Solution: COA to share TPS' "One-Call-Now" System

Discussions of what any "conflicts of interest" in town. Business owners involved in town politics and not disclosing facts such as this, etc.

Solution: COA to share TPS' "One-Call-Now" System

Postby dougsears on Sun Jun 15, 2008 7:24 am

TEWKSBURY

Budget unresolved as tempers flare
By Connie Paige, Globe Correspondent | June 15, 2008

Tewksbury Town Meeting members, expected to pass a slimmed-down municipal budget last week, instead voted to adjourn until later this month amid rising tensions among some local leaders.

After the vote Tuesday, rancor over the budget process prompted the police chief to threaten an ethics complaint against the school superintendent and left many other officials squabbling over how to divvy up the money.

"I'm very disappointed," Tewksbury Finance Committee chairman Ronald A. Hall said on Wednesday. "Somehow, we need to come together."

But some said they believed a cooling-off period was in order.

Former Tewksbury School Committee chairman Keith E. Rauseo said he supports the delay because he hopes officials will amend the proposed budget to better support public safety and education by making cuts in town financial services, such as assessing and tax collection and billing.

"Some jobs are more important than others; some services are more important than others," Rauseo said. "That's just life."

Like many area communities, Tewksbury faces skyrocketing costs that are far outpacing revenues. As in other places, the need to hack away at the budgets of significant town services has sparked fights and delays. Last year, neighboring Lawrence, facing the same problems, did not pass its budget until months after the July 1 start of the fiscal year.

This is the second time this year that Tewksbury Town Meeting has adjourned before approving a budget. Tuesday's adjournment came three days after voters by a wide margin defeated a $5.3 million tax-limit override, leaving next fiscal year's municipal budget at $79.4 million.

Town Meeting members could not agree on a spending formula and voted 196-173 to table the budget, for reconsideration June 25.

Passions ran high even before the meeting, and officials found themselves arguing about how to proceed.

Tewksbury Selectman Douglas W. Sears criticized school Superintendent Christine L. McGrath, for example, for her use of a reverse-911-like system to notify voters of the time and place of the June 7 override vote. The telephone system, One Call Now, is generally for announcements to parents about school matters.

McGrath said she saw nothing improper in telling people where and when they were to vote. "I was very careful," she said. "It's not like we had to pay additional money for its use."

McGrath said she invited selectmen to send a similar message but the board declined. She said before employing the One Call Now system, she consulted with members of the School Committee, and four out of five agreed with her. She said she also had requested an advisory opinion from the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, which she said gave her the green light.

But Police Chief Alfred Donovan said Wednesday he believed McGrath's initiative constitutes "an improper use of town funds," and vowed to take the matter to the state Ethics Commission.

The Office of Campaign and Political Finance opinion, written by general counsel Gregory Birne and sent by e-mail two days before the override vote, did say McGrath's use of the phone system did not violate the law. But it also cautioned her that "such use seems likely to create an appearance of public resource use that you might want to avoid."

The opinion continued: "The primary purpose of the taxpayer-funded system is not to disseminate information relating to elections." It likened its use to "providing a phone bank," and cautioned against "any comment regarding the merits of a ballot question or any appearance of advocacy."

Ethical or not, the controversy over McGrath's action underscores what's at stake in the town of about 30,000. Under the proposed budget, Donovan would lose one deputy chief, two lieutenants, two dispatchers, a secretary, two police cars and gasoline, overtime, and training funds, he said.

The budget also would require schools to cut 32 teachers and eight other full-time positions. The loss could bring class sizes to 33 in elementary and middle schools, McGrath said.

For additional cuts, the Finance Committee has recommended closing the South Fire Station in July and August, setting fees for the municipal recreation program, and cutting library hours to 48 per week.

Tewksbury Town Manager David G. Cressman, meanwhile, has proposed a slightly different set of cuts that would have had the South Fire Station closed for seven months of the year.

Cressman's budget also recommended that the library remain open 52 hours per week. He said the extra time was needed to retain state certification, without which the library could not maintain ties with regional networks like the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium, an alliance of 35 libraries providing a variety of database, lending, book club, and other services to all its members.

Town officials are now under the gun to resolve their differences. If Town Meeting does not pass a budget by July 1, the state requires communities to shut down services, according to Robert Bliss, spokesman for the state Department of Revenue. "They don't have the authority to spend," he said of town officials.

Connie Paige can be reached at cpaige@globe.com.
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Solution: COA to share TPS' "One-Call-Now" System

Postby ELLE on Sun Jun 15, 2008 7:50 am

Not sure why Chief Donovan is so upset. Part of the prioritazation brings more money to his department. If people push to stop Dr. McGrath then the same needs to be done to stop senior busing. If one is a conflict, so is the other.
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Solution: COA to share TPS' "One-Call-Now" System

Postby kmagyoyo on Sun Jun 15, 2008 8:15 am

L, it is no surprise that you don't have the ability to understand this issue. You are too jaded to see clearly. Using town resources to influence an election is just plain wrong. If the council on aging is using town resources to influence an election, file a complaint. Don't justify bad behavior by pointing to other bad behavior.
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Solution: COA to share TPS' "One-Call-Now" System

Postby ELLE on Sun Jun 15, 2008 8:24 am

I guess it is you that don't understand. Dr. McGrath didn't try to influence anyone, just notify. There is a difference. How is "there is a town meeting at 8:00" trying to influence anyone? Since the override failed and only a few hundred people came to town meeting, not sure where you are going with this. I fully encourage what Dr. McGrath is doing and hope she continues.
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Solution: COA to share TPS' "One-Call-Now" System

Postby tigerchief on Sun Jun 15, 2008 8:32 am

" Dr. McGrath didn't try to influence anyone, just notify."

Come on now L, of course she did!!!!

Did her message go out town wide?....No, only to school aged parents, those most likely to vote for an override....
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Solution: COA to share TPS' "One-Call-Now" System

Postby concernedmom on Sun Jun 15, 2008 9:38 am

Likewise, the COA does not offer anyone other than Seniors a ride to the polls and TM. Face it, no one wants parents to organize.
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Solution: COA to share TPS' "One-Call-Now" System

Postby PattiDe on Sun Jun 15, 2008 10:02 am

[QUOTE]Did her message go out town wide?....No, only to school aged parents, those most likely to vote for an override[QUOTE]

School-aged families are the only phone numbers on the schools list!! The town could have easily notified everyone via the reverse 911 if they had thought of it first! If it truly didn't cost anything to use this system in this way, then what's the big deal? I'd rather them do that then send home flyer after flyer on paper that DOES cost money!! My only gripe is that my mom, who lives in another town but is my emergency contact, received this call fairly early in the morning. I'd like to see this system streamlined to only call Tewksbury residents when it is not a true emergency. (She also gets called at 6 am when there is no school!!)
Speaking of the COA, I have been wondering who we need to push to implement a user fee for the senior center. While I understand the importance of a center like this to the well being of our seniors, why doesn't it come at a small price to those who can afford it? It is NOT a necessity but a nice perk. Sports and extra-curricular activities are also important to the well being of our children and I am willing to pay in order for them to participate because it is also an "extra" and unfortunately no longer comes without a price tag. I'm not talking about a huge amount, but seriously, would $10/month break most seniors? There could be a waiver for those with a serious hardship, but for most, it means one or two fewer trips to Dunkin Donuts per week--just like my family needs to do in order to pay for 2 high school athletes next year.
Please don't acuse me of "senior bashing"--I actually work in a nursing home and highly respect our older citizens for all they have sacrificed, but it's time for some fairness here. Is it the selectmen who have the juridiction over the COA? If so , lets start calling them and voicing our concern!
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Solution: COA to share TPS' "One-Call-Now" System

Postby redbarchetta69 on Sun Jun 15, 2008 10:22 am

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote
Town officials are now under the gun to resolve their differences. If Town Meeting does not pass a budget by July 1, the state requires communities to shut down services, according to Robert Bliss, spokesman for the state Department of Revenue. "They don't have the authority to spend," he said of town officials.


So where does this 1/12 budget talk the selectmen are talking about come from?
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