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Town Meeting ’16 – January Special Town Meeting

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.

Town Meeting Member Jane Howard played the Star-Spangled Banner on the piano and the meeting sang along.

The Moderator announced the passing of Town Meeting Member Roly Chaput and recalled his history of activity in the town. We had a moment of silence. Roly was a stalwart, a relentlessly upbeat, can-do volunteer who dedicated hours and hours to our community. I mourn his passing.

The moderator said that Elsie Fiorie had fallen and broken her arm, but was healing.

The Town Clerk certified that the meeting was properly called.

Kevin Greeley, chair of the Board of Selectman moved that if we don’t finish tonight, that we come back Wednesday. This was a moot vote, thankfully.

The moderator conducted a test vote on snow fall amounts. Vote was: 91-43-8. That was a surprisingly low number of votes, but the later, real votes had a much higher total.

Selectman Kevin Greeley introduced four new town employees.

Article 1 – Reports

The reports of the Board of Selectmen, Finance Committee, Capital Planning, and Permanent Town Building Committee were received.

Finance Committee Chairman Al Tosti moved that the recommended votes of the various reports be before the meeting without further motion. This is a very important motion, and it is often not well understood. If we didn’t make this motion, then at the start of every article, the Moderator would have to call on someone to start the debate by making a motion under that article, and then find a second for the motion before debate can begin. Instead, through this vote, we automatically start each article with a motion already made and ready for debate. This is key – the relevant town authority makes a motion, that first motion sets the debate, and other motions alter or replace the main motion.

Article 1 was tabled.

Articles 2 and 3 – Stratton.

The Moderator said the two articles will be debated together, and voted separately. School Committee Chairman Paul Schlichtman asked Town Meeting to finish the rebuilding job started 19 years ago. Superintendant Kathy Bodie laid out the problems with the current Stratton school and the plan to fix them. Permanent Town Building Committee Chair John Cole went into further detail of the proposed building project. He explained that the funding schedule needs to match the required construction schedule. He explained the phasing of the project. Capital Planning Chair Charlie Foskett spoke next. He explained that the state has declined to participate in the funding. He walked through the debt and asset sale mechanisms to fund the project. Stratton PTO President Jane Horgan (sp?) spoke in favor of the proposal, and praised the modulars as a smart solution. Stephen Harrington asked if the Public Safety building renovation is done – it will be in August was the answer. Harrington questioned several of the numbers in the Capital Planning Committee’s report, and expressed support for the project. Gordon Jamieson had questions about capacity. Ted Paluso spoke in favor. Mark McCabe moved to terminate debate. 176-20 debate was terminated. Article 2 was approved 194-4. Article 3 was approved 199-0. There was a large-ish gallery of East Arlington parents watching, and they applauded.

Article 4 – Thompson.

Al Tosti asked for extra 3 minutes to speak, and it was granted. Amazingly, some people didn’t think he deserved the extra 3 minutes. He explained that Stratton’s bids had come in over budget, and the money in the capital budget went to Stratton. That left Thompson without an obvious funding source. The finance committee has determined that the reserve budget is the appropriate source. That fund can be expended by FinComm, but they are seeking the judgement of Town Meeting whether or not to use the reserve fund to obtain modulars for Thompson School. Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine gave the recent history of the School Enrollment Task Force. He explained the modulars would be a solution for this year, and there would be further recommendations at the regular Town Meeting. Stephen Harrington said that he thinks the funding is inappropriate. He moved an amendment to make the appropriation out of the capital budget. This amendment was problematic on several technical levels, and on the policy level. Given that FY16 is more than half done, and the capital budget is significantly expended already, it’s not clear where he specifically thought the money should come from. Furthermore, since it was a resolution, it’s not clear that it actually had any effect. The reserve fund is explicitly under the direct control of FinComm, so a resolution is an appropriate vehicle. But the capital budget is set by Town Meeting, so a resolution isn’t a sufficient motion to change the capital budget. He made a second amendment to ask that the expenditure come from the Community Preservation Act funds. This amendment has the same challenges as the first one, plus it sought to short-circuit the CPA vetting process that Town Meeting put into place this past spring. Mariah Terrel Pct 7, Thompson parent, spoke next. She supports the modulars, and did not approve of Task Force’s choice to forgo a more permanent solution this year. She detailed the class sizes that her children are experiencing. She walked through the future projections of enrollment. Steve Ligget, Thompson parent, expressed support for the modulars. He detailed the problems with enrollment that are coming. John Leonard was confused by the difference between the warrant and the recommended motion. This is a regular point of confusion. The warrant is a form of notification. It is sent to every home in town. It serves notice of the topics of discussion that are to come before Town Meeting. The motion is the expression of action, it is the way Town Meeting actually executes. A motion must be within the scope of the warrant. In this case, the warrant was broadly written (“any of the Town’s school buildings”) and the motion was far more specific (“for the Thompson School”). John Deyst explained that the reserve fund’s purpose is to manage unexpected short-term needs. This enrollment growth is exactly such a situation. P. J. Harris asked about the CPA, and whether the money can be directed. Not a clear answer. He learned that the rough amount of money for the modulars is $250k. The available funds are $1m in the reserve budget. Charlie Foskett explained the reserve fund, and said that it was a very appropriate source. He explained that this was not a withdrawal from the override stabilization fund, but was a transfer from the reserve fund (budget 26) of the annual budget. He explained that the capital plan already had taken into account the CPA, and the resulting unspent money had been applied to Stratton.

We took a 7 minute break.

Adam Auster moved to terminate debate, approved 172-15. First we voted on Harrington’s proposal to use the capital budget. Failed 27-163. Then voted on Harrington’s proposal to use CPA money. Failed 26-166. Main motion of finance committee approved 182-11.

Article 5 – Collective bargaining

All units under agreement through July 2018. Linda Hanson, president of AEF (teachers’ union) expressed support for the agreement, but is concerned by how some of the jobs in this union might be outsourced. Her point was cut off by the moderator and ruled out of scope. I understand why the moderator wanted to move on, but I wish there was more time to talk about this. The underlying facts of this situation are not well known in town, and I think that we’d benefit from getting all the facts out and discussing them. The expenditure was approved 182-0.

Article 6 – Minuteman Bond. No action unanimously.

Article 7 – Minuteman, Wayland withdrawal. No action unanimously.

Article 8 – Minuteman Regional Agreement

I presented the main motion. I gave some of the history of the issue and outlined some of the important points of the proposed agreement. I said it deserved and up-or-down vote. Bill Hayner made a substitute motion that would create a study committee. He wanted the Town Meeting to recess, not adjourn, and come back before the March 1st deadline. Town Meeting votes are not final until after adjournment. This procedure would have meant that the school funding we voted in articles 2, 3, and 4 would have been on hold for weeks. Paul Schlichtman was opposed to amendment, in favor of main motion. Dean Carman supported the main motion, and gave a lengthy and impassioned speech in support of it. He said the time for study was past. Annie LaCourt moved to terminate debate, done by a 168-17 vote. 23-161 Hayner’s motion failed. 178-5 the new agreement passed.

Town Meeting was dissolved .


Comment from Cheryl Miller
Time: January 26, 2016, 11:00 am

A quick correction, it’s Moriah Tyrrell, not Mariah Terrel.

I was a bit disappointed to see all the Thompson people file out after Article 4 and miss the Minuteman stuff, particularly when our Minuteman responsibilities are going to have such an effect on what resources we have available to address the enrollment problems more permanently. But maybe I’m being unfair and they all went home and streamed it.

Comment from Bob Sprague
Time: January 26, 2016, 11:10 am

Thanks for these detailed notes, and many others over the years, Dan. I regard this as the work of a citizen journalist.
Note that the Stratton PTO rep is Jane Morgan and that the Thompson parent is Moriah Tyrrell .
As a former Minuteman parent, I appreciate your work on the agreement for that school district.

Comment from Flynn Monks
Time: January 26, 2016, 11:29 am

Kudos indeed for such great work Dan. Fingers crossed for the other towns’ votes. Curious about what kind of interest has been raised by towns maybe being attracted to join w/a new agreement, if some current towns exit?