SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 24, 2014

Benton: Charter sets high hurdle in Beverly

Nelson Benton
The Salem News

---- — Those advocating the rezoning of land along Brimbal Avenue in order to accommodate traffic changes and new commercial development may have found a hero in the almost 20-year-old and currently defunct Beverly Charter Commission.

A provision in the redrafted charter requires that any ballot initiative that seeks to overturn a previous City Council vote gain the approval of at least 20 percent of registered voters.

That’s a high hurdle, as Charlie Grimes, former chairman of the charter reform group, acknowledges. But then, if you made it too easy, why have a city council at all?

Though there’s a very active and vociferous neighborhood group advocating reversal of the council’s decision, an increasing number of political heavyweights have begun weighing in on behalf of the changes that would open land on both sides of Route 128 to development. Former councilor Bruce Nardella is heading up the latter group under the “Better for Beverly” banner.

And, of course, this has been a dream project for former mayor Bill Scanlon who has made it clear that while he may be retired, he has no intention of leaving the fray.

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The charter changes recommended by Grimes & Co. have stood up well over the past two decades.

It wisely retained the practice of awarding the council presidency to the top vote-getter among the councilor-at-large candidates. It gives them a reason to get out and campaign for votes.

Most disappointing, at least to this observer, was the Charter Commission’s failure to change the election of school board members from a ward system to one in which all would run citywide.

Citizens of the Garden City will hear a lot on this issue between now and the Feb. 8 vote.

Don’t forget: Unlike previous elections, there will be only one place to cast your ballot — the high school. Opponents of the zoning change have to be praying for good weather that day.

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It was a big week for a couple of North Shore legislators.

Veteran Danvers state Rep. Ted Speliotis, now one of the most senior members of the lower chamber, was named to represent Speaker Robert DeLeo on a panel that’s been tasked by the governor to devise way of keeping our students and school staffs safe. The appointment was particularly appropriate given the recent tragedy at Danvers High School that resulted in the death of a beloved teacher.

Of one thing you can be certain: The task force will not be recommending the arming of teachers, at least not if Speliotis has anything to say about it.

Lynn Rep. Steve Walsh, like Speliotis, is among DeLeo’s most trusted advisers. But now he’s hanging up his legislative hat to become executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Community Hospitals. His expertise in the field of health-care financing will no doubt be valued by his new employer. But it likely marks the end of what was once a promising political career.

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Congratulations to Sean O’Brien, who was recently elected chairman of the Salem Republican City Committee. The GOP needs more like him if it’s to regain viability here on the North Shore.

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A new MassINC poll shows GOP gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker leading all Democratic contenders with the exception of Attorney General Martha Coakley. Baker may want to call in Scott Brown from New Hampshire for some tips on how to handle the state’s top law enforcement official.

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Who will Gov. Deval Patrick side with in the battle over a natural-gas plant in Salem: his friends in the environmental lobby or pal Kim Driscoll, Salem’s mayor?