Years in Review: Looking back at the last 10+ years

by beth on January 1, 2019

Post image for Years in Review: Looking back at the last 10+ years

Above: Teens starting a movement to preserve history and Town Meeting voters stripping Use Variance powers from the ZBA were pieces of the big stories in Southborough from the past decade. (L-R images cropped from photo by Sandy Torres and video by Southborough Access Media)

Often at New Years, “the blog” shares a Year in review. But this year is a special milestone. This summer marked the MySouthborough.com’s 10 year anniversary – and my 5 year anniversary as the blogger behind it.

So, I’m posting a decade in review. Here’s my look back at ten years of the blog and Southborough news and events.

In 2008, Susan quietly launched the blog without a splash. Readers began to find her that fall. And at the end of that first year, she posted:

When I started this blog a few months ago, I have to admit I wondered if there would be enough Southborough-specific news to sustain it. Turns out I needn’t have worried.

By the end of December, she has already covered the opening of Algonquin’s renovated and expanded building, battles over the Town’s share of costs, and the pushing out of its Principal; growth and expansion of Fay’s campus in town; approval of the EMC campus; and burglaries that had residents on edge; the Police Chief’s lost battle to cancer, and more.

In the following years she covered a whole lot of news and controversies, along with events and celebrations. Blog readership and participation continued to grow. In summer 2013, she passed the baton to me to focus on a new chapter in her life – and said a “Goodbye that is not a goodbye“.

I’ve tried to fill her shoes – continuing to cover town politics, the schools, resident’s stories and information about events and fundraisers in town.

Looking back, here are some of the themes I think are worth noting from her time and mine. A lot of it has to do with who we are as a community.

Giving in Action

Over the years, the blog has shared news of several successful collection drives that brought out the best in residents. It was heartening to see so many people show up to support the Troops, provide aid to victims of massive storms, and contribute to the Food Pantry.

There have also been countless other stories from residents and groups raising funds and awareness for causes important to them.

Enduring and honoring losses

The most tragic deaths over the past ten years were the young lives lost. The sudden death of a well-liked middle school student, Eric Green, rocked the Town in 2012. That same year, 23 year old Graduate student Christopeher Weigl died in a bicycle accident. In 2014, Southborough showed unity with Northborough in morning Algonquin alumnus Brian Aresenault who was killed serving in Afghanistan.

As every community does, we also lost community leaders and well-known Town elders. There are far too many to name them all. Looking back, here are some that stood out: Dennis Wrenn, William Webber, Thomas McAuliffe, Bob Melican, Louis Bartolini, Judy Williams, Father Thomas Garlick, Dick Upjohn, Dick Curran, Jack Peltier, Frank Mattioli, Peggy Tuttle, Ken Strong, Dr. Timothy Stone, Elaine Beals, Alice Kavanaugh, and Jack Maley.

It’s also worth pointing out that every year a good number of residents and scouts turn out for the Memorial and Veterans Day ceremonies to pay tribute to service members who sacrificed for our Town and Country.

Resident Passion for History and “Town Character”

Those who value Town history are saddened many of our past landmarks now gone. But preservationists have had some great successes in past years. And choices the Town make often prompt cries to protect the Town’s character. (It’s undefined and in the eye of the beholder, but many residents know it when they see it – and when they feel it’s threatened.) 

Deerfield Estate/Garfield House/Burnett House

Deerfield Estates posted to Friends of Burnett-Garfield House Facebook pageWhen some teens in town learned that 84 Main St was to be demolished they went old school with picket signs. They lucked out that sleepy summer, drawing the attention of area media. It led to a passionate group of residents rallying around the preservationist cause, the owner reconsidering his plan to sell, and the Town working with the owner on a preservation plan approved by Town Meeting voters. (Isn’t it beautiful?)

St. Mark’s Golf Course/Southborough Golf Course

When residents learned that the Town was looking to site the new Public Safety Complex, and perhaps other facilities, on the historic golf course, there was a new outcry. The course wasn’t entirely saved in its original state. But, a compromise between the Town and preservationists led to a voter approved plan for the complex and golf course to co-exist.

Main Street Vision

In 2009, there was a lot of talk about what Main Street Reconstruction should look like. An initial plan was rejected by the state. A second shot was submitted in 2010 with a widened Main Street. In 2012, a proposal to undergrounded utilities along the way was rejected by selectmen as too costly. After a 2013 announcement that the state agreed to move forward in helping fund the project, residents began to lodge new concerns about the design and use the blog to share them. Town officials used the blog to help clear up misconceptions. There were a whole lot of posts, debates, public forums, many committee meetings, and a failed Town Meeting vote. Then there was debate on allowing a second Special Town Meeting vote, and – finally – a successful Town Meeting vote immediately followed by controversy over whether opponents’ presentation had been quashed by the Moderator. 

Of course, reconstruction has yet to begin. I’m expecting that will start this spring with clear advance notice from the Town – but it’s mostly in state hands now and if it gets pushed further out, that wouldn’t be the first delay.

And Town committees and departments have other plans in the works to improve the area of downtown not covered by the state project. Stay tuned for more public presentations on the DPW’s downtown reconstruction and EDC’s revitalization projects.

Political and Parental passion

Preservation isn’t the only thing that gets residents riled up. Political decisions, appearance of injustice, and disagreement over use of taxpayer funds push a lot of readers to comment on the blog, speak out at meetings, or act out with petitions and/or Citizen Articles. Parents also made a stir whenever they felt their children were put at risk.

Some of the things that got residents the most worked up and readers and commenters the most engaged over the last decade are:

School budgets 

With so much of the tax base used to fund schools, it’s unsurprising that overlap here between political and parental concerns leads to the most debate.

I’ve been covering the Town’s budget woes as they prepare for Town Meeting. Back in 2010 and 2011 when Susan covered budget decisions and discussions, it sparked a lot of debate. In fact, those posts made up five of the top 10 commented on posts since the blog’s inception – and all of them related to school ledgers.

In early 2010, Susan shared the school committee’s findings that didn’t support closing Neary School to reduce taxpayer burden prompted 89 comments. A few weeks later, some readers were irked when the School Committee endorsed a 3.63% increase in the school’s operating budget for the next year. It spurred an 82 comment debate with some defending the need. 

In 2011, a preliminary Town budget presentation highlighted a $1M shortfall, while the School Committtee was asking to add a teacher. That story prompted a debate with 99 comments.  When then-Fire Chief John Mauro was quoted calling proposed cuts to his budget request “playing Russian roulette with the taxpayers”, it generated a debate with 108 comments. Not surprisingly, part of the story, and comments, focused on officials looking for the schools to make budget cuts to remedy the gap.

Preparing for the following budget season at the end of that year, then-Superintendent Gobron told Advisory that reducing the schools’ budget by 1% would result in loss of up to 11 teachers, prompting 110 comments. 

“The Southborough Eight”/“Unogate”/”Pizzagate”

In spring 2010, Town officials made area headlines over an ongoing internal investigation about Town employees making “disparaging remarks” the prior fall about then-interim Police Chief Jane Moran. (It eventually came to light that only half of the eight were “investigated”, the others were considered witnesses.) The Town’s handling of the investigation and treatment of employees came under attack and by May, employees were publicly cleared of wrongdoing. But the story didn’t die, since residents had to decide whether or not to reimburse employees’ legal fees. In April 2011, Town Meeting compromised by covering half their costs. 

Freedom of (anonymous) Speech

Overlapping that controversy, the blog became a story in the press when selectmen considered legal action over Susan’s refusal to reveal information about an anonymous commenter, “Marty”. It was an uncomfortable time for her that started with a deputy serving her a letter from Town Counsel demanding that she turn over information on the commenter. According to the letter, officials wanted to raise their objections directly with Marty for “wrongly suggesting improprieties under state law” in regards to the hiring process for Police Chief Moran. When the story broke, a slew of commenters supported her choice and the value of free speech.

Family Business zoning woes

Alice and Carol Gulbankian after two long nights of town meeting, culminating in overwhelming voter support for the resolution of their zoning disputes with the town.Starting in 2010, the Gulbankians butted heads with abutters and the Zoning Board of Appeals over multiple businesses at their site. In 2014, when the community learned that a $126K fine was pressed and requirements were claimed to be a hardship, many readers sided against the Town. Eventually a compromise was reached and ratified by Town Meeting voters

Sex Offender lived near a preschool

In 2012, the community was deeply disturbed by news that a registered sex offender who had been living near a preschool in Town was arrested. There was upset over mistakes made by the police department about compliance with a bylaw passed four years earlier. In wider media coverage, questions rose about the constitutionality of such laws. (Note: in 2015, the Mass Supreme Judicial Court ruled that these types of bans are invalid.)

Park Central development

If you’ve been a regular reader over the past five years, you would have to be familiar with the words “Park Central“. In 2013, a plan for a 180 unit 40B condo project off of Flagg Road was announced. That evolved into an added on “Use Variance” approval for 139 Townhouses. Residents were up in arms over traffic worries, process concerns, and even corruption claims. It led to a slew of legal actions, arm wrestling between boards over authority issues, several proposed bylaw changes by residents to curb ZBA powers (some successfully), and failed attempts to oust the ZBA Chair before his term was up. (Though he ultimately resigned near the end of his term.)

With many legal actions still pending, and no shovels in the ground yet, this story is far from over.

Medical Marijuana

The issue was one of the Town’s temporary brouhahas. Town Meeting debate killed the first bylaw attempt in 2013 and helped pass the second draft in 2014. Town officials’ 2016 decisions to allow a dispensary within 1,000 feet of a school prompted a parent led petition, drama at meetings and passionate comments on the blog. It contributed to voters passing new bylaws for both medicinal and recreational marijuana zoning. There were a lot of comments when the dispensary finally opened. But by the time I posted questions about its compliance with Zoning Board requirements, recreational pot had already been approved by the state and readers had moved on.

Here is a quick list of some of the other controversies over the years:

Town Politics – déjà vu and irony

  • Attacking selectmen’s handling of the Town Chief recruitment process seems to be a tradition. The blog shows the board had headaches over process with the last three public safety chief hires.
  • Selectmen put pressure on Town non-profits to up their PILOT payments in past years. It’s something on the docket again for this coming year thanks to prompting from a new Citizen’s petition.
  • Before the ZBA was accused by some residents of being too cozy with developers, in 2011 developers accused members of being too anti-development – leading to members losing their seats.
  • In 2010, Voters swept in John Rooney as Selectmen, appearing to look for change from the controversies plaguing the board that year. Seven years later, disheartened by political discord related to selectmen’s handling of newer town controversies, he shocked supporters when he suddenly walked away from his seat, saying he no longer had the appetite for the “factional crusade of assumption” that questioned his ethics.
  • Residents objected to Town Manager legislation that would go “too far”. Town Meeting 2012 rejected the measure, instead adopting a stronger Town Administrator model in 2013. Selectmen are taking another stab at writing an Article for a future Town Meeting.

Mother Nature does what it will

It’s New England, which means we occasionally get big storms wreaking havoc here. Fortunately, since the blog started, none had tragic results. Here are some of weather incidents that jumped out at me.

General Gripes

Swap Shop closing

Residents got mad over a sudden (later-reversed) decision to close the beloved (but purportedly misused) Swap Shop.

Board of Health to look at Gun Safety

News that the BOH would look at guns from a public health perspective spawned a debate over gun control among readers.

Dismay over St. Mark’s green choice

I don’t mean the school’s solar panel installation on Sears Road that upset some abutters.

Sustainable Meadow (by susan)What really miffed residents was the “Sustainable Meadow” that popped up on the corner of Rtes 85 & 30 when the school first decided to make a “green” choice not to mow it in the summer of 2010 – prompting 81 comments.

Wrapping Up. . .

There was a lot going on over the past ten years in our small Town. Way too many controversies to highlight them all. (There were even some that meant more to me – but didn’t have as much traction with readers.) Sometimes the news is difficult to cover. But I’ve enjoyed playing a part in keeping residents informed and giving them a place to exchange opinions. 

Thank you all for your support of MySouthborough over the years.

Now – What story is it that really struck you over the past 10 years? Is it something I missed?

Updated (1/2/19 11:47 am): I added in the cover photo and fixed some typos and formatting issues.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Superman January 2, 2019 at 11:31 AM

Nice summary

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2 M January 2, 2019 at 5:34 PM

Beth,
You have done a wonderful job. . This year and last have not been easy with so many legal battles, but you were able to give comprehensive coverage and balance. Thank you so much for all of your hard work!

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3 M January 2, 2019 at 5:38 PM

(Beth, could you please post the dates of the Boy Scout Christmas Tree pick-up, if they are doing it again? Thanks)

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4 beth January 2, 2019 at 11:41 PM

It’s this Saturday. I have a reminder scheduled to post. In the meantime, you can find the original here: http://www.mysouthborough.com/2018/12/26/christmas-tree-pickup-january-6th-3/

Reply

5 Lura Baker January 5, 2019 at 12:06 AM

Thank you. I love your blog and I know it takes a lot of your time. I so enjoyed the summary. I am a frequent visitor to Southborough from Indiana and I first started following when they started rebuilding the church on the Deerfield Estate. After getting into the history of what was going on I was amazed at the young people for showing some of us how if you are passionate and fighting for a good cause you can move mountains. I am very impressed with your school system and had worried about my granddaughter going to a public school instead of a private school but am satisfied that your public schools are almost as good if not better than some of our private schools. A Hoosier fan of Southborough enjoys your community and unity very much.

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6 Jessica Devine January 7, 2019 at 10:36 AM

Great update, Beth! Thanks for writing this roundup and for all your work on the blog.

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