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Tom McMahon - Candidate for Board of Health

Marblehead Beacon is presenting these candidate profiles in advance of our June 21 town elections with the goal of helping the community learn more about all of the individuals volunteering their time to run for public office. Please note that the answers included here are printed exactly as provided by each candidate, with only minor typographical edits. Marblehead Beacon does not endorse any candidate or validate any responses. All candidates for the Select Board, Town Moderator, Board of Health, Light Department, and School Committee who had available contact information were given the opportunity to respond to a set of questions specific to the office for which they are running.


What is your professional experience and how has your background prepared you to serve on the Board of Health?

I have worked in Data Quality for Investment Management for my 18 year working career. One aspect of this that would prepare me to serve on the Board of Health is project management. Do my projects in Investment Management resemble projects the Board of Health would face? No. However, I’ve learned that in order to do a project right the first time you need to solicit feedback and ideas from all sides of a system. Back end, middle office, and end users. This is something I think the Board of Health lacked with some of the Transfer Station projects. The Transfer Station workers were not brought in for input on the project and neither were some of the biggest users of the pit / scale area. Those opinions are critical in order to get the optimal final product. When big money of Marblehead residents is on the line, you absolutely should make sure every qualified opinion you can get is included.


As a side career, my wife and I have a couple multi-family homes. I do as many of the renovations as my knowledge will allow me but with those projects comes a good amount of demo / trips to the Transfer Station. I am an account holder at the Transfer Station (not to be confused with a sticker holder) because I do use it enough, which I think gives me a more experienced idea of what could work and what might be a bad idea. That said, I still would never consider my opinion to be more qualified than the workers and everyday users and I would look to them for ideas before having a design created and return to them to show design ideas and get their feedback.


I also served as the Treasurer for my past condo association. Once I dove into the books / spending that was done I found lots of room for improvements. I also unfortunately uncovered some layers of ongoing fraud. Within a couple months I was able to address the fraudulent activities, fix areas of spending where the association was being “fleeced” by some regular property workers, streamline core payments, and reworked the insurance contract so we still had full coverage at a substantially less rate. All this was done without sacrificing any of the work the condo fees went toward and kept all association members satisfied with how the money was spent. Prior to selling, 2.5 years after I bought, I had taken the associations account from a $500 balance to $15,000 and was able to give them the option to lower their condo fees going forward. (I did not lower them prior to my sale as to avoid a conflict of interest.) I also provided the residents with a readily available balance sheet that covered all money coming in / out with receipts. It became fully transparent for the residents when it was nowhere near that when I arrived. I think my experience here is very relevant as we’ve seen some unnecessary spending at the Transfer Station that could be solved with other less costly options that would have provided the same output. Also, I have practice in full transparency of spending and I believe it's an absolute must. Not only does it instill trust, but residents might be able to identify ways where funds could be spent better and achieve the same output that the Board might not have known.


If you are currently serving on the Board of Health, what do you believe are your most significant accomplishments thus far? If you are not currently serving, how would you evaluate the efforts of the Board of Health over the past year? 

Over the past year the board has lacked transparency in some of their most important decisions. In a small town like Marblehead transparency is absolutely critical to maintain trust. On several calls residents asked about $6 million in unaccounted for funds for the first phase of the Transfer Station recycling / landscape area and were not given an answer. The residents have every right to ask as that is a considerable amount of money and it comes directly from them. Since the project went over budget this is money that was not anticipated to be spent when the town earlier agreed to the project. The board should have been transparent from the start and they should learn from that mistake going forward.


Transparency was also an issue with the mask mandate. Many local businesses asked repeatedly to understand the metrics being used by the board to determine a mandate and were never given an answer. That is unacceptable. These are not massive corporations. These are mom and pop businesses that depend on their business to pay their bills, feed their families, etc. They cannot be left in the dark wondering how an emergency mandate will impact them and how they will enforce it so as not to suffer financial consequence.


What are your top three priorities to accomplish this year if elected or re-elected to the Board of Health?

  1. Rebuild the trust that was lost with the Board of Health regarding the lack of transparency identified in the previous question.
  2. Take another look at the designs for the pit / scale area with the Transfer Station workers and regular users to identify any potential issues / unforeseen costs.  Since this project will take time, immediately replace the trailer used by the workers to satisfy their request due to a rodent infestation and show them the respect they deserve.
  3. Take steps to get community engagement through volunteer work from local professionals / impacted residents with regards to mental health / educating our youth on substance abuse. With regards to mental health, help reduce the backlog of people reaching out to the Counseling Center by asking local professionals in that field to donate time to help their community. It's too important to wait for next budget fund approval and I think one of our strengths as a town comes from helping each other. I think these professionals would donate time, I’ve confirmed that thought with a few, they just haven’t been asked. With regards to educating our youth, I’d like to create a growing panel of local families impacted by substance abuse. I think this could cover a wide range of issues but in particular I’d like to have families who have lost younger loved ones to speak to the high school and middle school students and share their unique experiences and the impact it had on their lives. This will put a real in-town face to the problem that students would be more likely to identify with rather than a paid speaker traveling from town to town. We need to show the youth that although Marblehead is a special place, it is not immune from tragedy.


Has the Board of Health done a good job communicating with and inviting feedback from the community? Would you make any changes?

I think this has been the biggest issue faced by the Board. There was a violation of open town meeting laws when the public was muted prior to the winter mask mandate with the chair stating “we are not required to allow the public to speak.” The solution to that was to give people 2 minutes to speak at future meetings. However, when you put a timer on someone it is evident that you aren’t focused on what they are saying so much as watching the clock. If you were on these meetings then you heard the phrase “10 seconds” said to anyone that came close to the 2 minutes. Also, many of the questions asked were not answered. If you’re put on mute after you ask a question then there is no way to point out that your question was never answered.


I would immediately move to a hybrid form of meetings where the in-person aspect could ensure that none of the issues noted above could happen again while also giving those who can’t be in person an opportunity to participate. I would also remove the 2 minute limitation.


What criteria would you use, if any, in considering restoration of a mask mandate in Marblehead?

We’ve heard from the highest levels of our government and Covid experts that covid is here to stay. It's something we are going to have to live with and act appropriately based on our own individual risk. We also cannot put the local businesses through the periodic / last minute mask mandate / enforcement policies we did in the past. I don’t think it’s the Board’s place to impose future mask mandates and I would vote against it. What I will say is that we need to bring back everyone in this town respecting each other’s decisions based on masks. If a business wants to make a mask mandate, then you need to respect that if you want to use that business. And we need to respect everyone’s decision as to whether they choose to wear a mask or not in settings that don’t require it. I think the future of the Board regarding covid should be to provide the public with the most up to date information so that residents can make a decision that best suits them.


How do you expect to enforce the summer leaf blower ban recently approved at Town Meeting, and how much will it cost?

I don’t think there is an easy answer to this and I don’t have an immediate one. To the best of my knowledge the Health Department does not work on the weekends when lots of landscaping is done and I don’t believe the local police department is involved. I think enforcement would require a larger conversation with suggestions from the residents and local landscapers to get the optimal strategy. Since any solution likely would come at a cost, I think we need to have careful consideration on this issue.


Please comment on the current status of the Transfer Station project. How would you evaluate the Board of Health’s handling of this project? What do you propose to do going forward with regard to the Transfer Station?

I’ve probably beaten this one to death but overall, I think there needs to be a pause before continuing with the Transfer Station project. As stated, I think the Plan B designs need to be run by the workers / regular users to identify any problems. This is crucial since the entrance is undetermined at this point as to whether it will be the current entrance or Green Street. Choosing one or the other has a major impact on this process going forward. Based on the over-spending on the previous phase, I think that we need to bring in residents who have participated on past projects of this magnitude and have had more success with staying within the budget proposed to the town.


I think many promises were made to the residents of Arnold Terrace for the previous phase as well as the upcoming phase and were not delivered. Those promises need to be kept.


I think the volunteers at the Swap Shop should be given a Transfer Station sticker at no cost to show appreciation for their time / effort.


Also, as previously stated, the rented trailer needs to be replaced. The workers have requested this as a way to deal with a rodent problem. This comes at a small cost, roughly $3,000 - $4,000 and when you are talking about projects in the millions it's hard to scoff at a solution like this to keep the workers happy and in a healthy building. Also, there is some irony that the Board of Health would shut down any local business with rodents but turn a blind eye to their own employees working in an infested trailer. It's an easy wrong to make right.


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