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Town Meeting ’11 – Session 6

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 MBTA Red Line totally failed tonight. I left work at 6:10 – plenty of time for me to get from Kendall Square to Town Hall before 8PM, right? Well, we left Kendall at about 6:20, got to Harvard at about 6:30. And then we sat for half an hour. And then we went a few hundred feet down the track. And then we sat for half an hour. And then we came BACK up the track to Harvard. At that point it was 7:40. I was riding with a colleague, and she called her husband, and he picked us up at Harvard and took me to Town Hall. Thank, Jared and Karen! And, MBTA – no, I will not be patient.  You totally failed, again.

I apologize to anyone who was upset that I was dressed in jeans with my jacket and tie. I had the luck to leave a change of clothes in the Selectmen’s office, but not dress pants.

I arrived with the continuing debate of Article 21.

Article 21 – Closing of Warrant, continued.

I understand that Al Tosti proposed an amendment that would close the warrant on the 3rd Friday in January rather than a week later. I heard a number of speakers in favor and against of having a warrant closing date specified in the bylaws. There were concerns about how long it takes to do hearings of the various committees. There were concerns that it didn’t need to be a bylaw. There were questions about when hearings could and couldn’t happen. There were questions about the process on the warrant hearing process. There were detailed questions about what dates might happen in certain years. Mr. O’Conor noted that his charge was to make Town Meeting more attractive. Unfortunately, I think the hour-plus debate about whether or not there is a firm date for the warrant to close is not an attractive debate at all. Irony, I guess. Brian Lavalle moved to terminate debate, and it was, by voice vote. I fundamentally agree with several of the roots of the issue. I think that the warrant should stay open reasonably late. I think that the Selectmen should be more forthcoming with drafts of the warrant (something that I’d like to change next year). I think that there is room to improve on the calendar of hearings. But, in the end, I’m unconvinced that a bylaw is the right way to make this happen. It’s the wrong tool for the job. I voted no. Tosti’s vote went down, 61-110. O’Conor’s motion was approved by voice vote.

Article 17 – Temporary Seasonal Signs on Athletic Fields, continued.

Michael Cayer of the Arlington Redevelopment Board spoke, and he proposed a new version of the vote that had been approved by the Redevelopment Board. He said that the language looks very different, but it does the same thing. It permits the schools to put up advertisements at Peirce Field. Stephen Harrington was the original proponent, and he supports it. There was a question about the content restrictions that were removed in the new draft. Mr. Cayer said it was because of legal restrictions. School Committee member Bill Hayner said the School Committee would be looking at content of signs. Chris Loreti is concerned about whether the Zoning Board of Appeals can grant a special permit that allows signs. He wants this change to be approved so as to make that ZBA decision to be rendered moot. There were concerns about where the money should go. There was an attempt to amend this to say Peirce Field, but that was rejected as being spot zoning and therefore not legal. There was a concern about First Amendment lawsuits. There were several questions about the Summer Street fields and if they would have signs (the answer was no). There were several questions about who was responsible for sign vandalism.

We had a 14 minute break.

We brought Article 60 up, out of order, because the Superintendant of Minuteman, Ed Bouquillon, was available and present. Article 17 (and others) were tabled to do so.

Article 60 – Minuteman High Budget.

Finance Committee member Stephen Decourcey reported Finance Committee’s support of the Minuteman budget and appropriation. He noted that the assessment per pupil is going down and enrollment is going up. Dr. Bouquillon reported on a number of enrollment and trends at Minuteman. He noted that 100% of 10th graders passed the English MCAS this year, among other things. He said that next year he anticipates a waiting list for non-member town students. That’s a big step – I’m very impressed that they’re ready to turn that corner. Dean Carmen stood and praised the budget and Dr. Bouquillon. Paul Schlictman also praised the new direction of Minuteman. He noted that the overall district governance was still worrisome because of inequitable representation on the Minuteman School Committee. Dr. Bouquillon shared the results of the enrollment study, and is looking to investigate a renovation that might come forward in 2014 or 2015.  Carl Wagner moved to terminate debate, terminated on voice vote. Passed unanimously.

The various just-tabled articles were taken from the table.

Article 17 – Temporary Seasonal Signs on Athletic Fields, continued, again.

There was a series of questions about what the signs might look like – it depends on the special permit process. Carl Wagner moved to terminate debate. Terminated by voice vote. We substituted the updated motion by voice vote. Carl Wagner is the “article executioner” of 2011! The as-substituted motion was approved 133-3.

Article 22 – Standing Vote Not Required for 2/3 Vote.

Jim O’Conor said that the Town Meeting Procedures Committee supported this. Moderator John Leone explained that currently the moderator can declare a unanimous or majority vote. When there’s a 2/3 vote, he can’t just declare a winner if it is contested. By passing this, when there is a lopsided vote, the moderator can simply declare it passed. It’s still easy to request a standing vote if the result is in doubt. He noted that 11 such lopsided votes had happened so far at town meeting. The change was approved by voice vote.

Article 24 – Bylaw Change. Public Records.

Chris Loreti proposed a resolution. He wants public records to be more available because they are owned by the public, not the town. Loreti went through his proposed resolution at length. Joe Tully agreed that public records requests are treated politically. Town Manager Sullivan said that the town takes public information requests very seriously. He said that Mr. Loreti had mischaracterized the public information requests. He said that Mr. Loreti had made a number of appeals to the state, and they had been denied. He said the town was following the law. Annie LaCourt asked that town meeting consider this article, but not as an attack on town employees, but as encouragement to create a more formal policy.  I think that this particular article is being driven by some ugly personal issues, and I think the town is harmed by the negative and combative elements of the debate.  That said, I think the text of the resolution itself is fine, and I’ll be voting for it.

Town Meeting adjourned for the night.


Comment from Chris Loreti
Time: May 12, 2011, 10:31 am


For the record, of the dozens of records requests I’ve made to the town over the years, I’ve appealed exactly two responses of the town. One last year and one this year. The latter was based on the withholding of documents and was denied. The former was based on excessive charges. Through the intervention of the Supervisor of Records, the cost estimate of the town was reduced from $1000-$1500 to $200. I accepted that amount and the appeal was closed. If the Town Manager wants to spin that as a denial, it is ok with me.

(After Town Meeting ended, another member approached me to tell me he had also appealed a response of the town to one of his requests, again based on excessive charges. And again the Supervisor of Records got the town to reduce the fee. Another denial?)

Can you explain what you mean by the ugly personal issues?
I find it unfortunate the way the Selectmen often use this tactic to try to stifle debate on issues.

And as for the combative elements of the debate. Are you referring to the Town Manager saying something like he had never heard anyone tell as many untruths as I did during my presentation to Town Meeting?

Thanks for your support on the resolution.

Comment from Susan Ruderman
Time: May 12, 2011, 4:49 pm

I agree with Chris. I think we need to look at a pattern of behavior by elected/appointed government officials trying to minimize potentially valid concerns on the part of citizens by claiming that a warrant article they don’t agree with is motivated by “personal” animosity. Most of the articles filed each year are “personal.” A dog knocks down someone’s mother and it becomes personal, yet we don’t belittle that person’s right to push for changes in fine schedules (even when that change is not going to stand up in court.) As evidence of this tactic, I point to the published commentary for the recommended vote on Article 25 (I know we are talking about 24 here but there is a connection.) The BOS wrote: “The Board recommends a vote of no action under this article due to concern that it is driven by displeasure of one of the proponents with a particular Town employee.” I think we need to take a hard look at exactly which party is making this “ugly.” I know what I have concluded.

Comment from Rich Carreiro
Time: May 13, 2011, 11:52 am

Exactly. That’s one of the reasons I quit TM. The obvious spin and misrepresentations (to be charitable) that often come from town boards and officials — and then them getting away with it over and over again, even when they get called on it — was just too frustrating.