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Town Meeting ’15 – Session 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 try to 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. Sometimes I only summarize the discussion. At points I give a purely personal opinion; those are clearly labeled like this: Personal note.

We started a couple of minutes late as members came through the line to check in and get their electronic voting “clickers.”

The Menotomy Minuteman marched in and led the body in the National Anthem.

Moderator John Leone called the meeting to order. He reminded the body of the rules of order and several of the rules of the body. Notably:

  • Any proposed amendments should be in writing and on the chairs of members two meetings before the article is considered. Also they should be emailed to the moderator.
  • He noted that announcements and reports of committees are now limited to 4 minutes.
  • He gave a quick training on the voting clickers. In the test vote there were 193/252 votes cast, but I recognized some people were here who didn’t vote. The actual number of members present is somewhere north of 200.

The moderator administered the oath of office for newly elected town meeting members. They were greeted with a round of applause afterwards.
The oath was then given for returning members, who were also applauded.

Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Kevin Greeley made the traditional motion about permitting town officials and employees to sit “on the floor” with town meeting members. Non-members are seated in the viewing gallery on the 2nd floor.

Town Clerk certified that the meeting was properly convened.

Article 1 State of the Town. Kevin Greeley gave the state of the town.

Announcements and Reports

  • Nagaokakyo student exchange visitors were recognized, and their adult chaperone (who I think is also a city official?) thanked the town for hosting.
  • Gordon Jamieson announced that the art show “Recycled Beauty” is on display in the hallway on the 2nd floor of Town Hall until Friday.
  • John Maher, chair of the Cable Advisory Committee, noted that the ascertainment hearing is still open for written testimony until May 1.
  • The Arlington Redevelopment Board report was received.
  • The poet laureate committee was announced by Jeff Boudreau.
  • The Town Meeting Procedures committee report was given by Jim O’Conor.
  • The Board of Selectmen report was given by Kevin Greeley.
  • Charlie Foskett gave the Capital Planning Committee report, and said that he would ask to take it out of order on Wednesday to accommodate travel.
  • Sheri Baron gave the report of the Human Rights Commission. She did not read their annual report, but she did note some of the accomplishments of the Human Rights Commission.
  • John Leonard asked that we dissolve the Maintenance Study Committee. He noted that we had previously dissolved it, but it was still on the warrant. He also wanted to know what the town was doing about fatalities on Mass Ave. The moderator told him that wasn’t an announcement and he could bring it up under the budget.
  • At Tosti gave the Finance Committee report. He requested 10 minutes and was given it. He walked through key points of the committee report.
  • Roly Chaput is a member of the electronic voting committee, and reminded everyone to drop their clicker off in the bin before they leave.

Kevin Greeley introduced elected officials and department heads at the front of the room.

At Tosti moved that the motions contained in the reports be the main motions for each article. This vote is very quick and easy, but it’s very important. For new town meeting members the importance is not obvious. If we didn’t make this motion, at the start of every article, the Moderator would have to call on someone to start the debate process by making a motion under that article, then find a second for the motion, etc. Instead, through this vote, we automatically start each article with a motion already made and ready for debate. That becomes key later on – the first motion sets the debate, and other motions alter it.

Article 3 was tabled. The moderator appears to be comfortable with mixing reports and announcements together, in contrast with some past practice. It works, I think, simply because there are no votes, just listening. At the end of them all, we table this article until the next meeting for the next round.

Article 4 – Measurer of Wood and Bark. Elsie Fiorie was re-appointed without opposition.

Article 5 – Assistant Town Moderator. Mike Cayer nominated Jim O’Conor and he was elected without opposition.

Article 6 – Zoning Bylaw Amendment/Documented Zoning Reviews
The ARB recommended no action. Michael Ruderman moved a substitute motion that would change how the ARB received information about special permits. He introduced the author of the article, Chris Loreti, who spoke in favor. Loreti would like the ARB to use independent review from the building inspector. He said, in part, that this was needed because some lawyers before the ARB have close ties with the selectmen. Yes, he really said that. He argued with the written comments from the Finance Committee. Director of Inspectional Services Michael Byrne asked for clarification about what exactly had been moved. He got clarification from the moderator. Mr. Loreti had moved a smaller set of changes than had been discussed in other venues. That led to some confusion through the debate. Mr. Byrne said that this proposal was contrary to the state law. He argued that this would be a larger increase in the amount of the work by his department than one would think – one or two full-time employees additional. John Maher was opposed. He reviewed the implications of the proposal and called it a solution in search of a problem. He called the article an invitation to litigations. He noted that the proponent, Loreti, had sued the town and employees of the town. I have mixed feelings about what John Maher said here. I think everything he said was completely accurate.  My problem is that he’s stooping to Loreti’s level. I know that one sometimes needs to bring up some unpleasant truths. I would prefer that we’d just get through this issue without the personal politics. Ryan Ferrar said he thinks of this differently. He thinks the role of town meeting is to tell the enforcement bodies what we want as a town. He said that this is about how, not what we want, and is micromanagement. Paul Bayer of Finance Committee explained the discussions that committee had had, and urged a no-action vote.

Moved into a break for 10 minutes.

Stephen Harrington spoke next and said that the amount of work was much less than had been stated, “5 2-page reports per year is all.” He asked for an opinion whether the Attorney General would approve this bylaw, if passed. Town Counsel Doug Heim answered “maybe” and went into detail about the merits of two different sub-questions. Harrington asked what lawyers represent clients before the ARB. Town Moderator John Leone and Assessor Mary Winstanley O’Connor were named as two. Paul Schlichtman is opposed because it increases the chances of litigation. The question was called. By a vote of 26-171-4 Loreti’s motion failed. Stephen Harrington then challenged that Selectman Steve Byrne shouldn’t have voted because his father is the building inspector, and that is a financial conflict of interest. Town Meeting is, in general, productive and worthy of the responsibilities that it must meet. But sometimes, it’s petty, ugly, and vile. This was one of those times. The moderator replied that there was no financial interest and no rule violated.

No action was voted, 147-45-6. There was confusion about this vote. I think the moderator understood the problem and later votes were articulated more clearly.

Article 7
Christian Klein is out of town, postponed to Wednesday.

Article 8 – Limit Time for Reports
Selectman Kevin Greeley was confused about which article this was, and Town Counsel Heim rescued him with an explanation of the board’s support of the 4-minute limit. John Worden proposed a substitute motion with alternate language on behalf of the Town Meeting Procedures Committee, but urged that the change be voted down. Original proponent Paul Schlichtman noted that last year announcements took as much as 87 minutes and that change was needed. Jim O’Conor supported the procedures committee. Gordon Jameison moved the question. By 164-35-5 Worden’s version was made the main motion. His version was approved 104-95-6. In general I’m sympathetic to the judgement of the moderator, but in my opinion the moderator’s judgement could benefit from bylaw support. We need shorter meetings, and the long announcements are a good place to cut.

Article 9 – Human Rights Commission
Chairman Greeley reported that there was no proposal given at hearing, and the board recommended no action. The board supports the Human Rights Commission. Stephen Harrington proposed a substitute motion to make a Town Meeting committee to study the Human Rights Commission. EJ Harris started by expressing his respect for the HRC. He went on a winding and sometimes amusing speech about needing a lawyer to protect human rights. Kevin Greeley spoke again and noted the proponent hadn’t asked for anything at hearing. Stephen Harrington claims that he answered the questions, and he had made a proposal. At that hearing, I told him that I had read his warrant article, and I asked him what motion he thought we should be supporting under that warrant article – he didn’t answer the question. Several of the other selectmen asked him the same question. If you don’t know who to believe at times like this, I invite you to watch the video of the meetingMolly Flueckiger said that she has mixed feelings, because she is concerned that the ADA is not being followed closely enough. John Deyst moved to terminate debate. By 55-149-4, Harrington’s motion failed. No action was moved by voice vote.

Article 10
To fix an error in the physical description of a historic district. Approved unanimously.

Article 11 Community Preservation Committee.
Kevin Greeley gave the selectmen proposal. Lots of amendments proposed on this one! There are a lot of ways to constitute this committee, and we’re going to debate a lot of them. Sean Harrington proposed an amendment that would impose a 6-year term limit on at-large members. I don’t think this is good policy. Furthermore, as written, it has some real functional problems. For instance, a member could server for 5 years and 364 days, then resign, then be re-appointed, and it would be permitted by the proposed amendment. Bill Hayner proposed an amendment to make appointment of the at-large members not be by the Board of Selectmen, but be 2 by the Town Moderator, 1 by Finance Committee, and 1 by the Town Manager. Dean Carman had prepared two amendments, but he decided not to propose them. He supported Hayner’s amendment instead. John Worden would have 2 by Town Moderator and 2 by the Selectmen. Ruderman supports Hayner’s motion because he wants the finance committee to have a seat at the table. Susan Stamps noted that most other towns use the board of selectmen appointment model for the CPA. John Leonard wants the committee members to be elected, not appointed. John Deyst preferred Dean Carman’s amendment which makes the at-large members appointed in the same way as the Finance Committee. He moved Carman’s amendment (which Carman had not done himself).

We adjourned for the night. I heard no notices of reconsideration.

Comments

Comment from Michael Ruderman
Time: April 28, 2015, 8:26 am

If I may borrow your words, I thought Mr. Maher’s disparagement of Mr. Loreti was “petty, ugly, and vile.” Ad hominem attacks may be factual or not; they still incite the members to vote against the person by voting against the article.

Comment from Peter Fuller
Time: April 28, 2015, 10:07 am

I second Mr. Ruderman’s condemnation of Mr. Maher’s ad hominem attacks on the proponent, Mr. Loreti. Just as a jury doesn’t hear of or use in their deliberations a defendant’s prior criminal record, the Town Meeting shouldn’t have to hear out-of-scope allegations about anyone’s prior conduct.

I hope if this sort of thing bubbles up in the future that the Moderator shows more backbone in quashing it.

Comment from Sean Harrington
Time: April 28, 2015, 10:13 am

Dan that scenario should not arise if the appointing authority has the integrity not to allow someone to abuse the system.

If the Board of Selectmen would even think the idea is ok that someone would try and cheat the term limits in that way, it’s more proof that the Selectmen should not be the appointing authority.

Comment from Adam
Time: April 28, 2015, 12:00 pm

I am sure there is a rich and thrilling history to Mr. Loreti’s relationship with various town boards. However, as a Town Meeting member I’d like to cast my vote based on the merits of the proposal before me.

Mr. Maher’s intemperate remarks, in the face of the admonitions of the Moderator, are in a class by themselves. But to be honest nobody was very helpful to me in making this decision.

Mr Byrne (the inspector) seemed to be critiquing a proposal that was not actually before Town Meeting. The estimates thrown around about how much Mr. Loreti’s proposal would cost seemed wildly overblown; they did not even agree with each other.

Would it have been too much trouble for someone to develop a reasonable estimate? Mr. Loreti certainly could have come to Fincom to help with that, it seems to me.

I really hope we all do better going forward. A lot of the debate on a lot of the articles last night struck me as opaque, unhelpful, and full of ancient grievances.

Comment from Wes Beal
Time: April 28, 2015, 12:26 pm

Out of scope, ad hominem, & etc. Definitely not the way we want to conduct ourselves at Town Meeting.

Now if only we could get some similar rules in place for proper conduct in submitting articles. How many articles do we hear that profess to be about some issue or other, but are actually motivated by entirely different matters?

Step back a ways and take a larger field of view, and I’d call many articles that get submitted ad hominem attacks in themselves, the supposed content just code used to attack whoever the proponents feel deserves it.

Little to do with making Arlington better, and much more to do with slinging mud.

Comment from Adam Auster
Time: April 28, 2015, 12:55 pm

Two procedural observations about voting last night. First, I was sorry that we did not use our clickers on the motion to adjourn.

It would have taken another 30 seconds or so but create a record of who had stuck around until 11 (I think most people did).

Second, the Moderator showed the roll-call results for Article 6 substitute motion after 5 members rose to request one.

The Moderator can do this at any time and for any reason, and I think he ought to be liberal with this.

However, the procedure in the bylaws for compelling a full roll call requires that 30 members rise. 5 is to compel a tally, which we already had.

Comment from jim doherty
Time: April 28, 2015, 3:09 pm

I would like to commend Mr. Maher for calling Mr. Loretta out. He has been a mean spirited person to many boards. He makes false accusations, used is state appointed position on the ARB for personal gain (including spending town funds to further his own agenda). People are afraid to engage him and call him out, more should follow Mr. Mahers lead! The advocate and Mr. Sprague love to allow Mr. Loretta space to make accusations about public servants, including him filing suit against some of them. Funny though, when both of them are given copies of a Federal Court ruling vindicating town officials neither one publishes it. If we only have one sided reporting in Town, town meeting members should be aware of a proponents history and motivation. These are not allegations, they are facts!

Comment from Mike
Time: April 28, 2015, 5:56 pm

I can’t believe we didn’t get to the first article until 9:00. I’m sure we’ll waste time listening to the AHS choir again this year. Why don’t they start singing at 7:40 and they can finish at 8:00 with the Star Spangled Banner. People wonder why people don’t want to join town meeting? It’s time wasters like last night.

Comment from Flynn
Time: April 28, 2015, 7:44 pm

I’m a new town meeting member and I don’t feel that way about the prelude announcements, etc. I quite enjoyed everything that came before the first article was approached, and especially liked the Minutemen coming in. It starts at 8 and ends at 11. Seems perfectly fine to me.

Comment from Bob Sprague
Time: April 29, 2015, 1:38 pm

I have written about critics and Town Meeting at http://www.yourarlington.com/easyblog/entry/12-town-meeting/435-critics-042815

I saw this as Town Meeting as a whole rising about the comments of a few.