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Town Meeting ’12, Session 4

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 Town Meeting sang the national anthem, accompanied by Town Meeting Member Jane Howard on piano.

Moderator John Leone made a couple of announcements.

  • Town Meeting Member Mary Deyst has an art show upstairs at Town Hall.
  • He also asked that town meeting members take their papers with them and throw them in the recycle bin on the way out rather than leaving it on the seats.

The moderator swore in 2 new members elected from precinct 21.

I moved that the next meeting be on May 7th.

  • John Maher announcement about the Symmes foundation.  People interested in applying should read tomorrow’s Advocate or contact him.
  • Jim O’Conor reported that Town Meeting Member Marc Butler is unwell, and asked for our thoughts and prayers.
  • Michelle Durocher asked for volunteers for the Meadowbrook Park cleanup on May 5 9am-noon, rain or shine.
  • Al Tosti announced that the Minuteman High related articles, #44-46, will be voted on Wednesday night May 9th because Superintendent Ed Bouquillon will be there.
  • Superintendent Kathy Bodie said, in a raspy voice, that she wants to give the schools report on May 9th when her voice is better.

Article 3 was taken off the table.

Stephen Gilligan gave the report of the Treasurer.

Art 3 was tabled.

Article 29 – Vote/Lower Interest Rate For Property Tax 

I briefly introduced the article.  This article changes the rate of interest on taxes deferred by seniors who take the deferment exemption option.  Jim Doherty, chair of the Board of Assessors, explained some of the requirements for the deferment: must be 65, can defer  portion or full, must be the primary residence etc.  He said the assessors didn’t vote to support, and they were concerned about the lower interest rate. Senator Ken Donnelly spoke next.  He said that this is not a financial issue, this is a social issue.  He talked about seniors and their role in the community. Chris Loreti moved an amendment that put a floor on the interest rate of 4%.  He made a lot of comments about the way deferments works.  He said he thinks the recommended vote is deficient because it doesn’t note the state maximum of 8%.  The proposed vote is nearly identical to the language suggested by the Mass DOR; I’m reasonably sure it’s properly written.  Diane Mahon expressed her support (she had missed the final vote, and wasn’t on record in the report). Al Tosti said the FinCom unanimously supports the vote.  He noted we’re not doing this to make a profit.  There were questions about the current cost of borrowing money, circuit breaker for seniors, and whether or not this would really help seniors. Paul Schlictman moved to terminate debate, approved.  Loreti’s amendment failed.  The  main motion passed.

Article 32 – Report/Implementation Of Consolidated Town-School Finance Department

Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine first presented some details of the report, then his plan on going forward.  Just as he started, he realized the timer said he had 7 minutes left to speak.  The moderator was playing a joke on him – the manager had said he could do it in 7 minutes, and the moderator tried to get him under 7 minutes.  He reviewed the methodology and findings of the report. He outlined the procedure he was planning on with the various boards and officials to work on progress towards the report. Assessor Jim Doherty was unhappy with the report, and wanted to debate it.  The moderator noted that the motion was only to receive the report, and not really debatable. Treasurer Gilligan vehemently objected to part of the report. He believes the report incorrectly blames his office for the loss of some money.  It’s tough for me to say from the short dialog exactly what was being referred to.  My first impression is that the report blurred two different issues, and Mr. Gilligan was emphasizing the second issue as the relevant one, and discounting the first issue.  It’s impossible to say, really, without a discussion of the details that did not happen there.  The report was received. I continue to think that the town should pursue a structural change that results in better financial coordination.  I know a lot of people say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  I’m not ready to say “it’s broke” – but is sure could use a tune-up.

Article 33 – Home Rule Legislation/Municipal Finance Department

Voted no action.

Article 34 – Home Rule Legislation/Wireless Antenna Lease Proceeds

I explained what this motion will do.  Chris Loreti thinks it’s unnecessary.  Hugh McCrory doesn’t get why we do this fund.  I think the best short answer to that is “because Town Meeting voted to do it this way.”  What Town Meeting does, it can reverse, of course.   Annie LaCourt noted that this funding method avoids waiting for the money to cycle through the general fund and be certified by the DoR as free cash, etc.  Annie further said that years ago Town Meeting gave up something – open space, horizons, etc.  The money was therefore allocated to parks, to offset the negative effects.  Harry McCabe – St. Paul’s gave the antenna money to parks, and that was the root.  John Deyst moved to terminate debate.  Motion was approved.  There was a question that since this was home rule legislation, do we need a standing vote? Senator Donnelly says: all we need is a majority. That was an interesting statement by the senator, and it ends a procedure we’ve followed for as long as I’ve been in town meeting!

Article 35 – Acceptance/Local Option Taxes

No action.

Article 36 – Endorsement Of CDBG Application

I explained that this is federal money, and the selectmen seek input from Town Meeting.  I explained that the amount of funds coming from the federal budget was declining, but by using “program income” we had avoided most cuts.  There was discussion about funding scholarships.  There was a question about how much of this was “use it or lose it.”  Chris Loreti asked if some of this is for non-profits; the answer was yes.

We had a break.

Annie LaCourt noted that money was issued on a reimbursement basis, not outright grant.  Mark McCabe moved to terminate debate.  The article was approved on voice vote.

Article 37 – Revolving Funds

Gordon Jamieson noted that $2,000,000 in expenditures is possible under this article.  FinCom Chair Al Tosti says the committee has been concerned with the creation of the funds.  Adam Chapdelaine explained the new fund for Central School.  Gordon Jamieson and others asked for more granularity in future reports.  I am of two minds on this request.  On one hand, I’m a big fan of government transparency.  On the other hand, we have $126 million dollars that we spend a year – it’s not clear to me that detailing the outflows of the Town Hall rental fund is a particularly useful report for Town Meeting.  I wonder what the right solution to that question is. There were a series of questions.  Chris Loreti elicits that Town Manager controls the funds.  Questions about urban renewal plans, several of the funds, and another request for more detail.  Terminated debate.  Approved unanimously.

Article 38 – Collective Bargaining

Tabled.  Negotiations ongoing.

Article 39 – Positions Reclassification

Approved.

Article 40 – Appropriation/Town Budgets

It was 10:15, and the meeting wasn’t ready to tackle the budgets, so they were tabled.  I was ready to go – I think we could have got a lot of them done.  As it was, we got good work done.

Article 41 – Capital Budget

Postponed to Monday.

Article 42 – Appropriation/Financing Of Construction Or Reconstruction Of Sewers And Sewerage Facilities

There were several questions.  In the discussion, we heard about how much leakage and damage there is in the system, and the plans to resolve them.  It was noted that at a mile of pipe per year, it will be more than 100 years to replace all the town pipes.  There were several speakers in favor, noting that it is a big problem.  Approved unanimously.

Article 43 – Appropriation/Financing Of Construction Or Reconstruction Of Water Mains And Water Facilities

Approved unanimously.

Article 44-46

Postponed to Wednesday when Minuteman Superintendent Ed Bouquillon will be here.

Article 47    Appropriation/Special Education Reserve Account

The exact amount to be put in the fund is not yet known, so the article was tabled.

Article 48                   Appropriation/Committees And Commissions

Approved unanimously.

Article 49 Appropriation/Town Celebrations

Approved unanimously.

Article 50 Appropriation/Miscellaneous

Approved unanimously.

Article 51 Appropriation/Water Bodies Fund

Approved unanimously.

Article 52 Appropriation/Signage For Historic Sites

There is an amendment planned, so the article was postponed.

Article 53 Appropriation/Electronic Town Meeting

No action unanimously.

Article 54 Appropriation/Paid Parking Study

I briefly said that we had considered proposing a paid report, but were persuaded not to spend the money unless there was political will to implement it.  We wanted to see what Town Meeting though.  Carl Wagner, the proponent, asked to postpone to May 9, and that failed.  Town Manager Adam Chapedelaine talked about how parking is an asset of the town.  He noted there are many options for meters.  The chamber of commerce said the business owners were opposed to meters.  Al Tosti said don’t spend money if you’re not going to do it, but liked the idea of learning more.  Paul Schlictman talked about how impossible it is to enforce the parking limits in non-metered spaces.  Premium parking is free, secondary parking is metered – it’s backwards.  It leads to minimal enforcement on Mass Ave, but strong enforcement in lots.  There was an amendment to consider parking garage – ruled out of scope (warrant article talked about “currently marked short term parking”).  John Worden noted that we used to have meters, and he was very glad they had been removed.  Parking is an intractable problem.  Bill Logan said we should let voters decide.  Hugh McCrory  asked for a public hearing and to reduce the 2-hour limit.  Nicole Knobloch moved to terminate debate.  The motion passed 103-49.

I heard Elsie Fiore serve notice of reconsideration on article 48 and Andrew Fischer on 32 and Al Tosti on the financial articles.

We adjourned.

Comments

Comment from Adam Auster
Time: May 3, 2012, 7:49 am

To me the most telling feature of the night was the final 103-49 vote on the parking study.

Not because of the content of the motion or the debate, but because the Moderator had originally called the voice vote in the negative based on how it sounded.

Yet the actual vote was more than two to one in favor.

I am sure the Moderator was just calling then as he heard them. It sounded awfully close to me too. But it wasn’t close at all.

It makes me wonder about some of the earlier votes, such as the one called against the proposal for mixed-use zoning. Maybe not the two thirds vote required, but maybe more support than it had seemed at the time.

Comment from Rich Carreiro
Time: May 3, 2012, 8:04 am

I don’t believe we ever “needed” standing votes for home-rule petitions. Worden would always frame it as wanting to get the actual numbers on the record so the Legislature could see what the margin of victory was so that they would hopefully be more likely to pass it when they saw it was overwhelmingly favored by TMMs. But technically nothing other than a majority was ever needed.

Comment from Rich Carreiro
Time: May 3, 2012, 8:06 am

Adam — I think this could be somewhat ameliorated if the Moderator would switch to asking for “yeas” and “nays”. Those are near-identical sounds. “yes” and “no” are very different sounds and it is much easier IMHO to make a loud “no” than to make a loud “yes”.

Comment from Peter Fuller
Time: May 3, 2012, 9:28 am

I was disappointed that the Moderator did not allow at least some debate and discussion under Article 32. While the article and the offered motion merely sought a vote to receive the DOR financial organization report, there was and is no need to officially “receive the report” for the Town to contemplate taking some action on its recommendations. So why was it even in the warrant, if not to be discussed? By ruling out any debate, the Moderator may have unwittingly fed the possibility that any financial reorganization plan resulting from the Town Manager’s process over the next few months may be perceived as being rammed down our collective throats by Town leadership.

I think the backstory to Treasurer Gilligan’s protests is that he feels unfairly blamed for an investment loss (later recovered) from the 2005 Override Stabilization Fund, and that he fears that episode will be used to convert his job from elected to appointed, and to then show him the door.

Comment from Rich Carreiro
Time: May 3, 2012, 10:37 am

Gilligan may feel “unfairly blamed” for the loss, but he’d be wrong. He’s just lucky the loss was recovered. You’re not going to find very many financial advisors who would recommend funds needed in less than 5 years be invested in equities.

Comment from Adam Auster
Time: May 3, 2012, 11:02 am

@Rich: I am sure you are right about the vowel sounds of “yes” versus “no.” It’s pretty well known in the world of voice that the “o” and “u” vowels are easier to sing and speak in low register than “e,” “eh,” etc.

But would “no” voters willingly surrender their advantage if asked to vote “nay” instead? Perhaps the moderator should level the yelling field by instructing affirmative voters to say “yo!”

More seriously, I think the moderator should be more skeptical of his years and request standing votes in all but the really clear-cut cases.

Comment from Walter Phillips
Time: May 3, 2012, 11:23 am

Regarding the standing vote on Article 54:

To my mind, the Moderator’s apparent reluctance to call for standing votes diminishes the underlying democratic process of Town Meeting that is so often referenced in the Meeting. Deciding an issue based on a subjective judgement of which side can shout the loudest is not democratic. The votes of members with the loudest voices, and those closest to the front of the hall, are given the most weight. This is not the way democracy should work. The time saved by not having standing votes is not worth the cost to fairness.

Hopefully next year when speakers are limited to seven minutes, the Moderator will allow more standing votes. Or perhaps we will eventually move into the 21st century and adopt some form of electronic voting.

Comment from Adam Auster
Time: May 3, 2012, 12:38 pm

Oops, I meant “more skeptical of his ears, not his “years.”

Comment from Ken Domino
Time: May 3, 2012, 2:04 pm

I think it’s wrong to take an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude towards the issue of consolidating financial departments (Article 32/33). The DOR report points out several antiquated processes used in the town that only work because of multiple checks and balances which involve many people–with a lot of man-hours.

MUNIS, an ERP system, is used in the Comptroller’s office for the general ledger. It is also used in the school system, but inefficiently, for PO’s. PO’s are *hand entered* by one point person in the school into MUNIS. It then goes through multiple reviews and approvals across both finance departments. (I don’t know the details of PO’s in Arlington, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a PO for a box of pencils purchased this way.) The DOR recommends all departments get on the MUNIS system.

The Treasurer’s office uses a home-brew software system that is not integrated into MUNIS. Consequently, receipts have to be re-entered–probably by hand–into the MUNIS system by someone in the Comptroller’s office. The DOR recommends the systems be integrated.

It would be nice to see someone take some initiative and start moving to remove the inefficiencies pointed out in the report, now rather than wait yet another year for yet another committee to take the temperature of the opinion of residents, employees, etc., whether they feel if they maybe/possibly would like to merge the financial departments at some point. Many process problems have little to do with the consolidation of the finance departments.

Comment from Alan Jones
Time: May 3, 2012, 2:28 pm

“It would be nice to see someone take some initiative and start moving to remove the inefficiencies pointed out in the report, now rather than wait yet another year…”
Ken, you are absolutely correct, but in my experience, it will not happen without an organizational change to a hierarchy with a single responsible party (a CFO). Simple changes like harmonizing the many different report formats and using the same names for the same line items and positions should be easy, but without someone at the top making it happen, the only process available is “by committee”, and we all know how that goes. Major improvements like changing interdepartmental processes or adopting Munis or some unified platform, and eliminating the dozens of stand-alone spreadsheets that are hand-keyed (not to mention the proprietary software developed in the Treasurer’s office) will be impossible without reorganization and consolidation. This is what led to Article 51 last year.

Comment from Rich Carreiro
Time: May 3, 2012, 9:40 pm

Walter – the Moderator doesn’t get to decide whether or not to “allow” standing votes . If more than 5 (IIRC) TMMs rise to challenge a voice vote ruling, he is required to take a standing vote.

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Time: May 4, 2012, 12:39 am

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