Friday, February 2, 2001
Who Are the Carlisle Selectmen?
The Carlisle Selectmen are responsible for setting goals, objectives and policies for the town, for providing oversight of the various town boards, and for granting final approval on plans for subdivisions and other major changes affecting the town. It is an important responsibility, requiring many hours of sometimes difficult negotiation to arrive at solutions which protect the town's interests.
Who are the five Carlisle selectmen? In interviews conducted individually, a picture emerges of a board whose members have diverse backgrounds with differing strengths and experiences, but who are generally united in their views of where the town is going and what the priorities should be. All have resided in town for many years, and two grew up in this area. All have been involved in other areas of town government or volunteerism before joining the board of selectmen. And all share a sense of civic responsibility; a desire to "give back"to the town by helping preserve the qualities that make Carlisle desirable.
Chair Michael Fitzgerald
Both Mike Fitzgerald and his wife Susan grew up in Concord and attended public schools there. Mike remembers Concord then as "a small community which still had a number of farms." By the time the Fitzgeralds had their own children, however, things had changed. "Concord had become much different from the town we grew up in," says Fitzgerald. "As it became more of a bedroom community, there was less community feeling." Looking for a town with the sense of community they remembered, the Fitzgeralds moved to Carlisle in 1989, and their two sons started kindergarten and third grade in the Carlisle Public Schools. (Currently one is a sophomore at Connecticut College and the other a junior at CCHS.)
About this time, Carlisle town finances were very tight, and an override was defeated at Town Meeting, resulting in teacher lay-offs and the closing of the school library. Fitzgerald, whose background includes a BA in economics and an MBA, and whose wife is an educator, began attending meetings of the finance committee, with an eye to understanding why shortfalls were occurring. Believing his financial knowledge could be an asset in helping solve the crisis, Fitzgerald volunteered for the finance committeee. After five years on the FinCom, Fitgerald was elected to the board of selectmen in 1995.
"Mike is very astute financially, and aware of the needs of the school population,"says selectman Vivian Chaput. As chairman of the board, Fitzgerald believes he is aided by his easy-going manner and pragmatic approach to problems. "This is a very good, working board," says Fitzgerald, "and we have a great deal of respect for each other." Having grown up in the area also brings a certain perspective. "Doug (selectman Doug Stevenson who grew up in Carlisle) and I share a sense of how these two communities (Concord and Carlisle) developed. We're concerned with the direction the town is going over the next few years." Maintaining the sense of community is Fitzgerald's overriding goal.
Fitzgerald's second term ends this year. When pressed as to whether he would run for a third, he answered "I think it's appropriate to move on. It's good to have other approaches to solving problems." Fitzgerald summarizes his time on the board as "good, frustrating, educational, and generally positive." He adds, "I'm not going to stop my involvement in the town. Everyone has a responsibility to participate and for me it has been a rewarding experience."
In addition to his role as selectman, Fitzgerald has been devoting a great deal of time to a biotech start-up, Hypnion, founded last summer, where he is chief financial officer.
John Ballantine characterizes himself as "an academic economist." He has taught at Babson College and The Kennedy School, and currently is a professor in the graduate school at Brandeis University.
When he and his wife Ann moved to Massachusetts from New York City, they chose Carlisle because "we wanted to try a small town." Having no children, they looked for other ways to connect and found a town where "you can get involved quickly, and people are very accepting. If you want to volunteer, they'll sweep you right up." Ballantine's interest in economics and finance initially brought him to the housing assessment committee (precursor to the housing authority) where he served for six years.
In 1988 he became a member of the finance committee, serving for five years, and from 1987 to 1997 was on the board of Carlisle Communications, Inc., the parent of the Carlisle Mosquito. Ballantine was also on the Carlisle 2000 task force, whose "Growing Pains" report looked at the impact that town growth would have on schools, town services and the tax base.
On the board of selectmen, Ballantine brings an academic economist's interest in the big picture and how current decisions will affect the future of Carlisle. "John combines a strong financial background with a philosophical, visionary approach to problems," says fellow selectman Vivian Chaput. "It's important that we keep a long-term perspective," says Ballantine. "We need to balance financial considerations with needs in the areas of housing, schools and conservation."
According to Ballantine, one of the board's greatest powers is the ability to promote debate on issues affecting the future. "If the town continues to grow, will we be able to preserve Carlisle as it is?" asks Ballantine. "This is a huge issue."
In 1996, Ballantine realized "a fantasy of mine since childhood" when he and his wife Ann began construction of a log house. The Ballantines chose to locate their new house on Fiske Street where it commands a view of the Cranberry Bog. To John, the house evokes childhood memories of his grandfather's log fishing cabin in northern Wisconsin. "Carlisle is a wonderful place,"says Ballantine. "We appreciate the people, values, lack of pretension, and beauty of the town."
Vivian Chaput brings extensive experience in the areas of regional planning and housing development to her role as selectman. Having earned an MBA at Babson, Chaput has worked at the Housing and Urban Development agency in Washington D.C., and the Manchester, N.H. Housing Authority. Currently she develops non-profit housing through her business, Great Brook Associates, Inc. Her company was nominated recently by the National Association of Home Builders for their design award for the development of Danforth Village in Billerica.
Chaput and her husband both grew up in Rhode Island, and lived in Nashua, New Hampshire before their move to Carlisle in 1975. "I was attracted by the aesthetics of the town (Carlisle). It's very unique from a planning standpoint, with the classic New England town center as its core." The town was also close to her husband's dental practice in Chelmsford. The Chaputs have one daughter who grew up in Carlisle and graduated from CCHS in 1989.
With her background in planning, Chaput was encouraged to run for the Carlisle Planning Board. She served for 17 years on the board at a time when the town nearly doubled in population and challenged Carlisle's ability to maintain its rural character. "I believe I was able to impact the way the town has developed," she says, adding with a laugh, "although swamps and ledges helped."
Chaput became a selectman in 1996. Over time, she learned selectmen had "the power to influence and implement policies," a power she didn't have on the planning board. As an example, Chaput cites a pathways study begun by the League of Women Voters in 1975 that went nowhere until Chaput became a selectman, put pathways on the agenda and revitalized the debate.
Chaput calls the board "a compatible group of diverse people" who are all "good listeners, willing to look at different perspectives." "We're fortunate to work together so well,"she says. "No one is so set that they can't reevaluate ther opinions." She characterizes the board as "reasonably fiscally conservative." When pressed as to whether it may be more fiscally conservative than the town, she responds, "It's important that we look out for the long-term residents, the people who have been here for many years. We need to make sure they can remain," which might not be possible if the tax burden grows.
Chaput believes she is bringing a long-term and regional perspective to the board, and a "holistic approach" which balances the needs of different groups within town. "Vivian's experience in planning is a real asset on the board," says fellow selectman Fitzgerald, "and her involvement with MAGIC helps keep us in touch with what other towns are doing."
At home Chaput and her husband enjoy the best of the Carlisle lifestyle. Chaput's background in design is evident in their lovely contemporary home surrounded by lawns, planting beds, a pool and a pond. "Carlisle is a wonderful place to live. We've enjoyed it immensely, and that's why I want to give back to the community," says Chaput. She characterizes her time on the board of selectmen as "wonderful experience; a true exercise in democracy. I feel I'm making a positive contribution to the town."
"Community is important to me," says Carol Peters, the newest selectman, who joined the board seven months ago. "Building avenues for people to connect is what I'm about." In 1986 Peters took on the role of chair of the Carlisle Recreation Commission. As mother of two students entering middle school, and daughter of a senior citizen living in town, Peters saw firsthand that recreational programs for both groups were seriously lacking. Over the next three years she expanded programs, worked on getting new ballfields built, and successfully convinced the Town Meeting to support a paid recreation director. In the process Peters changed the focus of the commission to include programs for all elements of the community, from pre-schoolers to seniors.
Peters saw joining the board of selectmen as "the next step in continuing the work ofbuilding community." She sees her work on the board as "more executive, less hands-on" than she was used to at the recreation commission. She has also noted the cautious approach to decision-making. "These are big decisions. At the RecCom the risks were not that high, so we could use more of a trial and error approach."
Peters is currently co-chairing a League of Women Voters committee looking at resources and needs for elder and youth services in Carlisle and Concord. "Senior citizens are becoming a larger percentage of the population," says Peters. "If we want to keep these people in town, they need attention." Peters will continue advocating for programs for seniors. "I would hate to see Carlisle just become a place to raise your kids and then leave."
As the only selectman with a child currently in the Carlisle Public Schools, Peters believes she brings "an awareness of school issues to the board." In addition, having worked in town hall for three years, she has developed a rapport with the people who work for the town. " Carol is very hard-working and very knowledgeable on the needs of families," adds Chaput. "This is a good board," says Peters. "The town is very well-represented."
Doug Stevenson exemplifies the serious and conscientious approach to the selectmen role. Having just left the hospital where his wife Mary Beth had delivered triplets, he willingly took the time to respond to the Mosquito's questions.
"I've lived here virtually all my life," says Stevenson, who grew up on Heald Road, graduated from Carlisle schools and CCHS, then commuted to Boston College where he majored in political science and physics. Currently he is operations manager for Kistler and Knapp, a residential construction company in Acton.
Stevenson has always maintained a strong commitment to Carlisle, and to Carlisle volunteerism. In addition to being a volunteer fireman, he has coached youth sports for many years, been a Scout master, and participated in the celebrations committee. Having enjoyed volunteer work, Stevenson saw joining the board of selectmen as "another way to contribute."
"I believe I bring a unique perspective on what it was like growing up in town," says Stevenson. "I think it's important that the point-of-view of long-term residents is well represented." "Doug brings a lot of enthusiasm and a real working knowledge of the town and its history," adds Peters. Stevenson has enjoyed his time on the board, which
he considers one that looks for consensus. "Rather than split on issues, we look for areas on which we agree." He adds, "There are enough issues that it can consume you. I've learned to pick areas where I can contribute successfully while managing my time."
Doug and Mary Beth look forward to raising their three new children in Carlisle, and we welcome the third generation of Stevensons to town.
This is the first of two stories spotlighting the Carlisle Board of Selectmen. Part 2 will focus on the selectmens' vision, goals and priorities.
"Mike is very astute financially, and aware of the needs of the school population,"
"We need to balance financial considerations with needs in the areas of housing, schools, and conservation."
"Vivian's experience in planning is a real asset ....and her involvement with MAGIC helps keep us in touch with what other towns are doing."
"Senior citizens are becoming a larger percentage of the population...they need attention."
"I think it's important that the point-of-view of long-term residents is well represented."
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito