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Susse's endorsements, view of Arlington Fights Racism
Jennifer Susse, a School Committee member who did not run for reelection this spring, offers her views about the town election. She helps manage the Select Board campaign for Lenard Diggins.
I have been meaning to convey my thoughts about the upcoming town election for some time. I apologize in advance for its length. Note, the election is scheduled for June 6, but VOTE EARLY if you can.
This is a tricky election for Arlington, for many reasons.
First, it is being held during a global health crisis that has affected us all in profound ways, some of them devastating. Many Arlingtonians have lost family or friends, and have a pressing need to memorialize a loved one.
Many are also dealing with financial and food insecurity; some for the first time. If you are in need of food you should call Arlington’s food hot line at 781-316-3400. Find information about other resources at housingcorparlington.org or arlingtonhelps.org. If you are in a position to donate, please consider Arlington’s Covid Relief fund at ahhscc.org.
I write this note about our town elections cognizant that many of the concerns we had three months ago are now background considerations at best. I will present my recommendations first, and then talk in detail about my thoughts on the advocacy group, Arlington Fights Racism (AFR). Feel free to skip or skim as needed.
Note that ACMi has done a great job this year in providing forums for debates, profiles and conversations with those running for town office. You can see them here:
For Select Board, I am enthusiastically supporting Lenard Diggins. Len comes to this race with deep knowledge of Arlington town governance and valuable connections to both town and regional leaders. He is a great listener, a calm independent thinker and a thoughtful collaborator.
Len’s devotion to Arlington is evident from his many volunteer activities—from attentively filming the Select Board meetings over the past five years, to his work with the Women’s Networking Group for the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, the Transportation Advisory Committee and the Sustainable Transportation Plan Committee ... as well, of course, being a Town Meeting member from Precinct 3 who initiated and helped organize fall precinct meetings with Envision Arlington.
I also offer my wholehearted support for Diane Mahon. Having a 21-year veteran on the Select Board is important both for continuity and as a critical reservoir of institutional memory, but it is Diane’s outreach during this public-health crisis that really showcases her value to this town. Diane has been an amazing liaison to the community over the years.
For School Committee, I support Liz Exton and the two members I’ve worked closely with over the past six years, Bill Hayner and Paul Schlichtman.
This year, the committee is about to embark on one of its most important statutory responsibilities, choosing a new superintendent. Liz’s 18-year teaching experience, Paul’s connection to the Massachusetts Association of School Committees and Bill’s critical voice are going to be invaluable.
Good ideas are important, but so is temperament. Effective School Committee members listen carefully, work collaboratively and approach others with an assumption of good will. Liz, Bill and Paul have those qualities in spades.
From observing Lynette Martyn at public meetings, and from following both her and the Arlington Fights Racism campaign, I do not believe that Lynette would be the kind of respectful collaborator that we need on the School Commitee. I worry that skilled and talented superintendent candidates will be discouraged from applying if the committee is seen as divisive or dysfunctional. Alternatively, having a functional School Committee will ensure that Arlington is well positioned to hire the best candidate available. Frankly, the stakes could not be higher!
Board of Assessors
I am supporting Mary Winstanley O’Connor for the Board of Assessors. Mary has been an active volunteer in our community for years -- serving on the Zoning Board of Appeals, Town Meeting and as president of the Arlington Education Foundation. As an attorney with an advanced degree in taxation, Mary has a legal education and experience that are invaluable.
While I like Patti Sawtelle, and think she has some great ideas on ways that technology can be used to mitigate inefficiencies at the clerk’s office, I believe that Juli Brazile has many of the “soft” leadership skills that will be needed to ensure that the clerk’s office fully responds to resident needs.
In nearly 30 years of volunteer leadership, Juli has shown a passion and a commitment to our town. She is an effective manager who has the relevant know-how and connections to get things done. She is also one of the most organized people I know. I believe she is the right person to bring about much needed change to this important town office.
While I disagree with Jo Anne Preston on many issues, especially on issues related to whether we should add housing in Arlington (I believe it is our moral responsibility), I find it frustrating that Joseph Daly has not shown up during this campaign—he has not participated in any debates, filmed any profiles or answered any questionnaires.
In my opinion, his refusal to engage with the voters is disrespectful and disqualifying.
Town Meeting races, AFR
This year, an advocacy group, Arlington Fights Racism (AFR), funded by the campaign of School Committee candidate Lynette Martyn, is running a slate of candidates seeking to unseat Town Meeting members across town. Members of this slate have been required to pledge support for, in my opinion, a well-intentioned, but deeply flawed, policy platform.
There are some exceptional people listed on this slate, and I am especially heartened that many candidates of color are running. Arlington has become increasingly racially diverse over the past two decades (though sadly losing economic and generational diversity). It’s high time our town government reflected the make-up of our residents.
However, along with these exceptional people, there are some who are extremely divisive, and there are some amazing people running for office who are not listed there. Basically, you should do your homework. Being listed on this slate is not a reliable indicator of whether someone has progressive views.
While its moniker is Arlington Fights Racism, it is fundamentally an anti-incumbency group that includes, along with some exceptional candidates, many abrasive critics of Arlington town government with controversial views, especially with respect to education issues. The slate includes multiple opponents of the high school rebuild, multiple advocates for the 2016 charter school proposal that would have decimated public-education spending in Massachusetts, and at least one person who voted for Stephen Harrington’s warrant article in 2015 to cut $1 million from the school budget.
Some of the reasons AFR leadership is angry at current town officials include: i) the town manager and Redevelopment Board’s efforts to increase housing stock, especially along the main corridors, ii) that we are building a new, rather than a renovated high school, iii) plans to remove mature trees for town projects and iv) the way the town manager handled the racist comments made by Lt. Rick Pedrini.
I want to talk briefly about the Pedrini incident, as anger over how the town manager handled that incident is central to the origin of AFR, the pledge they created and the existence of this slate. I’ll note that I have not signed the pledge, and I know many thoughtful people who are similarly situated. While I agree with its values, I disagree with its specific language. The devil, as always, is in the details. I especially disagree with the tone created by the fourth plank, which is critical of how town leadership handled the issue of Lt. Rick Pedrini’s racist writings.
Unfortunately, when it comes to personnel issues administrators and elected officials cannot always share full information due to privacy issues and legal concerns. In my time on the School Committee, I was often unable to talk about personnel issues in cases where communicating with the public would have brought a defamation lawsuit and cost the School Department (i.e., taxpayers) quite a bit of money. I always found such situations frustrating as I highly value open, honest and transparent communication with the public.
As I see it, the town manager did his best to navigate a tricky situation. Based on conversations I have had with people I trust, I believe that had the town manager fired Lt. Pedrini the decision would have gone to arbitration and Arlington would have lost. What that means is that Lt. Pedrini would have been returned to the Arlington Police Department, potentially unchastened and feeling vindicated. Reasonable people can disagree with this prediction, but that is a disagreement in strategy not in values. The AFR’s stance that suggested otherwise repelled many people from signing their pledge.
For all who have gotten this far, thank you for reading. I hope this note finds you and your loved ones healthy and sane. The six plus years I have served on the School Committee have been rewarding, and also frustrating. I am looking forward to increased family time and fewer evening meetings.
This viewpoint was published Wednesday, May 27, 2020.
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Jennifer Susse's letter covers all aspects of current issues with accuracy and wisdom. As someone who has lived in four different states and is familiar with many municipalities and school districts, as an auditor and consultant for many years, and then even as an employee, Arlington ranks high in my opinion (and in formal published analyses, also) as a Town and a School District. That should be recognized and appreciated.
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