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Town Meeting ’11 – Session 7

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.

Jane Howard led the meeting in the Star Spangled Banner.

Moderator John Leone announced that Representative Sean Garballey was seeking additional support for Hearing Awareness Day.

On Chair of the Board of Selectman Clarissa Rowe’s motion, we voted to reconvene on May 18th.


  • Peter Howard – On your seats is a resolution about PAYT to be considered in June.
  • John Maher – Symmes Trust. Thursday’s Advocate had notice for people seeking grants for health care.

The viewing gallery had a good-sized crowd. From the looks of it, and some of the signs I could read, it looks like mostly parents of Thompson students who are advocating for the Thompson rebuild. Many of them stuck around through the later votes.

Article 3 – Reports

On motion of Al Tosti, we took the article from the table.

  • Lawrence McKinney – Mr. McKinney gave a detailed report of the Uncle Sam Committee. They are looking to create an Uncle Sam Plaza. He led the meeting in a round of his song “But He Came From Arlington.”
  • Jane Howard – Mrs. Howard gave the report of the Vision 2020 Committee. Part of the report is in the water bodies article, and part is in our hands in the report on the annual survey. Mrs. Howard reviewed the survey results.
  • Stephen Gilligan – He gave a précis of the Report of the Treasurer to Town Meeting.
  • Sally Naish – She gave the report of the Arlington Tree Committee. She talked about planting trees and the budget challenges of the program.
  • Cindy Starks – As Chair of the School Committee, she started to read her report. The Moderator interrupted her and asked her to give highlights, not read the entire report. I understand and agree with the moderator’s position that reports shouldn’t be just read. In this case, though, what she was presenting was an overview of a much bigger report. If she’d had more references to the overall report, it would have perhaps been the right mix of reading and overview. It’s a tough line to walk, though. She noted the importance of approving the override on June 7th, and the cuts in school teachers and programs if the override is not approved. Mr. Caccavarro stood and complained that she was talking about the override. He said that it wasn’t the report of the school committee, but an override debate. I don’t know what Mr. Caccavarro is hoping for – you can’t talk about the budget without talking about the override. There are two budgets being considered. One budget is with an override, and one budget is without an override. You can’t stick your head in the sand and pretend there is no override being voted in three weeks.
  • John Cole – He reported on progress on the Highland Fire Station, the Central Fire Station, the Community Safety Building, and a bit about Thompson and Stratton. He commended Chief Bobby Jefferson and the School Department CFO Diane Johnson for saving the towns a lot of money in the construction process.

Article 3 was tabled.

We tabled the article in progress, and moved to:

Article 57 – Capital Plan.

Charlie Foskett gave the report of the Capital Planning Committee. He noted that this year’s capital spending is somewhat more conservative than past years. He reviewed the debt service that was being taken on. He talked about how the entire plan was kept under 5% of the budget. He mentioned the Green Schools plan and how it might save the town money. He announced the creation of a Maintenance Committee, separate from the Capital group. He noted the town has fewer copiers, and needs a new document management plan. There was a modification of the text that Wellington tennis court is being worked on, not the playground. There were questions about how grants are reported. The budget was passed, in all votes, unanimously by voice vote.

We moved to the Special Town Meeting

Article 4 – Capital Budget. Voted no action.

Article 5 – Thompson School.

Charlie Foskett asked for an hour to give the presentation, and he was given it by the meeting.  They only used half that, in the end.

We took a 10-minute break before the presentation started.

School Committee member Jeff Thielman started the presentation. He gave the report of the Thompson School Rebuilding Committee. He recounted the school rebuilding debt exclusion override votes of the late 90’s. Thompson and Stratton are the two remaining schools. Stratton has a repair plan; Thompson is slated to be rebuilt. Thompson was built in 1955 and most mechanical systems are failing. We expect 47.2% reimbursement from the state. Demolition would start this fall. The new school could open in fall of 2013. As a part of this plan, we’ll have to re-district. Thompson students will be accommodated at other elementary schools. The central kitchen will be at Thompson. He talked about various cost factors, prices, and ways to manage the building project.

Charlie Foskett gave a report on how the project will be paid for. He talked about the votes of the town and the state funding process. $6.7 million will come from the debt exclusion override approved in 2000. $8.5 million will come from the state. $3 million will come from the sale/lease of Parmenter and Crosby. There is an additional $2 million from smaller sources.

There was a question about salvage of the old building. There was a question about how to keep the project on track. Jane Biondi, the Thompson PTO president, spoke in favor of the project. She got a big round of applause. I agreed with her speech, and it was well delivered, but I don’t think that applause or booing is appropriate. If you’re watching at home, it’s not that I disagreed with Jane – I just think that Town Meeting suffers when there is cheering and booing. A couple parents spoke in favor. There were questions about food service during reconstruction. Mr. Maher moved the question. Debate was terminated. The motion was approved unanimously. There’s still work to be done, but this is the last big step – I think we’re getting a new school!

Special Town Meeting was dissolved.

We took the articles off the table.

Article 24. Public Records Law, continued.

Jill Snyder said that she’s a records manager. She noted the importance of records management. Chris Loreti spoke again. He rose to contradict some of the statements made last week. Among other things, he said that the $1.5 million school budget error of last year was brought to light by a public records request. This is incorrect. The issue was found by the town auditor. The auditor is the one that figured out that the school department was paying FY10 salaries with FY11 money. Saying that the error was discovered by an information request is like saying the Red Sox score was discovered by the Boston Globe. A couple of speakers were against the resolution on the basis that the changes would be too time consuming or expensive. Eric Berger described several times where requests for information took longer than 10 days. Chief Technology Officer David Good spoke. He said that he was a public servant, and he served the public. When he gets an information request he must protect the rights of the people in the records he holds as well as serve the public. The requests he gets often include names, and those names are linked to retirement and health records that are private by right of the individual.  He, or someone else, has to read each of these messages to make sure there isn’t an inappropriate release of information. He noted that when Chris Loreti made his records request, he still had 24 months of email data to convert to the new system. He offered to provide the information after the conversion, but Loreti wouldn’t wait. Loreti appealed to the state. Good said that the state did not set the new $200 price, but that he did – it just took time to convert the data. I think that David Good’s statement was excellent, and very valuable to the debate. I hope that it helps change the tone of the debate. If this article is about “us versus them,” about the town hiding things from residents, then we’ve all messed up. As has been said before, there is no “us and them” – there is only us, the town, its employees, its volunteers. We’re all working to make the town a better place.  Good put a lot of the previous statements from many speakers in perspective.

The debate didn’t change my mind. I’m going to vote in favor of the resolution, as it is written. But I’m not voting for it because there’s something that was done wrong in the past. I simply agree that public access to records is a good thing. The other story lines in this debate are just unnecessary and unpleasant distractions.

Meeting was adjourned for another night.


Comment from Eric Berger
Time: May 17, 2011, 3:48 am


I disagree with your observation that “The other story lines in this debate are just unnecessary and unpleasant distractions”. I’m assuming you would put in that category my remarks about how I waited 19 days on two occassions for documents that I should have received in no more than 10 days. I also assume you would pu inthat same category my remark that I waited for 30 days after I sent in my check for the documents I requested and still had not received them.

I made those remarks to indicate there is a problem and all the more reason to support aryicle 24. I didn’t offer them to get anybody. However, when there’s a problem, I believe it’s the responsibility of citizens to discuss them and to provide evidence of such a problem in case some folks think all is fine and no solution is needed.

It may be unpleasant to hear about a problem, but I don’t think such discussion its unnecessary or disloyal to the Town. I offered it in the spirit of improving our town, consistent with your interest in making things better.

This may be hard for you to believe, but that’s my motive in my concern about the removal of the two travel lanes on Mass. Ave. I don’t think that will be good for our town. I respect your right to disagree with me, but my motive is for what’s best….nothing more or less.

I’m glad you support Article 24 and thank you for providing this opportunity for feedback.

Eric Berger

Comment from John Kohl
Time: May 17, 2011, 6:26 am

Nope, wasn’t me speaking about capital planning, I think it was my name-double John Cole.

Comment from Chris Loreti
Time: May 17, 2011, 9:31 am


I think you missed my point about the $1.5 million error–or perhaps I wasn’t clear. It was not a matter of who discovered the error first, but how it was first made public. I doubt that it was the auditor who broke the story to the press. Mr. Harrington tells me it was his revelations to the press–following a public records request–that made it public. But if it was the auditor or a town official who informed the public first, I am happy to be corrected.

Mr. Good did make some good statements, but didn’t tell the whole story of my experience. The written response I received to my request stated the cost would be $1000-$1500, based on an hourly rate of $100/hr. It said nothing about any lower fee. If it said the cost would be $200 if I were willing to wait 2-3 months, I wouldn’t have appealed.

I subsequently learned through one or two telephone conversations with Mr. Good last November that the cost would have been lower if the town had switched to a new archiving system and applied it retroactively. But there was no mention of reducing the $100/hr consultant rate. I then appealed to the state based on the fact that I was being asked to pay for a something the town should have been doing anyway (keeping searchable archives), and that it was already planning to do, that it was using an excessive labor rate.

It was only after I appealed that I received a revised, written cost estimate from the town, which had been accepted by the state Supervisor of Records. I am grateful to the state for its efforts and to the town for its.

Eric Berger is right of course, denying that problems exist, trying to keep them hidden, or avoiding discussion of them really doesn’t help the town.

Dan, thanks again for your support on the resolution.

Comment from Annie LaCourt
Time: May 17, 2011, 11:08 am

Nonsense Chris! The audit is a public document, we post on the website each year and the town manager was totally mystified by your statement that a public records request had even been made! No doubt there are issues that come to light because of such requests. No doubt that this is an important issue and we need to meet the spirit as well as the letter of the law regarding the accessibility of public records. But if your argument for such is a good one why exaggerate or pass on an outright untruth to make your point? The facts speak for themselves and don’t need embellishment. In this case the embellishment serves only to undermine public confidence in the audit process which is actually working very well given that it identified the deficit issue and resulted in an examination of a whole process that needed reform. Behaving responsibly means considering the consequences of your actions and ensuring that you only hit your intended target. Did you mean to whack the audit process? You are very good at saying you are holding others accountable. Your own sense of humility and your own accountability for your actions are, IMHO, sorely lacking.

Comment from Greg
Time: May 17, 2011, 11:36 am

A great day for the Thompson community and a great day for Arlington. The years of leg work paid off with a unanimous vote, and I was also surprised to learn that the $6 million or so in debt would cost about $30/household/anum over the life of the bond. Maybe we should have built the early childhood center with an eye towards creating a source of revenue – a program for children on the autisitic spectrum that surrounding towns would use for their autistic children.

On another note, I tended to agree with Mr. Caccavarro’s objection of the scope and focus of Ms. Starks’ comments- even though I agree with her. However, his objection – a legitimate one to raise – was undermined by his tone and anger. I don’t mean to single him out, but debate has suffered greatly from people’s angry, distrustful, and at times, disrespectful manner of presenting their ideas. I hope we can do better as a body.

Comment from Brendan O’Day
Time: May 17, 2011, 1:19 pm

I will be voting against this article. I do agree that public access to public records is a good thing. I believe this article is unnecessary, and even if passed, unhelpful. I trust Mr. Good and what he said makes a lot of sense.

Comment from Mark Kaepplein
Time: May 17, 2011, 1:22 pm

Dan, the Town perpetuates an “us and them” with constant editorializing. A report on last year’s school committee discussing an upcoming vote is an example. Another is on the town’s web page for the override:”With the Town facing significant reductions in Town and School services…”. That phrase again went out in a town email blast on registering today. Another is the town’s Mass Ave page with: “The transformation of Mass. Ave. from a transportation corridor to one of Arlington’s great pedestrian-friendly streets is underway.” Well, US highway 3, Mass highway 2A, Mass Ave. are transportation corridors that unites Arlington and links Arlington, Cambridge, Lexington, and Winchester. Fed highway funds are being used to make our corridor a better walkway to traverse towns, according to the statement? I’ve been made a “them”.

I suggest the town clean up its public web information and announcements to less agitate the “them”. Provide information factually and neutrally. If there are opinions, report who has them, ie “Selectmen, 4-1, support …” or “The school committee…” Arlington can set an example, because other government web sites are often much worse, with links to lobbying groups like as just one example.

Comment from Rich Carreiro
Time: May 17, 2011, 7:48 pm

@Mark — Hear! Hear!

@Greg — one reason for the “angry” and “distrustful” is the precise point that Mark brings up.