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 acmi.tv.
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: www.homeenergycheck.org
- 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!