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Town Meeting ’11 – Session 4

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.

The meeting was called to order at 8:05.

Charles Gallagher played the piano and led the meeting in the national anthem.

Moderator John Leone announced that Town Meeting sessions are now available for viewing “on-demand” at

Two new members of Town Meeting were sworn in.

If the meeting does not finish tonight, we’ll return on Monday May 9.


  • Jane Howard introduced Ryan Katofsky Sustainable Arlington. He announced the Home Energy Check campaign. It is free energy checks for homes in Arlington. Learn more and sign up:
  • Diane Mahon – May 14th is Postal Carrier Food Drive.

Article 3 – Reports. Taken from the table

Barbara Cutler gave the report of the Commission on Disabilities. She reported on progress of the commission and support from other parts of the town. Among other things she complained that the Disability Commission’s warrant articles were not printed as originally submitted. The moderator told her to take that issue up with the Selectmen. The text of the warrant article was modified because it wasn’t in a legal or proper format. She didn’t like the new language, but it had the same legal effect as her language – that’s why it was changed. This was explained to her at the time. Her report ran long. It’s the first time we’ve seen the new timer technology hit 10 minutes. Good to get a live demo, I guess.

Article 38 and 39, Crosby and Parmenter. The articles were postponed – concerns about the deeds that need to be resolved.

Article 51. Consolidated Town and School Finance.

The article was taken up out of order. Clarissa Rowe introduced Alan Jones, who gave the presentation in support of Article 51. He explained that the article called for research for future decisions. He advocated for merging the finance function of the town into one office. He noted that the merger wouldn’t actually happen without future votes of Town Meeting, the School Committee, the Selectmen, and a town ballot. Treasurer Stephen Gilligan spoke next and said the proponents were “long on rhetoric and short on fact.” I found this statement ironic given that in his speech he accused the board of selectmen to be engaged in a “power grab” and used other loaded words like “disguise.”  Watch the replay on TV and decide for yourself who is long on rhetoric. Maria Romano spoke against the article and in favor of protecting democracy and respecting people. She questioned the truthfulness of the proponents. Maria’s facts were bad – she said that the vote changes government and the Town Manager Act, when it clearly does not. The article advocates for change, and it might lead there with future votes, but there is no actual change with the vote. School Committee member Bill Hayner is opposed. He’s concerned about budget authority for school committee. Mr. Healey was next, and he is also opposed. He introduced former treasurer John Bilafer. Mr. Bilafer said that the tension between the selectmen and treasurer is healthy separation of powers, and opposed the article. Mr. Bilafer’s words were a welcome relief after several of the previous speakers in opposition. Mr. Bilafer made his case without insinuating malicious intent or otherwise attacking the character of anyone in town. He simply made his case.  Reasonable people can disagree on Article 51, and he’s proof of that.  It doesn’t have to devolve to accusations about motive or character. Annie LaCourt supported the change. She described the ways it will make the town more efficient in how it uses resources. Ed Trembley opposed. Tom Fitzgerald is opposed – this won’t fix the school committee, he argued. Ted Paluso said that the town’s biggest problem is its divisiveness. Selectman Diane Mahon spoke. I’m fairly confused about what Diane said, and can’t quote it accurately. There was a point of order asking if the report of the board of selectmen was correctly printed. The answer was that it was. Andrew Fischer gave a statement. He was opposed to the article. He said some things that were entirely untrue about the Mass Ave Corridor project – he claimed that a professional speaker said we’d all be riding bicycles in 2030 – and no such thing was said.

We took a 10 minute break at 9:30.

Lawrence McKinney was opposed. Jenifer Watson said that we are giving up democracy if we support this. Paul Schlichtman is in favor. He wants to see the report that will result. He knows that the school committee will be able to retain the power it needs. Al Tosti says to look at the words of the article. He answered his own question: who owns the town finances? No one. It belongs to a half-dozen different departments. It needs to be more organized. He noted many towns that are nearby that have appointed treasurers and assessors. He talked about the difference between electing full-time employees versus part-time employees. John Maher spoke in favor, and made an amendment. He suggested that the part of the article that indicated “support” be removed, but the part that asked for future information and articles remain. Several people jumped up and objected that the amendment wasn’t prepared in writing, and the moderator agreed, and ruled it out of order.

I spoke. I came up right after the amendment. I ad-libbed a statement which regular readers of my blog will recognize. I said that I strongly agreed with the moderator that large, confusing amendments and substitute motions should be delivered in advance. However, I said, Town Meeting is a place for debate and legislation. Legislation means amendments and modification. We need to be able to make amendments. If the moderator’s policy is taken to the extreme, then town meeting is nothing more than a series of up or down votes. There needs to be room for debate and room to improve articles from the floor of town meeting.

I then went on to talk about the article. I noted that some scary words had been used, like “power grab” and “disguise” and “giving up on democracy.” I invited everyone to open their booklet and read the words in the actual article. The actual words we’re voting on are “indicates its support,” “research the implementation,” “gathering input,” and future “warrant articles.” They’re much more benign than has been suggested. I said that payroll, benefits, invoices, etc. are all the same, no matter what department you’re in. We should have one department manage the money. We should take the next step and learn more.

Elsie Fiorie is opposed. Tommy Caccavaro is opposed – he thinks it’s removing his rights. He said that the point of this article is to remove Steve Gilligan. Welte read the original warrant article text from January aloud. I don’t see how that’s relevant – we don’t vote the original text. He suggested that this article gives up Town Meeting rights. Mr. Sandrelli spoke. He said it’s a step toward dictatorship and royalty. Michael Ruderman was curious what the FinCom members opposed to this thought. Charlie Foskett answered that he was opposed at the time, but had changed his mind. Eric Berger was opposed. He demanded to know what will be voted on next year. Brian Rehrig said that we’re having an uninformed debate about whether or not to have an informed debate. He noted several speakers were concerned that the town meeting was being asked to endorse something without enough information, but Mr. Maher’s motion would solve that. We should approve this article, collect information, and then have the debate, next year, with more information. Charlie Foskett supported the change because it’s going to save money. He asked the Town Manager if money would be saved by a financial consolidation. The manager reported that it would save 3-4 positions. Hugh McCrory moved that we adjourn. I was not in favor of adjourning – we’ve been sitting here listening to the debate, we should be the ones that vote. Dean Carman spoke in favor. He agreed that the financial department is a support organization, not a policy organization. He said we don’t have a town side, or a school side, or a treasurer’s side, or an assessors’ side. We have a Town of Arlington. I could not have said it better myself. He closed by reminding everyone again that this vote is not a binding vote – Town Meeting gets to decide next year. Stephen Gilligan says that several things were said about him were insulting and he wanted to respond. He was ruled out of order. Mike Cayer voted to terminate debate. 103-65, the motion to terminate debate failed (it requires 2/3). Leo Doherty spoke against. Martha Scott doesn’t think that she knows enough about the article, so she’s voting no. We voted to adjourn.

The moderator announced that he was ruling Mr. Maher’s restated amendment to be in order. That means that on Monday (after we open the Special Town Meeting) we’ll get to vote on the amendment and the main motion.  I’m obviously delighted that the moderator ruled this amendment in order.  I note that it really makes my case about permitting amendments.  If we don’t permit amendments, we’re going to be throwing out a lot of babies and a lot of bathwater.  Amendments from the floor, within reason, permit much better outcomes.

I’m disappointed that we didn’t vote tonight. We all heard 3 hours of debate, and I’d like that set of people to vote. Then again, maybe this debate needs a few days of cooling emotions and clearing heads. See everyone on Monday!


Comment from Barbara C. Goodman
Time: May 5, 2011, 8:02 am

Dan, I am glad that I voted for you. I continue to be impressed with the intellectual and interpersonal skills you bring to dealing with complex issues and difficult situations. bg

Comment from Len
Time: May 5, 2011, 10:07 am

Hi Dan,
I think the problem with this article was the words Alan chose to use on his petition – that the town implement a consolidated finance department. Since this consolidation is much more complex than the IT and HR ones, it was clear that we would first need to prepare a detailed plan on how it would be done, and that is what the Selectmen’s propose vote does – “research the implementation of” and “present warrant articles to implement”. But I agree with the speakers that in conjuction with researching how it might be done, we do need some more research on why it should be done. I don’t think we have enough information to decide that is should be done, other than speculation that it might save some positions, might improve some things, etc. I suspect a simple vote to study the idea might be out of order given Alan’s unfortunate wording, but I’m disappointed that those that came up with the supposed compromise vote didn’t sense that it would be so overwhelming defeated by Town Meeting (as it seems headed), thereby barring any more movement in this area for years.

Comment from Steve Cella
Time: May 5, 2011, 2:02 pm


I agree with Len. The problem is that the intent of the article and what the article actually says are two different things.

The intent may be benign.. that we are just asking the town manager to look into consolidation and that as a meeting we support his efforts to do so and how that may be accomplished. That we are not actually voting on making any changes and that next year when there is plan if we do not like it we can vote it down.

However what the article actually says is much different. The article asks the meeting to support consolidation and then it is charges the town manager to come up with a way or alternatives to implement the consolidation.

These are two different things!!

Also some of the animosity and words like “power grab” are coming from the fact that there is no plan yet, so we really do not know what we are talking about or what the vision is for the consolidation.

Add in some recent events and in the absence of any plan or vision for what this would look like people are filling in the blanks.

Again on the one hand it may be benign … as Mr. Carman noted it could look like the hospital example he gave where we do not change/get rid the town Treasurer/ town Clerk but just consolidate some of their functions or on the other hand it may ask us to do just what the opponents are suggesting and change those positions from elected to appointed.

The point is for Mr. Carman and those on the finance committee who do this for a living it may all be benign and since they have been discussing this for a while they may have a better idea of what the vision or what consolidation could actually look like but for the rest of us we really do not know what this could look like and without any report or idea most of us cannot support the article as it was written.

If the article had been written to actually say what the intent was then I think more people could support looking into consolidation and what it would mean for the town, I probably would have.

Which leads to another point. I would disagree with Mr Tosti that because of the time that may be involved in researching consolidation town meeting needs to make a motion to support the effort.

Maybe I misunderstand the charge of the committee but don’t we already have a govt reorganization committee which already made several proposals to consolidate HR for example. The consolidation of the finance functions is much bigger undertaking but still I think we already gave our support to at least looking into this. Even if I am wrong here, any number of other committees including the town manager/board of selectman could have looked at this issue at least in a preliminary way.

Personally I would have liked to have known more about the issues that have prompted this. I am aware of a few but I would have liked to have had more detail. A preliminary report which at least described what some of those specific issues are, what the scope of consolidation may be and maybe some primarily alternatives for solving those issue which would then be further looked into would have been helpful rather than just saying people don’t talk or different departments use different types software etc.

Doing so or at least having a better worded article to further study this would have saved us all time and could have avoided the use of animosity and terms like “power grab” but unfortunately that was not done etc..

Comment from Alan Jones
Time: May 5, 2011, 10:25 pm

I’ll be happy to discuss this one on one with anyone, but don’t want to violate open meeting laws by deliberating on this blog.

Comment from Sharon
Time: May 6, 2011, 8:20 am

Interesting reading the comments and the last one in particular, which touches on the point I was wondering about. Why would TM need to vote on a study? Is there an appropriation for the study that needs to be voted as well? Wouldn’t it be within the reasonable bounds of a Town Manager’s responsibilities to be researching and proposing efficiencies in town governance? Why wouldn’t the results of those investigations form the basis of a proposal brought to Town Meeting? None of those are rhetorical questions. It certainly sounds as if it’s an unnecessary vote at this moment. I’d really hate to think that Arlington needs to wait for Town Meeting to tell it to research savings and efficiencies and develop proposals when it finds some it believes should be implemented.

Comment from Clarissa
Time: May 6, 2011, 3:12 pm

The reason that the Board of Selectmen put it on the Ballot was to give Town Meeting a chance to debate, and they have done that. This is a measure that the board could certainly has done ourselves but we wanted feedback from a wider audience. There is no money involved in this study. This warrant is one in a series of warrant articles about how we can do things differently, and more efficiently,in the future. This is a follow up to the effort to consolidate the information technology (IT) department, and this year the consolidation of the human resources department, and also the finance departments. In all cases, the policy matters still stay with their current deciders.

Comment from Eric Helmuth
Time: May 6, 2011, 6:27 pm

@ Steve – The Gov’t reorganization committee reported at a prior meeting that they specifically decided to exclude from consideration any reorganization that might involve changing elected positions to appointed.

Comment from Ken Domino
Time: May 7, 2011, 7:17 pm

It seems there was a lot of confusion over Article 51. I think this confusion arose because there are two versions of Article 51.

One version of the article was printed in the Warrant that was mailed out to all residents, and which is available online ( It says:

“ARTICLE 51 VOTE/IMPLEMENTATION OF CONSOLIDATED TOWN-SCHOOL FINANCE DEPARTMENT. To see if the Town will vote to request the Town Manager to work with the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee to take all necessary measures for the implementation of a consolidated Town-School Finance Department; or take any action related thereto.”

A second version, published in the “Blue Book” handed out to Town Meeting Members (TMM), says:

“VOTE/IMPLEMENTATION OF CONSOLIDATED TOWN-SCHOOL FINANCE DEPARTMENT. VOTED: That Town Meeting hereby indicates its support for a consolidated Town-School Finance Department and requests the Town Manager to research the implementation of such a department, including gathering input from the Board of Selectmen, School Committee, Superintendent, the Finance Committee and other appointed and elected officials with responsibilities related to financial management and to present the 2012 Annual Town Meeting with one or more warrant articles to implement such a department.”

It’s pretty clear the former version proposes to do the consolidation, while the latter version proposes to do a study. Those are pretty different proposals. Romano’s comments and the Thrope et al. letter of opposition are understandable if you assume they are referring to the former version of the article, not the latter.

It makes sense to present the idea to the Town, and propose to do a study. I could imagine how frustrating it would be to spend a lot of time working out the details of the consolidation only to find that most of the Town wouldn’t be receptive to the idea.

I think the Article could have been better presented. First, only one version should have been published, the latter version, which proposes to do a study. Second, the text of the Article could have been better crafted, explaining the details of the consolidation. A major point of the consolidation is the replacement of the elected official with an appointed official, but I didn’t understand this until Jones’ presentation. This seems to be a significant oversight, and which should have been in the text of the Article, or in the explanation following the Article in the Blue Book.

Hard to say if it’ll pass (and I wish it would), but probably not critical: the Town Manager could still do the study and present detail changes at next year’s TM.


Comment from Grant Cook
Time: May 10, 2011, 11:15 pm

If we want to do a study great. My concern is that the results of the study are pretty predictable, and very unlikely to pass. Town personnel, in speaking, have already indicated a likely preference, so this isn’t a clean sheet type of thing…