Collecting Questions for Planning Board Candidates – email me by noon Sunday

by beth on April 28, 2022

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There was an unfortunate mishap with Candidate’s Night at the Southborough Library last night.

One Planning Board candidate informed organizers yesterday morning that he was ill. Since that was too short notice for the Library to add a virtual component to the evening, there wasn’t a real Q&A for that contested race.

(There was Q&A for the Northborough candidates for the Regional School Committee and for the uncontested Select Board candidates. I will cover highlights in a separate post.)

Candidate Debbie DeMuria attended and made statements. Alan Belniak’s absence was explained and his statements were read aloud. But most attendees clearly weren’t comfortable putting one candidate on the spot when the other wasn’t there to also be questioned. (I did ask a question, but was the only one.)

Since it is an important position, and I was so looking forward to a real Candidate’s Night after a two year hiatus, I’m trying to find a resolution. (Annual Town Meeting taking place two evenings next week makes a reschedule unlikely.)

I am hoping to compile some to ask the candidates to respond to prior to the May 10th election.

If you are interested in sending in questions, please email mysouthborough@gmail.com by noon this Sunday, May 1st. To participate, you will have to provide your name and address. (After all, if you had asked a question at Candidate’s Night you wouldn’t have been able to remain anonymous!)

Reminder, you can learn more about the candidates by reading their statements to readers here.

Updated (4/29/22 7:31 am): To make it easier for me to ensure I see everyone’s questions, please use the subject line “Questions for Planning Board Candidates”. (Although, I will search emails to try to ensure I don’t miss any without the subject line.)

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 roxanneperro2@gmail.com April 28, 2022 at 8:18 PM

Since Mr. Belniak didn’t feel the all important candidates night was not crucial enough to take a cold tablet so he could attend, perhaps at this juncture, he should bow out. Can’t trust this guy.

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2 beth April 29, 2022 at 7:37 AM

I don’t think that’s fair. He tried to work with the Library to see if there was a virtual way to participate. Even pre-pandemic, I think many would have felt it was irresponsible for him to show up when he knows he’s sick and potentially contagious.

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3 Julie Connelly April 29, 2022 at 9:41 AM

Roxanne, I know Alan personally and spoke with him before Candidates Night. He was very disappointed that he could not attend, and frustrated that a technological option was not available despite the efforts made by Alan and folks at the library who tried to help find a solution. I also agree with Beth that it would have been irresponsible of Alan to attend, and that the criticism is misplaced given the circumstances. If you want to know more about Alan he has a website explaining his background, positions, and priorities, and you can contact him directly if you have questions. https://www.alanbelniakforsouthboroughplanningboard.com/

Beth, I love the idea of your accepting questions and creating an opportunity to allow both candidates to address issues that are important to the public. Thank you for doing this. We are fortunate to have a contested race of two experienced and qualified candidates and I appreciate your giving residents a way to compare their qualifications and platforms given the circumstances.

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4 Walt Horner April 29, 2022 at 10:27 AM

Oh, Roxanne. Let’s rise above denigrating an individual who made the right decision to protect the health of the Southborough community. He has my trust because of his decision not to attend the meeting. Rather than attacking him for doing the right thing, let’s be thankful that we have folks like Alan who volunteer their time and expertise to improve Southborough. We need more experts on our town boards and committees, and as a professional civil engineer, Alan is just what we need on the Planning Board.

Thank you, Alan, you have my vote.

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5 John B April 29, 2022 at 12:28 PM

Mr. Belniak will never get my vote based on his membership on EDC and the conduct of that committee related to the Downtown Initiative. That entire committee lacked professionalism and didn’t listen effectively and constructively to anyone with opposing opinions. In the final weeks before brining the article to Town Meeting, Belniak was strongly endorsing the idea that the EDC must get exactly what they wanted in the Downtown zoning article OR ELSE threatening to withdraw support of the article altogether. I guess you might call that collaboration the EDC way. Such behavior might be overlooked on a minor league committee like EDC but we cannot risk such obstinate entitlement on the Planning Board. Good Luck

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6 Tom May 1, 2022 at 12:11 AM

John B has it exactly right. This EDC should be defunded and disbanded. As for Mr. Belniak, he has allegedly been turned into the State Ethics Commission for alleged conflicts of interest and lack of required disclosures. Is it any coincidence that the large engineering company where he is employed is also doing major business with the town already? Guess who did the 141 page engineering report / plans for Karen Galligan / DPW for “Roadway Improvement Project” for “Various Locations” around Southborough?? None other than VHB, Mr. Belniak’s firm. Same branch, located in Watertown. Galligan is plowing ahead with the Flagg/Deerfoot intersection reconstruction based on an outdated conceptual idea from six years ago that is no longer needed, like it’s some done deal imperative. The trees she wants to take down are what prevents the 18 wheeler tractor trailers from barreling through the neighborhood.

For goodness sake, where is the accountability and managerial oversight of DPW??? This department is an out of control train wreck. The town road budget has been depleted and public monies restricted to public properties spent on paving and pocket parks for a PRIVATE owner, St. Marks. And Ms. Cook, running unopposed for BOS, states that nothing is wrong and no one meant to do anything wrong. Memo to Ms. Cook: Chapter 90 funds cannot be spent on private property. And you do not get my vote. Even running unopposed.

As for EDC and Ms. ConnElly, they have been turned into the Attorney General’s Office for alleged Open Meeting Law violations. And it’s about time.

This committee is comprised of bullhorn bullies who think state law applies to everyone else in Massachusetts, but does not apply to them. The confounding piece of this is one would think that all on this committee that have had ANNUAL ethics training, especially the attorneys (?!) would read the law and actually follow it.

Voters, if the opportunity arises to defund and disband this group of scofflaws, please vote to do so. Like John B. above, Mr. Belniak will never get my vote. Also, it would be interesting to know who recruited him onto the EDC.

History flashback: BTW, remember Mr. Healey on BOS bending over backwards in granting Special Municipal Employee (SME) status to the committee THAT NEVER REQUESTED IT, as required by law?! Well, Mr. Healey granted it anyway, and Mr. McKay (who requested it for himself) went missing in action, disappeared off the committee. SME status, instead of being properly scrutinized for actual NEED (as required), was merely extended with no discussion or examination by this BOS. File under unbelievable. EDC should be defunded, disbanded, and start over with professionals who read, care, and understand that state law applies to them.

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7 beth May 1, 2022 at 6:37 PM

What does “turned into the State Ethics Commission” and “turned into the Attorney General’s Office mean?

Anyone can file complaints, which doesn’t necessarily mean they have credence. But, what complaints are you referring to?

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8 Tom May 2, 2022 at 10:12 AM

Allegedly filed by legal experts. Stay tuned.
And pay good attention to the timely comments coming in these days.

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9 Mary May 1, 2022 at 11:20 AM

Thank you Tom and John B.. This is very eye opening and I don’t think it’s appropriate for Alan to take this position as it will continuously put him in a situation where there is a conflict of interest. You can’t have your firm do the planning for the town and then join a board to approve such plans. This is everything wrong with small town government. It becomes not about what is best for the town but what is best for an individuals career and personal gain. Walt, I agree with not attending due to being sick, it this has to be a red flag to anyone and the EDC is a giant one as well.

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10 Patrica Burns Fiore May 1, 2022 at 8:48 PM

The VHB website has Alan Belniak listed “an employee owner” and associate shareholder. VHB is the engineering firm Southborough uses for large projects, including the on-going downtown/Main St. project, St. Mark’s park and the St. Mark’s Street intersection move. Mr. Beliniak was employed by VHB while serving on the EDC, a committee with, apparently, no oversight nor consideration of conflict of interest.

Now he wants to be elected to the Planning Board, whose tasks include “… reviews and approves subdivisions and developments, and conducts site plan reviews.” The subhead of the MA Conflict of Interest Law Restrictions which will need to be followed as a member of the Planning Board, (G.L. c. 268A, sections 6, 13 and 19), says “Participating as a public employee in a matter in which you, your immediate family, your business organization, or your future employer has a financial interest is prohibited.” Why is he even allowed to run for Planning Board?

If he would need to recuse himself on every discussion and decision involving the town’s engineering firm, it is ridiculous for him to be a member of the Planning Board. How could someone serve effectively on this board as a shareholder of VHB?

And, speaking of VHB, when was the last time a contract for engineering was bid out? Under Karen Galligan’s “supervision,” THE DPW has gone from a town-employed part-time engineer to paying hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to one firm – VHB.

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11 Julie Connelly May 3, 2022 at 3:02 PM

This is getting ridiculous. Beth, I respectfully request that you stop allowing information that is verifiably untrue to be shared on your blog.

There are exactly ZERO allegations against Alan Belniak with the State Ethics Commission, a fact which has been verified by a call to the Ethics Commission this morning. Even if there were an allegation, allegations do not equal truth. But again, allegations have not even been made, which makes the statement by “Tom” a blatant lie. Now “Tom”‘s false words are down the thread repeated as truth. This is exactly how misinformation works. This has real life implications to the individuals falsely accused and our local businesses who are implicated in these unfounded smear attacks. It is appalling to see in real time in this community.

Also, for clarity, a conflict of interest would arise if Mr. Belniak was involved in making a decision which provided him (or an immediate family member or VHB) financial gain. If he is elected to Planning Board, and VHB were to appear before the Planning Board, then Mr. Belniak would have to recuse himself from voting in a matter that could result in granting work to or otherwise benefiting VHB. It is my understanding that the VHB work is assigned through DPW, and the Planning Board would have no decision making authority in such instances. I implore you to please stop allowing false accusations to be posted, especially anonymously, it is a disservice to our community.

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12 beth May 3, 2022 at 5:50 PM

I believed that State Ethics Commission investigations were confidential until resolved.

The state website reads:

The Enforcement Division reviews each complaint received. If the complaint falls within the Commission’s jurisdiction, an initial staff review may be conducted to determine if the facts warrant a formal investigation. The initial staff review is an informal, fact-gathering process. Many complaints are resolved confidentially at the conclusion of the initial staff review with a private educational letter being sent to the subject of the complaint. In these cases, no formal charge of a violation is brought and the matter remains confidential. . .

If, after a preliminary inquiry, the Commission finds that there is “no reasonable cause” to believe the conflict of interest law has been violated, the case is closed and the matter remains confidential.

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13 Memo to Connelly May 3, 2022 at 6:41 PM

Beth, thanks for your clarification above. Ms. Connelly seems too narrow in her response. Mr. Belniak is required to complete disclosure forms regardless, while serving on EDC and while his firm is doing major business with the town. Ms. Connelly: you are on EDC. Did he fill out the forms?

Also, his candidacy for Planning Board should raise any and all fair and legitimate questions, for example sitting on a matter for several meetings then learning that a developer may be presenting plans drawn by his company. What a waste of time and effort for all, only to potentially result in an alternate having to step in. Seems impossible to know in advance and impractical and unfair to all involved. Regardless of Ms. Connelly’s downplaying of VHBs major business with DPW, it is unsettling nonetheless. Where are the required disclosure forms? Perhaps the town clerk can post them online on EDCs webpage.

EDC and Ms. Connelly are the subject of an Open Meeting Law violation complaint. This is public record and follows a mandatory process that goes to the BOS first. She mentions nothing about it above. However, she appears to lack a genuine understanding and acknowledgment of public process and that residents object to the way she conducts herself on important town business and Open Meeting Law matters and therefore is now the subject of a complaint.

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14 Kelly Roney May 4, 2022 at 5:58 PM

Questions for the candidates:
1. Do you favor mixed use development in suitable zones? What are your criteria for suitability?
2. Do you favor transit-served density, as incentivized by recent state law?
3. What zoning or permitting changes would you support regarding Rte. 9 buildings that are underutilized?

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15 beth May 5, 2022 at 8:24 AM

You missed the deadline for submitting questions by a few days. This Friday, I will be posting the candidates’ answers to the questions I posed to them on Sunday. It would have been great if there was a live forum for this. But since there isn’t, I wanted to give candidates time to formulate written responses. (Especially since this is Town Meeting week!)

The questions I posed don’t cover your specific questions, but they do include thoughts on zoning.

That doesn’t prevent either candidate from also responding to your comment. But I’ll understand if they are wary of diving into details in a thread where anonymous commenters can participate.

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