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Town Meeting ’08 Session 5

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.

The meeting started at 8. Charles Gallagher played the national anthem. There was no invocation. I thought the lack of invocation was a fine thing – let’s hope this is a trend! Town government being secular and all . . .

The moderator announced that the winning projects of the Arlington High School Math Fair were in the hall to be viewed during the break. I helped judge the projects on Thursday. There are some neat projects. They’re better when you get to hear the student speak; that’s when you really can tell who knows what they’re talking about, and the passion shines through.

Barbara Cutler said that the 300 copies of the report of the Commission on Disability were missing.

Allan Tosti announced he would ask that Article 54, the Capital Budget, be brought up on Wednesday night. Charlie Foskett (the chair of the capital committee) would be out of town for the following week.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Clarissa Rowe set the next meeting time for May 14.

Article 28 – Canine Control, continued. It looked to me like Town Meeting was a little empty tonight – lots of empty seats at the start. I think a number of members were staring down the barrel of a night of arguments about leash lengths and decided to take the night off. On the other hand, there was quite an audience. A few dozen people were there to watch the meeting. Andrew Fischer was in favor of the change, describing the difficulties he has with his dogs and the current law. He proposed an amendment to restrict the length of leashes on town land adjacent to schools. A speaker was opposed to the law. The moderator admonished the audience not to hold up signs. I had noticed a few signs in the audience saying “vote no on 28” and “go with green dog.” I was surprised that the moderator told them not to do it. I don’t recall a rule prohibiting signs. Any reader out there have an opinion to share in the comment section below? Chad Gibson proposed an amendment to sunset Ruderman’s substitute motion after one year. Debate was terminated 98-48. The moderator started to explain voting procedure. Mr. Worden rose on a point of order asking when the “year” in Gibson’s motion started and ended. After some consultation, Moderator Leone ruled Gibson’s amendment out of order because without a specified date, the attorney general would reject the law. This was not the moderator’s finest moment. He might have noticed the flaw when the amendment was first made. Then, when the flaw was pointed out, I think there was room to simply specify a date; it would not have been a substantive change. All that said, the moderator was correct on a key point: Get it in writing, and get it in early. That’s the best way to avoid these flaws. Fischer’s amendment went down, 62-84. Smith’s amendment carried by voice vote. Ruderman’s substitute motion went down by voice vote. The moderator called for a vote on Gibson’s amendment, confusing everyone in the room. Memo to Mr. Leone: Once your rule something out of order, there is no vote; the motion is dead on arrival. No action carried. Mr. Worden gave notice of reconsideration.

Article 29 – Dogs in Menotomy Park. Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Clarissa Rowe asked again to let the Green Dog group do it’s work, and not act rashly, asking for a vote of no action. Mr. Quinn moved a postponement so that the proponents of the original article could present a resolution later. The postponement failed, and no action was voted by voice vote. At this point, most of the audience filed quietly out.

Article 27 – Meeting Notice Bylaw, continued. Jeanne Leary presented a substitute motion calling for 30 days notice by US Mail for all committees to all abutters and “interested person” where decisions of property values might be made. She explained the changes that the town and state had made to her neighborhood on Summer Street without enough notification including blasting, driveway changes, trees being taken down, lights being put up, and more. Several speakers (including me) were opposed to the substitute motion. The reasons given were that the scope was too broad, that it would cause conflicts with 14-day notification requirements for some committees, and that the terms were not well defined. Many speakers expressed sympathy with the troubles on summer street. Several speakers spoke in favor of better notifications. A speaker suggested that the best solution was personal activism. Several suggestions for future changes were made. Debate was terminated by voice vote. Harry McCabe made a point of order and was loudly gaveled out of order while he labored to make his point. Rich Carreiro made a point of order that the section of law in the substitute motion was incorrect, and it was corrected. The substitute motion failed by voice vote. The moderator then tried to add a sentence to the Selectmen’s original motion that they had forgotten to include, increasing the scope of the article. Brian Rehrig rose and objected to changing the substance of the article after debate was terminated; he argued that it was a real change, not a cosmetic one, and that was inappropriate after debate was over. I did not like the way this played out. The selectmen should have made their change right up front. Failing that, the moderator could have reasonably put a selectman at the microphone to make the change without waiting for them to get on the list; that would have been fine. What was not fine was to change the language and scope of the article after debate had been terminated. I was getting ready to make an objection when Rehrig made his; I’m glad he did. The meeting voted to not debate the selectmen’s changes, but it’s not clear that people really knew what the vote was about. The selectmen’s motion, without the last-minute change, was approved. Mr. McCabe moved to reconsider, and that vote failed.

Article 30 – Margaret Spengler Honor. Tabled.

Article 31 – Scholarship Fund Name Change. Not needed, and voted no action.

Article 32 – Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). Selectman Hurd spoke briefly about the requests and awards ($2.7M and $1.25M). Mrs. Worden asked for a correction in the affordable housing section. Passed. This was a bit of a surprise that it went so quickly. This spending is out of Town Meeting’s jurisdiction, but that doesn’t stop people from expressing their opinion on the spending choices. But this year – nothing.

Article 33 – Accepting Grants. There were two questions about the grants the town receives and the process for that. Passed.

Article 34 – Ballot Question to Restaurant Increase Liquor Licenses from 10 to 15. Selectman Rowe explained that this is in anticipation of increased demand since the town voted to permit restaurants of 50-99 seats to seek liquor licenses. There were several questions about parking, enforcement, license terms, license issuance and revocation, and how the size of the requested increase was determined. Several speakers were in favor, and a couple against. Funniest moment so far this year: “I’m a younger guy, and I can tell you, my friends and I don’t go to Arlington to get ripped. We go to Cambridge or Somerville. And high schoolers aren’t spending $12 on a cabernet at Tryst, I can tell you that.” Approved 121-9.

Article 35 – Home Rule Matthew Silva. Selectman Rowe explained that this was the first of several articles for individuals seeking waivers of the state’s maximum age limit for police and fire positions. Mr. Silva spoke briefly about his roots in the community. There was discussion of the alternative “wellness” legislation that would remove the age requirements and the problems with it. Several opponents spoke of the unfairness of an “exception” process. Two speakers talked about whether or not it was correct to evaluate the qualities of the specific individuals. Joe Tully proposed an amendment to extend the window to 2013. There were questions about the pension implications of hiring older employees. Town Manager Sullivan, when asked, said that he and the chiefs were opposed to exceptions and wanted to use the system. Fire Chief Jefferson echoed that saying “stick with the rules.” Chief Ryan said to “look at the organization” and not the individuals. This was interesting because I don’t recall the manager or cheifs taking a clear position on this in the past. I just reviewed my notes, and I can’t find a clear stand. In fact, the only clear note I have is of Chief Ryan being coy on the issue. I wonder how much of that is my notes being incomplete, a change in position, or a new willingness to be vocal. Several speakers were in favor of granting the exception. In response to questions, Silva described taking the test more than once, getting a perfect score most recently, but having missed the age cutoff by four months. I wonder if he realizes how little his perfect score will help him – once the patronage and preferences are applied. Of course, I’ll still support his wish to apply for the job. The meeting adjourned before taking a vote.


Comment from RichC
Time: May 13, 2008, 7:58 am

There’s no by-law about signs in the gallery, IIRC, but in the few times I recall it happening before, Mr. Worden ordered them down.
So Mr. Leone’s just following precedent, there.

Comment from Annie LaCourt
Time: May 13, 2008, 9:49 am

Yeah, we didn’t have our act together on the change we wanted to make to article 27. I didn’t notice until last night that the additional language the board had asked for was not in the recommended vote and I didn’t get to propose a change until debate was underway. At that point I got my colleagues approval and got on the list. I needed to make the change when we debated the main motion and I wasn’t there last wednesday when we began to consider the article. I didn’t expect John to try to squeeze that change in once we ended debate and I believe Mr. Rehrig’s objection was correct. Proceeding to make a substantive change administratively and vote it without debate would have been a bad precedent. It just goes to show that you have to have your stuff together for Town meeting, you cant’ do this on the fly. Its not as chaotic as it looks!

Comment from Eric Helmuth
Time: May 13, 2008, 10:30 am

In your post explaining why you support Article 35 et al, you didn’t address one very prominent argument against it that we heard last night — the pension effects vis a vis the retirement age for police and fire. To me, this is the most compelling “anti” argument , and I’d be curious to know your reaction to it.

Comment from Adam
Time: May 13, 2008, 10:42 am

Given the sympathy for Jeanne Leary from many speakers, including those opposed to her substitute motion, I was surprised when Mr. McCabe’s reconsideration failed.

I assume this was to allow the Selectmen to make their addition to the proposal they endorsed, so as to be more responsive to Ms. Leary’s concerns.

Did we really oppose that? Or were we just annoyed? Or confused? It could have been quick.

To be sure, the Selectmen should have had their act together on this. But the Moderator could at least have noted that the motion to vote immediately would apply to the Selectmen’s motion, even though it had not been discussed, as well as to the substitute, which had. And perhaps have asked Mr. McCabe to explain the purpose of his motion to reconsider, so that everyone understood what was going on.

Comment from dunster
Time: May 13, 2008, 2:13 pm

@Annie: Thanks for the explanation. I think the moderator should have exercised his prerogative and brought a selectman to the mic right away, rather than waiting on the list.

@Eric: I think the pension/retirement anti-argument is a legitimate one, but it still doesn’t carry the day. For instance, the Manager last night talked about how people can retire at 55. What he didn’t mention was how many years of experience you needed to retire at 55 with full pension! He omitted that fact because it didn’t support his argument. Permitting older people into the job does mess with pensions, but I don’t think by too much.

For me it comes down to this: The whole civil service law is a mess. I vote “yes” on these articles because they make it slightly less messy. It’s a marginal solution where we end up slightly better than we were before. When I can’t get what I want (total reform), I accept what I can get.

@Adam: I think you’re right on all points. Town Meeting had just watched Mr. McCabe, the moderator, and the selectman all make mistakes. There wasn’t a lot of appetite to let them all do it again.