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Town Meeting ’12, Session 3

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 accompanied by the meeting in song.

Moderator John Leone announced that Precinct 12 needs to hold its organizational meeting.

The moderator talked again about the new oath of office for town meeting members. He said that the oath is aimed at changing the tone and tenor of town meeting, and last week’s meeting was an example of what needs to be changed.  He noted that the ARB and other officials were accused of various shortcomings and self-serving behavior. He would appreciate it if we kept that sort of tone out of the meeting.  I completely support the moderator’s efforts in this area.  Last week, I made similar comments myself that I thought the tone was inappropriate.  I received quite a bit of feedback on my comments, some supportive, and some who thought I should keep my mouth shut on the topic.  I had thought pretty carefully before I made my comments, and I then contemplated the feedback I received at length this weekend.  I still stand by my comments.  Town Meeting is a superb institution, and it helps keep Arlington great.  I think that personal attacks and a lowering of the quality of debate erode the strength of Town meeting.  I believe that discouraging the personal attacks serves to strengthen the meeting, and I will continue to try to do so.  I respect the many differing opinions that we have, and I support everyone who seeks to express their opinion.  I simply have a strong opinion about the tone in which those opinions are delivered.

The oath was taken by a couple new members.  They were applauded.

We will meet next on May 2.

Kevin Greeley welcomed the delegation of students from our sister city in Japan, Nagaokakyo. Social Studies Director Kerry Dunne also welcomed them and talked about the program. The visitors made a gift for Marie Krepelka (pronounced correctly!).

Article 3. Taken from the table.

James O’Conor gave the Town Meeting Procedures committee report.

Article 3 is tabled.

Article 8, continued – Zoning Bylaw Amendment/Accessory Apartments

There was a speaker in favor – the accessory apartments are limited to 700 square feet, and that is quite modest. A speaker was opposed because of the terms of the article. Another speaker was opposed because they thought it was too broadly written.  Brian Rehrig moved to terminate debate, approved by voice vote. John Worden’s amendment failed 115-73 (I think I got the count wrong here, but I’m within 5 votes). Patricia Worden’s amendment failed by voice vote.  Main motion failed by voice vote.  I voted in favor of this.  I look at the aging of the population in this country, the cost of assisted living and nursing homes, and the way families today have a stronger demand for privacy than previous generations.  I think that making it easier for multiple generations to live under one roof is a good thing.  I hope that sometime in the future we can find a formulation for this that gets support of Town Meeting.

Article 11 – Zoning Bylaw Amendment/Comprehensive Permit Applications

Christine Scypinski of the ARB explained the article. The purpose is to require testimony be electronically recorded, under oath, for comprehensive permit hearings. It would help the town if there should be an appeal on such a permit in the future. After a question, it was explained that the recording itself isn’t used right away in an appeal, but that the recording can be transcribed and certified by a court reporter, and then it is useful in the appeal. Paul Schlictman moved to terminate debate, approved by voice vote.  Approved unanimously on voice vote.

Article 12 – Bylaw Amendment/Human Resources Department

Kevin Greeley explained that though the final vote was 3-0, he was there for the hearings on these articles, just not the final vote.  Al Tosti explained that this article is more housecleaning than actual change – it just updates the bylaws into conformity with the Town Manager Act. It also removes an obsolete reference. After a comment, it passed unanimously.

Article 13 – Bylaw Amendment/Budget Submissions

Al Tosti explained that this will delete a requirement that we don’t actually do anymore. Unanimously approved.

Al Tosti asked that the Town Government Reorganization committee be dissolved, and it was

Article 14 – Bylaw Amendment/Municipal Charge Liens-School Fees

School Committee Member Leba Heigham moved that it be tabled, and it was.  I wasn’t 100% clear on why it was tabled – I thought everyone we needed was in the room.  But I may have missed someone.

Article 15 – Bylaw Amendment/Submission Of Meeting Minutes
No action unanimously.

Article 16 – Bylaw Amendment/Time Of Town Meeting Sessions

Kevin Greeley introduced and spoke in favor of this article. He notes the meeting is much emptier after the break, and he wants us to end earlier and keep members for the whole meeting.  FinCom Chair Al Tosti said that Finance Committee recommended no action. FinCom meets at 7:30 every night before Town Meeting, and can’t move it to 6:30 and still get quorum. James O’Conor said the Town Meeting Procedures committee voted no action. They are concerned about travel times for members and are concerned about time to read the paper on the chairs. John Maher moved an amendment to change the time of start to 7:30. Chris Loreti suggested this should not be a bylaw, but the vote is more appropriately done at the start of town meeting every night, as we already do.  Kevin Greeley reacted strongly to the one of Loreti’s comments, and there were raised voices.  This was an ugly scene.  First off, I thought that Mr. Loreti’s comments were inappropriate.  His innuendo about “favors” performed for and by the Selectmen was uncalled for.  I am sure that this is exactly the type of commentary that the moderator is trying to remove from the meeting.  That said, I wish Mr. Greeley hadn’t reacted to the comments.  I don’t think it advanced the debate. Ted Peluso said that he wanted to talk about attendance, not to the people in the hall, but the people who aren’t in the hall. Mr. Tully noted that it would be easier for the department heads if the meeting got out earlier, too. Mr. Worden elicited an answer from the moderator that he needs prep time for the meeting and 7pm is too early. Carl Wagner moved to terminate debate, approved by voice vote. Maher’s amendment was approved 121-69. As amended, the article went down by voice vote.

Article 17 – Bylaw Amendment/Newspaper Bins

Kevin Greeley introduced DPW Director Michael Rademacher. He said the current bylaw doesn’t help us with obsolete newspaper bins. This change would cause bins to “expire” and if they aren’t renewed, then they are removed.  Article was approved.

We had a break.

Article 18 – Bylaw Amendment/Historic Districts

I introduced the article, and stuttered through the explanation of how it would remove the police from enforcement of the historic district and give the committee more flexibility in reporting.  This was my first article introduction, even my first town meeting speech this year.  Before the meeting, I knew that I might be doing some articles tonight.  But I didn’t know that I was doing this one at this time and I hadn’t run through my speech in my head.  Ouch! I can do better than that.  There was a question about the role of police in the process.  Article passed unanimously.

Article 19 – Personnel Bylaw Amendment/Vacation Carryover

I explained that previous Town Meeting had set a vacation carryover policy for town employees that is set on the calendar year.  School vacation policy, however, should be on a school calendar.  This amendment puts the same policy in place for the school department, but with a different year start/end. There was a question about the day that town employees receive their vacation from Chris Loreti.  There was a question about which has precedence, this or collective bargaining agreements: the bargaining agreements.  John Deyst moved to terminate debate, approved by voice vote. Passed.  This is where we run into the practical challenge of taking notes and speaking at Town Meeting.  My notes are pretty thin through these articles where I’m also doing presentations.

Article 20 – Bylaw Amendment/Time Limits For Town Meeting Speakers

Carl Wagner, the proponent of this article, gave the explanation.  He explained that this will change only the first time someone speaks, and limit their time to 7 minutes, and does not affect the second, which is still five minutes.  He noted the shorter times at other area town meetings.  Jim O’Conor of the Town Meeting Procedure Committee was opposed – the meeting is tightly run enough.  They do not want to stifle debate.  Eric Berger is opposed to the change because he wants conversations and debate. Mr. Harris, a competitive debater gave an argument in favor. Nathan Swilling moved to terminate debate, approved by voice vote.  I was on the list for this article, and I voted against terminating debate.  It would have been the first time I’ve really spoken on an article this year, but I guess that will have to wait! If it had gotten to me, I would have said something like this: I don’t go home at night and worry that we didn’t have enough debate on an issue.  I go home and worry that we didn’t have enough attendance, or enough town meeting members running for office.  I support this change because I think we need to make town meeting more speedy.  I love the debate, but I’m OK putting a little pressure on to make the debate more succinct.  The motion approved 125-59. It will take effect next year.

Article 21 Bylaw Amendment/Electronic Town Meeting Voting

No action.

Article 22 Establish Committee To Study Electronic  Voting For Town Meeting

Eric Helmuth, the proponent, spoke in favor. He explained some of the options this committee could consider, from methods to cost to voting rules.  He asked that we don’t just create a committee – only vote for this if you have enthusiasm for the change. There was a question about maintenance? Traveling mic maintenance is an example. Paul Schlictman asked that the technology take the temperature as we go, to speed debate.  A speaker was opposed – this would be an erosion of social aspects of the meeting. The speaker also said what if the member is shy, and didn’t want to face an angry constituent? This particular line of argument I find unpersuasive.  I think if you take votes in a public meeting, if you’re elected to the position, you have to be accountable for your votes.  Phelps  moved to terminate debate, approved by voice vote. Positive vote on the main article.

Article 23 – Bylaw Amendment/Second Water Meters

No action. I think I heard an objection; I don’t think it was unanimous.  But there was no substitute motion provided.

Article 24 –  Bylaw Amendment/Evening Park Use

No action. This article was about unleashed dogs.  It had the potential to join the pantheon of contentious articles.  I’m glad the proponents chose to let this one rest this year.  I think we made great progress last year, plus the dog park being built at Thorndike this year, and it was best to let the current situation settle out somewhat.

Article 25  – Bylaw Amendment/Leaf Blower Regulation

Carol Band moved to postpone to May 9, and that was approved.  I voted against the postponement.  The proponents were on the agenda for the Board of Selectmen twice for a hearing on this article, and they didn’t make a presentation.  Furthermore, it’s the third night of Town Meeting – any substitute motion should have been prepared long ago.  Also, this article was considered by Town Meeting recently, and failed.  I suspect I will be opposed to the substitute motion, and will support no action, but it depends on the substitute motion.

Article 26 – Establish Committee/Building Maintenance

No action.

Article 27 –  Transfer Of Real Property/Gibbs Junior

Chris Loreti would prefer that this property go to ARB, not the Town Manager. He thinks the selectmen don’t raise rents enough. He moved that the article be postponed so that he could get more information about if the ARB could manage the property.  In my opinion, this could have been resolved weeks ago, or discussed at the previous hearings on the article.  I voted against the postponement.

Article 28 – Vote/Street Name Standardization

I explained that as the town departments’ maps are entered into the GIS system, we are finding that some streets have inconsistent names depending on which map you look at.  We need to standardize on a single name to make the mapping system effective.  Some street names were standardized by the selectmen, and three need to be standardized by Town Meeting.   The selectmen earlier tonight voted to modify the original recommendation, specifically we were now recommending “Albermarle” with an R, not “Albemarle.”  We hadn’t passed out the new vote as a handout yet.  The moderator accepted the modification verbally.  This was a bit of a sticky moment for me.  As you know, I don’t want to postpone articles – we should be ready.  But we weren’t ready in writing because of a last-minute change.  I think it worked out fine, however.  There were questions about other streets that were standardized (see Appendix A of the Selectmen’s report).  There were questions about the source of the data – most of it was from GIS Coordinator Adam Kurowski, and it was reviewed by the town historian Richard Duffy.  The change was approved.

Article 29 – Vote/Lower Interest Rate For Property Tax Deferrals For Elderly Residents

Clarissa Rowe asked for the article to be postponed to May 2.  A substitute motion was being proposed, and no one had had a chance to review it yet, including Senator Donnelly, who was a proponent of the main motion.  Postponed.

Article 30 – Vote/Increase Annual Income Limit For Elderly Residents To Qualify For Property Tax Deferrals

I didn’t have anything to add to the written comment, so I didn’t make a comment.  There were questions about what the article did, so I explained that this was partially in response to the tax override passed last year.  As a part of that override, we examined the tax relief available to seniors, and this was one of the recommendations.  There were discussion and questions about the thresholds involved.  Treasurer Stephen Gilligan noted that less than a dozen residents take advantage of this.  Several speakers were in favor.  Again, my note taking here was spotty – I don’t have a good record of the dialog.  The article was approved.

We moved to adjourn.

There were several notices of reconsideration, but I did not record them.

Comments

Comment from Ed Lovelace
Time: May 1, 2012, 8:04 am

Article 8:
I voted against this motion and amendments, but I am in favor of the concept. I believe the goals of this motion were laudable, but I think it needs further study and refinement to prevent abuse by those this rule was not intended for including:

– refinement of the physical restrictions (size, rooms, egress)
– transfer controls
– main house expansion vs. plot size

700 sq ft is probably reasonable though it is roughly the size of the first 2 bedroom I owned in Brighton. I Zillowed Arlington with this size restriction and the only 2 bedroom apartments that came up were the Colonial Village units, so perhaps it should be 600 or 650 sq ft but 700 sq ft is not crazy large.

I was persuaded that we hadn’t fully thought this through in these areas and the evidence of how many other towns have struggled with or denied this option.

The proponents should have more thorough study and bring it up again next year.

Thx
Ed

Comment from Ed Lovelace
Time: May 1, 2012, 8:15 am

Article 22

Voted in favor. I think the study should include “all electronic processes” in town meeting. While I’d like to see electronic voting well implemented for the purpose of 1) recording individual votes, 2) accuracy of the record, and 3) perhaps speeding the process. I’m not in favor of seeing the votes as they come in, but only the rolling total of how many have voted up till vote closing. I think this is important because you should vote how you believe not which way you think the wind is blowing. That said, it would be interesting to consider if there was a method to assign electronic proxies by individual vote but my first reaction is that this could be abused too easily.

What is more important to me is getting the speaking list digitized and put on screen real time. There’s lot of details to think about here but generally I’d like to see the names of those who push a button to speak. There should be several buttons so the names can be color coded as preparing to speak

1. in favor or
2. against or
3. neutral/clarification
4. end debate

on a topic. This would avoid the moderator not recognizing someone. This would avoid people calling the question when there is only one more speaker. This would avoid a long list of speakers all on one side of the debate. There are many options and details to think about here, but it would give the audience and moderator tools to consider how to manage debate. The screen could include a running time of how much time (7 min x number of speakers) the list of speakers may result in being devoted to the motion, and many other features.

Comment from Rich Carreiro
Time: May 1, 2012, 8:29 am

So what *is* the text of the new oath, anyways?

Comment from Adam Auster
Time: May 1, 2012, 9:26 am

I prefer to think that Chris Loreti’s unfortunate comments were intended to be amusing rather than mean or provocative. I can imagine them being less offensive in another context. Still.

Mr. Loreti’s point was that the bylaw only governs the time when Town Meeting convenes “on the fourth Monday in April,” and that Town Meeting may at any point after that set other times to which to adjourn.

I was astonished when Town Counsel said otherwise. (Also disappointed because I had hoped to propose a trial run using exactly that mechanism.) Judge for yourself.

Comment from Nathan Swilling
Time: May 1, 2012, 10:24 am

I would have liked to see FinComm provide some more information around Article 30, as some of the information provided by the speakers seemed to be contradictory. We heard that there are 9500 seniors in Arlington, and that with the higher income limits some 70% or even more of them would qualify for tax deferrals. This would imply a potentially significant budget impact (at least from a cash flow perspective).

But, then we heard that there are fewer than a dozen seniors in Arlington that are taking advantage of the tax deferral now. There was some discussion that many do not qualify because of other reasons – but it wasn’t clear to me what these were.

So, by different speakers we were told that there is a significant need to do this because it would benefit a lot of people, but that we shouldn’t worry about the cost because almost no one takes advantage of it. Both those things can’t really be true.

Comment from Rich Carreiro
Time: May 1, 2012, 12:10 pm

Adam — Rice actually claimed, with a straight face, that Town Meeting was prohibited from approving a motion to adjourn to a time other than 8pm?!?

I can’t believe that.

BTW, readers, don’t necessarily take what Town Counsel says as gospel. For example, when I proposed the “speakers must disclose any financial interests in what they’re speaking on” by-law, the previous Town Counsel claimed it was an illegal proposal and the Attorney General would be sure to void it. He was wrong on both counts.

Someone should buttonhook Rice before or after a session (or send her email) and (politely) demand she explain explicitly why adjouring to a time other than 8pm is illegal.

My (charitable) guess is that she didn’t read the by-law closely enough and missed that only the time and date TM convenes for the initial session is specified. I’d hope she wasn’t sandbagging at the behest of the BoS or whomever.

If she sticks to her guns, you should write out a warrant article next year to amend that by-law to make it clear that TM can adjourn to any time and date that state law allows. I’ll be one of your 10 signatures.

Comment from Rich Carreiro
Time: May 1, 2012, 12:12 pm

I would have voted against the tax deferral on principle. It reeks of trying to pre-emptively placate opponents to future overrides.

Comment from Nathan Swilling
Time: May 1, 2012, 1:06 pm

I don’t know whether there is any history between Chris Loreti and Kevin Greeley, but as an uninformed observer I didn’t think Chris had any ill intent in his comments. I took his comments about politics being about granting favors as light hearted teasing, and that he was simply saying that since changing the meeting time didn’t require a bylaw change, they could just do it – granting a favor to the BoS.

I think the part about convening at 7 p.m. on Saturday came off a little awkwardly as if he was insulting Greeley, but I didn’t think at all that was his intent. Unfortunately, Greeley came off as extremely thin-skinned and that display was very unfortunate for Town Meeting. I’d like to think that any of us citizens could offer criticism of the BoS (not that Chris was even doing so, IMHO) without being shouted at.

Comment from Eric Helmuth
Time: May 1, 2012, 1:07 pm

@ Rich C, to your last comment: the tenor of the discussion on Article 30 was exactly the opposite. Proponents were very clear that this article was part of the fulfillment of a pledge made by town leaders during the recent override campaign to find whatever tax relief is possible for seniors. To me, it seems awfully cynical to instead assign the motives you suggest.

@ Nathan, I shared your confusion about this but I think one of the speakers mentioned that a high property market value is another qualifying trigger that can render the income criterion moot for many people. I didn’t come away being extremely clear on that point but that was my impression and it might help explain the absence of concern about a big financial impact to the town.

Comment from Rich Carreiro
Time: May 1, 2012, 1:17 pm

Eric – having been in TM for 14 years before giving it up, I view my cynicism as more than justified from what I’d seen over the years.

Comment from Rich Carreiro
Time: May 1, 2012, 1:24 pm

(since we can’t edit comments)

…including but not limited to being presented with fait accomplis, outright incorrect statements of fact from people people who should and do know better, misrepresentations, transparent attempted power grabs by the BoS (often in the area of trying to get control/influence over committees that were (even intentionally) set up to be independent of them) and spin that if harnessed could power half the town.

Now all that said, I would absolutely fight any attempt to convert Arlington to a town council or city council form of govt. Town Meeting isn’t perfect, but it’s a damn sight better than the alternatives.

Comment from Wes Beal
Time: May 1, 2012, 1:37 pm

re: Loreti v. Greeley, I thought that Greeley thought he heard Loreti say with regards to action taken by the BoS:

“we don’t need to worry about a bylaw, we’ll just do this.”

when what I heard Loreti say was:

“we don’t need a bylaw to do this.”

I’m pretty sure I heard Mr. Loreti correctly, and Mr. Greeley did not (hear Mr. Loreti correctly). I was sitting just a few feet in front of Mr. Loreti when he made the comment.

I also think that Mr. Loreti was factually correct, and that an Article was not only not necessary for this, but perhaps not appropriate.

I thought I heard town counsel comment on why we might want to use a bylaw, as it would settle the issue, and be so much easier than having a debate at town meeting about whether to adjourn earlier or not, each and every time we meet.

I can sympathize with that point of view, but Loreti is right: everytime we 2nd a motion to reconvene, we set the start time of the next meeting (lower-case “m”).

And we can at any point in a meeting make a motion to adjourn, pass it, and go home early.

But back to the fight.

While I believe Mr. Loreti was factually correct, and did not actually directly insult the BoS with regards to ignoring bylaws, it is my opinion that Mr. Loreti has – through the questions he has asked and the manner he has asked them, in fact been fishing for a fight since Town Meeting began this year.

I don’t have the time to go through and point out specifically when and how; others who have observed the proceedings so far can validate or invalidate that opinion.

Comment from dunster
Time: May 1, 2012, 9:46 pm

@Ed thanks for the comments.

@Rich I don’t have the language – haven’t seen it in writing, in fact. Also, I don’t think that is what Rice said. She said, correctly, that the time of the meeting is set in the bylaws (Art 1 Sec 1). Where it got less clear to me (but not relevant, in my mind) was whether the bylaw sets the time for ALL meetings or just the first one.

@Nathan I don’t think there’s a real contradiction there. There is a perception of demand for the deferment, and there is actual experienced demand. They don’t match, but that’s not a real contradiction in my mind.

Comment from dunster
Time: May 1, 2012, 9:51 pm

@Wes I think you have excellent insight into the fireworks on Monday.

Pingback from martial arts arlington ma. – Session 3: Among 18 articles addressed, earlier start time rebuffed – martial arts arlington ma.
Time: May 1, 2012, 11:29 pm

[…] reporting and commentary, see Dan Dunn’s blog >> For opinion, see Wes Beal’s blog >> Session No. 4 is set for 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 2. […]

Comment from dunster
Time: May 2, 2012, 10:27 am

FYI, I’ve removed a few comments from this thread. In general I love the comments here, and I want it to be a place where people can have a good discussion. I have a pretty high standard, though, about what advances the debate.

My inspiration is John Scalzi’s comment policy: http://whatever.scalzi.com/about/site-disclaimer-and-comment-policy/ . I don’t have an identical policy, but it’s pretty close.

Comment from nora mann
Time: May 2, 2012, 4:30 pm

I was on TM for a long time (in real terms, not in comparison to some of our more veteran members) and on the ARB for a long time too. I wasn’t at the meeting but I can honestly say that the tone with which our volunteer Board members are referred is so often so condescending and outright hostile, it is one of the reasons I resigned from both TM and the ARB. Civility is vastly underrated. Things get done so much more effectively when we behave the way we’d like to be treated…or in a way that, heck, wouldn’t embarrass you if your kids or your nana was watching. The moderator would be well served to remind folks daily of the responsibility to be civil. End of rant. Thanks, as ever, Dan for this great update – I feel like I was there….but still got to watch SMASH on Monday nite at home 🙂