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Feeley faces up to first opposition in 18 years

It's been 18 years since Kevin P. Feeley faced an election challenge for a three-year seat on the Board of Assessors, but the 77-year-old retired attorney is taking it as a serious test.

He was out on a sunny, chilly Good Friday, four days before the town election, holding a red sign on his own behalf.

And why not? A board member since 1986, he says the assessing department is having "a critical year," and he would like to be reelected to see it through. All town properties are to be revalued by Patriot Properties of Lynn, a process that occurs every three years, and the target for completion is September.

Helping to reach that goal is a department with three of four employees having one year or less of experience. The director, John Speidel, has extensive background in assessing, but lacks the Arlington memory of Bob Greeley, who retired last year.

Feeley sat down at his home, near the Bishop School, and made clear he is responding to the challenge from Marty Thrope, the former School Committee member.

"We're letting people know we're the race," he said, noting the relatively late campaign of visibility and mailing.

He expressed concern about the effect on turnout becase of the 8 a.m. start next Tuesday, as voters have to head to work before then, as well as changes in polling locations because of Thompson School reconstruction.

"Voters need to be reminded," he said.

In an interview that ranged from the present to far into the past, he talked about the elections of 1991 and 1994, the last time he faced opposition, both times from Arthur Spero. In '91, Spero was also a candidate for selectman.

Early on in his career of town service, Feeley had been a selectman. He looked through papers in a manila folder seeking the right dates -- and then remembered how to confirm them.

"Get up," he motioned, and he came over to look at the back of the black rocker.

On each side of the town of Arlington seal were the dates, 1964 to 1970.

That was the era of Selectman Joe Greeley, father of Kevin and Bob. He said that when Joe disagreed with him and the other "young punk," John Bilafer, he called them "Calvin," an inside family joke that seems to have its origin with Kevin. Bilafer later became the longtime town treasurer.

When he wasn't coaching youth hockey, Feeley served on Town Meeting and, for a number of years, on the Parks and Recreation Commission.

For a lengthy period, he was general counsel of the Mass. Water Resources Authority. Following the large pipe break and flood at Weston in May 2010, he was called back to help.

Why? His institutional memory.

That recollection reaches back to how the town assessments operation has changed since 1986, when he was first appointed to the board.

From mainframes (first from Burroughs, then Unisys) to a fifth generation of the Patriot and now as the town looks ahead to expanding the role of Munis accounting software.

The board, which pays members $4,700 a year, acts as the overall manager of assessment, scheduling work and reviewing property values. In all, institutional memory can hold one back to what is known -- and fill in gaps to complete a job.

This political season has brought a pleasant merging of present and past: He went to a political coffee at the home of Leba Heigham, the School Committee member, at 82 Richfield Road. That happens be where he grew up. His father built the home during the Depression, and when Kevin was 2, the family moved in.

He had not been inside in 30 years.

The Arlington native is a graduate of Matignon High School and the College of Holy Cross, class of 1955. He received his law degree from New England Law School.

2012 Town election information: Town website | YourArlington

This story was published Saturday, April 7, 2012.

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