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Town Meeting ’13, 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 try to publish the notes every night after the meeting, as time allows. 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.

Jane Howard led the meeting in the national anthem.

Moderator John Leone made two announcements. Precincts 8-14 need to organize tonight. Boy’s lacrosse is having a bake sale outside.

Announcements

  • I introduced the visitors from our sister city Nagaokakyo. The Cherry Blossom festival is Friday at at Ottoson School. The leader of the delegation extended his thanks to Arlington.
  • I announced that the Attorney General had already approved the vote of the Special Town Meeting in regard to leaf blowers, and will become effective after the change is advertised on May 9. This is record time for such an approval!
  • Gordon Jamieson asked how to inquire about legal questions. The moderator replied that a legal question about a vote is a legitimate point of information.
  • Clarissa Rowe reported on progress for the Books for Bill program and invited members to talk to her during the break.
  • Roland Chaput announced a cleanup of Robbins Park 9-1 on Saturday.
  • Diane Mahon announced a Saturday cleanup of Hill’s Hill by the Summer Street Association at 9AM.
  • Diane Mahon reported on the AHS basketball and cheerleaders banquet.
  • Sean Harrington announced for Thursday at the Senior center.

Article 3 – Reports

  • Stephen Gilligan gave the report of the treasurer.
  • Gordon Jamieson asked for the dissolution of the bus shelter and liberty ride committees. It was granted.
  • Diane Mahon asked for the dissolution of the leaf blower committee. It was granted.

Al Tosti moved to table Article 3.

Article 13 – New Animal Laws

Juliana Rice explained that the state has passed a new set of laws. This proposal updates our bylaw to fit the new state law and incorporates some other items that are already in practice. Zarina Memon asked several questions. She is opposed to the change. There were discussions of some of the detailed language and several corrections of typos. Mark McCabe moves to terminate debate. Debate was terminated. The new bylaw was passed.

Article 14 – Self-serve gasoline

I spoke, and said that this article was brought forward by 10 voters. Selectmen discussed the safety issues, ADA, and other considerations. Carl Wagner spoke. He had proposed this change, but is no longer in favor. The Master Plan (and others) should look at it. He urged the town meeting to vote it down quickly and move on. Mr. Worden proposed an amendment: permit self-serve, but require full-service. Paul Schlictman terminate. Worden’s amendment went down. The main motion went down.

Article 15 – Utility Poles

John Leonard proposed a resolution that the selectmen ensure that all double poles and other utility pole issues be resolved in 90 days. I was opposed to the resolution. I complete agree that the poles are a problem and the town should work on it. We have adopted a new policy and put in some levers to get change in the future.  But a resolution that demands the problem be fixed in 90 days just isn’t a reasonable resolution.  I would have preferred a more realistic resolution.  A speaker was in favor, and one against.  A speaker wants us to bury the lines.   Swilling moves to terminate. debate is terminated.  Leonard’s motion was substituted and approved.

Article 16 – Safe Streets

No action

Article 17 – Overnight Parking Fees

Jim Ballin proposed a  resolution asking the selectmen to lower the parking fees. I noted that the issue will be on the agenda this summer and that we value the opinions of town meeting members.  Several speakers were in favor.

We took a 10-minute break.

Mark McCabe moved to terminate debate. The resolution was substituted and passed.

Articles 18, 19, and 20

All voted no action

Article 21 – Evens Maurice

Bill Hayner said we should take a look at the rules more carefully. Carl Wagner said we should use existing rules, and we shouldn’t allow this to happen. In a more perfect world, I’d agree with Mr. Hayner and Mr. Wagner.  In this case, we are stuck between two terrible options by state law.  The exception granting process is a way to mitigate the bad options.  The real solution here is a change to civil service law by the state. Moore moved to terminate the debate. The motion was approved.

Article 22

Voted no action.

Article 23 – Public Art Fund

I noted that this article has no appropriation and no appropriation is contemplated at this time.  Stephen Harrington was opposed because he thinks it will be an appropriation. Several speakers were in favor. A vote to terminate debate failed.  Several more speakers were in favor.  Debate was terminated and the fund was approved.

Article 24 – Retirement Board Compensation

I noted it doesn’t affect retirement or health insurance benefits. John Bilafer spoke for several minutes about what the board does. Chris Loreti was opposed.  In Loreti’s speech, he referred to the board’s meeting minutes, and how the minutes talked about sending a member to a conference in Hawaii.  It was an attempt to paint the board as a cushy, perk-filled job where the members vote each other favors.  What Mr. Loreti didn’t say is that no one actually went on the trip.  A juicy sound bite, but lacking in substance when you find the real story. Other speakers were in favor. Mark McCabe terminated debate.  Passed 88-81.

Article 25 – Personal Property Exemption

Postponed to Wednesday because Assessors are out tonight.

Article 26 – Local Option Taxes

No action.

Article 27 – CDBG

I talked about the declining funding for CDBG.  We are trying to move programs to private charities where we can.  We are trying to prioritize and support health programs first.  There were several questions.  The motion was approved.

Article 28 – Revolving Funds

There were several questions and demands for more reports on spending.  The article was approved.

Article 29 – Collective Bargaining

One union still is not under contract.  This reserves money for future appropriation. Approved.

Article 30 – Positions Reclassification

No discussion.  Approved.

Article 31 – Budgets

With 9 minutes to go before 11, we adjourned early rather than take up the budgets.

At this pace, we are in a good position to have two nights left.  We can do most of the budgets on Wednesday, finish up any budgets and spending articles the following Monday.  Let’s hope we keep the pace up!

Comments

Comment from Chris Loreti
Time: April 30, 2013, 8:47 am

Dan, on Article 24, why would I mention that the member didn’t go on the trip to Hawaii when that trip isn’t scheduled to occur until next month? Are you saying this junket has been cancelled? If so, please explain why.

The larger point remains that this board is more than adequately compensated. If the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee feel a need to give their friends 50% raises, I’ll be happy to use this against them when they start pushing for the next override.

Oh, and did you forget to correct the statement of the speaker who tried to engender sympathy for the board by incorrectly stating the members don’t get reimbursed for the few hours of continuing education they are required to have each year?

Chris Loreti

Comment from Nathan Swilling
Time: April 30, 2013, 10:59 am

One question I had about the retirement board was around what their actual role is. At different points, it was described that they “manage” the retirement funds. For me, when you say that you manage an investment fund, that means that you are choosing where the funds are invested, and that you can and should be evaluated on what the return is.

However, at another point in the discussion, it was mentioned that Arlington’s pension funds are invested in a state pool. The implication, and I don’t know if this is correct, is that the board is not deciding where the funds should be invested. To me, they are not “managing” the fund, but only deciding on applications for retirement/disability, etc. Certainly a worthwhile role – but a very different role than (in my opinion) than was implied.

With regards to continuing education, I think what was stated was that the board isn’t reimbursed for “getting to” the continuing education. But, that was certainly not clear, and I’m sure some people misunderstood.

In the future, I imagine we’ll now re-examine compensation for all the other boards, and find that they are significantly underpaid relative to the retirement board :-)

Comment from dunster
Time: April 30, 2013, 8:02 pm

@Chris I cannot speak for the Retirement Board on their decision, but no one is going to Hawaii.

The retirement board’s compensation was increased by 50% as you note from $3000 to $4500. It was a close vote as indicated by the 88-81 decision. It’s very appropriate for Town Meeting to debate what the right compensation level is. Unfortunately, you chose to pollute this debate with unsubstantiated references to cronyism and unethical behavior.

On the reimbursement question, my recollection matches Nathan’s.

@Nathan The retirement board used to allocate the funds to specific investment vehicles, but they don’t anymore – that is done on the state level now.

Today the retirement board does more policy and planning on retirement issues and manages the administrator who actually works with the retirees.

Board compensation is tough to figure out. Just about everyone is getting paid less than what the market would pay them; people do the work for other, more altruistic reasons. So how do you figure out the right level of compensation? It’s tough.

Comment from Chris Moore
Time: April 30, 2013, 11:27 pm

I agree with the speaker last night who suggested that we need a more comprehensive look at compensation across the town’s boards and committees. Who should do that? How do we go about getting something in front of TM next year to consider adjustments across the board?

Comment from Chris Loreti
Time: May 1, 2013, 9:36 am

@Dan Do you think the Hawaii trip might have been cancelled because I mentioned it at TM? If it had been cancelled before Monday, why didn’t the Retirement Board Chair mentioned that when he spoke after me?

(I am glad the Retirement Board has finally decided to post its minutes to the Town website as required by local bylaw; maybe that will eliminate approval of future junkets.)

@Nathan/Dan My recollection of the reimbursement for continuing ed is this: TM member asked Board Chair if Board members are reimbursed for continuing education costs. Board chair says he didn’t think they were reimbursed for travel costs (or “getting there” as Nathan says.) In other words, he doesn’t think they get money for T fares, or more likely mileage for their cars (probably because they don’t request reimbursement.)

Board Chair does not answer question with regard to the cost of the course itself (for which I am sure members do not have to pay). TM member concludes his remarks by saying he would support the 50% raise in part because Board members now have continuing education costs.

It was the latter remark I was referring to in my original comment.

Comment from dunster
Time: May 1, 2013, 10:03 am

@Loreti It is my understanding that the decision was made not to take the trip a while ago, and travel arrangements were never made. Which, of course, you could have found out before you made your speech, if you had chosen to.

@Moore Happy to talk about that, but it’s pretty hard to do. It ends up being political. Perhaps we can come up with something creative, though.

Comment from Chris Loreti
Time: May 1, 2013, 10:13 am

@Dan. Sorry for the second post; I just noticed your rant about my “unsubstantiated references to cronyism and unethical behavior.”

I referenced the January 2013 meeting minutes of the Retirement Board at which the board voted unanimously to approve the travel of one of its members to the NECPERS [sic] conference in Hawaii in May. If you or anyone else wants a copy of these minutes, please let me know and I’ll email them to you. What more reference do you need?

Why do you think that vote represents cronyism or unethical behavior? I don’t. I’d just call it bad judgement and a very poor use of taxpayer dollars, both in and of itself and as an additional benefit to a member of one the Town’s most highly compensated boards.