Welcome to 2023!
Although civics is taught in eighth grade, the lessons are mostly targeted to the basics of Federal and State government. Local government issues and their inner workings are often left for people to learn on their own.
The Bedford Citizen is embarking on what we call “The Civics Project.” In this issue, we are providing information about the Town’s elected officials and the boards they serve.
- League of Women Voters: “A Citizen’s Guide to Bedford” An introduction to the government services and resources Know Your Town
- Town of Bedford: The Select Board Handbook
PART 2 – Elected Positions
With election season underway, here is a look at the positions that are on the ballot this year.
There are nominations for the following elected boards:
- Select Board
- Planning Board
- Library Trustees
- Board of Health
- Housing Authority
- School Committee
2023 Candidates – Two seats for three-year terms:
- Bopha Malone (incumbent)
- Paul Mortenson
About the Select Board
The term Selectman as one of the oldest forms of representative government in the United States dates back to the 1630s. At that time, citizens decided that a delegation of authority was needed to reduce the burdensome frequency of monthly Town Meetings. A group of “selectmen” was elected to administer town affairs in between Town Meetings.
Bedford’s first Selectmen were elected at the first Town Meeting on Oct. 6, 1729, shortly after Bedford was incorporated on Sept. 23. (That was the shortest campaign in town history.)
In Bedford, the current number of Select Board Members and their three-year terms was determined by a Town Meeting vote of June 21, 1954. In 2020, the Board of Selectmen was renamed the Select Board.
Powers and Responsibilities
The Bedford Select Board is the executive body of the Town, responsible for setting strategic direction and policies, carried out by the town manager and municipal departments.
The Select Board provides the general direction and management of the property, buildings, and affairs of the Town in all matters not otherwise provided for by statute or town bylaws. The legal authority of the Select Board is limited to actions taken by the board at legally called, posted meetings with a majority of the board present.
The sources of authority for the Select Board are Massachusetts General Laws and Special Acts, as well as the Town of Bedford Charter and Bylaws. More than 700 statutes and Special Acts define the powers and duties of the Select Board.
In recent years the board has met every other week, except weekly during the height of budget preparations. But the obligations of individual board members extend well beyond the actual meetings. Each elected member serves as liaison to as many as seven other elected or appointed boards and committees.
Select Board members also take part in an array of civic occasions, ranging from patriotic holidays to ribbon cuttings to Eagle Scout courts of honor. Elected officials also need familiarity with the town charter, bylaws, policy manual, relevant state laws, and a plethora of documents focusing on particular projects and programs.
This is one of two elected boards in Bedford to receive an annual stipend. The chair of the Select Board receives $2,400, the clerk gets $2,000 and the other members get a stipend of $1,600.
2023 Candidates – Two seats for three-year terms
- Jacinda Barbehenn (incumbent)
- Steve Hagan (incumbent)
About the Planning Board
The Planning Board, which includes five members elected to three-year terms, plays an important role in the development of the town. It is responsible for review of proposed residential and commercial developments under guidance of state laws, and the town bylaws. The Board is charged with considering present and future impacts on the town of proposed developments, including issues such as traffic, drinking water, sewer, drainage, and visual and noise pollution.
For commercial developments, the Board conducts a site plan review and recommends approval or disapproval to the Code Enforcement Department. Public hearings are held by the Board on certain proposals as part of the review process.
The Planning Board is also responsible for developing a Master Plan for the Town that indicates the most desirable future growth patterns. This plan is developed through wide participation by boards and citizens. It serves as a guide and is periodically updated. The plan suggests areas for open space, various types of housing, business, and industry and also presents recommendations for planning and development policies and programs. The most recent one was completed in 2014. (In addition, a Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan has been completed by the Town and a Great Road Master Plan is underway.)
Jeffrey Cohen, chair of the Planning Board at the time wrote, “The plan outlines Bedford’s strengths as well as those challenges in six key areas: Land Use, Natural and Cultural Resources, Economic Development, Transportation, Housing Needs, and Services, Facilities, Recreation, and Energy.”
The Board employs a fulltime Planning Director, a full-time assistant planner, and an administrative assistant.
Board meetings are open to the public. Meetings are subject to change, but generally the Planning Board meets twice a month on Tuesday night.
2023 Candidates – Two seats for three-year terms
- Rachel Field (incumbent)
- Renae Nichols
About the Bedford Free Public Library
The mission of The Bedford Free Public Library is to provide free and open access to information, knowledge, and the pursuit of ideas in an environment that is comfortable and welcoming to patrons of all ages, abilities, and cultures within and beyond its walls.
The Board of Library Trustees is made up of seven members who are elected to a three-year term on a rotating basis. They are responsible for administering the programs, services, and property of the library. They appoint a director who manages the library under their direction.
The Trustees establish policies governing the programs and services offered by the library. These policies cover, to name a few, collection development, computer use, gifts, internet, privacy/confidentiality, and use of meeting and study rooms. They also receive and administer all funds and personal property bequeathed or donated to the library.
The Trustees meet on the second Tuesday of each month with the exception of August when no meeting is held. Library Trustees do not receive compensation for their service.
BOARD OF HEALTH
2023 Candidates – Two seats for three-year terms
- Ann Kiessling (incumbent)
- Susan Schwartz (incumbent)
About the Board of Health
From Know Your Town:
The Board of Health has five members, elected to three-year terms. They are non-salaried.
The Board of Health’s job is to help neighbors lead healthy lives in Bedford. According to the town’s website, the BOH is “dedicated to serving all residents of Bedford, particularly the underserved, and promoting healthy people, healthy families, and a healthy environment through compassionate care, education, and disease prevention.” The BOH identifies “emerging public health needs, creates needed regulations, sets policy, holds hearings, and considers variances.”
They played a big role in the town’s response to Covid-19, beginning in the first big surge in March 2020, offering free testing and vaccination clinics.
The BOH works towards “maintaining a balance between short-term benefit(s) to human life versus long-term risk. Decision-making priority is given to town/community needs versus individual needs.”
The Board operates under the regulations of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to enforce the state sanitary code. It issues licenses, permits, and/or approvals for a wide variety of activities affecting the health of the community, ranging from rabies clinics to inspection of food service establishments and hotels/motels, to mention a few.
The Board of Health employs the following staff: a health director, health agent/inspector, an administrative assistant, a community nurse, and four full time and one part time school nurses. Public health nursing services are available to all residents.
Staff will investigate and respond to all complaints or inquiries received. Environmental issues represent a new and emerging public health concern for the Board of Health.
Residential hazardous waste collection is sponsored by the Board and administered by the staff.
BEDFORD HOUSING AUTHORITY
2023 Candidates: One seat for five-year term
- Ellis Kriesberg (incumbent)
From Know Your Town:
The Bedford Housing Authority was established under Mass General Laws Chapter 121B for the purpose of providing affordable, subsidized rental housing for people of low and moderate income.
Of the Bedford Housing Authority’s five members, four are elected, and one is appointed by the state. The Board of Commissioners of the Authority is the policy making body of the agency and is legally responsible for the overall operation of the Authority. The day-to-day activities are administered by an Executive Director who is hired by the Board and salaried.
The Authority’s responsibilities are to administer, maintain, and manage various state-sponsored programs, including:
- 80 units of elderly/handicapped Housing at Ashby Place
- 12 units of Veterans/Family housing on Elm Street.
It oversees property on Railroad Avenue which is run by the Department of Mental Health. The Authority also subsidizes units for low-income voucher holders at Bedford Village and administers a contract for rental assistance vouchers within the community.
The Housing Authority also oversees the Life Skills Management program, funded through the Community Preservation Fund, which helps residents of Housing Authority properties in a variety of ways, from counseling sessions to language lessons.
Meetings take place on the second Tuesday of the month.
BOARD OF ASSESSORS
2023 Candidates: One seat for a three-year term
- Rebecca Neale (incumbent)
One seat for a one-year term
- Dennis Ross (appointed to fill open term)
About the Board of Assessors
The Board of Assessors annually assesses the value of all property within the town, and recommends to the Select Board tax rates for residential, commercial, and industrial properties in order to meet the revenue goals in the town budget. The Board is made up of three elected members serving three-year terms. Each elected member receives a $400 quarterly stipend.
Properties are valued at fair market value as of Jan. 1. Land and buildings are valued separately, but only the total value appears on the tax bill. Assessments have to be updated at regular intervals, but property is not revalued when sold. The Board hires an Associate Assessor to oversee the required fieldwork.
The Board also maintains records of every property in the town, including aerial and still photographs, as well as a narrative description based on an in-person inspection. The Code Enforcement Department sends to the Board a copy of each building permit issued, so that a continuous record of new construction can be maintained and updated.
The Board oversees local implementation of the motor vehicle excise tax, but does not control the tax rates, which are set by the state.
The maximum amount of property tax the town can collect in a given year is capped by state law, and is computed each year like this: First, the previous fiscal year’s revenue is increased by 2.5 percent. That number is then increased by the tax revenue (still from the previous year) associated with new or expanded properties.
If you feel that your property has been overvalued, and that your property taxes are too high, you can ask the Board to reconsider by filing for an abatement. If still not satisfied, you can appeal to the state Appellate Tax Board. If you are a disabled veteran, a widow or widower, blind, needy, or over 70, you can request an exemption. People over 65 can request a deferral. The process and deadlines for applying for abatements, exemptions, and deferrals are outlined on your tax bill.
This is one of two boards in Bedford that receives a stipend for serving.
2023 Candidates: Two seats for a three-year term
- Sarah Scoville (incumbent)
- Sarah McGinley
The Bedford School Committee consists of five members elected to serve a three-year term. There is also a non-voting student representative who is appointed from the Bedford High School senior class, serving a one-year term. As of January 2022, two appointed, non-voting representatives were added – one from Hanscom Air Force Base and one from METCO to better represent the interests of those two communities of Bedford.
The School Committee uses the vision provided by the District’s mission statement and core values to guide decisions of the board as they work to support the District’s goals.
The responsibilities of the School Committee are:
- To appoint and evaluate the Superintendent
- To review and approve budgets for public education
- To establish educational goals and policies consistent with the requirements of Massachusetts General Law and statewide standards established by the Massachusetts Board of Education
The Bedford School Committee does not fall under the direction of any other town board.
The responsibility for the administrative operation of the Bedford Schools is the responsibility of the Superintendent, who is hired by the School Committee.