Watertown Looking at Closing “Little Greenough” on Weekends for Recreation

A screenshot of a Google Map showing the section of Greenough Boulevard that Town officials are looking at closing on weekends. A Town Council Subcommittee supported the idea of doing a pilot program to close a portion of Greenough Boulevards to traffic on weekends during parts of the year, similar to Memorial Drive in Cambridge. The section of the roadway, sometimes called Little Greenough, runs between North Beacon and Arsenal streets, and provides a link between the two thoroughfares. On Dec. 10, the Committee on Economic Development and Planning voted to recommend that the full Council request that the state do a pilot study of closing the road on the weekends during the spring, summer and fall, and examine the impact on traffic.

Marijuana Dispensary on Pleasant Street Approved by Planning Board

A recreational marijuana dispensary received approval from the Planning Board to open at the mixed-use complex at 330-350 Pleasant St. The Town’s third marijuana dispensary, located in a complex on Pleasant Street that will also have apartments, got approval from the Planning Board Wednesday night. Bud’s Goods & Provisions will be going into part of the retail space at the Water Mills at Bridge Point mixed-use development at 330-350 Pleasant St., near the intersection with Rosedale Road. The dispensary will have adult-use sales, also known as recreational. In July, Bud’s entered into a Community Host Agreement with the Town, which includes paying 3 percent of its gross profits to the Town to offset the impact of the dispensary on Watertown, and a $10,000 charitable donation annually.

State Announces Plans for COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

The following announcement was sent out by the Governor’s Office:

The Baker-Polito Administration announced allocation and distribution plans for the first round of COVID-19 vaccine shipments to Massachusetts set to begin around December 15. The state’s first shipment of 59,475 doses of the Pfizer vaccine was ordered from the federal government this past Friday and will be delivered directly to 21 hospitals across 8 counties, as well as to the Department of Public Health Immunization lab. Doses will then be redistributed for access to 74 hospitals across all 14 counties for front line medical workers. The next 40,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine will be allocated to the Federal Pharmacy Program to begin vaccinating staff and residents of skilled nursing facilities, rest homes and assisted living residences. Vaccine is being prioritized for these groups to maximize life preservation and to support the health care system.

Council Joins Effort to Prevent Racial Harassment in Watertown Schools & Beyond

Watertown Town Hall

The Town Council will begin looking at ways to help the Watertown Public Schools address racial harassment and bullying following reports made a middle school student about her experiences at Watertown Middle School. At Tuesday night’s meeting, the Council voted to start discussions about how they could help the Schools with racism issues. Also at the meeting, the Council adopted a proclamation opposing racism and bulling in Watertown. The School Administration and School Committee will take the lead on how to deal with racial harassment, said Town Council President Mark Sideris, who is also a member of the School Committee. Superintendent Dede Galdston announced she will be putting together a a citizens advisory board which will include parents of children who have been harassed, Sideris said.

OP-ED: State Sen. Brownsberger on Proposed Police Reform in Mass.

State Sen. Will Brownsberger

(The following piece was provided by State Sen. Will Brownsberger, whose district includes Watertown, Belmont and parts of Boston)

Shortly, the Governor will decide whether to approve a major policing reform package. 

The legislature sent him the bill after hours of emotional debate, months of emotional negotiation and thousands of emotional comments by people on both sides of the issue. If approved, it will make a real difference in policing in Massachusetts. 

There are many brave and honorable police officers in this state and there are many excellent police leaders as well. Some of them take personally the proposition that improvement is needed. That is unfortunate. We need to keep reassuring them that we do not mean to question their commitment, integrity, or competence. 

At the same time, we need to recognize that we can do better. We need to admit that there are some departments in the state where civilian complaints of mistreatment are badly neglected. One need look no further than the recent United States Department of Justice investigation into the police department in the City of Springfield.   

Citizens — and honorable police officers — do need stronger protection from rogue officers and the package before the Governor will offer that protection. At the heart of the package is a new statewide oversight agency for policing: The Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission (POST).   

The POST will have the power to directly receive a complaint of misconduct from any source. Additionally, all law enforcement agencies in the state will have to promptly report to the POST any complaints that they receive.   

The POST has the power to certify officers and the power to decertify them. Without certification by the POST, law enforcement officers cannot work in law enforcement. In response to serious misconduct, the POST may choose to consider suspending or decertifying an officer. It will be much harder to bury a complaint of serious misconduct.   

That does not mean that officers will be presumed to be in the wrong when a complaint is filed. On the contrary, they will benefit from strong procedural protections. When a complaint is made, officers will usually go through the local discipline process as they do now. But the result of that process will be reported to the POST and the POST will have the resources to independently investigate if it deems it necessary. 

If the POST opens an investigation and concludes that an officer’s conduct merits a suspension or decertification, the POST may impose a preliminary suspension, but only after a hearing and a finding that the weight of the evidence favors a finding against the officer. During a preliminary suspension, an officer may remain on the agency payroll. 

A final suspension or decertification can only be imposed upon “clear and convincing evidence.” That is a very high bar — professionals in other fields can typically lose their license on lesser findings. It makes sense that police officers should have a somewhat higher threshold for losing their license — they are often in an adversarial relationship with people that they arrest and they can draw complaints even when they behave professionally. 

The POST commission will consist of nine members appointed by the Governor and the Attorney General. The commission will include three police officers, three civilians and three additional civilians nominated from lists submitted by the National Association of Social Workers, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, and the civil rights and social justice section of the Massachusetts Bar Association. 

POST commissions, in the other 46 states that have them, are completely dominated by law enforcement officers. Due to their make up and/or their limited powers, POST commissions in other states have allowed tragic abuses to continue, leading to civil unrest.  

In departing from national precedent by creating a majority civilian commission with great power, we hope to give citizens confidence in the commission’s independence and to assure that real transparency and accountability come to law enforcement in Massachusetts.  

More information available here.

Other Town Charters Looked to for Inspiration for Charter Review Committee

Looking for ways to improve the way Watertown’s municipal government works, the Charter Review Committee looked at other cities and towns for new ideas. They also debated mayor vs. town manager, and ways to communicate with residents. Committee members looked for ways to address some of their biggest issues with the way Watertown’s government operates, including transparency, communication with residents and accountability. Specifically, some complained that it is unclear how residents can report a problem and get it addressed.

Town Council Puts Eversource On Notice About Double Poles in Watertown

An example of a double utility pole on Main Street in Watertown from 2016

Tired of waiting for Eversource to take action needed to remove double utility poles in Watertown, the Town Council told the utility this week it will not consider requests for Eversource projects in Town until the poles are dealt with. Every few meetings, a utility comes to the Town Council for approval to do work in Watertown, typically putting in an underground trench for wires. Tuesday, Eversource had two such requests, but one councilor brought up his frustration about the lack of action on removing double poles, particularly one problematic one in his district. When a new utility pole is installed, the old one is attached to the new one until the wires are transferred to the new one. There is an order for which wires get moved first depending on where they are on the pole, and who owns the poles.

Town, BB&N Agree to Share Fields at Filippello Park, New Ones School to Build on Grove Street

The Town of Watertown and Buckingham Browne & Nichols School (BB&N) agreed to a field sharing plan where the school would get some use of Filippello Park, while the Town could use new athletic fields to be built by BB&N on Grove Street. Watertown residents will have access to new athletic fields to be built by Buckingham Browne & Nichols School on Grove Street, while the school will be able to use fields at next door Filippello Park as part of an agreement approved by the Town Council Tuesday night. Two full-sized athletic fields, a field house and parking for about 80 vehicles are planned for the 6.1 acres of land that BB&N plans to purchase from Mount Auburn Cemetery. The land directly abuts Filippello Park on the Grove Street side of the park in East Watertown. BB&N recently entered into a purchase and sale agreement with the Mount Auburn Cemetery.