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Town Meeting, 4/30, Session Three

I take notes during Town Meeting. They are not official in any way. As I listen to people speak, I scribble notes. Iā€™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].

I arrived late today, after 8:20, after the start of debate of Article 12. I need to get up early tomorrow, so I’m keeping the notes short. Drop me an email or leave a comment if you’d like me to expand somewhere.

Article 12 – Restriction of Eminent Domain, in progress. Several speakers spoke in opposition. They said that the language restricted the town too broadly. They trusted Town Meeting to do the right thing in any future taking by eminent domain. They argued that this should not be a referendum on the Kelo decision, but on the suggested language. Article failed on voice vote. I voted in favor of this. The language didn’t worry me. I like it when the government has a hard time taking private property.

Article 13 – Tax Exemption/Deferral Information. [8:44] The article is not necessary because the information will happen in the future anyway. Deferral information will be in a future tax bill. The article was voted no action. The moderator ruled it unanimous but I clearly heard a dissenting voice. I have no idea why there was dissent. If the proponent gets what he wants, then what is the “no” about?

Article 14 – Graffiti. Selectmen Chair Annie LaCourt moved to postpone to May 14 so the language can be improved. Postponed. There is a lot of good research and practice that shows that one of the best ways to beat graffiti is to clean it quickly. In general, I think that there is a public interest in removing graffiti in a timely manner. I have one concern: will the town be able to meet the standard it is applying to businesses?

Article 15 – Procedures Committee. This expands the set of people that consider Town Meeting procedures. It was approved after a brief discussion. [8:50] There were people who voted against this. I don’t know what the reason was; the article seems reasonable and innocuous on the face of it.

Article 16 – Code of Conduct. Adam Auster recalled last year’s misbehavior. He explained that this was the way to prevent the problem in the future. There was confusion about whether this was a change to the Bylaws or simply a resolution. Here’s my attempt to clarify the question: The Town Warrant announces, and thereby defines the scope, of what can be considered at Town Meeting. Town Meeting does not vote on the Warrant as printed. Town Meeting votes on specific motions that are made under the articles of the warrant. In this case, the warrant says “vote to amend the bylaws or pass a resolution.” When the actual motion was made by the Board of Selectmen, they clearly stated in their motion that the vote was on a resolution. If you try to understand Town Meeting using only the Town Warrant, you’ll be regularly confused. You need the reports of the Board of Selectmen, ARB, and FinComm. Those reports contain the actual motions. The resolution was approved. One of the speakers noted that the resolution wasn’t really necessary because state law already permits the removal of unruly members. The resolution isn’t about the law. The resolution is about moral authority. The moderator (current and future) should feel like the meeting will support him if he needs to wield the gavel with vigor.

Article 17 – Personnel Holidays. Town Manager Brian Sullivan explained that this was to align non-union holidays with union holidays. Approved. Lyman Judd further endeared himself to his fellow members by referring to everyone as “sheep” for voting for this.

Article 18 – Data Processing. Postponed to May 14. This is delayed as some issues are worked out. Even if the issues aren’t worked out, the motion spelled out in the Finance Committee report represents a step forward. There is a chance we can do even better, and so I’m OK with the delay. I know there was rumbling that too many articles are being postponed, and I’m inclined to agree. For this article, I ask for the meeting’s indulgence: we’re close to making a lasting improvement in the town’s operational efficiency.

Article 19 – Traffic and Parking. Postponed to May 7. Paul Schlictman was ready to give his substitute motion. Evidently TAC has an opinion on this, but they weren’t ready.

Article 20 – Recycling Bylaw. Gordon Jamieson explained that the bylaw is designed to be flexible by including the continuously updated recycling rules. He explained how much money can be saved by recycling. Several speakers were against it because the incorporation of other rules was ceding power of Town Meeting to the Selectmen. There were concerns about “trash police.” Lyman Judd made a motion to postpone so that the selectmen could make a change. There were questions about whether this would hire another employee. Gordon Jamieson spoke a second time, and even tried to speak a third time after someone said something he disagreed with. I believe in “meeting karma.” Gordon’s first two speeches were fairly long-winded. If he was more succinct in his statements, people might not mind him speaking frequently. As it was, he’d used up his karma. If you have recorded the meeting, look at the sequence where Jameison speaks, then Charlie Foskett, then Lyman Judd. Jameison and Judd take several minutes each. Foskett takes a few seconds. I’d argue that Foskett was the more effective speaker. He was certainly more efficient. When we’re moving as slowly as we are, we need to encourage such economical use of time and speech. A speaker tried to amend the warrant article. He was confused; the text of the warrant article was different from the text of the motion (see Article 16, above). A motion was made to strike the sentence that included the fine. Debate was terminated. The amendment failed 43-102 and the bylaw was approved 95-45.

Article 21 – Service Counting for Benefits. Voted no action. This was an anti-selectmen article. The proponents want selectmen to be ineligible for benefits. It was poorly constructed.

Articles 22 and 23 – Home Rule Legislation postponed to May 2. One guy had a “valid” excuse, the other guy didn’t have an obvious excuse for missing the meeting. I’m not concerned because I see the value in considering these together. I’m likely to vote yes on both, of course. As I’ve said before, I’ll always vote to neutralize age discrimination.

Article 24 – All Alcohol licenses. Voted no action based on the town’s vote on the ballot question.

Article 25 – Alcohol License Change. The intent of the article is to permit smaller restaurants to apply for the remaining all-alcohol licenses, requiring 50 seats rather than 99. [10:35] There are 10 licenses and 7 are currently in use. If the article passes, and the legislature approves it, then the question will appear on the ballot. There were questions about bars and whether this would permit them, and if bars are currently permitted. Chris Loreti proposed two amendments. The first is to remove “function halls” from the possible licensees. The second was to make it so that alcohol can’t be served at bars. The meeting adjourned before discussion was complete. I don’t think either amendment is a good idea. First of all, I think it’s fine if a function hall is eligible for a license. If Hawthorne Suites wants to run a banquet business, that’s fine with me. They still will have to serve meals with the alcohol; it’s not like they will be able to open a dance hall or something like that. Secondly, I think the proposed language makes the existing restaurants illegal. It should be OK for me to sit down at the bar of Joe’s, watch the Red Sox game, order dinner, and have a beer with my dinner. The proposed language prohibits that. It says that alcohol can’t be served at the bar. If this language passes, I’ll have two choices: I can sit at a table and have a beer with dinner, or I can sit at the bar and watch the Red Sox. I’d rather not have to choose.

DeCourcey gave notice of reconsideration on Article 20. Meeting adjourned.