Ultimate guide to the May 4 town election

May 1, 2021

Graphic by Alice MacGarvie Thompson

Cardboard lawn signs, flyers piled onto doorsteps and middle school gym class in the auditorium: every May, Brookline town elections seem omnipresent but never take up much of the conscious attention of students. However, local elections determine future laws, taxes, budgets and treatment of residents. They ultimately carry great significance on all lives in the town.

On May 4, 2021, a lot is at stake. In several very competitive races, the last few months have been a flurry of endorsements, organizing and public forums. Candidates have spoken about racial justice, affordable housing, policing, budgeting, COVID-19 response, climate and school policy and the results of each election will have substantial implications for the town.

Freshman Sarah Mautner-Mazlen is a political activist who has been involved in The MA04 congressional race, the 2020 Georgia runoff elections and even the 2020 presidential election. Recently, she has been organizing and campaigning for the Select Board election.

Mautner-Mazlen said that Brookline’s voter turnout rates tend to be very low in municipal elections.

“Brookline has 40,000 registered voters. The turnout rate is between 17 percent and 26 percent, which is abysmal,” Mautner-Mazlen said.

Mautner-Mazlen said the “astonishing” power of local government manifests in many different forms. One issue that is largely impacted by town policy is policing.

“Policing is a big one in town elections because all of that is local,” Mautner-Mazlen said. “The Select Board is the police commissioner (and) Town Meeting votes on the police budget.”

Mautner-Mazlen said that students of voting age could have made a significant difference in the 2020 Select Board race.

“The last Select Board election was decided by around 332 votes, which is insane. That’s like, half of the seniors,” Mautner-Mazlen said.

Whether it’s affordable housing or free wifi, this ballot will greatly impact the trajectory of Brookline for the next few years. Town Moderator will influence Town Meeting, which will determine Brookline’s budget. The Select Board election will have major implications on policing, and the School Committee will vote on officers in schools. Town Clerk will either maintain or decrease the say that Brookline voters have, and the The Community Preservation Act vote will affect affordable housing funds and open space for years to come.

Town meeting members

Town Meeting, the legislative branch of Brookline government, is made up of 240 Town Meeting members, five Select Board members, the Moderator, the Town Clerk and any state representative living in Brookline. In Town Meeting, legislation is passed in the form of bylaws (actual legislation) and resolutions (statements of priorities or plans). Town Meeting is in charge of the yearly budget and meets twice a year, in May and November.

Past Town Meeting votes have influenced racial justice, climate legislation, affordable housing and policing. Last June, despite the efforts of many community organizers and activists, Town Meeting voted against reallocating funds away from the police department twice in separate amendments.

Town Meeting Members (TMMs), the main body of the Town Meeting, are elected by precinct, which means that only the people living in their precinct can vote for them. There are 16 precincts and 15 seats per precinct. TMMs have three-year terms, so that every May five seats are up for re-election in each precinct.

One way to find out running TMMs’ priorities and views is to look at their voting records if they are running for re-election. Since Town Meeting Elections are so local, Mautner Mazlen said you can reach out to candidates individually.

“The people who are running for Town Meeting have given the Town their phone number and email. So if you have questions for them, reach out. Like, ‘Hey, I see you’re running for town meeting in my precinct. I was wondering what your stance is on warrant article 34.’ These people are in your neighborhood, reach out to them,” Mautner-Mazlen said.

To see who is running in your precinct and if their race is contested, click here. You can learn more about the platforms and campaigns of starting on page nine of the League of Women Voters Election Guide, and find their contact information here.

Select Board

The Select Board is the executive branch of Town Meeting. It consists of five members, each with three-year terms, and holds authority over many town decisions and legislation. The Select Board appoints the town administrator, who controls the daily management of the town and creates and amends Warrant Articles. The Select Board also gives recommendations to Town Meeting on which Warrant Articles should pass or be amended.

Once Warrant Articles are passed, they make sure that they are implemented in the town. They review the town budget and give recommendations and guidelines to Town Meeting about the budget. They enforce bylaws and regulations put into place. They hold public hearings on important issues, represent Brookline in the general court and more.

Mautner-Mazlen said that she likes to visualize Town Meeting and the Select Board in relation to the federal government.

“If you think of the federal government, there’s the legislative, the executive and the judicial (branches). Judicial is covered by the County, legislative is Town Meetings. The Select Board is also there, and they’re sort of the executive. They are in charge of running the town government,” Mautner-Mazlen said.

Past Select Board decisions have included deciding not to implement the recommendations of the Task Force to Re-Imagine Policing. This decision continued the use of police officers in Brookline Public Schools, non-violent crisis and mental-health related calls and the Walk and Talk program. It prevented a social services department and civilian oversight board from being formed.

The results of Brookline Select Board elections have always held a lot of weight for the future of the town. In 2019, congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez visited Brookline to speak in support of Raul Fernandez’s campaign for Select Board.

There are two Select Board seats up for election. There are two incumbents (Bernard Greene and Nancy Heller) and three new candidates (Miriam Aschkenasy, Zoe Lynn, and Donelle O’Neal) running. To learn more about each candidate, watch the Brookline for Racial Justice and Equity Candidate (BRJE) Forum and the League of Women Voters Candidate Forum.

Graphic by Alice MacGarvie Thompson
Graphic by Alice MacGarvie Thompson

Town meeting moderator

Town Meeting Moderator is an elected three-year term that officiates and runs Town Meeting. The Moderator determines how long people can speak for, who can sign up to speak and the order of speakers during Town Meeting. They appoint the Advisory Committee, Committee on Town Organization and Structure and others. The Moderator also instructs new TMMs and gives information to TMMs about procedures and articles.

Though the Moderator is supposedly an unbiased position, community activist Ryan Black explained that it’s often more complicated.

“Town Meeting Moderator has a lot of power over how accessible Town Meeting is to the larger public,” Black said. “There’s a lot of parliamentary procedures and protocols to follow,” Black said. “Essentially, how those rules are laid out and how they are enforced and how they are implemented is largely at the discretion of the Town Meeting Moderator.”

Sandy Gadsby has run unopposed for Moderator since the year 2000. This election, after 27 years of holding the position, he is stepping down. There are two new candidates running for the Moderator position, Scott Ananian and Kate Poverman. To learn more about each candidate, watch the Brookline for Racial Justice and Equity Candidate (BRJE) Forum and the League of Women Voters Candidate Forum.

Graphic by Alice MacGarvie Thompson

School Committee

The School Committee is an elected executive authority for K-12 public schools. Meeting every two weeks, there are nine members with three-year terms and one member with a one-year term. The School Committee evaluates the superintendent, has the final say for education budgets, sets educational goals and creates policies for schools.

Some issues that have been discussed in the School Committee election are the use of police at the high school, temporary free wifi for students in certain areas and expansion of school programs.

There are three candidates running uncontested for the three-year school committee seats. Where the voting comes in is the one-year seat, a position with two candidates running: Steven Ehrenberg and Valerie Frias. To learn more about each candidate, watch the Brookline for Racial Justice and Equity Candidate (BRJE) Forum and the League of Women Voters Candidate Forum.

Graphic by Alice MacGarvie Thompson

Town clerk (question 1)

The Town Clerk is a three year elected position that keeps track of town records. They record minutes of each town meeting, keep track of votes and have many other responsibilities in Town Meeting and in the town. Benjamin Kaufman is running uncontested for Town Clerk.

Town Clerk has long been an elected position, but whether it should remain one is a point of contention this year. Question 1 on the ballot asks: “Shall the town vote to have its elected Town Clerk become an appointed Town Clerk of the town?” A vote yes indicates that the Town Clerk will be appointed by the Select Board from now on. A vote no indicates that the Town Clerk will continue to be elected by the residents of Brookline. If question 1 passes, then the Select Board will conduct an appointing process and will be under no obligation to hire Kaufman.

Community Preservation Act (question 2)

Question 2 on the ballot will ask whether or not Brookline should pass the Community Preservation Act (CPA). If passed, the CPA would generate funds for affordable housing, open space and historic preservation.

The CPA will raise property taxes for land-owning Brookline residents by 1 percent. This initial tax will generate $2.6 million per year, which will be increased to $3 million by the state of Massachusetts through the Community Preservation Trust Fund. Passing the CPA will make Brookline eligible for funds and grants related to affordable housing, open space and historic preservation on state and federal levels.

TMM and member of the Community Preservation Campaign Committee Deborah Brown said additional funds can be raised from state and local agencies on top of the CPA, especially for affordable housing.

“Now imagine if your starting point is $3 million, how much more you can raise,” Brown said. “Maybe you can leverage 10 times that from the government for housing, and maybe you can leverage an additional 20 percent, 30 percent from another state agency. It’s money on money.”

A Community Preservation Committee (CPC) will be appointed by the Select Board to make decisions and allocate the funds appropriately. This will include a member from the Conservation Commission, Planning Board, Historical Commission, Housing Authority and Board of Park Commissioners. Other members of the CPC will be chosen by the Select Board.

Brown explained that examples of affordable housing would be funds for the Brookline Housing Authority, Brookline Improvement Coalition and Senior Living in Brookline. Examples of open space would be funding for public recreation spaces, and examples of historic preservation would be repairs to old buildings.

Graphic by Alice MacGarvie Thompson

Voting information

Town Elections will be held on Tuesday, May 4, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Polling locations tend to be at the elementary school closest to your house. To find your polling location, click here. To apply for an in-person absentee ballot, click here. You must drop off your absentee ballot in-person, and the last day to apply is May 3. Early voting is open Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Town Hall (333 Washington St). Only registered voters ages 18+ can vote (if you have a driver’s license, you’re probably registered to vote). To check your voter registration status, click here.

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    Jillian RMay 4, 2021 at 6:58 pm

    I was trying to find the voting hours for my precinct and this was the best summary of what I needed to know and about the candidates that I’ve come across. Thanks for your reporting!