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Town Meeting ’11 – Session 8

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.

Town Meeting member Charlie Gallagher played the national anthem on the piano.

We voted to come back on Monday. Moderator John Leone noted that we might finish tonight, and then recess until after the override. Alas, it was not meant to be.


  • Al Tosti stood up and made a correction the report of the Finance Committee. On page B7, the All Public Works section, the sub-total sections were corrected. The actual total is $7,195,729, an increase of 77,375, or 1.08%.
  • Ann LeRoyer. Open Space committee. She noted the display in the front hall and remarked on existing and potential open spaces in town. She talked about possible enhancements of Mill Brook.
  • Roland Chaput. Friends of Robbins Farm Park are doing a fundraiser to replace the slides.

Article 3 – Reports

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

Angela Olszewski. She gave the report of the Tourism and Economic Development Committee.

Article 3 was then tabled.

Article 24. Public Records Law, continued, again.

Clarissa Rowe was next. She moved to terminate debate, done on voice vote. Loreti’s resolution was substituted 81-76. The motion, as substituted, was approved 83-79.

Article 38. Parmenter School.

Brian Sullivan explained the article. The Parmenter and Crosby are no longer needed by the town. The town needs the money from these properties to fund the Thompson School. Parmenter is 85 years old. There is a lot of deferred maintenance. He is concerned that the buildings distract the town from its core mission. Clarissa Rowe moved the substitute motion – very similar to the original, but with more limitations on the sale. Patricia Worden gave speech against the sale, accusing “the administration” of “smoke-and-mirror arguments,” “imaginary facts,” “dubious maneuvers,” and “bait and switch,” and “greed.” Mrs. Worden’s rhetoric was over the top and did a disservice to Town Meeting. There is no need to be insulting while making your point. A speaker was concerned that we should hold on to property in case we need it in the future. John Worden was concerned that if sold, the properties might be later re-sold inappropriately. He moved an amendment with further deed restrictions. Chris Loreti asked if the selectmen currently have the power to enter a long term lease. The answer was ambiguous. He asked if we can we use the full $34M or the 2000 debt exclusion. Charlie Foskett answered legally yes, but not within the agreement to the voters. There was concern if the potential sale is legal because of zoning. There was concern that we hadn’t looked enough at other options. There was concern that this might be converted to a charter school and cost the town money. Charlie Foskett talked about the depreciation of the schools, and how we should convert one town asset (Parmenter and Crosby) into another asset (rebuilt Thompson).

We had a 10 minute break.

Several speakers were in favor of the plan; they argued that it was smart use of town assets and the best available option for the town. There was a speaker opposed to Mr. Worden’s amendment because it is anti-affordable housing. Gwen Hooper gave the history of the Arlington Children’s Center. I thought the history was fascinating – it was fact-filled, but also gave a great feeling for the texture of the times and places. It was a beautiful oral history. Town Meeting sometimes provides unexpected, delightful gems – Mrs. Hooper’s speech was such a delight. Annie LaCourt argued against the amendment because it reduced flexibility. She asked Town Meeting to permit the negotiations to go forward. Mr. Ruderman thinks we’re holding Thompson hostage. Mr. Ruderman was the second speaker that suggested this, and I just can’t figure it out. If I understand the argument, the selectmen are trying to force something through by linking it to something popular, like Thompson rebuild. The thing I don’t understand is, in that scenario, why are we doing it? What do we have to gain? What is our ulterior motive? I just can’t imagine what it would be. I spoke. I said that the value of the property is both monetary and non-monetary in the way the tenants give back to the town. I said to vote for the motion so that we had the opportunity to maximize the value of the asset. There were further speakers in favor and against. Leo Doherty moved the question. There were a series of questions about the order of the votes. The Moderator chose to vote on the substitute motion first. He chose to vote on the amendment to the substitute motion after the substitute had been made. That was just backward. We should amend the proposed substitute first, and then, having perfected it, we would then substitute for the main motion. The moderator was asking to substitute first and then perfect. He got testy when people argued with him. The substitution failed by voice vote. The amendment was therefore irrelevant. And you have to ask yourself – would the substitution been made if it had been amended? We’ll never know. The main motion then failed by voice vote.

Article 39. Crosby school.

Clarissa Rowe asked that this be considered differently than Parmenter. In this case, there is interest in purchasing by the current tenant.

We adjourned.


Comment from Ed Lovelace
Time: May 19, 2011, 7:38 am

The town moderator definitely got irrational at the vote on 38. Not sure what the town meeting’s recourse is when he refuses to take any point of order. Regardless, it seemed obvious to me that the most likely scenario the selectmen and fincom were expecting was to get this vote so they could use the threat of a sale to get a better deal out of long term tenants. Didnt seem like anyone really wanted or even expected a sale to be the best outcome but they just needed that negotiating freedom. Unfortunately that’s not something they can just come out and say otherwise they won’t get any serious sale bids and therefore no good lease results. Thx Ed

Comment from Adam
Time: May 19, 2011, 9:41 am

One of the basic mechanical principles of parliamentary procedure is that there is a clearly defined hierarchy of motions, and pending motions are voted on in order of rank.

Last night Mr. Worden’s proposed amendments to the Selectmen’s substitute motion were of greater precedence and should have gone first. The reason for this is precisely to avoid the sort of conundrum you note–how would the vote have gone had the meeting known what they were actually voting on?

The Moderator has a tough job and he gets better at it every year. Nonetheless he made a bad call. In this case I suspect the final outcome would have been the same, but another context an error like this could have exposed the Town to a lawsuit.

Ms. Hooper’s wonderful presentation was the high point of the night for me.

Comment from Peter Fuller
Time: May 19, 2011, 9:44 am

My 2 1/2 cents: the moderator could have easily avoided the confusion and disorder over voting on 38. When Ms. Rowe made her substitute motion the moderator should have asked “Is this a motion voted by the Board of Selectmen?” and “Do the Selectmen withdraw their original motion?” Thus prompted, her affirmative answers would have removed all the resulting hubbub over voting to substitute and over the sequence of votes, as the substitute motion would then have been the only matter under consideration. Clean & easy to understand: vote on the Worden amendment, then on the motion.

It didn’t help that the moderator lost his cool. It didn’t help that the meeting got emotional. We make better decisions when we’re cool and rational.

Comment from Sue Doctrow
Time: May 19, 2011, 9:50 am

The confusion over the Art 38 vote seemed to come about mostly because Ms. Rowe had not withdrawn the main motion, so I’m glad she did so for Art 39. Still, I do not feel that voting in Mr. Worden’s amendment first would have helped this to pass. I think that the technical changes that amendment would have made would not have addressed the broader concerns that were already in the room, and seemed to grow during the debate. There was such a strong feeling against enabling the building to be sold in this real estate market, under (perceived by some) “duress”, for what could very well end up being a low price. Ms. Hooper’s history of the ACC (which I agree was fascinating), and some others’ descriptions of the organization, were compelling. I personally felt an increasing concern that the ACC not be jeopardized by what might end up being a short-sighted sale, despite sincere intentions to keep ACC there. I was also impressed by comments that, if commercial real estate is so risky, why do so many investors successfully own such property? It seems to me that if, as stated, the town lacks expertise in commercial real estate, it would be well worth having a professional consultant or agent negotiate the long-term lease, if not manage the property going forward. If that agent can get a better deal for the town, one that is also feasible for ACC, then his or her compensation would be justified. Even if the ACC has had such a great rental deal over all these years (one they’d have little to no chance of getting elsewhere), if they really want to keep their business in operation at a site that Ms. Hooper said they love, they will have no choice but to be open to a long-term lease under more conventional terms. I think this is true regardless of whether there is some imminent “threat of a sale” hanging over their heads. I believe (is this true?) that TM can vote again on this sale at any time, so it can be put back on the Warrant in the near future if it’s looking as though the long term lease negotiations are going badly.

Comment from Daniel P.
Time: May 19, 2011, 9:53 am

Town meeting has now spoken twice in two years that the prefered use of the Parmenter property is for a long-term lease.

Can we now please get on with the business of negotiating this lease with a full accounting of actual costs associated with the ownership and operation of the facility.

Seems to me the issue of long-term capital costs have been described in wildly different terms as well as the triple net lease.

To those who really want to dispose of this property, may I point out two things:

1) Based on the last three major real estate transactions (two schools and Symnes) the Town has an abismal record in making any money at all in their purchase and sale of real estate. Do we really need another example to convive us that collectively the Town is not in the business of buying and selling real estate ?

2) The Town owns a finite number of properties and we’re not going to aquire any more any time soon (see Symms example) Selling a property that yields a profit for the Town is just a bad idea. Thank you to Town Meeting for understanding a sale is forever and you better be real sure it’s the best and last option.

Hopefully next week the vote will be the same for Crosby for the same reasons.

My appologies for piling on. Thanks for the quick turn around on the notes.

Comment from Susan Ruderman
Time: May 19, 2011, 10:12 am

Dan, you say, “If I understand the argument, the selectmen are trying to force something through by linking it to something popular, like Thompson rebuild. The thing I don’t understand is, in that scenario, why are we doing it? What do we have to gain? What is our ulterior motive? I just can’t imagine what it would be.”
You don’t have to have an ulterior motive to be wrong about something. And selling the Parmenter–at this time and for this reason–would be Just.Plain.Wrong. Good for Town Meeting for seeing that and voting it down.

Comment from sharon
Time: May 19, 2011, 11:53 pm

I’m sorry the Town isn’t putting the Parmenter on the market at the ridiculously low-ball figure that was being bandied about over the winter. My husband and I were fully intending to buy the building so we could fund our retirement on the profits we would have made in redevelopment. Oh well, there is some comfort in knowing that Town Meeting could not be sold that particular bridge. Still, it would have been nice to kick back!