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Town Meeting 4/25, Session 2, and Special Town Meeting

I take notes during Town Meeting. They are not official in any way. As I listen to people speak, I scribble notes. I’m sure that, at times, I mishear or misunderstand the speaker, but my notes represent what I hear at the time. I then publish the notes every night after the meeting. I do go back and make a few edits as errors are pointed out to me.

I do not try to reproduce my entire notepad for this online version. Sometimes I relay a quote from a specific speaker. Most of the time I only summarize the discussion. At points I give a purely personal opinion; those are clearly labeled like this: Personal note. When I remember to note the time, it looks like [8:05].

A few minutes after 8PM Town Meeting was called to order.

The Arlington Madrigal Singers performed the national anthem.

I missed the name of the gentleman who gave the invocation, but he was from St. Athanasius.

The Arlington Madrigal Singers performed three songs.

[8:23] Board Chairman Annie LaCourt moved that the next meeting be scheduled for the 30th at 7:30PM. This is a departure from the standard 8PM start. Several speakers were opposed to the change and sought input from the moderator(s). Mr. Carreiro made an amendment to have an 8PM start. A few speakers wanted to test the earlier start. Debate was terminated [8:31]. The amendment carried, rejecting the suggested change. The moderator sought a vote on what people wanted to do next year. 106 people indicated 8PM, and 65 said 7:30PM.

There were several announcements:

  • The moderator reminded everyone of precinct meetings to be held next week, and in particular that precinct 5 was meeting tonight.
  • The moderator announced a one-night bookstore for tonight in the break.
  • Rich Carreiro reminded members about the town meeting announcement email list and asked people to contact him to get on it.
  • Roland Chaput announced that the sale of Arlington’s 200th Anniversary items would be once weekly at town meeting.
  • Diane Mahon announced that it was Autism Awareness month.
  • Joseph Curro talked about the recent anti-semitic and threatening letters received by several town volunteers. He invited members to join the Human Rights Commission’s campaign against such attitudes and activity. [8:45]
  • There was a complaint about the sound system. I agree that the sound was much worse tonight than Monday. I think there were one or more bad mics that were set at too high of a level.

Article 2 – Reports of Committees. Town Meeting accepted several reports:

  • Barbara Jones gave the report of the Arlington Commission on Disability. [8:51] She decried the spending priorities of the CDBG funds.
  • The moderator asked for the status of the annual report.
  • James McGough reported on the Dallin museum and invited people to the upcoming unveiling.

Article 2 was placed on the table. [9:04]

64 minutes had passed since the scheduled start of the meeting, and not one word of debate had yet been uttered. It was incredibly frustrating. I know that my frustration was shared by many other people in the hall. This is why I’m looking forward to a new moderator. I hope that Mr. Leone moves with swift, firm action to get the meeting focused on the business at hand.

Town Meeting is being held hostage by people with a message. These are well-meaning people who are seeking publicity and support for whatever their cause may be. These message-senders know that several hundred of the town’s leaders, employees, and other volunteers are compelled to be in Town Hall for several hours every spring. They see the captive audience, and they want to deliver their message.

We don’t all need to be in the same room in order to hear a message. We can hear the message in person over a cup of coffee, over the phone, by email, by regular mail, or over the proverbial back fence. We don’t gain any insight because we hear the message surrounded by other meeting members. Using town meeting to send a message is efficient for the message sender, but wasteful for the meeting members.

The reason we all assemble in one room is to debate and decide. We can’t do that individually. We have to do it as a group. It’s not something that can be done remotely. That’s why we schedule work, vacations, and child-care duties and make room in our lives for town meeting. We’re accountants, architects, artists, consultants, contractors, counselors, doctors, engineers, firefighters, lawyers, librarians, managers, parents, police officers, professors, programmers, retirees, and teachers. We all have other things to do, but we make room in our schedules so we can gather to debate and decide.

I think Town Meeting is one of the best forms of government available to us. I want it to thrive. When a town meeting seat goes unfilled, an election uncontested, or a member leaves early because they are bored, the meeting is less effective. An efficient meeting is an effective one. It keeps people interested and makes good use of their time. We need to be more efficient or we risk losing the power of our meeting.

If you are a message sender and you want to deliver a message to these people, I encourage you to use some other method. Call. Mail. Visit. Leave a note on our chairs. I know it is tempting to see Town Meeting as your ideal audience, but it is not.

Article 10 – Stormwater Management, continued. The first question was about how to calculate stormwater flow. The moderator was lost in his notes, and it took a minute before he realized a question had been asked. The new DPW director, John Bean was introduced to applause – it was his first time speaking to Town Meeting. He immediately got off on the wrong foot by offering his opinion on the article as a whole rather than simply answering the question he was asked. He answered a couple of other questions later, and I heard enough to form my first impression: he is long-winded. There was a question about downspouts. The Conservation Commission is in favor of it. Mr. Burke moved that the threshold be 500 square feet [9:19]. A speaker was in favor of the smaller footprint. There were questions about the definition of hardship.

A 10-minute recess was declared at [9:31] and called to order at [9:45]. Note that the meeting started late, had a long break, and the finish time was [10:54]. We’re in no danger of having 3 hours of debate. Out of 180 possible minutes, we were only seated for 150ish of them.

It was asked and answered that the owner/builder had to pay for the analysis. There was a question why the appeal was to the zoning board when it wasn’t a zoning issue. The answer was basically “because it can.” Aram Hollman moved that the threshold be zero square feet, or all buildings. Stephen DeCourcey asked about the penalties for non-compliance, and asked why if the intent was for fast resolution that there were no deadlines for action from the DPW director or the Zoning board. This generated consternation from the planning director and town counsel who realized they had missed these points. [10:02]

The article was delayed and the Special Town Meeting was called to order. The standard motions, report of the constable, etc. were gone through.

Article 1 – There was only one report, of the Finance Committee. Allan Tosti submitted it, and Town Manager Brian Sullivan gave the verbal report. He explained that agreements had been reached with the unions (excepting patrolmen and firefighters). The deal was 2.5% raise retroactive for FY07, 3.5% for FY08, and an additional .5% effective when all unions agree to new drug and doctor visit copayments. Also, new employees will pay 25% of their medical premiums, not 15%.

Article 2 – Collective Bargaining. The funding for the reported deals was in the motion. There were three separate questions about a typo in the report that had already been announced. Gordon Jamieson proposed an amendment related to Medicare Part D funds. The amendment was ruled out of order. During this, Mr. Daley made his first use of the Point of Order, which was, as usual, inappropriate. We’ll see how many more we get this year. [10:24] Mr. Deyst spoke in favor because it linked medical spending to the people making medical decisions. [10:29] The article was approved unanimously. I think I heard a “no,” but it sure was stated softly.

The Special Town Meeting was dissolved.

Back to stormwater, Stephen DeCourcey proposed two amendments prepared by town counsel that fined violators and set deadlines for the appeal processes. Brian Rehrig argued that this was an important policy and that it did not place an undue burden on the builder. Brian hit the key points of the issue in his statement, but I only agree with half of what he said. We agree that the policy is important and necessary. I disagree with him about the burden. The planning department has, for the second year in a row, presented a poorly crafted article. Last year’s version had structural problems. This year’s version didn’t have an enforcement mechanism, didn’t have a timeline for an amendment process, doesn’t define how runoff is calculated, and doesn’t explain how the new bylaw would be administered. It’s a good idea, but it is not done. Until the holes are closed it is an inefficient and clunky bylaw. Debate was terminated. Both of DeCourcey’s amendments were approved. The 0 square feet was defeated, the 500 square feet was approved, and the 1000 was not considered. Main motion was approved.

The meeting was adjourned [10:54].


Comment from Rich Carreiro
Time: April 26, 2007, 7:37 am

Joseph Curro.

Comment from dunster
Time: April 26, 2007, 8:48 am

Fixed, thanks.

Comment from s shea
Time: April 26, 2007, 10:18 am

Hi – I’m new to town, and the town meeting process. Could you explain why they have the “special town meeting” in the middle of an article debate? These notes are great, it’s difficult to hear everything on cable. Thanks!

Comment from dunster
Time: April 26, 2007, 6:42 pm

Before you talk about something at Town Meeting, it has to be placed on the “warrant.” Think of the warrant as an agenda, but an agenda with legal significance. If it’s not on the warrant, you can’t talk about it.

At some point in the spring the Board of Selectmen finalize the warrant and it is printed, distributed, etc. and it can’t be changed. In this case, there were some union negotiations that were successfully concluded AFTER the warrant was finalized. There was no way to appropriate the money to pay for the new union contracts.

So, the Board of Selectment called a “Special” Town Meeting with a new, separate warrant – the collective bargaining article.

Comment from s shea
Time: April 27, 2007, 8:17 am

Makes sense. Thanks!

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