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
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
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.