2016 in review: story countdown

by beth on December 30, 2016

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As we face the New Year, it’s time to look back on the old.

Here are the ten stories that generated the most interest and discussion on the blog in 2016.

(These are the stories that were most sought out, commented on, and/or shared through Facebook.)

After you read the list, post your thoughts on what you considered the year’s biggest stories in town.

What stories were you surprised to see not listed? Is there an unlisted story you think readers should care about more?

Counting down the biggest blog stories of 2016:

10. Town considers buying St. Mark’s Golf Course for Public Safety Building

  • Over the summer, rumors began swirling that the Town was considering buying St. Mark’s Golf Course to site a future public safety building complex.
  • It turned out to be true. Selectman revealed that the school is planning to offload the course. The Town is considering the purchase as a way of both securing land for municipal needs and protecting a vast area of open space.
  • Neighbors worrying over the impact informed the Town they believed the land is protected by deed to be maintained as a golf course. The school debunked the myth by sharing the deed.
  • With a pending article at Annual Town Meeting in April or a Special even sooner, look for more on this developing story soon.

9. Fire consumes house (and community reaches out)

  • In August, Southborough residents out of town overnight to attend their daughter’s wedding lost their home to a fire.
  • Neighbors reached out to help the couple, who in turn shared their appreciation on the blog.

8. School official arrested for embezzlement

  • In March, taxpayers learned that a school employee was arrested for allegedly embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the district.
  • Superintendent Christine Johnson later shared that money was replaced by insurance. But some commenters continued to heap anger and blame on the administration for letting the situation occur.
  • This fall, the former budget officer was sentenced to two years in prison.

7. Injury at “Southborough” gun club

  • The accidental self-injury at the Southborough Rod and Gun Club captured attention (and inevitably feuled another gun rights/safety debate).
  • Despite the name, the range isn’t actually situated in Southborough. But it was founded by Southborough residents years ago and is located nearby in Hopkinton.

6. Some selectmen considered (then dropped) vetting appointees based on political views

  • Note: Don’t confuse “politics” with party lines. There was no Democratic vs. Republican talk. This was about political stances on small town matters.
  • At a Public Safety Committee Meeting, John Rooney (then-Chair of the Board of Selecmen), agreed that to pave the way for project approval it would make sense to vet out opponents at re-appointment time in June. (In the cross hairs for that discussion was the Historical Commission which historically had opposed plans to demolish the purportedly historic police station.)
  • It was a stance that Rooney didn’t revisit come appointment time.
  • But, Selectman Dan Kolenda asked to hear from volunteers whose boards have significant authority: the Zoning Board of Appeals, Open Space Preservation Commission, and Historical Commission. He wanted to hear if they had the same or differing concerns and perspectives as selectmen.
  • There was a bit of backlash over worries that the re-appointment of Freddie Gillespie (who was on two of the listed boards) might be in peril. In the end, selectmen sang Gillespie’s praises and ended up granting re-appointments without interviewing anyone.

5. Park Central ZBA vote

  • This summer, the Zoning Board of Appeals cast their final vote to approve the addition of 319 residences off of Flagg Road. The final vote was scheduled with little notice and raised a lot of eyebrows.
  • Residents accused the board of cutting off public comment and making a decision before all the facts were in. (The project was still under review by the Planning Board and Conservation Commission.
  • Residents soon got confirmation that David Eagle (the member running the meeting, and acting as one of only three members deciding on the vote) closed on his house and moved out of town the next day.
  • It was just one of many Park Central controversies this year which are set to continue into 2017. Still unresolved: the developer’s appeal to the ZBA against a Planning Board decision, an appeal filed by residents pending in court, the developer seeking sanctions from the Town over a dropped appeal, and linked complaints against ZBA member Leo Bartolini.

4. Algonquin to name part of school grounds after fallen alumnus

  • In 2014, Southborough mourned with Northborough over the death of Brian K. Arsenault. Specialist Arsenault was Killed in Action while serving the Army in Afghanistan.
  • This year, the Regional School Committee and a subcommittee considered nominations for naming parts of the school or grounds. Arsenault was nominated, a move widely supported by the community (and liked/shared on Facebook).
  • In February, the Regional committee approved naming part of the grounds after Arsenault, at 2004 graduate of the school.

3. Medical Marijuana Dispensary being sited within 1,000 feet of Southborough School

  • Almost a year ago, residents learned that a Medical Marijuana dispensary had targeted a location on Route 9 in Southborough. The mere siting of a dispensary in town was sure to spark some controversy. But the flames were fanned by it’s location – more than 500 feet but less than 1,000 from Trottier Middle School (which also abuts Neary Elementary).
  • An online petition secured close to 500 “signatures”. Earnest opponents turned up in droves to speak against the dispensary at BOS and ZBA meetings.
  • Selectmen supported the dispensary’s application to the state. (Technically, they signed a letter of non-opposition, not support. But that was combined with negotiating a financial agreement to benefit the Town along with conditions related to community safety.)
  • The ZBA approved the siting permit and the Planning Board approved the Site Plan.

2. Summer storm tears through town

  • A sudden summer storm tore up trees, knocked down poles and wreaked havoc along its path. No severe injuries in Southborough, but many close calls and lots of damage.
  • What many have labeled a micro-burst passed through Southborough on July 22nd with 60 mph winds. There was very little notice for the sudden storm, so many residents, visitors, and those just passing through were caught in the storm.
  • Some of the stories and visuals were startling, so its not surprising that it got the most views and shares on Facebook by far.

And the top story this year. . .

1. Main Street easements fail at Annual Town Meeting – then pass at Special Town Meeting

  • Although in past years, the Main Street Reconstruction project was controversial, by this spring it seemed that only a handful of naysayers remained. That may be why the proponents were unprepared to successfully respond to claims from the floor that it would ruin the Town’s character. The failure to gain approval from Town Meeting to acquire easements took officials and many residents by surprise.
  • Selectmen opted to give it another shot at a Special Town Meeting in October. The decision to revisit that vote was controversial.
  • With an improved presentation and communications around the project, the article passed this fall. But not without more controversy. The new bone of contention was whether actions by the Town Meeting Moderator unfairly stopped opponents from making their case.
1 Kevin December 31, 2016 at 9:46 AM

Honorable mention to the sidewalk assessment list. Let’s get those babies built!

2 Parentof2 January 2, 2017 at 8:06 PM

Regarding #8, people heaped blame because the school committee did nothing to an administration that was (and still is) in play during the worst situation that could happen in our district. How, as elected officials cannot hold anyone accountable is obsurd. When I vote for school committe again, whomever is in, is out! People in these 2 towns should outraged. Any private company would have fired everyone who should have known. Just what goes on in Johnson’s office? Shameful, absolutely shameful. Johnson will go down in history as the worst Superintendent ever!

3 Jack January 3, 2017 at 1:34 PM

No exaggeration there at all? If “the worst situation that could happen in our school district” is having to file an insurance claim, then I think it’s fair to say we’re pretty lucky.

4 Al Hamilton January 4, 2017 at 8:54 AM

Was this bad – Yes. Should the superintendent lose her job over it – perhaps. Was it the worst thing that could happen, no, I believe the folks in Columbine could help us gain some perspective.

In the new year we should count our blessings as well as be alert to the problems we face.

5 southville January 3, 2017 at 1:47 PM

I think you’re engaging in a bit of hyperbole by saying that some money stolen and then replaced by insurance is “the worst situation that could happen in our district.” We could easily think of any number of terrible school related things that could happen much worse than this. One that appears to have no broader effect on the schools, the kids, or their education certainly isn’t the worst.

I fully support the right of people to complain and speak up of course, but I do think we should try to keep things in proportion, even when we’re all on the internet. :)

6 Frank Crowell January 3, 2017 at 3:21 PM

8. School official arrested for embezzlement:

No accountability, no internal investigation by the education committee (that we know of), all embezzled money covered by insurance……………….no problem…….all is well. Only thing missing is someone getting an award from the teacher’s union for finding the problem so quickly (12 plus months).

Yep – don’t even know how this made the top ten stories of 2016. We absolutely get what we deserve.

7 mike fuce January 6, 2017 at 8:47 AM

I had a chuckle at Franks satire, “is someone getting an award”, too funny, so there has to be an ounce of truth!

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