WINCHESTER - The Waterfield Task Force is set.
After a vote by the town last month to reject a Land Development Agreement negotiated with Civico, the Select Board opted to convene a task force to help them better negotiate a new deal with the developer interested in building on the parking lot adjacent to the Winchester Center Commuter Rail Station.
The task force consists of five people: one chosen by the group who supported a no vote during the special election, one chosen by the group who supported a yes vote during the special election, someone from the business community, someone with a background in real estate, and a citizen-at-large.
Since the Select Board received several candidates for each position (not including those from the yes and no camps), they interviewed* each one this week and ultimately chose the best applicants for the task force.
(*Technically, they interviewed all but one candidate)
Going forward, the task force will meet starting in early August in open, public sessions. By the end of September, they should have recommendations for the Select Board and its negotiating team so the two sides (the town and Civico) can hopefully reach a new deal by fall Town Meeting.
Chosen were: Patrick Fortin from the business community, Bill Cummings from the real estate community and Soumya Ganapathy as the resident-at-large.
The board chose Fortin for his experience with the Chamber of Commerce, as he served as its president twice and sits on the board of directors (and has for 20 years). He’s also run a business since 1985 that does a lot of commercial work and leasing (his business has 34 locations).
Fortin said he’s served on committees in the past. He also admitted the town needs affordable housing (something the Civico deal can provide).
When asked what he would bring to the task force, Fortin said a “level head,” adding, “nothing will be perfect for everybody, but we can give everyone a perspective to be heard.”
Select Board member Michael Bettencourt nominated Fortin, as he worked with him in the past, including on the plastic bag bylaw. He called Fortin’s experience unique.
Fortin received four votes with only Select Board member Mariano Goluboff against. He nominated Heidi Deleo, as she runs a business in the town center. He said it made sense to have someone like that on the task force, adding how she’s familiar with people in the town center.
“She wants to bring people together for compromise,” he also noted.
Originally, the board voted before discussing the nominees, but chair Susan Verdicchio negated the first vote. In that first vote, both Verdicchio and Goluboff voted against Fortin; however, in the second vote, Verdicchio supported his nomination.
Also supporting his nomination, Select Board member Rich Mucci said he wanted independence and integrity with the committee. He argued that two other candidates took a public side in the special election debate. Vice chair member Amy Shapiro agreed.
“It’s better to air on the side of impartiality,” she remarked, “and Fortin brings that, plus his experience with the chamber.”
Bettencourt, who made the nomination, echoed those sentiments, noting how the yes and no campaigns will bring forth their own candidates. He added having someone who was actively involved in the campaigns wouldn’t be a good look.
Goluboff argued Deleo wasn’t that involved, but could not sway his fellow board members who backed Fortin’s nomination, 4-1.
Anyone who lives in Winchester, Woburn or the State of Massachusetts probably knows the name Bill Cummings. From Cummings Park to all of his real estate holdings, he’s been prevalent in the area for more than four decades. Therefore, it would seem like a no-brainer to want someone like that on the task force.
The issue with Cummings’ nomination came from him not submitting an application; rather, Mucci nominated him for the task force (after Cummings told Mucci he would be interested in serving). While the board said candidates would have to apply, they also mentioned nominating people for the resident-at-large position. With Cummings’ nomination, Mucci did that.
He emailed both the town manager and Verdicchio and they suggested Cummings would be a better fit as the real estate representative. This bothered Goluboff who pointed out how every other candidate applied for the position (there was one other candidate who the board interviewed).
Cummings didn’t even get interviewed, as Mucci said he was unaware the board would be interviewing candidates that night. Still, his credentials were enough for the board to accept his nomination, 3-0-2, with both Goluboff and Verdicchio abstaining.
Mucci did detail Cummings’ background, which includes living in Winchester for 50 years, growing up in Medford, and buying, building or rebuilding more than 100 pieces of real estate in the area. Mucci said Cummings’ vision amounted to “creat(ing) places that can grow and prosper.”
He started the Cummings Foundation in the late 1980s to give back to the community. He also served on the Winchester Planning Board in the 1970s.
“He’s a perfect candidate for the committee,” Mucci pushed.
Shapiro called Cummings a “wonderful asset to the town,” with his commitment to the town making him an “amazing resource.” Bettencourt, in agreement, noted how Cummings serves on the Network for Social Justice.
After some back and forth, with Goluboff calling it a bad look to appoint someone who “didn’t complete the process,” the board eventually voted to accept Cummings to the task force. As Verdicchio noted, the short amount of time the board had to complete the task force may explain some of the confusion over whether the board could nominate residents or whether everyone had to apply via the town’s website.
With four applicants for the resident-at-large position, the board unanimously chose Dr. Soumya Ganapathy over other candidates including a Town Meeting member and member of the Conservation Commission.
Ganapathy, according to the board, brings a diverse background, ethnicity and gender to the task force. Goluboff said her experience in a highly stressful position as an ER doctor would make her an asset to the task force.
All of his fellow board members agreed, with Bettencourt acknowledging he worked with her in the past. He said she would add to the “nimble and focused” task force. Shapiro added how it made sense to include a “woman with a diverse perspective.”