streets. Built in the early 1900s  in memory of George T. Angell, the founder of Boston’s Angell Memorial Hospital, the fountain once served as a horse trough.

In addition, the mayor said summer job applications for teens are available at the personnel office in City Hall. Selection for the 120 jobs will be done by lottery.

While no one has declared their candidacy for mayor, local political observers say Kennedy will run. State Sen. Thomas McGee (D-Lynn) and City Councilor-at-Large Brian LaPierre have said they are exploring the possibility of running. McGee recently held a fundraiser in Boston and may have been the person behind a citywide poll on the race.

Kennedy and LaPierre said they had nothing to do with the poll. But a McGee spokeswoman did not respond when asked the question.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

We’re not anti-education, ‘no’-voters say

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Donald Castle and Gary Welch argue against the construction of two new middle schools in Lynn.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Leaders of the opposition to next Tuesday’s ballot question on construction of two middle schools insist they are not anti-education and or anti-new schools.

They argue one of the sites is unacceptable because it robs land intended for the expansion of Pine Grove Cemetery, it’s too close to Breeds Pond Reservoir, the buildings are too expensive and the process has failed to include opposing voices.

“The Parkland Avenue site is one of the worst and this process has been rigged,” said Gary Welch, a member of Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, a grassroots organization founded to fight the location of the Parkland Avenue school. “Our argument is based on this being the wrong site, although we know some people will vote no because of the cost.”

Donald Castle, a founding member of the group, said officials selected Parkland Avenue before there were any public hearings. He said there are cheaper alternatives.

In an interview with The Item’s editorial board on Thursday, Welch and Castle made the case against the $188.5 million project and urged residents to vote no.

If approved, a 652-student school would be built near the Pine Grove Cemetery and Breeds Pond Reservoir on Parkland Avenue. A second one to serve 1,008 students would be constructed in West Lynn on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

The new schools will add an additional $200 to the average tax bill for a single-family homeowner each year for the next 25 years.

Current system not sustainable, Latham says

While Castle and Welch agree with the city’s attorney that deeds clearly state the 44 vacant acres at Pine Grove is owned by the city, they say it was always intended for a future graveyard.  

“It is city land,” Castle said. “But we want to uphold what our forefathers did 127 years ago to keep it cemetery land for so many reasons: to bury people and to protect the environment and the wildlife.”

Castle and Welch dispute the reasoning behind the Pickering Middle School Building Committee’s rejection of at least 10 other potential sites for the Parkland school.

“The feasibility study had a number of different locations that we favor,” Welch said. “Come up with a better site and I’ll vote yes.”

He said the best solution is to renovate the existing Pickering Middle School. The other option is to build the middle school in West Lynn that would serve Pickering students and others, Welch said.

Castle disputed the $44.2 million cost of the renovation, that school officials said will not be reimbursed by the state.

“Show me where that $44 million came from,” he said. “We don’t think that’s legit … I don’t know how much it will cost, but I don’t think it will cost $44 million.”

They also object to any development so close to the reservoir.

“We are concerned about building so close to the reservoir,” Welch said. “We are being sold a pig in a poke and we’re being asked for something that no one knows much about.”   


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

Current system not sustainable, Latham says

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Edward Calnan of the Pickering School Building Committee, Inspectional Services Department Director Michael Donovan and Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham make the case for new schools.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN If voters reject the ballot initiative on Tuesday to build a pair of new middle schools, students face the possibility of split sessions, according to the superintendent.

“If we don’t build these schools, our sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders will be in double sessions in a very short period of time, possibly within two years,” said Dr. Catherine Latham.

Today, 3,100 students attend the city’s three middle schools. By 2020, enrollment is expected to soar by 20 percent, adding another 600 students to the mix.

“Our schools cannot sustain that many students,” she said. Under double sessions, one group of students would attend classes from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. while the next group would arrive at 1 p.m. and go until 5:30 p.m., she said.

In an interview with The Item’s editorial board on Thursday, Latham, Michael Donovan, Inspectional Services Department director, Edward Calnan, member of the Pickering Middle School Building Committee, and Thomas Iarrobino, secretary of the Lynn School Committee, made the case for the $188.5 million project.

If approved, a 652-student school would be built near the Pine Grove Cemetery and Breeds Pond Reservoir on Parkland Avenue. A second one to serve 1,008 students would be constructed on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

The new schools will add an additional $200 to the average tax bill for a single-family home each year for the next 25 years.

We’re not anti-education, ‘no’-voters say

Calnan said they explored more than a dozen potential sites, but they were dropped due to a variety of issues. Some were in a flood zone or marsh land, others had hazardous waste that precluded school construction. A site at Magnolia Street would boost building costs by as much as $800,000 to move a water pipe that serves Swampscott and Marblehead, officials said.

A vacant parcel on Rockdale Avenue and Verona Street was examined, but the committee found the tight residential neighborhood was difficult to access and is privately-owned. They also looked at General Electric Co. properties on Bennett Street and on Elmwood Avenue. But those were rejected because of environmental concerns, they said.

Latham said all of the city’s middle school students should have the same experience as those attending the new $67 million Thurgood Marshall Middle School.

Last spring, the 181,847-square-foot school opened for more than 1,000 students. The three buildings are divided by clusters, each distinguished by a different color. In addition to an outdoor courtyard, lots of natural light, the soundproof classrooms block any hint of the commuter rail trains that run past the rear of the school and the sounds of musical instruments from several music classes.  

In addition, there are suites for special education and art. The school boasts computer rooms complete with Apple computers. It contains home economics rooms, a woodworking shop, a television production studio and a health center.

Iarrobino, who serves as the liaison between the schools and the School Committee, said any discussion of school must include a link to the local economy.

“If folks are contemplating opening a business in Lynn, the first thing they will ask about is where will their employees attend school and what are the schools like,” he said. “We have an obligation to them and they have a right to the best quality education that is available to them, not just in the suburbs, but right here in an urban district.”  


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Pickering principal states case for new school

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Pictured is the boys’ locker room at the Pickering Middle School.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN If you’re undecided or planning to vote against construction of two middle schools in next week’s special election, Kevin Rittershaus wants to meet you.

The principal of the Pickering Middle School has hundreds of reasons why voters should vote yes. If approved on Tuesday, the city would spend $188.5 million to build a three-story middle school on Parkland Avenue and a four-story one on Commercial Street.

“This is an ancient building trying to do 21st century education,” he said. “Every inch of space is used for something, former closets have been turned into offices while counselors and music teachers are working in corridors. Come and see my school and compare it with what kids get at the new Marshall Middle School.”

Rittershaus, who has worked at Pickering since the late 1990s and is now in his fourth year as principal, brought The Item on a tour of the worn-out grade 6-8 school on Conomo Avenue Wednesday.

There’s peeling paint on the auditorium’s tin ceiling and water damage on the walls. The special education and health teachers share an office, making private sessions impossible. The computer lab has three dozen dated personal computers for 620 students.

Let the transformation begin in Malden

The school adjustment counselor has a table in a 250-square-foot corridor space to meet students. The school’s library was closed because it was needed for a classroom. It was the same story with home economics. Down the hall, the school’s original lockers have never been replaced and a music room in a hallway is shared with a vending machine. The boiler room resembles a scene out of “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

The art room lacks a sink, easels, drawing tables and storage space.

Angeliki Russell, the school’s art teacher, said while students create art good enough to be hung, the children would be better served with more space, sinks, higher tables, improved lighting, better chairs and places to store art materials.

Because of overcrowding, Pickering has four, one-half lunch periods that start at 11 a.m. just to fit all the kids in.

Joseph Smart, the city’s building and grounds director, said the roof leaks and water has damaged the historic tin ceilings.

“The building needs a new roof,” he said. “The auditorium was painted in 2014, it’s already peeling.”

In a section of the building that is below grade, moisture is coming through the brick and onto the plaster.

“We’ve done numerous repairs, but to do it right we’d have to dig it out, weatherproof it and do the inside work,” he said.

The city’s Inspectional Services Department estimates it will cost $44.2 million to renovate the 99,000-square-foot facility.

Proponents say it makes more sense to build a new school. The vote on Tuesday asks property owners to be responsible for $91.4 million or 51.5 percent of the total project cost. School officials said $11 million in contingency funds are included in the overall cost. If those monies are not used, it would reduce the taxpayer portion by that amount, making the taxpayers’ bill about $80 million.

The city said the average single-family homeowner would boost the tax bill to just under $200 more per year for 25 years. For multi-family units, the city estimates the added cost per year would range from $257-$269.

Rittershaus said there are lots of misconceptions about the project. For example, he said parents have told him that the land for the Parkland Avenue school belongs to Lynn Woods Reservation or the Pine Grove Cemetery, but in fact the land is owned by the city, he said.

“People don’t realize the work that’s gone into studying site selection,” he said. “We’ve spent days analyzing the potential locations and not one of them is ideal for everyone.”

On Tuesday, the Pine Grove Cemetery Commission took no action on a plan to transfer 32 acres from the city to the cemetery for a possible expansion, according to James Lamanna, the city’s attorney. In exchange, the commission was expected to provide about 12 acres to the city for the Parkland Avenue school to avoid any potential lawsuit.

“I am still hopeful it will happen, but it won’t happen before the election,” he said.

Construction of the school on Parkland Avenue has generated opposition from neighbors who argue the land should be preserved to expand the cemetery. In addition, opponents insist it will exacerbate traffic problems while others say they are being squeezed enough and can’t afford to pay more taxes.

State Rep. and City Councilor Daniel Cahill said it’s time to build the new schools.

“School buildings were not made to last 100 years,” he said.

New era begins for Lynn police


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Lynn mayor offers tax cuts to seniors

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN Trying to head off opposition to a $188.5 million school construction project, City Hall is offering more tax relief for seniors.

Under a plan proposed by Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy to offset the cost of building two new middle schools, the city plans to boost the real estate tax exemption to seniors by $200 and reduce the eligibility age to 65, from 70.

“We believe adopting these options will provide the necessary relief to seniors who would be most affected by a tax increase,” Kennedy said in a statement. “I have spoken to many seniors who are supportive of the new schools’ proposal, but understandably concerned about the impact on their taxes. Hopefully, this will make them feel more comfortable about a ‘yes’ vote.”

On Tuesday, March 14, voters will be asked to approve a tax hike to pay for a 652-student school to be built near Breeds Pond Reservoir off Parkland Avenue and a second facility to serve 1,008 students on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

If approved, voters will be responsible for $91.4 million of the project cost. The Massachusetts School Building Authority, the quasi-independent state agency that funds school projects, said it will contribute $97.1 million.

School officials said $11 million in contingency funds are included in the overall cost. If those monies are not used, it would reduce the taxpayer portion by that amount, making the taxpayers’ bill about $80 million.

The city said the average homeowner will pay an additional $200 in taxes per year for 25 years.

If voters reject the tax hike, the increased tax exemption would be dropped.

Kennedy said she’s heard the concerns of seniors who are worried about a $200 tax increase if voters approve two new schools. The mayor asked the Board of Assessors to explore options for providing additional tax relief.

The tax exemption is available to income-eligible seniors. A couple can earn no more than $29,804 and have assets of less than $45,974, not including a home and car. A single senior can earn up to $23,792 with assets no more than $42,908.

Today, about 100 seniors receive the $500 deduction, according to Peter Caron, the city’s chief financial officer.

Caron said most seniors who receive the exemption have homes valued around or under the average single-family value of $273,600. As a result, he said, the $200 additional exemption would mitigate the tax increase required to pay for the city’s share of the school building project.

“We have made a concerted effort to answer questions and address concerns related to the new schools,” Kennedy said. “It is critical that we build these schools in order to have the space required for the 20 percent increase in enrollment we will see in the next two years.”

Gary Welch, a member of Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, a grassroots organization founded to fight the location of the Parkland Avenue school, declined comment. Donald Castle, a founding member of the group, could not be reached for comment.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Cook-off to help fund sergeant’s run

COURTESY PHOTO
Peabody Police Sgt. Jim Harkins poses with his three children, Natalie, James and Rachel.

By DAVID WILSON

PEABODY — Peabody Police Sgt. Jim Harkins is quick to acknowledge he’s not a natural runner.

But on April 17, the 37-year-old father of three will tackle the 26.2-mile Boston Marathon; it’s a leap for someone who has only participated in half-marathons.

Something special will keep him pushing one foot in front of the other, he said: He’s running for Massachusetts-based charity Cops for Kids with Cancer.

As an official charity partner of the marathon, Cops for Kids with Cancer opens the race to those who may not have a fast enough qualifying time.

All Harkins needs to do to run, is raise $10,000 for the charity. As of Thursday night, he’s at $1,920.

Harkins, who has been with the Peabody Police Department for about 10 years, said that officers notify Cops for Kids with Cancer of a family that has a child with cancer. After a verification process, the charity provides families with $5,000; they can do whatever they like with the money.

The charity aims “to remove some financial burden so all their energies can go to helping their child beat cancer and live a healthy life,”  says their website.

To help reach his fundraising goal, Harkins planned a chicken wing cook-off for Friday at the Holy Ghost Society, 20 Howley St. in Peabody. More than 15 restaurants from Beverly, Danvers, Lynn, Peabody and Salem will be participating, he said.

Harkins said the restaurants will cook their chicken on their premises, and bring it to the facility.  The cook-off begins at 6 p.m. and goes until all the wings are finished or “until everybody leaves,” he said.

Tickets are $25 at the door. Harkins said he has already sold 150, and hopes to sell an additional 100-200 Friday night.

Cook-off guests will turn in their tickets to receive a ballot. After tasting, they will vote on the  top-three chicken wings. The winning restaurant will receive a certificate and, later, a trophy, Harkins said.

There will be about 35 raffles that cook-off guests can enter. Among the prizes are gift cards, gift baskets, electronics, and even firearm education classes for four, Harkins said.

There will also be a silent auction featuring sports memorabilia.

So, why chicken wings, one might want to ask Harkins. The self-described “buffalo-wing nut” explains, simply, they are his favorite food.

In fact, Harkins quickly says he has driven to Philadelphia just to try some extraordinary wings.

Wait; you repeat that to him: Philadelphia, just for wings?

He pauses. “I cannot confirm or deny that report,” he says with a laugh.

Visit https://copsforkidswithcancer.org/runners/jim-harkins/ to learn more about Harkins, or to donate toward his total.


David Wilson can be reached at dwilson@itemlive.com.

Restaurant owner announces city council bid

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Taso Nikolakopoulos is the latest candidate for councilor-at-large.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN Taso Nikolakopoulos is the latest candidate to throw his hat in the ring for an at-large seat on the City Council.

“I see a lot of disconnect between the council, the mayor’s office and the community,” said the 47-year-old owner of John’s Roast Beef & Seafood. “We need more of a collaborative effort and I really think I can change things.”

Married with two children, Nikolakopoulos said he will focus his campaign on a handful of issues that promise to advance the city.

“The key is economic growth,” he said.

First, the city must invest in a planning department, he said.  While other communities like Salem and Somerville have robust planning divisions that guide development, he said Lynn is lacking.

“When you call the city of Salem and tell them you plan to invest $2 million, you get someone who will guide you through the process,” she said. “Within a few steps, you know where you stand.”

On how the cash-strapped city would pay for a new department, he said, “I think we can find $300,000 in a $300 million budget.”

The other thing needed to spur growth, he said, is streamlined permitting.

“It still takes as much as four times longer to get permits in  Lynn than competing municipalities,” he said.

Figueroa for stronger community connections

Nikolakopoulos would also update the city’s plans for the Lynnway and add manufacturing to the mix of allowed uses on the non-waterside section of the busy road.

“My idea is to create a unique overlay district for manufacturing to bring in revenue,” he said.

On schools, he favors the controversial ballot question scheduled for March 14 to support construction of two new middle schools at a cost of $188.5 million.

“I am voting yes,” he said.

If approved, a 652-student school would be built near on Parkland Avenue and a second facility to serve 1,008 students would be constructed on Commercial Street. While parents in the Pickering Middle School district support the project, there’s opposition from many Pine Hill residents who oppose the new school on Pine Grove Cemetery land near Breeds Pond Reservoir.

Nikolakopoulos said he also favors teaching trades at Lynn English and Classical high schools.

“Teaching trade skills at Lynn Vocational Technical Institute is not enough,” he said. “We need to offer it at the other high schools. Not every family can afford a four-year college.”

On how to pay for expanded services, he suggested returning  parking meters to the downtown as a way to generate revenue.

Nikolakopoulos emigrated to the U.S. from Kalamata, Greece in the 1970s with his parents at age 4 during a time of political unrest in the southeast European nation.

He was enrolled in a Greek bilingual program at Washington Elementary School, attended St. Mary’s High School and later graduated from the College of St. Joseph’s, a small Catholic school in Vermont, where he was soccer captain.

After graduation, he worked a few jobs at the State House, including as a research analyst for the Joint Committee on Transportation. All the while, he helped his family at the restaurant.

“I’ve been working more than 70 hours a week since I was 22,” he said. “I don’t have free weekends, unless I go away.”

Nikolakopoulos joins what is expected to be a crowded field that includes incumbents Brian LaPierre, Buzzy Barton, Hong Net and Daniel Cahill. It’s unclear whether Cahill, who was elected as a state representative last year, will seek reelection.

In addition, Jaime Figueroa, a 28-year-old Suffolk University student, hopes to be the city’s first Latino councilor and Brian Field, who works at Solimine Funeral Homes, said he is considering a run.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Mayor, super make case for new schools

PHOTO BY PAULA MULLER
Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham talks to a crowded room at Stadium Condominiums in Lynn.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy is taking no chances when it comes to passing a controversial ballot question to fund a pair of new middle schools.

On Wednesday night, the mayor and her City Hall team made the case for the $188.5 million project to more than three dozen seniors who packed the recreation room at the Stadium Condominiums.

“Right now, the library at Pickering consists of two rolling carts with books and there are no science labs,” Kennedy said. “When you contrast that with what we see at the new Thurgood Marshall Middle School, the kids are simply not getting the same educational experience.”

In a passionate plea, Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham said every child who attends a middle school should have the same opportunity as every other child.

“Our beautiful new Marshall has cooking, sewing, wood shop, a TV studio, three-dimensional art rooms, music rooms and they should be available to everyone in Lynn,” she said.

Latham said there is lots of misinformation about the project. The city looked at more than a dozen sites, she said.

“We’ve heard people suggest a site on Federal Street near the fire station,” she said. “But it’s contaminated land and that is not a possibility. Magnolia Avenue has flood plains and an MWRA water line. Some have told us to use the Union Hospital site; we don’t own it.”  

The building committee also considered renovating the existing Pickering and that would cost $44 million without any state reimbursement, Latham said.

If approved by voters on March 14, the Pickering Middle School on Conomo Avenue would be replaced with a school on Parkland Avenue near the Pine Grove Cemetery and Breeds Pond Reservoir that would house 652 students, while a larger school for 1,008 students would be built on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

Residents will be responsible for an estimated $91.4 million or 51.5 percent of the total $188.5 million project cost. The city said the average homeowner will pay an additional $200 in taxes per year for 25 years. The rest of the cost will be picked up by the  Massachusetts School Building Authority, a quasi-public agency that funds school construction.

But Donald Castle, a Stadium unit owner and founder of the Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, a grassroots organization that opposes the Parkland Avenue school site, urged the crowd to vote no.

“Your taxes will go up above and beyond the legal limit for 25 years,” he said. “The land should be preserved for a cemetery. We ask the city to protect our cemetery and protect our reservoir.”

James Lamanna, the city’s assistant city solicitor, said the school will use about a dozen acres of the 44-acre site. The rest, he said, will be preserved for cemetery expansion. In addition, he said, the project will fund a $1 million road and bridge that the Cemetery Commission could not afford. Without the school, the land could not be accessed for new graveyards.

City Council President Darren Cyr said he favors construction of the two schools.

“No matter where kids live in Lynn, they should have the same opportunities as kids get in Swampscott, Marblehead and Lynnfield,” he said. “Every one of us has a chance to change kids’ lives and by voting yes on March 14, you will give those kids a chance that they will not get otherwise.”

School Committee member Lorraine Gately said a yes vote is essential for the city’s children.

“If we don’t support this, our future is larger class sizes and double sessions,” she said.

Moving on time in Lynn


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Moving on time in Lynn

COURTESY PHOTO
An artist’s rendering of the proposed Pickering Middle School.

It must be getting hard for middle-school-construction opponents to stand their ground now that the city is poised to eliminate two major objections to building new middle schools.

The public vote on building new schools and paying for them through property-tax debt exclusion is 12 days away and a plan to build a school on Parkland Avenue still faces opposition.

The continued resistance is puzzling, especially considering public statements by City Council members who said they are reviewing the idea of moving a Parkland Avenue home instead of demolishing it through an eminent-domain taking.

The tentative plan to move the house 200 yards in the direction of Wyoma Square received a guardedly optimistic response on Tuesday from the homeowner who was happy to learn city officials don’t simply want to bulldoze her home in the name of progress.

Whether someone’s house gets torn down is a sideline concern for school-construction opponents who are fighting the school projects under the banner of “Protect Our Reservoir Preserve Pine Grove.”

Opposition is healthy in a democracy but only when sensible, well-explored alternatives are outlined and presented. City officials launched a torpedo into the side of the opposition’s proverbial ship last week when they outlined a plan providing land on which to build a school off of Parkland Avenue while providing needed land for Pine Grove Cemetery.

The city’s attorney said the proposal “should end all debate” on possible legal action by construction opponents. That is an optimistic assessment given the opposition’s perspective. That said, it is up to the Pine Grove commissioners to say if the proposal meets future land requirements for the cemetery.

It is important to note that construction opponents cannot stand up, point to a piece of land in Lynn, and say, “This is the perfect site for a new school where no one will be bothered.” That fantasy tract simply does not exist in a city as old and as congested as Lynn.

Council makes a house call for school

Where to put new schools is an important question. But the more important question is how many more new schools does the city need and when does it need to build them?

Several local elementary schools were built before the Titanic set sail and others were built in the 1920s.

New schools cannot a guarantee students will focus on their studies or excel on tests. Building new schools does not protect the city from maintenance costs like the millions of dollars spent to keep Classical High School from sinking into a former dump off O’Callaghan Way.

But the condition of schools is a factor in determining if a community can be justifiably proud of its schools and its future. Middle-school-construction supporters and opponents alike take pride in Lynn and, with that pride in mind, it is time to set aside the battle over building a school on Parkland Avenue and move on to determining future school-construction needs.

 

2 missing words could cost city $9,000

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Assistant City Solicitor James Lamanna stands with both versions of the ballot.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN Two missing words could cost the city as much as $9,000 after a typo was discovered on one of the ballot questions for the March 14 special election.

The hotly contested poll will ask voters to approve $188.5 million for the construction of a pair of middle schools to serve the city’s burgeoning school population.    

In the initial printing, Question 1 failed to include the words “be approved” following a description of the school building project that includes a new Pickering Middle School on Parkland Avenue near Pine Grove Cemetery and a new West Lynn Middle School on Commercial Street. Without those two words in the English and Spanish versions, it would be unclear whether the voter was in favor or opposed to the measure.

“No one caught the error, but the blame belongs to me,” said James Lamanna, the city’s assistant city solicitor. “I take full responsibility.”

The city received the new ballots on Monday. The cost to reprint them has been estimated at between $3,000 and $9,000.

Lamanna said he was contacted by the Secretary of State’s Election Division last week telling him they had received a number of calls reporting confusion over the ballot question.

About 200 ballots had been mailed to absentee voters before the error was spotted. A letter explaining the problem has been sent to those voters with a corrected ballot.  

Donald Castle, founder of the Protect Our Reservoir, Preserve Pine Grove, a grassroots organization that opposes the Parkland Avenue school site, said he saw a copy of the ballot question last week, noticed it lacked a verb and contacted the city and the Secretary of State’s office.

The group is opposed to the site for the Pickering Middle School on Parkland Avenue. They argue the land is for the expansion of Pine Grove Cemetery and the new road would impact the nearby reservoir.

Pickering in middle of ballot debate


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Council makes a house call for school

COURTESY PHOTO
An artist’s rendering of the proposed Pickering Middle School.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN There could be a happy ending after all for Janet Guanci and her ranch-style home on Parkland Avenue.

Facing the possibility of losing her 1,000-square-foot house to eminent domain for construction of a new middle school, the City Council is considering a plan to move the house 200 yards away.

Guanci, who bought the two-bedroom house in 2004 for $267,900, listened as the Public Property & Parks Committee unveiled the idea Tuesday night.

“We are trying to keep you in the same neighborhood because I know you like it there,” said Ward 2 Councilor William Trahant. “We’d like to keep you happy. All of us feel bad about the possibility of eminent domain and we are trying to work with you.”   

James Lamanna, the city’s assistant city solicitor, said this is one option in a complicated process for a new middle school proposed for the neighborhood near Pine Grove Cemetery.

“We are trying to be creative,” said Lamanna. “Rather than demolish your home at 97 Parkland Ave., we could relocate it down toward the salt shed. The city is trying to give you as many options as possible.”

Moving the house at a cost of about $60,000 would be far less costly for the city than paying Guanci the appraised value of nearly $300,000, officials said.

“It’s something to think about,” Guanci told the panel. “It’s not our first choice, but I’ll think about it.”

Pickering in middle of ballot debate

Councilor-at-Large Brian LaPierre said the council has not taken a vote to seize the property.

“We are exploring all options,” he said.

Following the meeting, Guanci told The Item this is the first time she’s heard of the option of moving her home farther down Parkland Avenue.

“This was a surprise,” she said. “I thought they were going to tell me they were considering a different route. It’s a good offer, but we need to take a look at it and give it more thought.” Guanci’s home would only be taken or moved by the city if voters agree to a controversial ballot question set for March 14. If approved, voters will be responsible for $91.4 million or 51.5 percent of the total $188.5 million project cost. The city said the average homeowner will pay an additional $200 in taxes per year for 25 years. The rest of the cost will be picked up by the  Massachusetts School Building Authority, a quasi-public agency that funds school construction.

The 652-student school would be built near Breeds Pond Reservoir on Parkland Avenue. A second 1,008 student-school would be constructed on McManus Field on Commercial Street. If voters reject the measure, the city could lose the state money.

Proponents say the city needs the two new schools to keep pace with school enrollment which has increased by 17 percent over the past five years.

But opponents say the land on Parkland Avenue belongs to Pine Grove Cemetery and should not be used for a school.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Pickering in middle of ballot debate

COURTESY PHOTO
An artist’s rendering of the proposed Pickering Middle School.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN  — If mother knows best, then an organized group of moms could be hard to stop as they push for two new middle schools in the city.

For the first time in Lynn’s history, voters will be asked to voluntarily raise their real estate taxes to pay for a school to be built near Pine Grove Cemetery and Breeds Pond Reservoir off Parkland Avenue and a second facility on Commercial Street for West Lynn. Local moms say it’s worth it.

“There’s simply not enough room in the existing middle school and the conditions are terrible,” said Christine “Krissi” Pannell, the parent of a 4-year-old who attends the Busy Bee Nursery School. “The reasons that people want to vote no are petty compared to the reasons why we should be voting yes.”

The special election, scheduled for Tuesday, March 14, is pitting mothers against a vocal opposition who insist they are not against new schools. Instead, they say the city should find an alternative to the Pine Grove site that has been reserved for the graveyard’s expansion.                                                            

If approved, voters will be responsible for $91.4 million or 51.5 percent of the total $188.5 million project cost. The city said the average homeowner will pay an additional $200 in taxes per year for 25 years. The rest of the cost will be picked up by the  Massachusetts School Building Authority, a quasi-public agency that funds school construction.      

Project Manager Lynn Stapleton said the actual cost of the project could be as much as $16 million less because the city is required to include contingencies that may not be needed. As a result, she said, the taxpayer contribution would be lower and the average cost per homeowner could drop below $200 annually.                                

“We are not opposed to the new schools, but we object to using Pine Grove Cemetery property and we oppose any effort to take that land for a school,” said Gary Welch, 63. “We are not anti-education and NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) activists. We are fine with the West Lynn site.”

Still, others who oppose the school have raised the issue of more traffic in the Parkland Avenue neighborhood, and the prospect of higher taxes.                                                                               

But the opposition hasn’t stopped moms from organizing to get out the vote in favor of the schools.                                       

Pannell said she has no patience with any of the arguments against the Parkland Avenue school.                                           

“I can’t believe people would vote no because they might have to wait a couple of extra minutes in the morning to get onto Parkland Avenue,” she said. “Traffic happens wherever there’s a school, so you plan ahead. Are we really going to deny these kids a better education and better conditions because we don’t want to figure out a little traffic pattern? As far as the cemetery is concerned, bury me anywhere. We’re talking about a new school for kids versus where we are going to bury people in 15 years when they die. Give me a break.”                               

Welch said opponents of the Parkland Avenue school are also concerned that the new access road would have a detrimental impact on the nearby reservoir. The city should consider other sites such as a parcel off Federal Street near Market Basket and one on Magnolia that would have less impact, he said.

But the School Building Committee said they vetted other sites and Parkland Avenue makes the most sense. They argued that no matter where a school is built, there will be opposition.         

Tara Osgood, whose two boys attend the Sisson Elementary School, said Pickering has outlived its usefulness.

“I attended Pickering when it was a junior high school when it had a seventh and eighth grade, and now there’s a sixth grade crammed into it,” she said. “It’s horrifying. It’s falling apart and there are 30 kids in a classroom. That’s major wear and tear on a 100-year-old building. It was never meant for that many kids and that many grades.”                                                        

Osgood said the condition of Lynn’s school buildings is driving parents out of the city.                                                          

“People who lived here their entire lives are moving out, not because of crime or taxes, it’s because the schools are falling down on the kids,” she said. “Nobody likes paying more taxes, but I am willing to pay a few hundred more for better school buildings for our children.”                                                       

But not everyone agrees. About 200 opponents packed the Hibernian Hall on Federal Street Saturday night to fight the proposal. The group, Protect Our Reservoir — Preserve Pine Grove, raised $7,200 to continue the battle, according to Donald Castle, one of the founders.                                                       

Despite the well-financed opposition, Kristen Hawes, whose children attend Lynn Woods Elementary School, said she intends to vote yes for new schools.                                     

“These schools will benefit our children,” she said. “I understand there are issues about the cemetery and taxes. But  I’d rather pay for two brand new schools than have my taxes go to another charter school.”                                                         

Emily LeBlanc-Perrone, who is pregnant with her first child, said voters need to invest in the city if they want Lynn to improve.                                                                                      

“It will cost a few hundred more, but that’s not much when you consider we are investing in our children and for the community,” she said. “These are the people who will run the city someday and we want to provide them with the best education we can.”

Swampscott is showing signs of love


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tigrillo@itemlive.com.

Mayor weighs custodian transfer

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy will take the rest of the week to decide whether to transfer management of the school’s maintenance staff from City Hall to the school department.

In a drama that unfolded last week, the School Committee rejected the mayor’s request to move accountability of the school custodians from the Inspectional Services Department (ISD) to the schools by a 6-1 vote. Only the mayor, chairwoman of the committee, voted for it.

The change, which requires approval from the mayor, City Council and the Legislature, was Kennedy’s idea as a way to capture $1 million in additional school spending and avoid a state penalty. But the mayor said she needs to review the Home Rule Petition in its entirety before she makes a decision.

“I plan to take most, if not all of this week, to read through the complicated nine-page document,” she said. “I am fully committed to the move, but I want to make sure nothing has been inserted to the home rule petition before I sign it.”

The draft of the change was straightforward, the mayor said, as simple as shifting the management to the schools. But there are other questions as to who will do the hiring, scheduling and disciplining, she said.

“The devil is in the details,” she said. “I’ve heard the School Committee making comments about hiring as many as seven new people and I need to read the amendments to see how they got that number.”

A review of the document found two positions created under the new ordinance, a supervisor of school custodian and ground services and an assistant.

“My intention is to get the custodians over to the school side so there’s a net zero impact on the budgeting and not spend another dime to do the same job ISD has been doing for years,” she said.

There has been some talk by School Committee members to end the practice of privatizing afternoon janitor services that cost the city $1.5 million. If schools hire their own workers, the cost would soar to $2.8 million in salary and benefits for 40 custodians.

“I am a member of the School Committee as well, and I don’t want to see teachers laid off in order to make room for 40 new custodians.” Kennedy said. “That would be a bad move financially, I want to provide direct services to kids.”

The move was approved by the City Council last week. If the mayor fails to sign it, she could send it back to the council for amendments. While the School Committee would be asked to reconsider any changes, officially they do not have a say in the move. They can only recommend to the Lynn delegation on Beacon Hill not to support the change.

Showdown over Lynn school custodians


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Putting pot in its place in Peabody

The state’s new recreational marijuana law runs 11 pages long by standard printer and copy machine standards. But the law’s section devoted to local control over recreational marijuana sales occupies roughly half a page.

Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt is well advised to recognize the short shrift given local control in the new law even as he acknowledges its passage last November by a majority of Massachusetts voters. Bettencourt doesn’t like the law and he points to its rejection by Peabody voters in calling for a local referendum on recreational marijuana.

“There are a great many unanswered questions” concerning the new law wrote the mayor in a letter to Peabody City Councilors. It’s a reasonably safe bet to say that Peabody’s rejection of the recreational marijuana last year will be a repeat affair if public opinion on the subject is tested again through a local vote.

The marijuana law allows city officials to hold an election and ask voters again if they are in favor or against marijuana sales and consumption. The law doesn’t declare a “no” vote by a city or town to be an outright local rejection of the state law. It says that a “no” vote “shall be taken to have not authorized the consumption of marijuana and marijuana projects on the premises where sold.”

Council weeds out pot clinic locations

Two truths are indisputable concerning Massachusetts’ new marijuana law. One, the law is intended to allow a broad spectrum of budding (pun intended) entrepreneurs to profit off the sales of a product that was illegal just months ago and still remains illegal in many places across the country.

Two, the law is going to spawn enough legal challenges and counter challenges to keep an army of attorneys in business for years. Savvy lawyers have already rearranged their businesses to, first, handle medical marijuana licensing bids and, second, recreational marijuana ventures. Like gambling, the money to be made by business people and through tax dollars is difficult to fathom.

All of this boils down to one reality for well-intentioned municipal leaders like Bettencourt: They are rowing against a fast-receding tide when it comes to restricting or banning recreational marijuana.

Bettencourt and Lynnfield town officials who want a town referendum on marijuana can spend tax dollars to put the measure before the voters, but the reality is marijuana as a legal consumer product is here to stay in Massachusetts.

Even if Peabody bans or limits the drug’s sales, the nature of Massachusetts’ contiguous town and city borders means pot shops will be located mere blocks from certain Peabody neighborhoods.

It sounds cynical but the best strategy Bettencourt and other marijuana opponents can employ is to ensure they get their share of tax dollars associated with the pot bonanza by arguing the new law has expensive public safety and health implications.

Marijuana advocates claim the drug in legal form is less harmful than alcohol and argue it makes sense to allow people 21 years and older to consume it. Opponents point an accusing finger at marijuana and claim its legal use will shove open even wider the gateway leading to heroin use and addiction.

The debate over who is right or wrong in this argument ended on Nov. 8, 2016. Now is the time to adjust to a new societal reality that shows no signs of going up in smoke.

Get out and vote

Today is Nov. 8, 2016. Today is the day of the voter.

All the people lured by the convenience and novelty of early voting or the powerful urge to end this election season have already cast ballots. Today all the excited, all of the committed, all of the disillusioned and all of the undecided voters who have voiced their political opinion every chance they get or kept their mouth shut around the dinner table for 11 months get their turn.

Every vote counts today. No single vote is more important than another. The voter, one way or another, will not be denied today.

The act of voting is simultaneously the most anonymous and most power display of citizenship every American can demonstrate. Some Americans — the ones who are at the mercy of voters today — run for office to change the system. Other Americans serve in the military to defend the system and the way of life it represents. But every American old enough to do so has the power to vote today.

People live in nations around the world with the dull understanding that they do not have the right to vote and their opinion is meaningless. In some countries, people travel for miles to line up for hours to cast a ballot that, for all they know, may get tossed out with the trash if it does not help validate a predetermined election outcome.

Prohibiting mass communication and banning the vote are nuts and bolts measures dictators take to keep a firm grasp on power. In the United States, voters walk past a phalanx of political signs and into a polling place where, for a few minutes or less, they are alone with their decisions.

When they pick up a pencil or pen and prepare to fill out a ballot, power literally rests in their hand. Every politician’s argument has already been made and every news media critique and analysis has offered its perspective. The voter can leave a ballot blank or write in Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck, but once a vote is cast, it becomes a force shaping an election’s outcome.

Some will say the voter has been sorely mistreated during this election season. Cynics and critics will point to the endless bickering, the personal attacks and claims and countercharges in the presidential race as proof the American political process is a dented, misfiring machine.

Those arguments overlook the perfection of one vote assigned to one person with the power to collectively bring the curtain down on months of campaigning and millions of dollars spent on political messages.

More than a few voters will not tell their closest relatives or friends how they voted today. But they will know they made their voice heard when they walked into the privacy of the voting booth. Even the voter who leaves a ballot blank makes a statement with their silence about the choices at hand this election season.

Go vote.