THE PUNCH or shove (depending on the witness) involving Dracut School Committee member Dan O'Connell and Bill McMahon, longtime beau of Selectmen Chairwoman Cathy Richardson, at the Sports Zone on election night was physical evidence of an ongoing, less-than-civil war of words that has been waged by two boards for two months, O'Connell said.
The boards met jointly to discuss O'Connell and fellow School Committee member Joe Wilkie's proposed a $2.9 million override of Proposition 2 1/2 to "fix" the school district's funding crisis. Or so School Committee members thought.
In the selectmen's televised April 9 regular meeting that followed their third joint board meeting with the School Committee, selectmen were seen and heard shaking their heads and expressing displeasure that their hoped-for discussion of placing the soon-to-be-closed Parker Avenue School and the school district's main administration buildings on the real-estate market had been preempted by the School Committee pushing the selectmen to back the $2.9 million override.
Selectmen appeared to speak mockingly about O'Connell reading Wilkie's statement on the override, which Wilkie emailed from a California business trip.
"I don't get it. I just don't get it," said Selectman John Zimini in the meeting clip that critics of the selectmen's behavior excerpted from the Dracut Access Cable-TV recording and posted on YouTube. "We came to discuss (selling) those buildings, and then it turned into ...
"A $3 million override," said Selectman George Malliaros, finishing Zimini's sentence.
"If I miss a meeting in the future, is it OK if I just sort of mail in what I think about things?" Malliaros asked Richardson with a slight grin.
Finding humor in Malliaros' sarcasm, Richardson responded with a chuckle, "Yes, just draft a letter."
"This is a good reminder of why in court you can't do that," said Malliaros, who is an attorney. "They have the hearsay rule that lets you question the person making a statement.
"But don't they have these video things now, where you can Skype a message?" Malliaros added.
(View the clip at www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDSwsSQxqmE)
Later on his Facebook page, O'Connell posted a video clip of the selectmen's comments captioned by, "That's a clear shot at Joe Wilkie!" O'Connell wrote. "These selectmen are unbelievable."
Numerous O'Connell friends piled on in response, labeling selectmen "unprofessional," "stooges," "disrespectful" and "disgraceful."
The Column asked Wilkie what he thought of the mail-it-in banter. He would only reply: "It was not a proud day for Dracut when that occurred.
All five selectmen -- Richardson, Zimini, Malliaros Joe DiRocco and Bob Cox, said the Wilkie/O'Connell override is too much for the average taxpayer to bear. O'Connell and Wilkie have since gone public with their predictions that selectmen will be proven very wrong.
Which in Dracut, apparently, are fighting words.
MORE THAN 100 residents of Lowell's Belvidere neighborhood gathered at Long Meadow Country Club in Wednesday night, many of them very concerned about a proposed development on the north side of Andover Street between Rivercliff and Stafford roads.
Westford-based Corbett Development is proposing to build four homes, maybe five, on a parcel most folks view as a terrific site for one home -- in keeping with the neighborhood's stately character.
Ahhh, neighborhood character. Sound familiar? It's something the city has strived to maintain through numerous zoning code rewrites during the last decade.
But there always seems be a "loophole" that developers deftly navigate. Most recently, there was the debacle on Livingston Avenue in the Highlands. And who can forget the subdivision sandwiched onto Mansur Street on the back side of Belvidere Hill?
A who's-who of prominent Belvidereans attended the meeting, including Maria Sheehy, who lives diagonally across Andover Street; Planning Board Steve Gendron of Clark Road, City Councilors Ed Kennedy, John Leahy and Joe Mendonca; Patricia Kirwin-Keilty; and former mayor and councilor James Milinazzo.
Also in attendance was Corbett President Edward O'Neil, of Westford. O'Neil was represented by Chelmsford lawyer Brian Akashian, a member of the city's License Commission who works in the law office of his uncle, state Rep. Kevin Murphy.
The developer wants to demolish a barn on the property, move the existing house back and build more homes.
Sheehy said no one opposes proper development. According to Sheehy, neighborhood residents aren't taking kindly to insinuations from the developer that he could legally build five homes, but will build four to make the plan more palatable to the 'hood.
The proposal is scheduled to go before the Planning Board Monday night, but Akashian said on Saturday he will seek a continuance.
THE COUNCIL'S finance subcommittee meeting Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. promises to be lively. The topic is the city's proposed contract with Global Spectrum to manage the Lowell Memorial Auditorium.
City Manager Bernie Lynch and his administration will have its hand full convincing some skeptical councilors both on and off the finance panel to approve the five-year pact.
City Councilor Rita Mercier says she plans to ask about many different concerns she has about the proposed deal, chief among them being that the city will now be on the hook if operating revenues don't match the operating costs. That was not the case in the current contract with Mill City Management.
"The manager keeps saying it is going to be a better deal, but I don't see a better deal," Mercier said. "There are so many things I don't like."
Councilor Rodney Elliott, who sits on the three-member finance subcommittee, said he is "not impressed with what we have seen so far," because "it seems like the city is taking on all the risk."
Mendonca, the finance chair, said he looks forward to hearing the questions of other councilors and has questions of his own.
Councilor Marty Lorrey said he is pleased with a lot of what he saw in the proposal, but wants to make sure Global is required to allow outside caterers at the auditorium. He is also interested in what the Lowell Memorial Auditorium Board of Trustees -- who have been invited to the meeting -- have to say about the deal it approved, 4-0.
Kennedy, who referred the contract to the finance panel, said he still wants to know how much with city will appropriate in the first year of the deal.
Lynch told The Sun that amount is still be determined, but it will be less than the current $320,000 subsidy, $84,000 of which goes to the management fee that Mill City received. Global will also receive the $84,000 management fee. In a memo to the council, the manager also said the city and Global don't expect the auditorium to produce a surplus in the first year.
Kennedy said the council should take its time reviewing the deal, and the nine-member body may be wise to ask Lynch to renegotiate certain elements of the contract.
LYNCH AVOIDED taking heat from Mercier, Lorrey and Elliott this past Tuesday by telling the council a proposed updated personnel ordinance will be corrected so the position of Parks and Recreation commissioner will remain a department head.
The proposed ordinance that was released April 16 had the commissioner's job, currently held by Tom Bellegarde, being moved to a second-tier position, which Lynch said Tuesday was an oversight.
Lorrey says he spoke with Lynch before Tuesday's meeting. Lorrey said the parks/rec boss should remain a department head, especially because commissioner must report to both the Board of Parks and Cemetery Board.
Lorrey said Lynch was noncommittal at the time, but said he is happy the change went through.
Elliott said he thinks Lynch proposed the demotion because Bellegarde is from the old guard, having served the city for more than 20 years. The commission post was the only one so changed, Elliott said.
Lynch said Friday the change was an oversight and nothing more.
Some councilors pushed Lynch to hire Bellegarde as the new DPW commissioner several years ago, but Lynch went elsewhere.
WAS THE outcome of Wilmington's Board of Selectmen race a loss or a victory for honesty? It depends on who you believe.
Kevin MacDonald, who challenged incumbent Selectmen Mike Newhouse and Lou Cimaglia both formally on the ballot and verbally at several meetings, said his ultimately unsuccessful campaign was about taking on a town government he saw as corrupt.
Perhaps best known as the frontman of a small group whose environmental appeals delayed the construction of a new high school, MacDonald said the board was misleading the town by portraying the high school as sound financially and environmentally.
After his electoral defeat -- 574 votes to Cimaglia's 2,697 and Newhouse's 2,692 -- MacDonald said he still questions the board's honesty, referencing comments selectmen made by selectmen that the appeals drove up project costs.
MacDonald legal fees would have been fixed because town counsel is on retainer. By putting out bids later, the town may have saved money via lower labor costs, he said.
"How did I cost the town any money?" MacDonald said. "I probably saved them money."
In a race dotted with personal attacks, including an instance when MacDonald was ejected from a debate for his pointed remarks, Cimaglia said the incumbents won because of their combination of "integrity, honesty, class -- just all of the above."
"My opponent, Mr. MacDonald, showed his true colors as the classless individual that he was," he said.
DOES BILLERICA Town Meeting drag on too long? One resident petitions at this year's session, which starts Tuesday, contains a warrant article setting a "15-minute time restriction for proponents on their presentations."
The meeting has averaged four nights in recent years, but has stretched to six. Selectman Andrew Deslaurier said he doesn't see much of a problem. "Sometimes it goes on forever, but people have the right to ask questions," he said. "It's a very unique form of government."
GROTON SELECTMEN Stuart Schulman and Joshua Degen breezed to victory on Tuesday, in part because candidate Justin Halleran withdrew at the last minute. Still on the ballot, Halleran received 528 votes, to Schulman's 926 and Degen's 885. Degen and Schulman believe many of those who voted for Halleran had known about his withdrawal but voted for him to air dissatisfaction with the board.
"Maybe some people are tired of us," Schulman said.
SCHULMAN SAID the 70- to 80-foot-tall Hindu temple that New England Shird Sai Parivaar is hoping to build off Route 119 in Groton near the Littleton line is out of scale. He is also concerned that the temple, which will provide free yoga classes to anyone interested, could put local yoga instructors out of business. That includes Boynton Meadows, a mixed-use complex under construction at 134 Main St., which will include a yoga business, Schulman said.
"Yoga is a big industry in Groton," Schulman said.
Degen said he has no problem with the temple plan, and said it would likely be invisible to neighbors.
"It helps to create more diversity," Degen said.
MOST PROJECTS in Chelmsford move slightly slower than a glacier, so the speed achieved by Chelmsford's turf athletic fields is something rarely seen.
The turf committee of town and school officials moved quickly after founding in November. It teamed pizza magnate Sal Lupoli, the Chelmsford resident and Pop Warner youth football coach who proved to be a master fundraiser. By the second night of Town Meeting May 2, private fundraising reached $326,000.
"It just built its own momentum," Town Manager Paul Cohen said.
The turnout at Town Meeting, with a few dozen supporters showing up, may have been the biggest gathering in support of any meeting item in the six-plus years Cohen has been in Chelmsford.
In addition to $500,000 in private funds expected for the fields, Town Meeting approved $1.2 million in Community Preservation Act funds, an $800,000 town bond and $575,000 in capital funds. Construction will right after school ends and be completed in the fall.
The plan adds synthetic surfaces to the McCarthy Middle School and high school football fields. A Town Meeting representative made a motion to make the vote once the support was obvious, when a line of speakers behind a microphone for those speaking in favor was eight deep. None were at the other microphone.
But there were a few who called for holding off on the project. Representative Laura Merrill questioned whether the risk of injury to athletes was overstated as a scare tactic, and said she doesn't like having to pay fees to use fields in other communities, as some groups would have to do with the new Chelmsford fields.
Bob Joyce, a frequent critic of town spending, said the proposal would increase debt and that the number of people who would benefit was being "grossly exaggerated."
"Please think of the burden this places upon the entire town," he said.
The final vote: 128 in favor, 13 against.
MARTY MEEHAN'S passion for the New England Patriots is well-documented. His new executive director of public affairs, Jeff Cournoyer, will come from within team owner Bob Kraft's organization.
As director of corporate communications, Cournoyer worked on communications strategies for The Kraft Group, the Patriots, Gillette Stadium and Patriot Place. Cournoyer, a 1999 graduate of Hamilton College, worked for the Pats for eight years, including as an assistant media relations director on the football side of the Kraft empire.
He's also worked on Beacon Hill, as deputy chief of staff to Sen. Stephen Brewer, R-Barre, currently chairman of the Senate Ways & Means Committee.
Patti McCafferty, vice chancellor for university relations, said nearly 100 people applied for the job, which pays a nifty $125,000.
Contributing to this week's Column: Enterprise Editor Christopher Scott, Lyle Moran in Lowell, Hiroko Sato in Groton, Rick Sobey in Billerica, Katie Lannan in Wilmington and Grant Welker in Chelmsford.