WHITMAN – Questions have been raised about a Town Meeting vote on the amount of tax money vs. free cash used to balance the fiscal 2024 budget.
Town Administrator Mary Beth Carter reported, in response to a taxpayer’s question that a Town Meeting article to use free cash to reduce the funds raided taxation needed to balance the fiscal 2024 budget.
Dawn Byers, a School Committee member, addressing the Select Board as a private citizen asked in the public forum on Tuesday, May 23 for the clarification, aware that it would not be up for discussion at the meeting, but in hopes it could be explained at a future meeting.
“I have some follow-up questions regarding Article 42 from the May 1 Town Meeting,” Byers said. “I do hope, as you proceed with setting the tax levy over the next several months, you will perhaps be able to address this in a future public meeting.”
Article 42 asked Town Meeting to vote to appropriate a sum of money from available free cash to reduce the amount of money to be raised by taxation for fiscal 2024.
Byers asked that the board explain what is being done with Article 42, which was approved by the Town Meeting, and why the Select Board proposed the article. She noted that the Finance Committee had not voted on it because there was no dollar figure at that time it came before them, but an amendment on Town Meeting floor inserted the amount of $455,323.
“There was a lower amount and when the schools came in, we had a compromise,” Carter said. “We juggled some things around from capital and so forth, and that was the amount we needed from the remaining free cash to just close the budget.”
Carter said it had been discussed all through the budget process that the town would be using funds from free cash to close the budget.
“After that was done, there was $53,000 some-odd remaining in free cash,” she said. “That was it.”
Byers said it sounds like the town is not fully taxing to the levy, but instead chose to use free cash or is perhaps not recognizing some new growth.
The board will be returning to the issue at coming meetings, Chair Dr. Carl Kowalski indicated.
“We do often hear the term Proposition 2 ½ override, but this feels like the opposite – is this an underride and is it the board’s intention to report it to the Department of Revenue as such when the FY ’24 tax levy is set?” she said. “[It] is a significant amount of tax revenue.”
An accountant in her professional life, Byers asked what the purpose of the one-time free cash funds was, what was the benefit to the town and and who benefits by reducing the amount of money to be raised by taxation.
“I did attend Town Meeting,” Byers said, noting that it had lasted nearly three and a half hours and the article was the second to last to be voted on that night. “We were all there until 11 p.m.” she said.
“While I do agree it was approved by the voters just prior to 11 p.m., I think it’s an extremely important financial decision made by the town that deserves to be further explained,” she said.
In other business, with the Whitman Police Department down a number of officers with a couple more planning retirements in the coming months, Chief Timothy Hanlon requested that the Select Board start the process of calling for a civil service list.
The board approved the request unanimously.
“The process is going to be a little bit more lengthy than it was in the past, when we had the opportunity to reserve officers and see how they fit in on more or less a part-time basis and go through the part-time academy,” Hanlon said.
With the new police reform law, there is no more part-time police academy, however, and the department has exhausted its reserve list as two of them began the police academy May 22, but until they graduate, Hanlon said the department is going to have to fill the remaining vacancies by starting a new civil service list.
Vice Chair Dan Salvucci asked if it would affect promotions within the ranks, and Hanlon said it depends on what ranks retire, as a majority are officers and one is of rank.
The board also approved an amendment to the host community agreement with Soul Flower Inc., permitting the firm to split the company into multiple corporations – retailer Chill & Bliss LLC, product manufacturer Fusion Drop LLC, cultivator Crafted Cannibis LLC and existing licensing transporter Soul Flower Express LLC – for business purposes, according to Carter. All are Massachusetts LLCs and have been approved by town counsel.
“The HCA restricts their ability to so, so they need this amendment,” she said. “It should not change their operations as approved by the [Select Board] under the host community agreement.”
Tennis teams close out season on some high notes
The Whitman-Hanson boys’ tennis team were victorious over the Silver Lake Lakers, 3-2, on Senior Night May 23, and their final home match of the season. Seniors Drew Fountain and James Goyette won in dominant fashion at second doubles (6-0, 6-0). Senior captain Zachary Lindsay and junior Tristan Baker also looked strong in their win at first doubles (6-1, 6-1).
Junior Mateo Santalucia was able to secure the Panthers win at second singles (6-2, 6-2). Senior Matt Bergin played one of his best matches of the season at third singles but came up short of the win. The Panthers improve to 6-11 and wrap up regular season on Thursday at Plymouth North. Match time 4 p.m.
The W-H team lost to Hingham Friday, May 19 in back-to-back matches, 0-5, 0-5, falling to 4-11 on the season. The team had some great games and played well, but were just overpowered by the high-powered play of Hingham.
Sophomore Mateo Santalucia had the best overall chance at a win, losing 5-8 in the first match and 4-8 in the second.
The Panthers had team defeated the Quincy Presidents May 18, 4–1, in the completion of a rain delayed match. The team played well on all five courts. Sophomore Brady Wright played three strong sets at first singles (6-3, 4-6, 6-2). Junior Mateo Santalucia won in two sets at second singles (7-5, 6-3). Senior Captain Zach Lindsay and junior Tristan Baker won in two sets at first doubles (6-0, 6-1), while senior Drew Fountain and junior George Dykens took care of their opponents in two sets on the second doubles court, (6-3, 6-3).
The Lady Panthers tennis team defeated Brockton May 22, 5-0. In first singles Alyson Tobias won 6-2,6-0 and at secondnd singles Sam Jacobsen won 6-2, 6-3.
In third singles freshman Mari Santalucia defeated her opponent 6-1,6-2. In first doubles Delaney Hughes and Sophie Ennis won 6-2,4-6,6-0 and at second doubles Mary Lynam and Sarah Regan won 6-3, 6-2.
School panel to focus on decorum
The School Committee on May 10 addressed what Vice Chair Christopher Scriven described as issues, including a morale problem, which had ultimately led to Chair Christopher Howard’s resignation.
Scriven asked that a discussion of committee protocol be placed on the agenda.
“I appreciated all that Chris did for us and the direction he moved us in, but going forward, I think we need to have a discussion and ask some questions of ourselves about what we want to be going forward,” Scriven said.
His preference is to concentrate on the district’s mission statement supporting providing students with a high-quality education that promotes student success and responsible citizenship.
“I would like to ask the committee what do we want for individuals and what do we want, collectively for our group?” he said. “To say that we have some morale issues is an understatement.”
He wants to see a continuing discussion of reasonable protocols and procedures to which the committee should adhere. Rather than being a question of getting along with other members, Scriven explained it as a search for the goal of the committee and how members fit in to accomplish things together.
“By no means is this an effort to keep someone quiet or keep them from getting information that they want to [put out there],” Scriven said. “It’s about how do we function most effectively as a committee?”
The frequency in which members reach out to administration – for whatever reason – which has been disproportionate from some members of the committee, which keeps those officials from accomplishing other things.
Member Dawn Byers said, rhetorically, what the best avenue would be toward finding information she might need. She also said there should be a way to discover if a member has a problem with something another member said, how best should those interpersonal issues be addressed and worked out.
Approaching the end of his first year on the committee, Glen DiGravio said he has had no problems with other members.
“You guys have all treated me great,” he said. “Thanks for bearing with me and … if this needs to be improved, then to me, it’s only going to get better because I expected it to be much more negative than it’s been.”
Scriven had expressed his incredulity at, arriving to the joint meeting with the two select boards over the budget, only to find out a member had reached out to one board and come up with a deal.
“Is that how we want to operate?” he asked. “I don’t have the answers, but I have questions.”
Hillary Kniffen suggested that, in a couple of weeks there might be another committee. Michelle Bourgelas aggreed.
“I’m not disagreeing with things that you’re saying, but I think it might be a good idea to table this until we have our full committee that we will have after the tow election,” Kniffen said, suggesting that members be asked to propose a few norms they want to see and discuss at a June meeting.
Scriven said he was in complete agreement with that suggestion. Beth Stafford agreed it would be an important thing to do.
“Let’s try to remember the positive reasons we want to be here,” Bourgelas said. “A lot of good things happen at this school … there’s a lot of good people here. … There’s just been too much negative things at these meetings.”
Member David Forth said serving on the committee has been one of the greatest honors and privileges of his life, of which he is very proud as he has learned a lot from it.
Building a rapport with other members over coffee has been very helpful, he said.
“I might not always agree with your position or your vote, but I respect you and your character and your position, and I respect your vote,” he said of his fellow committee members. “We have a great group of people and I try to remember that and try to … ask what’s my role to help improve upon that.”
Tribute to ‘Man in Black’ comes to Hanson Libarary
The Hanson Public Library is pleased to announce that a Letter of Intent has been submitted for the 2023-2024 grant round of the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program. The Board of Library Trustees has appointed a Planning Committee and hired a consultant to work with the Library Director over the next few months to complete the documents necessary for the full grant application, due on May 31, 2024. For more information about the planning process and grant application, please visit hansonlibrary.org/building-project. This page will be updated with documents and information as we proceed.
We are also very excited to welcome back longtime New England musician/author Matt York to the Library on at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, May 18. He will perform the songs of Johnny Cash and tell stories about Cashs career spanning from the 1950s to his death in 2003. He’ll discuss Cash’s emergence as a groundbreaking artist in the 1950s, his marriage to June Carter and many of his career highlights.
York was recently nominated for the Boston Music Award for Best Country Artist and his album Gently Used was just named one of the Patriot Ledger’s best albums of 2022. This program is supported in part by a grant from the Hanson Cultural Council, a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency. Preregistration is required for this event, so please visit our website or contact the Library to sign up.
Here’s a few other events that we’re looking forward to this May. Please visit our website, hansonlibrary.org, to sign up and learn more about these and other upcoming programs. If you have any questions, please contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 781-293-2151.
Beginner Yoga – 10 a.m., Saturdays. Namaste! Yoga is back at the Library! All classes will be led by a certified instructor from Whitman Wellness Center, with a cost of $10.00 per class payable at the Library Circulation Desk prior to each class. Sponsored by the Hanson Public Library Foundation. Ages 16+, preregistration required.
Fun with Sugar & Shears Pop Up – 10 a.m., Wednesday, May 17. Sugar & Shears, a local bake and craft subscription company, will be at the Library for a storytime and craft! Come enjoy Wake Up It’s Spring! followed by crafts based on the book. They will also have their subscription boxes available to sell after the event. Ages 2-6, preregistration required.
Mindful Journaling & Sketching Class. 5 p.m., Thursday, May 18. Join Miss Kate (Children’s Librarian & Certified Yoga Teacher) in a quiet space at the Library and settle in. We will provide a notebook (or feel free to bring your own) as we embark on a journey of self-discovery using a 3-step format. During the class, you’ll be guided in a brief meditation, followed by writing or sketching in response to a prompt, ending with an opportunity to share and discuss (sharing is always voluntary). Studies show that a regular mindfulness practice can lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety and stress, and improve sleep. Reflective practices like journaling and sketching can help one make sense of what might emerge from mindful meditation. In this busy and often conflicting time, a chance to decompress and use mindfulness really aids in self-care. Ages 10+, preregistration is required.
Makerspace Challenge. 5 p.m., Tuesday, May 23. Get creative using supplies from our Makerspace Cart! Choose from a variety of items, including wheels, propellers, gears, spools, plastic tubing, wooden dowels, craft tubes and boxes, and foam and wooden shapes, and make a fun creation using your imagination. Made possible by donations made in memory of Ellen Gustafson to the Hanson Public Library Foundation. Grades 2-5, preregistration is required.
Book to Movie Discussion Group. 6:30 p.m., Thursday, May 25. Made a resolution to read more this year? Join our book-to-movie discussion group! This month we will be reading, watching, and discussing “Pinocchio” by Carlo Collodi. Copies of the book and movie are available at the circulation desk for anyone who would like to join. New faces are always welcome! Adults, drop in.
Kids Yoga with Miss Kate. 10 a.m., Wednesday, May 31. Join Miss Kate for a spring themed kids yoga class! We will act out our stories using yoga poses, learn breathing techniques to calm our busy minds, and finally make a springtime craft to take home. Ages 3-7, preregistration is required.
Ready for region’s next step
HANSON – The Select Board, on Tuesday, April 25, came to a consensus agreement to join with Whitman and the W-H School Committee in voting to require a two-thirds vote for all financial votes of the School Committee, rather than only financial votes, as part of a revised Regional Agreement.
“Although that doesn’t put us back to the per-pupil method, I think it does go a ways toward showing that there’s some partnership among the School Committee and the town of Whitman,” Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said, thanking Select Board member Jim Hickey for his “swan song” in persuading the other boards to agree to his proposal. “He really worked hard on it and it was very persuasive.”
Hickey was absent from the meeting.
Town Administrator Lisa Green added that a consensus document, with all the areas of the sections discussed and agreed on – dealing with transportation, building leases, the two-thirds vote and capital expenses – will be forwarded to the school district’s legal counsel for a review of language.
The Regional Agreement Committee will reconvene after town elections to discuss any questions or concerns stemming from that review.
Whitman agreed on a consensus basis to the revisions during their April 18 meeting.
“Every group brought their suggestions back,” Select Board representative Justin Evans told the Whitman board, reminding them there were not a lot of contentious issues. He reviewed the most contentious issues with his board – including the two-thirds vote.
Whitman Chair Randy LaMattina said Hickey’s argument that a two-thirds vote on the assessment method would “go a long way.”
Emergency capital expenses have been another concern of Whitman’s particularly the debate the board has had with the school district on maintenance responsibilities vs emergency repairs.
Evans reported the schools were concerned about the timeliness of doing emergency repairs.
“You’re talking about half an hour,” Vice Chair Dan Salvucci said, by the time the facilities direct can inspect a problem to advise the town administrator on whether or not it is an emergency.
“If something is an emergency, you have an obligation to act immediately to remediate it,” Former Whitman Town Administrator Frank Lynam said to help clarify the matter. If the expense involved a large sum of money the Select Board was uncomfortable approving the expenditure, one can always go to the director of accounts under Ch. 41 and seek an authorization for emergency spending. “It’s not a complicated process.”
Most emergencies are obvious, but he said he has seen some over the years that “were not that exigent.”
“It’s common sense,” he said.
Evans said the language concerning emergencies makes sense.
In other business, the Select Board also voted to appoint Laurie Cogan and Jason Green as caretakers at Camp Kiwanee. Green recused herself other than to say many caretakers are needed, because she filled out a potential conflict of interest disclosure on one of them. She said there are not enough caretakers to work weddings and other events for the upcoming season.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said she didn’t think Green needed to recuse herself, but that she didn’t think the optics looked good for Green’s son to be applying for the job since she is town administrator and, as personnel director, she would have to be involved in any performance issues that might occur.
Select Board member Ann Rein said she thought it was a “shame” that he could be precluded from doing something because his mother works for the town.
Select Board member Joe weeks said he understood the concern, but was feeling conflicted about it and Heal agreed it was a tough call.
“I don’t see a real issue, but I’m wondering,” Heal said.
Weeks asked if her son has financial ties to her or lives with her. She said there are no financial ties, but he does live at home. When Weeks questioned if it even mattered, FitzGerald-Kemmett said it could be argued that, because he lived at home, it could be argued that Green benefits financially from her son’s working for the town.
The Camp Kiwanee Commission has voted to hire both.
The Select Board voted 4-0 to hire Cogan and 3-1, with FitzGerald-Kemmett voting no and asking Green to not take it personally. Green said she did not regard it that way.
The board voted a conditional approval to the application for a Class II auto sales permit from: Limitless Auto Sales, 200 Liberty St. They are new owners of the property. The acting fire chief has to inspect the existing building to ensure it meets safety regulations before the board signs off on it.
Change state flag and seal?
HANSON – Is it time to change Massachusetts’ official state seal and flag?
Activists and historians have been displeased with the state seal and motto for decades, but it took until 2021 for the state to create a redesign commission.
Hanson voters, on Monday, May 1 will be asked, through article 37 on the annual Town Meeting warrant to adopt a resolution in support of the Special Commission’s work in redesigning the state flag and seal that may, “better reflect our aspirations for harmonious and respectful relations between all people who now call Massachusetts home.”
The article, sponsored by Marianne DiMascio, of Indian Head Street, would require the town clerk shall forward a copy of this resolution to state Senator Michael Brady, D-Brockton, and representatives David DeCoste, R-Hanover, and Josh Cutler, D-Duxbury, requesting they support the work of the commission and advocate for a new flag and seal for the Commonwealth.
“There might be some people opposed, but I think, overall, it’s a resolution that really makes sense,” she said. “We’re a spot where there’s a lot of indigenous history.”
Then-Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill in 2021 to change the state flag and seal, but as of last year a redesign was not complete and the commission asked for an extension in July 2022, which would have expired on March 31, 2023, but the legislature has not granted an extension yet.
DiMascio said Gov. Maura Healey’s fiscal 2024 budget gave some funding to the commission and extended it’s work through November.
“The committee is supposed to come up with a recommendation after lots of input and some polling by November,” she said. “[The article] is to encourage the work of the commission and ensure that it is seen through to the end.”
Once the commission presents its findings, it must go back to the legislature to approve it.
“It’s to say, ‘finish the job,’” she said. “It’s been an issue for a long time and it’s finally got a little momentum, so don’t let it die … don’t let the work of this commission sit idly.”
The state’s flag we recognize has only been the official banner of the Commonwealth since 1908, even though Massachusetts has been represented by official flags, with limited purposes, sine 1676. Right now, the state has three official flags, the state flag, a governor’s flag and a maritime flag.
It is only one of three states, including Minnesota and Florida, that depict a Native American in its heraldry, and a survey by the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA) placing our state flag at 38th in design quality among 72 flags representing the United states, its states and territories and Canadian provinces.
Designed in 1898, the current flag, which is also the state seal, the indigenous man stands under a colonist’s sword-bearing arm. On the seal Latin words below the image read [in English]: “By the sword, we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.”
Currently imagery from the natural world, such as the state bird or flower are preferred, according to a report in the Boston Globe in Juy 2022, which quoted Executive Director Donna Curtin of the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth as saying, “The seal uses imagery that is problematic and exclusionary in so many ways. It really doesn’t reflect a vision of the Commonwealth that anybody today can connect with.”
Part of the objection, as outlined in Article 37 of Hanson’s annual Town Meeting warrant, is that the figure on the flag as what he is wearing are based on actual people.
“The proportions of the body of the Indigenous person on the Flag and Seal were taken from the skeleton of an Indigenous person unearthed in Winthrop, the bow modeled after a bow taken from an Indigenous man shot and killed by a colonist in Sudbury in 1665, and the facial features taken from a photograph of an Ojibwe chief from Great Falls, Montana, considered by the illustrator to be a “fine specimen of an Indian,” though not from Massachusetts,” reads the proclamation which the article supports.
Aside from a violent history of relations between colonists and Massachusetts tribes, it also notes that indigenous people were legally prohibited from even entering Boston from 1674 to 2004, when the colonial law was finally repealed.
DiMascio is philosophical about the potential reaction to the article at Town Meeting.
“I think some people might see the benefit,” she said. “There might be people who say we shouldn’t change it, but it’s gone through different changes in the years we’ve had it. It’s not been the same for all these years.”
While she is working to get the work on the flag’s imagery restarted, DiMascio said she is neutral on the kind of image that should replace the seal.
“I leave that up to the commission to do that,” she said. “It’s a bipartisan commission … and I think one of the very important things is that there are Native American leaders who are working with them to provide their opinion about what [the design] should be.”
Hanson’s ‘MacGyver’ budget
HANSON – The town’s fiscal 2024 spending plan is akin to “McGyver budget,” as Hanson’s financial team has worked to avoid layoffs as they balance the books.
Interim Town Accountant Eric Kinscherf provided a budget update to the Select Board on Tuesday, April 12 – the day before an April 18 joint meeting was proposed between the Whitman and Hanson boards and School Committee about the district’s budget and its effect on the towns’ financial outlook.
“If everything passes as is now on the warrant article, and with our current budget, we’ll probably have about $30,000 to $40,000 in free cash left from about $859,000,” he said. “That’s pretty tight.”
There is $1.6 million in stabilization right now, he said, noting that $98,000 of the $725,000 in ambulance receipts, which are counted on to replace Fire Department equipment are also being used to help balance the budget.
Kinscherf does not recommend using stabilization at all to balance the budget because bonding agencies look for communities to have funds in such an account totaling more than 5 percent of the total budget.
“That’s the town’s reserve fund in case an emergency comes up,” he said. Noting Hanson’s stabilization fund is now at 5 percent or a little below.
Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett stressed that Kinscherf was saying that the town was dipping into free cash to balance the budget predicated on an assessment increase of 3.75 percent for the schools.
“We can probably just barely make it,” he said of that increase, which works out to about $500,000 more than last year.
If a higher assessment should be approved, he said Hanson would have to cut $425,000 from the budget with little free cash to help.
“If that school budget passes as is it’s not going to be very a pretty situation for the town of Hanson,” Kinscherf said.
“That would mean no capital improvements whatsoever and, I might add that we are using one-time ARPA money for some of the articles in addition to free cash,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said to Kinscherf’s confirmation. “We’re tapping every avenue we can think of, so we’d be looking at some personnel layoffs. There’d really be no other options.”
Kincherf said it would be almost impossible to cut that much from the budget without getting into personnel.
“We’re not suggesting that that’s what this board wants,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “What this board wants is the 3.75 percent assessment.”
She said she was hopeful a three-way joint budget meeting could help calibrate the numbers.
Select Board member Ed Heal, like some of his Whitman counterparts, expressed concern about the use of one-tie funds to balance budgets. Kinscherf said there is about $250,000 in one-time funds being used to balance Hanson’s municipal budget, including free cash and overlay surplus. Other one-time funds are being used to pay for other articles on the warrant.
“I’ve uncovered every rock,” he said. “This is like a MacGyver budget.”
In other business, the board voted to appoint Joseph Gumbakis as Veterans Service Officer for an annual term beginning Tuesday, April 18.
Departing Veterans Agent Timothy White said a long process was followed to make the appointment and he was thankful for Gumbakis’ acceptance of the position.
Part of his duties there was doing outreach to families of deployed service members, including with rental assistance. He was a recruiter during his active miliary career for which he received a Gold Recruiter award and served two tours of duty in Iraq where he earned a Bronze Star.
“We interviewed a lot of candidates,” White said. “He’s been working at the National Guard as a case manager in the family programs office. … Although he doesn’t do the exact same duties as a veterans’ agent, the family programs are very similar.”
Gumbakis is also working on his second bachelor’s degree in information technology.
“What impressed us was his knowledge, skills and abilities can be used to expand on the position, which is, as White put it, “Outreach, outreach, outreach.”
White said Gumbakis will be a great ambassador for the town.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said she was happy White was leaving the town in good hands.
“We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for everything you’ve done,” she said.
Weeks thanked Gumbakis for his service and, noting that he has big shoes to fill, said he hoped he would make the position his own.
“I’d like to thank the town for having me,” Gumbakis said. “I look forward to serving the commnity and veterans at large.”
White said he will be training Gumbakis, who started this week, having spoken to the Rockland Town Administrator, where White will be serving next, to enable him to ensure there is smooth transition for Hanson.
Bowling for Dollars for Scholars rolls out April 29
Dollars for Scholars will hold its eighth annual “Bowling for Dollars for Scholars” from noon to 5 p.m., on Saturday, April 29, and Sunday, April 30, at the Hanson Bowladrome (adjacent to the Hanson AA) at 171 Reed Street in Hanson.
For every string bowled during the event a donation will be made to benefit Whitman & Hanson Dollars for Scholars. The cost to bowl will be $10 per string with no charge for shoe rental. Door prizes and complementary food will be available throughout the two day event.
All funds raised during the event will benefit the Class of 2023 in the form of scholarships. For more information, please contact Mike Ganshirt at 781-252-9683 or visit www.WhitmanAndHanson.DollarsforScholars.org.
When the war came home
HANSON – There’s always another story inside the pages of those history books, often featuring people you never expected.
For Melrose author Jane Healey, there have been more than one untold story within the more well-known histories of World War II, fueling her storyteller’s muse for a third journey into the genre of historical fiction about that period with “Goodnight from Paris,” published on March 7.
Like her previous books, “Beantown Girls” and “The Secret Steelers” – both of which have been bestsellers and/or editors picks for historical fiction, her latest book offers a glimpse into the remarkable difference women made during the war years of 1939-45.
On Thursday, March 30, Healey discussed her latest book, the story behind it and her writing process at the Hanson Public Library. The talk will be broadcast on Whitman-Hanson Cable Access TV.
A free-lance writer for Boston Magazine and other publications after leaving a tech career, about 20 years ago, Healey had begun to scratch the fiction-writing itch she had long felt. That led to her first book, “The Saturday Evening Girls’ Club,” about a group of Jewish and Italian women in Boston’s North End. in 2017.
“I had always wanted to write a bigger story,” she said. “I had always wanted to write a WWII story, since my grandfather was in WWII.”
She researched and wrote about Red Cross “clubmobile” girls she had leaned about, which led to “Beantown Girls” being published in 2019.
“That was kind of my breakout book,” she said.
When her publisher was looking for something else for Healey to write during the COVID-19 pandemic, Healey thought of ideas she had filed away about women who worked for the CIA’s precursor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, whose ranks, incidentally included a secretary named Julia Child). That idea became “The Secret Stealers” in 2021.
When researching that book, Healey had come across stories about Drue Leyton- Tartiére from a couple of different sources.
“Goodnight from Paris” tells a familiar tale of the risks assumed by the resistance in France, as they helped downed allied fliers escape from behind German lines and back to England. Like famed American chanteuse Josphine Baker, who received the high honor of being inducted into the Panthéon – France’s mausoleum of heroes – after her death, Healey’s story revolves around real-life American actress Leyton-Tartiére.
The spark for the book came when Healey saw a story about Canadian pilot Lauren Frame, who had received the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur [Legion of Honor] from France in 2020. Researching the story Healey came across the story of the woman living in the French village of Barbizon who sheltered and helped him and members of his bomber crew for seven weeks – Drue Leyton-Tartiére.
“To this day [when Frame was in his 90s], he praises the women and men of the French Underground, and in particular, Drue Leyton- Tartiére,” a speaker in the program about Frame said.
“What’s different about this [novel] is that it’s biographical fiction, inspired and based on a true story,” Healey said. “Tonight, I’m going to talk about who she was, how I learned about her and the history behind the novel – but I promise you, I’m not giving away any spoilers.”
Healey sketched a profile of a Hollywood actress, born Dorothy Elizabeth Blackman in June 1903 in Kenosha, Wisc., to well-off parents. After marrying young and having a son, she left her family and reinvented herself in the film industry – eventually following French actor Jacques Tartiére back to Paris before the war. Medically unqualified for the French army during the war, Tartiére joined British forces as a translator and was later killed during the war. Drue had refused the advice of friends and relatives to return to the U.S., staying in France for the duration.
“In the 1930s, she was a star on-the-rise in Hollywood,” Healey said, noting Drue was often described as “the next Greta Garbo.” After some rolls in “Charlie Chan” movies with Warner Oland and bit parts in other films,
One of Healey’s source materials was an out-of-print autobiography penned by Leyton-Tartiére in 1946, that she “bought for too many Euros” on eBay.
In 1942, Germans in occupied France began rounding up American expatriots following Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into the war. One of them was Drue, who had been broadcasting a radio show for France Mondiale run by the French Information Agency, back to the states up to that point, using the name in which she starred in movies – Drue Leyton. She had occasionally done broadcasts with legendary American journalist Dorothy Thompson, who was one of the first American broadcasters to be kicked out of Nazi Germany.
Leyton-Tartiére, along with several other American women in France, were first interned at the monkey house of a zoo on the outskirts of Paris using her married name Tartiére – the Germans had planned to execute Drue Leyton as soon as they occupied France – before being moved to a model concentration camp in the mountains of southern France, aimed at placating the international Red Cross inspectors. She faked an illness to receive a medical release and returned home to Barbizon, where she had farmed food for friends in Paris before her arrest, and was asked to rejoin the underground.
“It was so wild,” she said of the zoo story. “I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of this story.”
But she resisted writing “Goodnight from Paris” at first because WWII novels is a crowded genre and she wasn’t initially interested in doing another one. But Drue won her over.
Healey said she found it more difficult to write a novel based on a real person that it would have been if she invented someone out of whole cloth.
“Out of the four books, this was the hardest ones, by far, because it’s a real person,” she said. “I didn’t want to take too many liberties. I wanted to honor her story.”
School panel eyes grade equity
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and school legal counsel have determined the educational opportunities for fifth-graders in the W-H district meet minimum guidelines for equity.
Referring to previous discussions on the legality of inequities tied to educational opportunities of fifth-graders, since they attend the middle school in Hanson and the elementary schools in Whitman, Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak said on Wednesday, March 15, that he spoke with DESE officials as well as district legal counsel about the issue during the week.
The committee will likely revisit the issue on another agenda after the civil rights concern still remained for at least one committee member.
Counsel Andrew Waugh, who found “nothing in chapter law that what we’re doing is illegal,” recommended the calls to DESE, Szymaniak said at the Wednesday, March 15 meeting.
Heather Montalto, a problem resolution team specialist with DESE, and Ann Marie Stronach an administrator, who both said the district meets minimum requirement for the equity of instruction.
“I do want to stress this is the minimum requirement,” Szymaniak said. “That’s where we’re at right now.”
Stronach said it’s up to a school committee as to whether or not schedules are changed within a district.
“I just wanted to report back that we’re not doing anything illegal … but it is up to the school committee’s purview to change the schedules of the schools. That’s what we do,” he said.
Member Hillary Kniffen noted that the district actually exceeds the minimum time on learning requirements of 900 minutes for middle schools and 990 for high schools.
“The issue ant the topic that I brought forward wasn’t necessarily, ‘Can you ask DESE if we’re meeting regulations?’” member Dawn Byers said. “It was that there’s a Civil Rights Act of 1964, so I think the question really needed to be, ‘Are we violating a human being’s civil rights by not providing the same educational opportunity?’”
She said the district policy manual includes an equal educational opportunity policy (J-b), which references the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Agreeing with that point, Whitman Finance Committee member Rosemary Connolly said the 10-percent disparity in educational time afforded to Whitman students is a deficit worth $1.4 million taxpayers were charged, but school students did not have access to, suggesting that federal educational officials be called because “there are rules to Title 1 grants.”
“You can’t create inequities because of the way the regional agreement is written,” Connolly said. “Sometimes, it’s how you ask questions that gets you the right answer.”
Member Fred Small asked for the name of the DESE attorney Byers had said she spoke with on the issue as well as the date and time of that conversation.
“When I called DESE, they referred me to attorney George Hale, and when I explained the situation, his response was this is a school committee problem,” Byers said adding that she informed him that she is a school committee member and feels it is a problem. She said he did some quick research while she was on the phone and gave her the number for the Boston office of the Civil Rights Division, saying that someone could file a lawsuit.
Chair Christopher Howard said his recollection was that a concern was voiced from DESE that the district was doing something illegal, Szymaniak follwed up with DESE and they said that was not the case.
“Correct,” Szymaniak said.
“If there’s subsequent concerns, I’m sure they could be shared with the superintendent and he’ll look into it, but that was what was said last week,” Howard said. “Certainly, that could be done. … We could chase this in all different directions. Lawsuits can happen all the time for a whole host of reasons, that’s just the nature of the American legal system.”
Member Glen DiGravio argued that what’s happened shouldn’t matter.
“What we’re going to do should matter,” he said, adding that a solution would be to find some way to get the two schools aligned.
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