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Town Meeting ’12, Session 5 and Special Town Meeting #1

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.

The Moderator said that we would start with Article 41, then open the Special Town Meeting.

  • Ryan Katofsky of Sustainable Arlington announced the receipt of a grant for “Solarize Mass.” The town will use the money for both subsidizing residential panels and outreach and publicity.
  • Jane Howard announced the Spy Pond cleanup on May 12th from 9am to 1pm. For more info email and

Article 3 was taken off the table.

  • John Cole gave the report of the Permanent Town Building Committee. He reviewed progress on the firehouses, community safety building, and school projects. He complimented Chief Jefferson on his money-saving efforts on the fire houses.
  • Lawrence McKinney – gave the report of the Uncle Sam committee, and led the meeting a round of “Happy Birthday” for the 200th birthday of Uncle Sam.  Funny line of the night from Al Tosti: “He promised not to sing if we gave him the money for the committee.”

Art 3 was tabled.

Article 41 – Capital Budget.

Charlie Foskett gave the report.  He outlined the process, running from fall to February.  He noted that it is the Town Manager’s budget, but the Town Meeting is the body that gives approval. He reviewed the last several years: rebuilt the schools, replaced the rolling stocks, updated the water pipes, etc. He said that we are voting the public safety building repair in the special town meeting so we can get the bidding started immediately. There were many questions.  One was about the previous votes on water and sewer in Articles 42 and 43. The difference between this vote and those is the funding source.  There was a discussion of exempt v. non-exempt debt, which is debt exempt from Proposition 2.5 v. debt that is within the Proposition 2.5 limits. There were questions on the Parks and Rec spending. There was a question about which roads are being resurfaced this year (see here and here on the town website).  There was discussion of the goals and process for the comprehensive master plan. Carol Kowalski reported that October 17th will be the kickoff of the process of writing the master plan.  There was a discussion on school budget and the helmet spending coming up in Article 58.  Mr. Foskett reported that the school department didn’t make a request for capital funding, so the capital committee didn’t formally consider it (though they did discuss it with the proponents and the schools).  He noted that the school budget contained concussion-related items. Questions on Wellington Playground scheduled for 2017. Dallin school playground reconstruction was discussed. There was a question on the Mill Brook culvert work to be done under the high school parking lot. A question was asked what the mileage was on the Prius that is being replaced – the answer was that it was a 2001 with 30,000 miles.  It was explained that it was being replaced because of high maintenance costs. Carl Wagner moved to terminate debate, and it was.  The article passed on 2/3 voice vote.

The moderator recessed the regular town meeting, called the Special Town Meeting to order.  We passed all of the traditional meeting-opening motions.

Article 1 – Reports

  • Al Tosti gave the FinCom report.
  • Kevin Greeley gave the Selectmen’s report.

Article 1 was tabled.

Article 2 Amendments To Fy2012 Budgets

Al Tosti explained this article.  The vote changes 2012 (current FY budget).  It lowers the budget for health insurance to reflect the savings from joining the GIC.  It moved the money to several different areas, including savings.  Approved.

Article 3 Appropriation/Fy12 Collective Bargaining

We approved the spending for the unions that have settled, and saved some money for future spending.  This is the 2012 budget.  Approved unanimously.

Article 4 Appropriation/Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School Extraordinary Building Repairs

Minuteman had their school closed this summer by the fire inspector.  They had to rip out some walls and replace them.  This unexpected cost is assessed in the 2012 budget.  Passed unanimously.

Article 5

No action unanimously.

Article 6        Capital Budget/Community Safety Building

This issue had been mostly discussed under Article 41.  It is to do improvements to the community safety building, particularly around leaking issues.  There was a comment about the ugliness of the building.  Article was approved.

Article 7

No action unanimously.

Article 8 Appropriation/Energy Conservation Fund

Ryan Katofsky talked about energy savings projects in town.  He showed deals that didn’t go through, and deals that did.  Chris Loreti opposed – he said this was giving the town manager a $200,000 check for him to go on a shopping spree. Charlie Foskett opposed – these projects are just like every other purchase program in the town, he said.  It should go through the regular project planning.  Paul Schlictman made the case that we should save money ASAP – don’t wait for the process.  Several speakers were in favor. There were questions about several aspects of the program.  I voted in favor of this.  We need to innovate aggressively to keep costs down.  This is just the type of experiment I think we should be jumping at.  If we review the program and it’s a failure, I won’t consider this a bad idea – we will have learned.  And if we review the program and it’s a winner, even better.  Carl Wagner moved to terminate debate.  Approved by voice vote.

Article 9     Home Rule Legislation/Energy Conservation Fund

Board of Selectmen voted to recommend creating the fund, and FinComm recommended no action.  The Moderator ruled that the Selectmen had the main motion.  This was an important decision, because the two votes were very different.  It gave us a starting point for the debate.  Harry McCabe tried to make a substitute motion of “positive action,” but his intent was very unclear.  Several speakers were opposed to this fund – they think we should see how the first $200,000 goes first.  Ted Peluso says that this is a trust issue – we should trust our Town Manager; we already give him far more.  In answer to a question, the Town Manager says that this fund will help us use the $200,000 from the previous article to its fullest.  Scott Smith moves to terminate debate, and it was.  Moderator ruled Harry McCabe’s motion out of order.  The fund was defeated by a vote of 67-86. The moderator initially ruled that the fund was defeated by voice vote, but I jumped up to request a standing count.  I didn’t think the moderator was wrong in his ruling, but I had doubt, and I wanted to remove the doubt.  The standing vote showed that the moderator was correct, but with a 19-vote margin, I don’t regret the time spent on the standing vote.  On the issue itself, I was pretty torn.  I thought the debate was very informative, and while I was on the losing side of the vote, I’m not losing sleep over this one.

Article 10        Bylaw Amendment/Rubbish Collection

Selectman Kevin Greeley said that this rule would require people to take trash in from the curb if it’s not picked up.  He said we had complaints about leaf bags being out all winter.  Mike Rademacher talked about the new trash contract.  It includes weekly recycling, recycling enforcement, and a weekly household waste limit. The price we pay for trash pickup is even lower than last year, and we get weekly recycling. Having a waste limit is part of the deal to get that price.  He noted that our contractor can refuse to pick up illegal items – construction items, tires, and recyclables.   There were several concerns about times where the town or vendor fails to pickup trash, and what happens then. Scott Smith proposed an amendment to make that less of an issue.  There were concerns that 9pm is too early, and confusion on leaf pickup times. The actual vote we’re taking is about not letting people leave trash on the street for weeks at a time.  The new trash contract is really a separate issue.  The DPW Director and Town Manager decided to tackle the new contract head-on since they knew there were questions.  The downside to that is that there was confusion about the two issues being linked.  I think that there was no obviously easy way to have the conversation, so we might as well tackle it head on.  But, we should remember what we’re actually voting on on Wednesday.

We adjourned for the night.


Comment from Nathan Swilling
Time: May 8, 2012, 9:18 am

I think the new contract is absolutely fantastic, and I’m thrilled that we came to a solution that will make recycling more convenient (weekly pick-up) and encourage those who abuse the system (excessive garbage, no recycling) while not making life more difficult for everyone else who is doing what they are supposed to (no PAYT).

I think it would have been helpful for them to explain what the penalty for not bringing your garbage in by 9 p.m. would be. But, overall, I agree that linking this to the new contract confused the issue.

Comment from Amy Goldstein
Time: May 8, 2012, 5:17 pm

I’m not really into microscopic review of the budget, but replacing the Prius with 30,000 miles doesn’t sound right – I have an ’02 Prius with 122,000+ miles and have never replaced the battery or had high maintenance costs -?

Comment from Wes Beal
Time: May 8, 2012, 5:48 pm

Did anyone else wrinkle their foreheads a bit when they realized we were funding a Comprehensive Master Plan?

I mean, it sounds like it could be a great idea to do one. But if we haven’t done one since 1962, and only one ever done before that was way back when, it isn’t exactly a routine expense.

And at $75k, its a pretty significant report.

It may have met the criteria needed to be on the Capital Budget, technically, but I felt like this was something that could have been done with a normal appropriation, and the reason for doing one made clear.

As it was, we weren’t going to toss out the whole Capital Budget in opposition to this, or the replaced Prius, or .

I wouldn’t want to see this sort of thing in these budgets too much in the future.

TM needs to continue to have faith in using these omnibus bills, and its better I think to err on the side of caution and put items people may have questions about under their own appropriation article.

Comment from dunster
Time: May 9, 2012, 9:38 am

@Nathan I think the answer is that the penalty would essentially never be enforced. Simply having the penalty will be the tool the DPW needs to get people to remove their trash. There’s a global, default fine in the bylaws that I think is $50.

@Amy You can ask Christine Connolly about the costs they were having. She’s very nice, just find her before the meeting or during the break.

@Wes I’m not sure what the solution for you is there. I have a few thoughts. First off is a question of practicality. If Town Meeting were to tackle every Prius-sized decision, that would be more than 3000 different items to be debated. Town Meeting can’t do that effectively.

The second thought is about management v. micromanagement. Because Town Meeting can’t handle everything, it delegates some budget work to FinCom which, in turn, works with the town employees. At some point we’re crossing into micromanagement if we go to deep.

Note, I’m not saying that we can’t do this – statutorily, we can. But I am suggesting that we should be thoughtful about what can and can’t be effectively addressed at the town meeting level.

Comment from Wes Beal
Time: May 9, 2012, 12:59 pm

@Dan Thanks; we’re largely in agreement – I don’t want us to look at every little item that comes up.

I’m speaking to items that fall into a mysterious, dangerously un-definable category of “not typical.”

We all know that office equipment will need to be replaced, that roads will need repair, that the day-to-day operations of a town incur expenses.

And we all (well, hopefully anyway) realize that micromanagement is not appropriate for these sorts of things.

The danger of omnibus spending bills, in any legislative body, is the potential for misuse by placing items on them that fall outside of “typical.” And its a normal human response on the part of TM members to get suspicious about such things.

Given that, I think it would be wise to see more elaboration on, and make the case for some items that seem out of the ordinary (such as replacing a car with 30,000 miles on it) more thoroughly, or if still unsure put them on their own appropriation article.

Basically, there shouldn’t be anything on these articles that we could anticipate a significant portion of the body to find controversial, in my opinion.

Comment from Sue Doctrow
Time: May 10, 2012, 11:10 am

I fully agree that it is a waste of time for TM to micromanage items like the Prius. But, when it came up, it did occur to me that, if there has been only 30K mileage use since 2001 (was that the correct date?) then why does the car even need to be a hybrid instead of just a standard, less expensive vehicle with “good enough” fuel economy? (esp if there is an added expectation that a Prius is more likely than the standard car to require excessive maintenance costs after only 30K miles…unlike Amy, I am not qualified to comment on whether that is a normal expectation, not being a Prius owner or a Toyota mechanic.). It made me wonder whether investing in a hybrid vehicle MAY (without having analyzed it in any way) be cost-effective only for more travel-intensive town purposes. (In fact, for only ~3000 miles traveled a year, maybe a shared vehicle, dedicated to two or more town functions, would be more appropriate — assuming that the need for emergency health inspections is rare. Or, alternatively, reimbursing the inspector for use of his or her own vehicle.) But…I guess I’m already treading way into “micromanaging the Prius” 😉 On a similar note, though, I was glad that Michelle Durocher mentioned the microfilm reader since, that, too, gave me pause. The technology IS old (as a library professional, she should know) and used/reconditioned ones are all over eBay and elsewhere for a fraction of what was requested. While, again, this stuff should not hold up voting on the capital budget, other items of comparable amounts are “micromanaged” in other settings (the energy rebates in STM Art 9 felt like that to me; I, too, was on the losing side of that vote). Plus, other small ticket items have no doubt been excluded from the budgets over the years, even though they were considered important to some residents (one ~$20K example comes immediately to mind). So, I think it is worth raising questions about even small expenditures in some forum and am glad we at least have this opportunity. p.s. Agree that the new trash contract — and the plan to enforce limits and mandatory recycling — IS fantastic and am glad the DPW got one tool it needs to make it work through the STM vote.