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Town Meeting ‘10 Session 9

I take notes during Town Meeting. They are not official in any way. As I listen to people speak, I type 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 notes 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.

8:01 the meeting was called to order. The Arlington Madrigal Singers sang the national anthem and continued singing until 8:12. I’m happy that this was the first performance of this town meeting – that’s 11 minutes saved on each of the previous 8 meetings – that’s half of a night of town meeting saved!

Moderator John Leone noted that there isn’t that much left on the agenda. He suggested that if we were concise, we might finish tonight. I was betting on Wednesday, and unfortunately my bet is looking more likely. We sure didn’t finish tonight; I just hope we don’t go until next week.

Bill Hayner Pct. 2 voiced his support of an energy bill from Senator Kerry.
Up to $220,000 for Bridge the Gap. Two weeks left.
Dick Smith again sought signatures for a non-binding question for the 23rd Middlesex.

Article 3 was taken from the table.

  • Symmes Neighborhood Advisory Committee. Michelle Barry detailed the uncovered dirt piles and poor site security on the Symmes neighborhood, and asked for future remediation.
  • Harry McCabe gave the report of the Margaret Spengler Memorial Committee. He went into great detail about the planning, preparation, execution of the memorial, and the disposition of the remaining funds.

Article 3 was tabled. 8:35pm at this point – the hopes of an early finish dwindling rapidly.

Article 11 – Illuminated signs. Brian Rehrig moved to reconsider Article 11. It was reconsidered on voice vote. Brian Rehrig explained that the word “exposed” should read “non-exposed.” The newly-revised bylaw was approved 159-2. This move had been mentioned by the moderator, and very few people were interested in debating illumination again.

Article 27 – GIC. Tabled. Tosti did this so we can get to Minuteman tonight for sure – they’re here tonight.

Article 55 – Sewer. Approved unanimously.

Artilce 56 – Water mains. Approved unanimously.

Article 57 – Minuteman Regular Budget. Dr. Ed Bouquillon, Superintendent of Minuteman School District spoke for a few minutes.  He noted that the district’s budget is down 7.2% from last year – that’s 10% cut from level-service budget. He went through the cuts of 22 people. He’s raised tuitions for non-member towns.  Budget approved on unanimous vote.

Article 58 – Minuteman Feasibility Study. Al Tosti moved the substitute motion the Finance Committee approved last week, and made two small changes to the text. Tosti walked through the decision process. The Finance Committee voted “no action” at first because we were concerned that it was too much money for a school that we weren’t sure was viable. Later meetings and negotiations and the intercession of the Mass School Building Authority helped narrow the scope of the plan. The plan now starts with an enrollment study and a report of a Regional Task Force on changes to the regional agreement. The Superintendent has agreed that the full program won’t go forward unless Arlington (and other towns) sign off on the enrollment study and task force report. That convinced the finance committee to approve this feasability study. I’m proud of how this worked.  I think FinComm discussed this at 8 or 10 different meeting this year, some of them for a long time.  We ended up in a place that is good for Arlington and supports the educational mission of Minuteman. The Superintendent talked about the needs of the physical plant. He reviewed the MSBA building process and where the district is in the process. He talked about how much the feasibility study would cost and what would be in it. A speaker in favor commended the progress the district has made. Paul Schlictman called for a change in the regional agreement, which was echoed by later speakers. He endorsed the motion. There were questions about the five biggest towns. There were questions about school sizing, enrollment, and waiting lists at other vocational districts. Debate terminated. The motion was substituted, and approved unanimously.  I was delighted and surprised – so much debate, so much discussion, and a unanimous result.  I never would have expected it.

Break at 9:24. Returned at 9:36.

Article 27 – GIC. The moderator recognized the motion of the Finance Committee as the main motion.  Al Tosti spoke to the motion, but spoke more to the alternative resolution proposed by the Town Manager.  He reported that Finance Committee had endorsed the resolution.  He repeatedly noted that the debate should be about the resolution, not the GIC.  Town Manager Brian Sullivan explained that the recent progress towards negotiation moved him from the original home rule legislation, which if enacted would force the unions into the GIC.  Instead he was recommending the resolution, which only encouraged progress towards the GIC.  He gave a history of the town’s negotiations and explained how the plan would benefit the town employees.  He described outlined how the legislation would guarantee equal or better benefits for town employees, as determined by an independent actuary.  Ken Hughes, town meeting member and member of the Public Employee Committee spoke.  He proposed an amendment to strike out the deadline from the manager’s resolution, and remove the call for a future Special Town Meeting if a deal isn’t reached.  He urged that the meetings happen with no preconditions, negotiate in good faith. He said: “We’ll never walk away from the table.” Shawn Sullivan of Arlington’s firefighter’s union spoke and echoed the same points, saying, “We’ve never left the table.” Ron Colosi of the Arlington Education Association “echoed the statements.” The problem with this line of statements was that it was completely untrue. Really, I was surprised at the audacity of these statements.  Every town meeting member had received a copy of the letter signed by Ron Colosi, on AEA letterhead, where he wrote statements like “. . . to discuss potential health care options other than the GIC” (emphasis in orginal) and  “The AEA is currently not prepared to have any discussions regarding the GIC. . . ”  This is a union that refused to discuss the GIC, and is simultaneously claiming that it never left the table.  I’m glad we had the letter in hand, and we could appreciate the truth in the statements for ourselves. Selectmen voted 3-1 in favor of the resolution.  Selectman Diane Mahon voted against it. She said that the deadline is unfair and premature. She doesn’t think the deal can get done in June, July, August, and the three weeks in September, and advocated longer time. Chris Loreti complained that the Board of Selectmen did not report on this in a timely fashion. Harry McCabe is opposed because he does not think it is fair.  John Maher very eloquently made the point that the manager’s home rule petition, were it to ever go forward, would not decrease the coverage for employees – it only decreases the costs, as determined by a mutually chosen actuary. He rebutted the notion that this vote could be an unfair labor practice. Mike Healey doesn’t like the manager’s words because it implies that Town Meeting would do something in the future. His statement understated what the resolution was.  It’s an explicit deadline, with a threatened action if the deadline is not met.  There’s no “implied” there at all. Grant Cook noted there’s a deadline here whether we vote for it or not, because of the pending budget issues. A vote to terminate debate failed 94-66.  I gave a speech. I was fairly pleased with how my speech went.  My points weren’t new to the debate, but I think I ordered and emphasized them differently, and I think that the meeting appreciated the insight that provided. Gordon Jamieson talked about “Getting to Yes.” Janice Weber read a letter from a resident in Precinct 13.   Andrew Fischer supports the Huges amendment. There was a question about health insurance reimbursement accounts. Annie LaCourt supported the manager’s main motion.  She talked about her support of unions and why we had to get the deal done. Kevin Koch has never seen a unanimous vote of the unions, and suggested to leave the deadline in the motion in order to keep things moving along.   Judith Phelps notes that Arlington has been forbidden from, and has agreed not to, propose articles to town meeting that would diminish benefits without previous union agreement, and is opposed to the article.  I think her point is moot – the proposal would increase benefits, so there is no conflict with that past decision. Charlie Foskett moves to terminate debate, approved by voice vote. The Hughes amendment (to remove the deadline) fails on voice vote. The manager’s resolution was substituted by a vote of 126-37.  The resolution was then approved on voice vote.

The meeting was adjourned.  Al Tosti gave notice of reconsideration on articles 55-58.

Comments

Comment from Ken
Time: May 25, 2010, 7:17 am

I hope that was the last performance of the Madrigal Singers. With getting rid of the invocation each night we save time and we could have used the time last night that was preoccupied with the singers. If the moderator wants them to sing; start the show 10 minutes before 8:00 and finish it with the Star Spangled Banner.

Comment from Paul West
Time: May 25, 2010, 8:35 am

Dan, in your GIC piece, the Town Manager is BRIAN Sullivan, not David Sullivan.

Comment from Peter Fuller
Time: May 25, 2010, 8:43 am

Dan – small correction: in your Article 27 GIC narrative, the Town Manager is referred to as David Sullivan, should be Brian Sullivan. (I’m sure Mr. Sullivan has been called other names by union leadership!)

I much enjoyed hearing the Madrigal Singers’ performance, as I’ve enjoyed various choral groups from the schools at past Town Meetings. Much more of the Town Meeting’s time has been wasted over the years by long-winded announcements and committee reports than by these musical performances.

Comment from Joe Tully
Time: May 25, 2010, 8:57 am

Re: GIC (1) There was a lot of talk about the need to bring down healthcare costs, which no one disputes! Management and Labor were on the same page with 90% of the resolution. The only issue was whether to strike the language stating that if talks stalled, the BOS can call a special TM in Sept to move for home rule legislation to force the issue. However, **the BOS can already do this.** They don’t need TM approval (and given that this was a resolution, we weren’t really giving any approval anyway). With all the talk about good faith bargaining and trying to compromise, I thought it would have been a nice compromise if the town actually threw a bone to the unions and removed the language to which the unions objected. Substantively, it wouldn’t have affected anything, but it would have been a nice symbolic gesture. (2) I believe the letter from the AEA says that they don’t want to discuss GIC, but they are open to discussing other options, so I think one can reconcile the letter with their position that they never left the bargaining table.

Comment from Barbara C. Goodman
Time: May 25, 2010, 9:21 am

Dan,
I too am impressed with the work of the FinCOM on the Minuteman feasibility study. Al and members of the committee deserve a big thank you for their leadership on this.

I also though your speech on the GIC was well articulated, positive and to the point. I wish all TM members had your skill at being clear.

Again I have one issue re Union and GIC.. If the goal of the negotiations was for the unions to join the GIC, then your right, they walked away. However, if the goal was to look at options to reduce health insurance costs, then the union remained at the table.

Now, that there is a possibility of creating HRAs the GIC is back on the table.

Comment from dunster
Time: May 25, 2010, 9:38 am

@Ken I tend to agree with you. Still, this year was better than many previous because there was only one performance.

@Paul Thanks. I know Brian, of course, and I know his name. But the town manager of the town I grew up in is named David Sullivan, and at 2 in the morning, they may begin to blur together a little bit. . . .

@Joe – I think the town already threw the bone to the unions by agreeing to delay the home-rule vote. This negotiation is years old, and we’re out of time; I think a deadline, and a description of what will happen if the deadline is missed, is entirely appropriate. I’m really glad the town meeting gave such a clear message to the negotiators.

@Joe and @Barbara. The AEA refused to talk about the one viable option that changes the bottom line by millions, and did not have an alternative proposal. You can’t say that you’re “at the table” while you refuse to discuss the only viable proposal out there. Whatever – it’s water under the bridge at this point. I hope they get the job done, and they can call it “dancing on the table” for all I care.

@Barbara Thank you for your other kind words re: Minuteman and my speech.

Comment from Quantum Mechanic
Time: May 25, 2010, 10:19 am

@Ken — if I were to run the meeting, I would schedule the Singers’ appearances for 7:50pm and the session before a performance tell TMMs that the AMS would be performing at 7:50p. Then the AMS could do their usual mini-concerts and end at 8pm performing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and TM could start right on time.

Comment from Adam
Time: May 25, 2010, 11:49 am

It seems clear that the threat of home-rule legislation was what got the teachers’ union to come back to the table.

Eviscerating the resolution as the unions proposed would have reduced the chances for fruitful negotiations to zero.

I’m glad the vote was as decisive (126-37!) as it was–it left no doubt that Town Meeting will act if the negotiations fail.

Comment from Eric Helmuth
Time: May 25, 2010, 12:06 pm

Re: Madrigal singers, I’m new to TM this year so I don’t have the benefit of personal history, but I will say I’m glad we supported the youth in this way (even if the set was perhaps overlong by one song). The town needs all the constructive engagement opportunities for teens we can get.

Re: GIC. I agonized over whether including the Sept. 24 deadline would poison the process, but regretfully concluded that without it, nothing would change and we’d end up exactly in the same place as before. I cannot fathom trying to sell an override to taxpayers — many of whom would kill for GIC costs and coverage, given their own deteriorating healthcare options — without getting this done. The GIC isn’t perfect and isn’t immune to future problems, but the same is true, in spades, for every private sector health plan out there. We are all in the same boat, and Arlington voters know it.

None of wants the nuclear option (as Annie put it) and threatening it isn’t something done lightly. I deeply appreciate the unions’ endorsement of the substance of the resolution, and especially the respect with which all parties conducted themselves last night. Let’s hope this spirit continues and both sides can get it done.

Comment from Pcnct 11 Parent and TM mbr
Time: May 25, 2010, 1:09 pm

RE: TM session 8 GIC: 4 years that the town and the unions have been talking. Thank goodness we got something done with a bit of teeth. 10% yearly health care increases have been a “Proposition 10%” that we can no longer support. I think the employees won’t lose out under the new plan and we’ll avoid the dreaded ‘Cadillac Plan Tax’. By the way, I have a PPO plan via my for profit employer and it’s fine. As for the Madrigals, it was nice to hear them. Life’s not just about listening to Gordon Jameson ask questions!

Comment from Reed Taylor
Time: May 25, 2010, 2:33 pm

I am confused was Article 27 passed amended what? I think..no matter what others think…that the GIC plan is a disaster with higher deductibles higher co-pays so how can they change our health plan without working with the unions. I am in Florida so it is hard for me to know what is going on but whoever compiles this report does well.

Comment from Barbara Goodman
Time: May 25, 2010, 5:34 pm

I work in a town that has no intention of joining the GIC. Why? Because our benefits and co pays and costs for employees and for the town are better than the GIC’s. Why? A variety of reasons, one of which is that there are multiple towns in the plan. So like the GIC, it has more buying power that any one municipality and it allows for HRAs

Comment from East Atown Citizen
Time: May 25, 2010, 5:52 pm

One of the major complaints about the GIC, as I understand it, is that once a town joins it loses all control of benefits and rates. What is an equal benefit or even savings for members when a town joins could quickly be eradicated when the GIC changes its policy. I believe they had mid-year copay and premium increases this year, created a deductible that was NOT part of the plan when other towns signed on, and the increase was something around 15%.

Mr. Sullivan’s plan, while admirable that it does provide for an equal or better deal, does not take into account changes that could come the day after Arlington joins, leaving town employees in the lurch. His mention of savings accounts is only a one-year allowance by the plan design, and would very quickly be eaten up by anyone with more than one hospitalization or round of tests in a given calendar year.

Comment from Reed Taylor
Time: May 25, 2010, 7:59 pm

I am concerned as a retired employee that with a small pension the increases that are proposed will kill me all together. This might seem selfish on my part but when I left Arlington I made $31,000…the pay now I heard is $165,000./

Comment from angry
Time: May 26, 2010, 5:58 am

Let’s face it, this town has put itself in this perdiciment with it’s town treasuer’s safu, it’s school committee arogance and many other unworthy financial decisions and what our town officals do is turn to it’s loyal workers to pay for it’s mistakes and make them look like the bad guys.

Comment from angry
Time: May 26, 2010, 6:28 am

This town treats it’s loyal professionals like dirt. What if it’s loyal professionals decided to treat this town the same way. Let’s say the firemen just took a little longer to get to your house to put out your fire. Or the police responded just a little slower to the breakin at your house. Maybe the teachers refused to write college a recomendation for your child. Think about it! Maybe then this town will have some respect for it’s loyal employees.

Comment from Barbara C. Goodman
Time: May 26, 2010, 9:25 am

Issues surrounding health care costs are very complex. IMHO the only real solution is a revamping of the whole system. In the meantime, at the local level, we need to find a way of curtailing costs. This means negotiating with the unions.
What has upset me is that I believe , since the last round of negotiations, town officials have set a tone that is not conducive to a respectful dialogue with employees.
Venting frustration, anger and teacher bashing do not contribute to finding solutions.
I am pleased that the tone of Monday’s meeting was less adversarial and more collaborative.

Comment from dunster
Time: May 26, 2010, 9:28 am

@angry – I don’t think either of those comments is fair. It’s true that the town made some bad decision that have cost money, but even had they acted perfectly, we’d still be in trouble. Health insurance costs are huge, and growing.

I also disagree that we treat our employees like dirt. We’re working very hard to find a solution that works for the taxpayers and the employees.

@Reed I think that when you learn more about the GIC, it won’t be the disaster you think it is. There’s a lot of good things that offset the bad things, and it should leave you in a better place overall.

@East ATown – it’s true that going into the GIC we give up some control, both town and employees. However, the GIC has a much better track record of managing those risks than the town does. Keeping health insurance in town keeps control here, but it also keeps 9-11% growth rates and inevitable layoffs and reductions in town services.

Comment from Brian
Time: May 26, 2010, 2:32 pm

Dan how are Judy Phelp’s comments moot as you put it in regards to this issue???? Do you know for a fact that benefits will NOT be decreased. As I have heard deductables and copays will go up under the GIC. Also, if the town stipulates that all coverage be equal or greater how long does that last???? Who’s to say a $20 copay won’t be a $200 copay within a year???? The document Ms. Phelps read was a judgment against the town of Arlington. Do laws only last for a certain amount of years????? If that’s the case hell Rand Paul really has something!!!!!! All health insurance is terrific until one hets sick. I really think the social responsability is missing here. Every man woman and child for him or herself.

Comment from angry
Time: May 26, 2010, 6:51 pm

dunster, yes we probably would still be in trouble but certainly not as bad as we are now and to ask the town employees to bail the town out is asking to much. How about hitting up our businesses for some cash. As it is they pay the same tax rate as the residents. I’ll tell you why that doesn’t change and it’s not because we would loose businesses in town but because our town officials get kickbacks from the bigger businesses. Now if you don’t think that’s possible think again. As far as the GIC goes, it’s been in business since the 1950’s and every yea it’s run in the red and the state has had to bail it out but this year the state said no and that’s why all copays and out of pocket expences have gone up in the GIC and as far as I can see this state has no intention of bailing them out in the near future. So I can’t understand where you think the good things about the GIC far outweigh the bad.

Comment from Quantum Mechanic
Time: May 27, 2010, 11:10 am

Taxable non-residential property is something like 4% of the town’s assessed value. Good luck with getting any meaningful amount of money from that.

Comment from Quantum Mechanic
Time: May 27, 2010, 11:11 am

Oh, and I have little sympathy about “copays and out-of-pocket expenses going up.” Those of us who earn the money to pay the taxes that pay your salary and benefits have been dealing with that for years.

Comment from Vera J. Bernacchi
Time: May 27, 2010, 3:04 pm

Re: Comment from Ken

“With getting rid of the invocation each night we save time…”

Time saved from prayer is the worst example of saving time.