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Town Meeting, 5/14, Session Seven

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].

The meeting was called to order promptly at 8:00. Town Meeting member Charles Gallagher played the national anthem. Reverend Snyder of the Countryside Bible Chapel gave the blessing.

Ron Spangler [8:06] announced that a not-yet-but-soon-to-be-approved report of the school facility working group was available in the back of the room.

Article 2 – Reports

  • Selectman Annie LaCourt submitted the Annual Report.
  • Nancy Galkowski submitted the Fire Station Building Committee report.
  • Jane Howard [8:09] gave remarks on the Vision 2020 report [8:17].
  • John Bilafer gave the report of the Retirement Board. He spoke forcefully against the governor’s proposed legislation to take over the town’s retirement funds and blasted the supporters of the governor’s legislation. He touted the Arlington performance overall. He complained that it wasn’t appropriate to predict future performance based on past performance. I agreed with some of what he said, but there were inconsistencies that he glossed over. He spent a while defending Arlington’s performance by citing comparisons against the state and other towns, but at the same time doesn’t want those returns to be used as a future predictor. He also said the comparisons with the state weren’t fair because the state can make investments that the town cannot, even though he was content to make those comparisons when the town looked better than the state. Furthermore, the expanded opportunities the state enjoys sound to me like a reason to change to the state’s system, not a reason to ignore the state’s returns. He claimed that Arlington acts more conservatively because it fits Arlington’s needs, hence lower returns. That is inconsistent with the huge losses the town racked up when the internet bubble burst; a conservative strategy wouldn’t have been so affected. All in all, I’m not thrilled with the retirement board. I want to learn more, but I think the governor probably has this one right.

Article 12 – Graffiti Bylaw. John Maher made a couple of amendments to fix some language. They were approved immediately. Selectman Jack Hurd explained that this was in reaction to the increase of graffiti reported last year, particularly at Thompson school. I think there were three threads in this 2-hours-plus discussion. I’m writing these notes by thread, not by chronology. It sort of spoils the fun, but I figure you’re reading these for brevity rather than watching three hours of local access cable reruns. If you want the blow by blow, watch the video.

The first discussion thread was about the requirements that merchants segregate and watch graffiti implements – markers, spray paint, etc. The next amendment, the first substantive one, was proposed by the first speaker, Brian Rehrig. He suggested that the restrictions on merchants were too stringent and moved that they be removed. Many speakers endorsed this notion citing several local stores. The effectiveness of the section was doubted especially with other towns close by and the items’ ready availability in the home. When the meeting had it’s traditional 9:30 break the board of selectmen met and endorsed the amendment; they saw the writing on the wall and wanted to save the main parts of the bylaw.

The second thread was started by Selectman Diane Mahon and ended up being about her. She spoke early on, rising as a town meeting member, not a selectman. She rambled for almost two minutes apologizing and saying that she had a question without actually saying what her question was. She said that she hadn’t seen the “second supplemental report.” When she got to a specific point, she had questions about signage at merchants and how they would know about the new law and asked about how it would be enforced. She repeatedly thanked her “colleagues in Town Meeting.” While she was talking, there was a continuous stir at the front of the room. Selectmen and employees were, I believe, trying to figure out what the heck Mahon was up to. She had voted in favor of the article at every step (that I know of). There was, I imagine, much consternation that she was talking about her colleagues in Town Meeting, but not her colleagues on the Board of Selectmen. Paul Schlictman asked what the vote of the Board of Selectmen was and was told it was unanimous, with Greeley absent. He said he was confused by that answer and Mahon’s comments, and the moderator said “Don’t you know a parliamentary maneuver when you see one?” to which Schlictman retorted that it was a confusing one. The front-table conferring continued. After the break, it was made more clear that she hadn’t heard/voted on the the amendment that was proposed by John Maher at the very beginning, and the board voted to support those changes during the break. This really was pretty odd. It came across like she was trying to derail the article, or at the least score some points on flaws in the article. I like to think that I’m somewhat savvy about these things, and I couldn’t figure out what it was all about. If you know, please comment below.

The third topic was about the main element of the article: whether the town should require property owners to remove graffiti. There was discussion about the research and experience in other towns that removing graffiti quickly was the most effective way to prevent future graffiti. An amendment to change “days” to “business days” was made. There was complaint that this was punishing the victim, not the criminal. There was discussion about the penalties for the perpetrator. There was discussion about the property owner and how they might or might not be fined. The discretionary role of the police department was touched repeatedly. There were several complaints that the article was not ready. Mr. Burke made a motion to postpone. Several speakers talked about how they had tried and failed to get graffiti cleaned up in their neighborhoods because of businesses and neighbors that did not cooperate. Speakers variously called for the article to be both shorter and more comprehensive. As the discussion stretched on, the comments ran far afield. Someone asked if a mural was a defacement – seems like an obvious answer to me. Another person decried globalization. There were suggestions to post a bounty for graffiti taggers at town hall. At one point Lyman Judd interrupted the meeting and demanded to speak because he thought he’d been left off the list. He was gavelled down. This is another town meeting member who has used up his “meeting karma.” You can only talk so many times, and at so much length, before people dread hearing his name called to speak.

The question was finally called. The motion to postpone lost, 50-96. The “business days” amendment passed. The Rehrig amendment stripping out the merchant requirements was approved. The main motion was approved.

Article 18 – IT Department. Selectman LaCourt explained that this would move IT from the comptroller to the town manager and also merged with the school IT and explained why the selectmen endorsed it. Alan Jones gave the FinComm reason for supporting it. I spoke and talked about how the change would help the town’s employees be more productive and help the town maintain services within Proposition 2.5. After a couple more speakers and a question about the schools and title, the article was approved. I am delighted and excited. This is a big step forward for the town and will permit the town to reap benefits from technology. I was concerned that this might not go smoothly. I’ve been working on this for years, but spent many hours on this the last few weeks trying to make sure it went through. I’m grateful to everyone who helped.

Article 46 – Rescind Borrowing – voted no action.

Article 47 – Minuteman, postponed to Wednesday.

Article 48 – Celebrations. Approved unanimously.

Article 49 – Commissions. Approved.

Article 50 – Miscellaneous. Approved.

Article 51 – George St. Sidewalk. A motion to postpone so that the vice-chair of the Transportation Advisory Committee could be present failed. It was explained that the town was seeking the land on this private way by grant and would build the sidewalk on the the road using regular DPW funds. No special appropriation (or eminent domain) was necessary. Approved. I can’t figure out why TAC thought it needed a big presentation and postponement. I think once they say “Free land. Current budget. $11-$18,000, depending.” it becomes a non-issue and sails right through.

Several notices of reconsideration were given and the meeting was adjourned.

Comments

Comment from Rich Carreiro
Time: May 15, 2007, 5:30 am

Graffiti was Article 14, not Article 12. I can’t help you on the Mahon thing — I was as puzzled by it all as you. I did comment to someone that it all struck me as if someone thwapped an anthill up front — all sorts of motion and scurrying about up there.

Comment from Jerri Newman
Time: May 15, 2007, 6:21 am

I am curious whether there is any effect on existing salaries because of the move of IT functions out of the Comptroller’s office, specifically on the salary of the Comptroller who will now have less responsibility. It still boggles my mind that she got a $10K raise shortly after the snafu that resulted in so many people’s interest in how she was managing the town web site and IT staff. This is a long awaited and much appreciated step forward. Thank you, Dan, and all the people who gave their time and expertise to make this happen.

Comment from Brian Rehrig
Time: May 15, 2007, 7:30 am

I think this was all about confusion (and a bit of pique) over whether the BoS had in fact voted on the “second supplemental report” (the relatively minor corrections to the BoS recommendation). Mahon was saying she hadn’t seen it, while Annie LaCourt had said the BoS had voted on it. Both things could have been true (Diane could have just missed the vote), but as it turns out Annie was mistaken. This was rectified at the break.