Human Composting, Renewable Energy, and the School Budget
The Cemetery Commission has one open seat for an unexpired term of one year with two candidates: Rose Ann Wheeler McCarthy and Pam M. Peterson. In her opening statement, McCarthy shared a colorful background story of her family history in Marblehead. Peterson, having served on the Old Burial Hill Commission, detailed the important role of the Cemetery Department in recording the history of Marblehead.
Condition of Trees and Roads in Cemetery
McCarthy remarked that extensive maintenance is needed, and suggested that the Tree Warden and local garden clubs be asked to assist. Petersen also noted the need to focus on making necessary repairs.
Future of Human Composting in Marblehead
When asked about the future of human composting in Marblehead, McCarthy was visibly disturbed and vehemently stated, “I can’t even answer that. That’s kind of a sick question.” See her full response. Peterson noted that cremation used to be shocking to people as well, and that human composting is actually legal in three states. While not something likely to happen in Marblehead anytime soon, Peterson noted, it underscores the need for space and the importance of the “effective and responsible use of the land we have available to us.”
The Marblehead Light Department has two open seats with three-year terms. Newcomer Jean-Jacques Yarmoff was also facing an “empty chair,” as incumbents Michael Hull and Walter Homan were not in attendance. Neither candidate sent a statement. Yarmoff detailed his top three priorities if elected: keep rates as low as possible by introducing inexpensive renewable energy, ensure the electricity supply is reliable, and create a long-term infrastructure plan for the Light Department.
The Town Moderator is an open one-seat, one-year term with newcomer candidates Jack Attridge and Matt Wolverton vying for the position. In his opening statement, Attridge listed his service to the town and involvement with non-profit organizations that support town moderators. His goals include improving technology to handle Town Meeting audiences of any size. Wolverton, an attorney, described his passion and love for the town and belief in the importance and general understanding of the practices of law governing municipal bodies. He “would like to foster a spirit of community and camaraderie no matter where any participant stands.”
Role of Moderator with Citizen Petitions
Attridge believes the Moderator should help citizens file such petitions, “within reason.” Wolverton agreed that there is a role the Moderator can take to help citizens with proper form but that advice of outside counsel may be necessary.
Encouraging more Town Meeting Participation
Both candidates emphasized the need to expand participation at Town Meeting, with Wolverton noting the need to “reach out to people in the community” and build on the “history of strong participation” while emphasizing the need to increase the participation of younger residents. Attridge asserted that “no one has rung the bell louder for Town Meeting over the past ten years than I have.”
The School Committee has two, three-year-term seats open, with incumbent Sarah Fox facing newcomer challengers Reece Dahlberg and Alison Taylor. In her opening statement, Taylor stated her goals are to improve transparency so parents know what is taught to their students, teachers know which resources they have, and the community may be reassured that their funds will be put to good use.
Dahlberg detailed her extensive history volunteering in the schools, including the Safe Schools program to address bullying and suicide with LGBTQ youth in public schools, as well as her regular attendance at the Superintendent Coffees and the Multi-Cultural Feast. She also noted that she’d been part of the Planning for Success initiative, which she explained is the school district’s strategic plan.
Fox described her term on the School Committee and success advocating for a facilities assessment used to develop the facilities strategic plan. One important goal she has if re-elected is to help the School Committee develop a comprehensive strategic plan. She explained that Planning for Success is a good first step but we need a plan with “timelines, benchmarks, and budget drivers.” The biggest challenge she sees ahead: the school budget.
Building a Positive Relationship with Committee Members
Fox noted that “there is a difference between offering constructive criticism…[and] being confrontational.” Taylor talked about the importance of having the hard discussions but “setting the example in a civil manner so that we can ask those questions,” while Dahlberg asserted that “sometimes the role of School Committee seems a little fuzzy…[and] one of my tenets is to shine a light on the bright spots.”
The Role of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Specialist
For Taylor the position needs to be vetted with statistics provided to measure and benchmark what would be deemed success for a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) specialist. In stressing the importance of this position, Dahlberg reminded the audience that the town has had eleven acts of hate speech in the schools this year. She also questioned why the METCO program is not robust and the reasons we continue to lose METCO Directors. Fox acknowledged that the DEI role is important but explained that the challenge is to look deeper at the elements of implementation. For example, she noted, there is no consistent kindergarten-through-sixth grade social studies curriculum, and she stressed the importance of investing in properly educating students about history.
Teaching Children about Gender Ideology
Dahlberg, who spoke about being the parent of a transgender child, talked about the children in our schools who identify as transgender and stressed that “teachers need to teach life experiences, the same as we teach about religions.” More of her comments are available here. Fox made clear that “it is not the purview of the School Committee at any point to get into the “granular level of the books we teach'' while stressing that “it is human decency for everybody to respect our neighbors…and be kind humans.” Here is an excerpt of her comments. Taylor agreed with Fox by underscoring the need to teach kindness and inclusivity, and she noted that the School Committee should model that behavior, as explained here.
The Select Board has five open seats, each with a one-year term. Incumbents Jackie Belf-Becker, Moses Grader, Erin Noonan, Jim Nye, and Alexa Singer are running for re-election while newcomer James (Jimmy) Full and former Select Board Member Bret T. Murray are also vying for seats.
In opening statements, Full proudly shared that he is a fifth generation “Header” with more than twenty years of military service between his time in both the Army and Navy. He sees his goal, if elected, is to get the budget “under control” and the main challenge, he suggested, is to deal with the town's infrastructure, which is in need of work. Murray expressed his goal to develop a strategic plan for the town, noting that the last significant plan was in 1989. Hear his thoughts on the need for a change in leadership. Nye spoke about the need for the Select Board to present a town budget that effectively and economically meets the needs of all citizens, while providing small increases in pay for municipal employees, within the limits of Proposition 2½. Grader discussed the importance of budget planning for next year, noting the important work that had been done through the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) planning process, which he described as the “highest credential for budgeting.” He also noted that he is especially proud of his work on the Mental Health Task Force.
Noonan believes we are at an inflection point in Marblehead. Challenges for the Select Board this year, she said, include onboarding the new Town Administrator, developing a plan for the structural deficit in the budget, building a strategic plan, and implementing the Fair Housing and Coastal Resiliency plans “which will need courage and leadership to bring about.” She went on to say “we must be open to exploring best practices of other peer towns and look for ways to maximize resources and govern more efficiently.” Singer, while proud of the work done this year, indicated there is more work to be done on our coastal waterfront, carbon neutrality, and IT infrastructure, while dealing with a budget deficit. We will “either pay now or pay later.” Belf-Becker said that serving Marblehead is an honor and that she would like “to continue my work for the town,” citing her work with the Harbors group, her founding member status with the Marblehead Coalition, and role on the Brown School Building Committee.
Work to Inform Voters of a General Override Next Year
Murray asked if we have the technology, training, and strategic plan needed to go forward with a tax override. “We don’t know what we don’t know,” he said. Nye shared his belief in the need for more frequent discussions, starting the budget process earlier in the year, and using the new hybrid meeting technology to be accessible to all. Noonan strongly emphasized the imperative for town leaders to bring together boards and the community for input to determine what is presented to the town for approval. Singer offered that the work has already started with the recent survey of residents–a good way to conduct outreach to the public. Belf-Becker offered that the last town override was in 2005 and it was “never going to last forever.” She made clear that relying on surpluses has come to an end and advised citizens to “stay tuned.” Grader pointed out he was surprised that people did not understand the effort the Select Board had made by taking steps to qualify for the Government Finance Officers Award (GFOA)–the gold standard for taking the steps to prepare the budget. Full emphatically stated that he is opposed to raising taxes at this time. He encouraged the School Department to put the override on hold so all town departments can work together.
Issues Most Important to Voters
Nye believes the most important issue for voters is the school department override. He believes the town has run the budget effectively and economically for seventeen years while allowing citizens to decide–via debt-exclusion overrides–which projects they want to fund. Noonan offered that level funding is not a reality and expenses will need to be cut without a successful general override vote. Singer wants to explore programs that would be available for seniors for tax abatement and deferment if a general override is approved. Grader emphasized how inflation puts increasing pressure on the town finances and will likely continue longer than people anticipate. Full noted his concern for elderly living on fixed incomes and would like the schools to work with the town on the tax override. Murray stated that the Select Board needs to be proactive and not reactive. He complimented the GFOA report but said we still do not have a strategic plan with necessary goals and touchpoints.
Do You Support Moving the Select Board to a Three-Year Staggered Term?
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Editors’ Note: Since the League of Women Voters event, a Town Administrator–Thatcher Kezer–was hired. He began working on June 6.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article used the word “transgendered” rather than “transgender.”