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Town Meeting ’12, Session 7

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 Board of Selectmen meeting ran late, so I was late to Town Meeting. I walked in during Dick Smith’s announcement, and I missed the moderator’s comments. I can reconstruct the rest of the opening, but may have missed comments and announcements.

Jane Howard opened Town Meeting with the “Star-Spangled Banner” on piano.

The next meeting was set for Wednesday, May 16, at 8PM.

Dick Smith made an announcement about Citizen’s United. I imagine that it was the same announcement he made on the first night.

Article 25 – Ban Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers, continued

Moderator John Leone reprised the discussion so far: opponents to leaf blowers think they blow all sorts of nasty things in the air. Proponents of leaf blowers think they are wonderful labor-saving devices. He asked speakers to avoid repetition on these points.

Bob Radochia made a substitute motion. He would restrict use of leaf blowers to certain months, Oct 15 to May 15, the months where leaves are generally found on the ground. Maria Romano spoke against both substitute motions. She said to ignore the scare the tactics and to permit people to continue to use the tools they want. She suggested that people who aren’t happy with leaf blowers should move out of town. Bill Kaplan moved to terminate debate, and it was approved. Radochia’s substitute motion was approved 84-81. That left the meeting in a state of much confusion. If we have two substitute motions, and they are both approved, then which motion is the final one? In retrospect, I think we should have taken Bob Radochia’s motion as an amendment, not a substitute – that would have been more straight forward to vote on. As it is, I think the will of the meeting was done, and that is what matters. Band’s substitute went down by voice. Radochia’s substitute motion was approved 95-85.

Article 40 – Budgets

Finance Committee Chair Al Tosti gave a brief introduction of the budget. The moderator ran through the list of budgets, and interested members called “hold” for budgets they had additional questions for.

Planning and Community Development. Mark Kappelein would like to know where Mass Ave reconstruction easements are budgeted – the answer is, they are not in appropriated funds, but in Chapter 90 funds.

Redevelopment Board: Gordon Jamieson asked a question about Gibbs expenses – should it be under Redevelopment or Planning? The answer is the same people will do the work regardless of how the town votes in Article 27.

Public Works: Ed Trembly: how much salt did we use last year? Mike Rademacher said we bought 4193 tons at a cost of $269,000 with about 90% of it used. It was noted that last year we budgeted $577k for ice and snow, and we spent $507k. It was the lightest winter in years. Christian Klein asked what drove the lower street lighting budget – the answer is LED street lights. Paul Schlictman moved to terminate debate on the article, and that failed on voice vote. There was further discussion.

Community Safety: Bruce Wheltle spoke about animal control, and asked for more enforcement on dog control. Annie LaCourt asked about fire and police overtime, and both chiefs responded. There was a question about the addition of a custodian. It is for better maintenance of the building as we invest in it. Paul Schlictman talked about increasing parking enforcement for revenue purposes.

Inspection. Chris Loreti asked about Symmes one-time expenses, and compared it to work at the former Brighams site.

Education: Chairman Kirsi Allison-Ampe gave an introduction. She remarked on the additions made to the budget in the last two years, and noted that the budget is still below 2010. Superintendent  Kathy Bodie gave a presentation that ran through the achievements of the schools and the budget proposal for next year.  There was significant discussion about special education costs.

We had a 10 minute break.

Janice Weber asked about $3000 support for the annual census – there was no immediate answer. John Leonard asked about the state’s accelerated payment of school rebuilding costs, and it was answered that they have been received and placed in the general fund.  They are tracked in the capital budget, not the operating budget. Stephen Harrington – noted that the school budget has increased significantly over the last several years, and the report indicates a decrease in athletics spending.  There was a discrepancy in numbers for FY11 in the FinCom and School budgets, which was explained that one was after the fall Special Town Meeting and one was after the regular spring Town Meeting.  Alan Jones noted that such discrepancies would become less likely if the town adopted a more coordinated finance department as recommended by the DoR.  I thought this was a great comment by Alan.  Often times when I want to talk about the challenges of our current financial organization, I find it very difficult to say what I want without sounding like I’m attacking someone, even when that is not my intent.  Alan managed to find a neutral example – no one was exactly wrong, but the numbers sure weren’t right – they were not coordinated.  He managed to make the point about financial coordination changes without it being a fight. Roland Chaput: asked about technology in the schools, and supported the improvements there.  David Good answered at length. Paul Schlictman asked a question on athletic spending. CFO Diane Johnson said that FY11 was new budget tracking method, and that lead to errors in tracking.  She suggested that athletic spending wasn’t actually cut, but the tracking wasn’t accurate. This year, there is better tracking. John Deyst said we have the best schools in world. There was a question on maintenance of Dallin. Carl Wagner complimented the school department on producing a good report. Bill Berkowitz asked why not have a full-time grant writer? Bodie: It’s a limited budget. I sympathize with this question.  Either there are additional grants to pursue, or there aren’t, and the answer was not clear. Mark Kapplein: Followed up on athletic spending question from earlier, and then asked a series of questions on the cost of baseball helmets, concussion testing for all sports, early childhood education, the use of iPads in a pilot program and more.  His time ran out.  There was a question on bringing back ACE program that was responded to by Dr. Bodie.

Libraries: Gordon Jamieson elicited an answer that we do not need a waiver this year.

Insurance: Roland Chaput asked about HRA subscriber fee – it’s part of the new GIC program. Linda Hanson asked about the balance on the Health Care Trust Fund. It has about $3million left in it.  That was more money than I realized.  Finding the right use for that money is going to be complex.

Water and Sewer. Gordon Jamieson had several questions about several of the monetary flows. Al Tosti said that next year’s budget will show offsets more clearly, and perhaps balance sheet. Janice Brodman asked about increased stormwater drain costs. Rademacher says it is because of expected, more stringent EPA regulations.

Youth Services.  Christine Connolly talked about the dramatic change and success in the delivery model of youth services support, with more than 200 clients today.

The budget was approved unanimously.

We adjourned.

With 20ish articles left, and most of them as no-brainer finance articles, I think we have a very good chance of finishing on Wednesday!  Here’s hoping for brevity and dispatch.


Comment from Stephen Harrington
Time: May 15, 2012, 2:49 am

Almost Dan, but not quite.

First, here is the annotated notes on pages 35 and 37 from the School’s budget handout that I presented tonight.

Note that the FY11 town appropriation in the FY11 budget is $36,888,841.

Note also, that on page B11 – budget 20, of the FinCom report, the report that Town Meeting voted on, which can be found here:

the FY11 town appropriation is listed as $38,591,451.

The difference between the APS FY11 budgeted amount of $36,888,841 and the FinCom FY11 reported appropriation of $38,591,451 is $1,702,610.


Now the CFO of the schools, Diane Johnson, and you Dan, offered up that the difference can be explained by, and I quote you:

“which was explained that one was after the fall Special Town Meeting and one was after the regular spring Town Meeting”

However, the APS FY11 budgeted amount of $36,888,841, which is the smaller number, is BEFORE the special meeting reduction for the APS overrun from FY10. We know this because the source document, link repeated here:

shows a total APS FY11 budget of $44,822,831, which as the next page of the annotated report shows, is about $1.3M higher than the actual, adjusted amount by the special town meeting.

See, the FY11 budget, reported by the APS budget report as $36,888,841, is before the $1.3M special town meeting reduction. This means, the adjusted, real APS budget number that should have been shown was $36,888,841 – $1.3M.

See Dan, the $1.7M difference between the APS actual FY11 and the FY11 FinCom report is not explained by the CFO.

You totally missed this point. That is why, when you watch the tape of the meeting, I was reluctant to provide the CFO with an opportunity to rationalize the discrepancy.

Care to try again?

Stephen Harrington

Comment from Mark Kaepplein
Time: May 15, 2012, 3:53 am

With easements paid by Ch. 90 funds, residents make up for cost by paying more for lost road resurfacing funds.

Comment from Adam Auster
Time: May 15, 2012, 8:08 am

Did anyone notice that while Carol Band’s original leaf-blower proposal was for a year round ban, it would only have regulated gas-powered blowers?

And while Bob Radochia’s proposal–the one that passed–is only for part of the year, it applies to all leaf blowers?

I do not think anyone explained the reasons for these differences.

On the voting procedure, Dan, I understood things a little differently than you, namely that Bob’s “substitute” was an amendment to Carol’s proposal by substitution, which was in turn a substitute for the No Action recommendation.

As you point out, this is the logical way to consider competing (and mutually exclusive) questions.

I think the Moderator saw it that way, though he did not explain it very clearly. But I also think a number of members understood it that way, which explains why Bob’s version got 84 votes the first time (versus Carol’s version) and 95 the second (versus No Action).

Comment from Rich Carreiro
Time: May 15, 2012, 9:11 am

For amusement and precedential value I hope someone sues to invalidate the bylaw change on the grounds that as voted it is beyond the scope of the warrant because it is not limited to gas. Or perhaps someone can point it out to the AG’s office while it is being reviewed. I might just have to do that if it is not reconsidered and changed.

Comment from dunster
Time: May 15, 2012, 9:18 am

@Mark I’m not sure what case you’re trying to make here. Are you trying to say that the Mass Ave project consumes town resources, and those resources are limited? I don’t think you’ll find any debate on that point.

@Adam Your comment made me pull out my papers from last night, and I have Bob’s substitute motion here in front of me, and it says “D. Leaf Blowers The use of gas powered leaf blowers . . .” Am I missing something?

Comment from Mustafa Varoglu
Time: May 15, 2012, 9:21 am

Dan, thanks for the effort you put in the blog.
I had the question that was summarized as bringing back the ACE program in the School Budget.
Maybe I didn’t convey it clearly enough but my question was broadly about providing opportunities for elementary children to obtain further enrichment if they are capable. The school department is adding back a lot of admin capacity that it cut during the lean years and I question why enrichment at elementary has pushed onto the classroom teachers without any further financial commitment. I think having the teachers able to provide enrichment on the fly is great but in a situation with 20+ students in class there may be also be a place for bringing in a more focussed program (ACE or otherwise). The school putting in a lot of effort to bring people up to the proficiency level for reading with extra staff, can some small part the increase in budget be provided to provide enrichment to students so that the goals go beyond proficiency as they are currently written in the school summary?
This is probably a question better explored with the School Committee in the end but I wanted to undestand if elementary enrichment efforts had grown since the cutbacks were restored and it appears they have not.

Comment from Nathan Swilling
Time: May 15, 2012, 9:25 am

Are you sure that it applied to all leaf blowers and not just gas powered leaf blowers? If that’s the case, that really wasn’t explained at all.

I also was confused by the voting, as I thought the first vote was simply to amend the original substitute by limiting the ban to the Spring and Summer. There was no discussion that the text was different so that it would cover all leaf blowers. In hindsight, I realize that they were “competing” substitute motions and it’s my own fault for not understanding that, but I also don’t think I was the only person who was confused.

The whole thing seems rather ridiculous, now, as it seems that we’ll have gas powered leaf blowers on public property year round, electric powered leaf blowers on private property year round (or not – I’m not sure what we actually voted on), and gas powered leaf blowers on private property during leaf blowing season, but not during the summer when they probably aren’t used that much anyway.

Comment from dunster
Time: May 15, 2012, 9:30 am

@Stephen evidently I continue to miss your point. The FinCom report of the Special Town Meeting ( talks about reducing the school budget $1,702,610 to $36,888,841. Last night, one report used the before number, and one used the after number. I agree it is confusing, and I agree that we should be working from a consistent set of numbers, but if your point is deeper than that, it eludes me.

Comment from Ed Lovelace
Time: May 15, 2012, 9:32 am

On Article 25 I voted YES for the seasonal ban on gas-powered leaf blowers. I went into last week’s initial debate against any ban and heard good arguments on both sides which put me on the fence. I agree that some claims may be exaggerated; again on both sides (e.g. health effects, time to rake/blow, and cost impact of a ban). Two things put me in the yes column:

1. The compromise substitute motion was a reasonable middle ground. Frankly I think this new rule will not be enforced much because most of the blowing should be within the allowed season. It will just eliminate the most egregious extremes.

2. The demagoguery of 2 speakers, Mr. Caccavarro and Ms. Romano, against the motions. Both speakers, if my memory is not mistaken, suggested people in favor of this motion should move out of town among other aspersions I found distasteful and divisive. Sadly they both also made some good points that I suspect many people missed because of their presentations overall. Ironically if anything their speeches drove me farther to the opposite position.

A few other observations:

1. The substitution motion vote total was 84+81=165. The final vote was 95+85=180 which is 15 more people voting just 2 minutes later. Granted there are legitimate reasons some may have chosen to not participate in the first vote, but that brings me to my second point.

2. There were 2 substitute motions on the table. I feel like the moderator is often confused about how to handle some of these trickier situations, resulting in confusion within the audience. This can’t be the first time this situation (or any complex rules situation) has come up. I looked it up last night and various governing bodies have different procedures in this case; there isn’t just one way to handle it. One I read only allows one substitute motion under consideration at a time because it is so unclear with 2 substitutes whether they both refer to the base motion or walk backwards like amendments. The procedure should be clear as a bell and communicated as such to the audience preferably with a simple 3-step flowchart that pops on the screen. If the moderator just took a minute to clear his head and walk through the whole process before taking a vote I believe the democratic process would be more certain. I think this is why fewer people voted on the partial ban substitute; because they were confused about what was being voted on.

3. I thought it was very useful that the moderator summarized the previous night’s debate, but in my view his tone continues to be somewhat cynical, disparaging some of the points rather than being simply factual. This also comes out periodically when various people he appears to have less respect for come to speak and I really wish it would stop (e.g. replay the video of when he introduced the school committee to give their report; or any time Mr Judd gets up to speak). I really appreciate him lightening the tone overall, expletives included, and not being a stiff, but I think there is a middle ground without personalizing things.


Comment from dunster
Time: May 15, 2012, 9:34 am

@Mustafa I believe your point mostly came across, but I shorten everything up for my blog, and the nuance is lost. I agree that you should take it up with the school department in a venue where everyone has more time, see what you fine out.

Comment from Adam Auster
Time: May 15, 2012, 9:35 am

@oops (maybe): Re gas vs all, I haven’t got the paperwork with me right now, and maybe I’m just confused. (I could have sworn… well.)

I suppose this impeaches my account of the voting procedure too (if I can’t even get the substance right) but I’m sticking to that.

Comment from Rich Carreiro
Time: May 15, 2012, 9:49 am

Well, we’ll see what the clerk (via the town webmaster) posts as the official text of the vote in a day or two.

Comment from Eric Helmuth
Time: May 15, 2012, 9:51 am

At least twice last night, the moderator judged motions as having been defeated by voice vote that subsequently were approved on the standing vote. That has happened at least one or two other times this year, and I personally thought a couple other important voice votes that remained unchallenged were similarly questionable. In no way do I question the moderator’s good judgment and integrity, but I am concerned the process may be flawed. Although any voice vote may be challenged with 5 people standing, I sometimes feel like I’m at a party with everyone standing around a buffet table waiting for someone to be the first person to take a plate. I wonder how many times people have doubted the voice vote but felt just enough big-room intimidation in being the first to stand.

Perhaps we should reconsider the validity of “voting by volume”, at least when we’re not merely un-tabling Article 3. As an immediate practical matter, I am now standing up whenever I am in doubt, regardless of the chair’s auditory impression. I encourage my fellow TMM to do the same, given the demonstrated unreliability of the voice vote this year. And, depending on how we might decide to implement it, electronic voting could have a role in helping matters in future years.

Comment from Paul Schlichtman
Time: May 15, 2012, 10:34 am

Dan wrote, “Paul Schlichtman talked about increasing parking enforcement for revenue purposes.”

That’s not really what I was saying. Here’s my point. The town only employs 3 part-time parking enforcement agents, despite the plethora of illegally parked cars in town. I asked if the budget for parking control agents was under the 3.5 spending cap, and the response was yes. This makes no sense to me, as increasing parking control agents to enforce our parking laws also has the side effect of generating revenue, so that we shouldn’t be worrying about a spending cap for positions that generate revenue. I made the point that it makes more sense to use a lower-salary parking control officer rather than a more expensive and more highly-trained sworn police officer for parking enforcement.

Some of the opponents to the paid parking study said we should be enforcing our existing regulations instead. While I see the need for metered parking to generate turnover in parking spaces, I also see the need to enforce existing parking regulations. We do not enforce parking rules with any consistency, and in a densely populated town packed with cars, this is a problem.

Comment from Stephen Harrington
Time: May 15, 2012, 10:45 am


The vote last night used these town appropriations for schools:

FY11 = $38,591,451
FY12 = $42,681,436

When the amounts should have been:

FY11 = $36,888,841
FY12 = $42,681,436

(a 15.7% one year increase)

We spent time fixing footnote errors, and left the second largest budget with incorrect appropriations.

Furthermore, the 2011 Annual Town Meeting FinCom report shows:

for the education budget, an appropriation of:

FY12 = $38,740,006

This is an increase of $3,941,430. When did Town Meeting appropriate this extra amount to the schools?

Comment from dunster
Time: May 15, 2012, 11:58 am

@Stephen A few thoughts:

* It’s worth noting that the only appropriation vote we made last night was FY13. The FY11 and FY12 numbers are for exposition, not actually spending money. Those footnotes you describe are relevant to the FY13 budget, which makes them vital to get correct, where the FY11 and FY12 numbers are not, in a technical sense, a part of the vote we took last night. I do agree that we should strive for accuracy and clarity, regardless of whether they are an appropriation or not.
* You evidently have a strong opinion that FinCom should have reported the FY11 number as the “after” number rather than the “before” number they chose to report. I can see the argument, and I can see the argument against it, too. (By using the “after” number, for instance, it might lead someone to making technically-correct-but-fundamentally-misleading statements about how much the school budget has increased). That said, it’s FinCom’s report, and they’re best able to speak to it. I think Al Tosti or Alan Jones can further explain why they made their choices, and perhaps you can persuade them to report on it differently next year.
* Town Meeting appropriated the increase of $3.9 million over the original FinCom report after the override passed, at the June 8th session. See and

Comment from Jennifer Goebel
Time: May 15, 2012, 12:41 pm

I have to agree with Mr. Lovelace that the condescending and divisive statements by Caccavaro and Romano did the opposite of their intent. Aligning myself with someone who began her presentation with an outright mis-statement of fact (pesticides have been banned) seemed unpalatable to me in the end, as was being told that if noise bothers me, I should leave town. The reason I joined Town Meeting initially because I can make a difference and change things.

I was on the fence on the issue, as I agree with many others that the noise ordinance should take care of the noise issue. The pollutant issue is not addressed elsewhere that I am aware of, and the presentation on that issue followed by my own brief research into the issue finally swayed me to vote for the partial-year ban. On the A-list, some argue that this is an infringement of personal liberty, and yes it is, but it is also a protection of personal liberty.

It’s a dense and tightly packed town, and in the end, I voted to support the personal liberty of people to be free from others unnecessarily spewing particulates onto their property.

Comment from dunster
Time: May 15, 2012, 1:07 pm

@Paul I heard your argument correctly, but I didn’t recap it elegantly. I hear you. I think your point about parking and Bill Berkowitz’s point about grant applications were parallels of each other. I have some thoughts on the matter, but too much to say to write here.

@Jennifer I believe your thought process is fairly widely shared by other town meeting members.

Comment from Nathan Swilling
Time: May 15, 2012, 2:43 pm

I agree with many of the thoughts expressed, it still just seems like an odd ordinance to me, because you can still use an electric leaf blower (which generates as much dust, I would say), and you can still use a gas blower on public property – which I imagine was exempted because they were concerned that making DPW use rakes would increase costs, and you can still use a gas blower after October 15th which is the most popular time of the year anyway.

Personally, I think the net result of this ordinance is going to have little positive impact for anyone. Leaves will still get blown, after the 15th, or before using an electric blower.

BTW, according to the Boston Globe, the fine is going to be $200 per day.

When was that discussed? I thought we had said previously that unless specifically mentioned, the maximum fine for something is $20?

Comment from Len
Time: May 15, 2012, 4:49 pm

Hi Dan,
I need to address your comments on Alan Jones’ comments. It does not take a merged finance department (which is what Alan was advocating) for FinCom, the Deputy Town Manager (who does the town-side budget) and the School’s CFO to sit down and come up with a common format for budget information. The only way to create the budget in the long-standing format used by the FinCom is for someone (Alan) to manually retype and reformat the information. There would be a learning curve for Town Meeting on the new format but I believe we are up to the challenge (the first year there may need to be a manually created crosswalk to transition to the new format). I hope this is something the Town Manager will use the DOR report to move forward quickly on, but really it just takes those 3 sitting down and coming up a with a common format.

Comment from Adam Auster
Time: May 15, 2012, 5:00 pm

@oops: yeah, I goofed. Sorry to make you check your notes.

@Nathan: “unless specifically mentioned” is the key, since fines for violation of the Noise Abatement Bylaw are set at $200/day.

By the way, I also wondered why this was limited to gas blowers, given the concerns about dust and toxins.

I think this was not a particularly concerted effort–that different people came forth with different issues and concerns, and probably voted the ways they did for all different reasons.

Kind of messy and unsatisfying, on the other hand sort of how TM is supposed to work, with people taking their best shot after hearing from all sides.

Comment from dunster
Time: May 15, 2012, 5:55 pm

@Len With all due respect, it’s just not that simple. Data comes out of MUNIS and goes into Excel. It goes in different ways for different departments. Each department chooses formats that fits their immediate need. That info is rolled up differently for each department, depending on their need. When you try to compare apples to apples from different sources, you get all sorts of asterix.

Please talk to Alan Jones about the process he goes through with the various departments, and how he’s about to work with the 3rd Deputy Town Manager and how hard it is to get change in the process.

Until we have a clear leader on this, it’s going to be a lot of ad-hoc, and that ad-hoc is what leads to confusion like we had last night.

Comment from Adam Auster
Time: May 15, 2012, 7:36 pm

@Len: I do not have Dan’s background, but as a rank-and-file TM member I can tell you it is pretty jaw-dropping that in 2012 the Town of Arlington is re-keyboarding its financial accounts to please the hoary customs of different entrenched offices.

In that respect the taxpayers are clearly not getting their money’s worth from the current arrangement.

You say it “does not take a merged financial department” to solve this problem, which has been identified and bemoaned for years. Well, prove it.

If it takes the threat of consolidation to get these eminences off their duffs I am all for that.

Pingback from martial arts arlington ma. – Session 7: Limited gas-powered leaf-blower ban OK’d – martial arts arlington ma.
Time: May 15, 2012, 11:16 pm

[…] reporting and commentary, see Dan Dunn’s blog | questions budgets, Dunn |  Wes Beal’s view before leaf-blower […]

Comment from Annie LaCourt
Time: May 16, 2012, 9:48 am

What Adam said!

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Time: April 25, 2013, 1:01 am

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