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Town Meeting ’17 – Session 2; 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 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.  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.

Meeting called to order at 8:00.

Eric Helmuth played the National Anthem on the piano, and the members of the meeting sang along.

The moderator noted that many members didn’t get written reports mailed to them this year – they had signed up last year to get it electronically.

The moderator said that Town Meeting was not a political body, and that people should remove their political buttons. I don’t agree with the Moderator on this one. This has never been a rule of the meeting before that I recall; I don’t think a rule of this type would be legal on state law and First Amendment grounds; and I would oppose any rule of this type if it were proposed. I decided to exercise my First Amendment rights and put on a Cindy Friedman for Senate button during the break.  I did it because I’m proud to support Cindy, and because I wanted to make the point. I got some thoughtful comments about the merits of that choice.  I haven’t decided whether I’ll wear the button again on Monday.  But I’ll be supporting Cindy, whether I’m wearing the button or not!

The moderator swore in two members who didn’t get sworn in on Monday. They got a round of applause.

The Special Town Meeting was called to order.

Selectman Joe Curro blazed through the same opening motions that we did for the regular town meeting yesterday.


  • Master Plan Implementation Committee gave their report
  • Cyrus E. Dallin foundation created on this night in 1995.
  • Treasurer Dean Carman gave his first annual report. He walked through balances, collections, and debt status.

Article 1 – Zoning Bylaw Amendment

Arlington Redevelopment Board Chair Andrew Bunnell expressed the ARB’s support for the amendment and introduced Elizabeth Pyle and Steve McKenna of the residential study group. They described that this bylaw change is a part of the package of changes. They are meant to be taken as group to solve the design problems that they see. The change wouldn’t allow a bigger envelope, but it would permit the open space’s longest dimension to be smaller. Gordon Jamieson was in favor. Carl Wagner is opposed – he believes the package of changes should be rejected, and that this will lead to bigger houses. Andrew Fischer was confused about how this changes the 2.5 stories – it doesn’t. Zach Grunko asked if it will accelerate the rate of tear downs – Director Inspectional Services Mike Byrne doesn’t think so. Daniel Jalkut doesn’t think larger houses are a risk and supports the change. A speaker whose name I missed asked a good question – is this change purely for aesthetics? The answer was partially yes, but also to create a good alternative to the garage-under design. Joe Tully – why not just ban the garage-under design? Bunnell: they talked to a lot of people, and there were a lot of people who still wanted versions of the design. This proposal was a compromise. John Deyst moved to terminate debate. 179-29-1 terminated debate. 185-25-1 change was approved.

Article 2 – Recreation Marijuana Zoning Moratorium

ARB Andrew Bunnell asked for a moratorium through June 30, 2018. In general, I’m opposed to delaying the implementation of zoning for recreational marijuana. The town approved it at the ballot box, and we shouldn’t stand in the way. However, the state is moving so slowly on this issue that they won’t be issuing anything until spring of 2018 anyway. I supported this because it makes some people feel more comfortable, but it doesn’t actually delay anything. Michael Ruderman moved an amendment to make the moratorium expire as late as possible, even if new rules are applied. Stephen Revilak noted that the town supported recreational marijuana in November, and is opposed to the change. He asked whether we can make local regulations of marijuana – the answer is yes, in a limited matter, but we don’t know the parameters yet of what will be allowed. Chris Moore – would this change be legal, because it is setting an indefinite date. Town Counsel Doug Heim indicated that he thought June 30, 2018 was the latest possible date. Patricia Worden is in favor of Ruderman’s amendment and is very unhappy with permitting recreational marijuana. She went on a tirade about marijuana that can be best summarized as “reefer madness.” One of her arguments was one that I’ve heard several times from opponents: She is concerned that her grandchild will be going to the pediatrician in the same building as a medical marijuana dispensary. I can’t for the life of me figure out why that is a problem. First of all, how many children go to the doctor without their parents? Doesn’t the doctor’s office make a good place for parental and medical education about marijuana and other substances? Furthermore, there could not possibly be a more low-profile marijuana sales location than behind a closed door in a medical building. In a town where marijuana sales are legal, isn’t this the best possible option for the people opposed? To me, this line is a clear demonstration of the hollowness of the arguments of the opponents of marijuana. Paul Schlichtman is in favor of the moratorium so that we can take the time to decide where the business should be. Mustafa Varoglu is opposed to the moratorium. The next speaker, John Ellis, brought the house down: “The downside of this moratorium is that next year at town meeting the tennis team will still be selling only traditional brownies.” This was one of the best one-liners I’ve heard in town meeting in years. 44-167-1 amendment failed. 161-51-2 the moratorium passed.

Al Tosti moved to postpone Articles 3 and 4 to Wednesday May 3 so that we can do all finance articles on one day.

Article 5 – Special Ed Stabilization
Al Tosti said that special ed costs were high this year, and we needed the money this year. It was approved 211-2-1.

The Special Town Meeting was adjourned to May 3.

Break for 12 minutes

We reconvened and came back into the regular town meeting.

Article 17 – Plastic Bags, continued

Jim DiTullio is one of the original proponents of the bag ban. He focused on the million plastic bags that are used in Arlington each year. He is opposed to Schlichtman’s amendment because it is hard to implement in places like CVS where some of the products are paper. John Leonard attempted to make a point of order but the moderator ruled that it was actually just debate. This was the first such ploy this year, where one person thinks they are above the rules and has a license to waste the time of the entire meeting.  If we’re lucky, it’s the last. Annie LaCourt was in favor.  She thinks this is putting the cost of bags in the proper place, with the people who use them. Several speakers got applause after they talked on this issue.  As I’ve said before, I don’t think the applause is appropriate.  Part of the town meeting process is talking, disagreeing, and getting over differences.  The applause only serves to harden feelings and make future compromise more difficult. Gordon Jamieson moved to terminate. Terminated on voice vote. Klein’s amendment approved unanimously by voice vote. 12-193-3 Schlichtman’s amendment defeated. Main motion was approved 188-21.

Consent Agenda

The moderator put forward the consent agenda. Several articles were “held” out of the consent.  We approved Articles 20, 28, 35, 37, 42, 43, 46, 47, 50, 54, 55, 57 and 60 by a vote of 190-3-3.

Article 15 – LBGTQIA+ Rainbow Coalition

Selectmen Chairman Joe Curro explained the acronym and why the Board of Selectman supported this article. There are people and families in town who need support. He talked about the relationship with the Human Rights Commissions. Mel Goldsipe of the HRC endorsed the creation of the group and thanked town leaders for supporting it. Greg Christiana was in favor of it. Joe Monju was opposed – he thinks it will cost too much, and doesn’t think that voting against it makes someone a bigot. Wagner moved to terminate, on voice vote. 189-12-3 approved.

Article 18 – Appraisals of Town Property

Selectman Joe Curro: codifies a process but still permits flexibility. Annie LaCourt supports the article, but wanted to talk about it. Michael Ruderman explained that at previous Town Meetings there had been debate over how to value easements, and this change was to help resolve this. John Worden moved to strike the option of using an appraiser and make it required. Ted Sharpe noted that fair market value is determined by more than one thing and appraisal wasn’t only way. Brian Rehrig was opposed to John Worden’s amendment because, in part, the appraisal might cost more than the transaction.  I spoke in opposition to the amendment because I think the flexibility is important, and the amendment would remove it.  Christopher Moore moved terminate, approved on voice vote. 24-176 amendment failed. 198-5 approved. I didn’t find this discussion to be a productive use of Town Meeting’s time. It would have been better to resolve it on the consent agenda.

Article 19 – Appointment of Town Treasurer

Selectman Joe Curro noted the trend across the commonwealth to make the position appointed. And he noted the only 3 other towns of Arlington’s size that still have an elected treasurer. He talked about how the new Treasurer Dean Carmen was already delegating parts of his position to his professional deputy. Bill Hayner was opposed, and wanted a one-year delay on the change. Michael Ruderman was opposed to it. He thinks that we need a firmer plan before we approve it. I actually think that the points Ruderman made in his presentation were an argument in support of the change – he was pointing out all of the good things that are happening. The difference is, he doesn’t think this new way of doing things should be codified, and I think it should be.  I strongly believe that most of the work of the treasurer is professional, and that belongs in an appointed position.  There is very little of the political/policy work that remains, and Dean Carmen is working on ways to retain that in a decision-making board. Annie LaCourt is in favor of this change, as she was when she was on the board of selectmen. She made the point that it’s not about who is in the office, but about the office itself. She reminded Town Meeting that the reason it has taken so long (10+ years) for the treasurer’s office to convert to the same software as the rest of the town is that there was no way to compel the treasurer to cooperate. Eric Helmuth asked about whether the one-year delay would be a problem – Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine said a delay wouldn’t be a deal breaker. Helmuth is in favor of the change.

It was 11pm, and Al Tosti moved to adjourn.


Comment from Mel Goldsipe
Time: April 27, 2017, 2:41 am

THANK YOU for the “Reefer Madness” comparison. It was all I could think of during that speech, which was hysterical (in both senses of the word).

Comment from Linda Braun
Time: April 27, 2017, 8:57 am

I really appreciate these summaries of the TM sessions. Thanks for posting link on the Arlington List.

Comment from Daniel Jalkut
Time: April 27, 2017, 9:28 am

I agree with your point that applause should be avoided. I had been thinking of it as purely a matter of decorum and expediency, but you make a great point that it threatens to divide opponents more than necessary.

On a tangential point: I also found Mrs. Worden’s long tirade tedious and even offensive, but I didn’t choose to pass the time talking with my neighbors, as so many in the hall did. The effect of a room, normally silent in respect of a speaker, choosing to engage in a broad rumble of chatter, sends a message that some members of Town Meeting are worth listening to, and others are not.

Yet another variation on this is the propensity of some members to glare or sneer at speakers with whom they disagree. I only know about this phenomenon because I was treated to the visual feedback on Monday while I was speaking about Arlington’s diminishing dependence on cars. Of course, the looks of heartfelt agreement from other members did help to balance that!

I think we should all strive to make every speaker feel as comfortable in their position at the lectern as we would like to be made to feel. To that end I try to look at speakers with a neutral reeptivity, and to avoid chatting with my seatmates even if we are in the midst of a colossally meandering tirade.

Comment from Dean Carman
Time: April 27, 2017, 11:42 am

Regarding campaign buttons….

In prior Town Meetings a member was asked to take off their “Big Government Sucks!” and “Stand with Rand” buttons (two separate occurrences).

I believe the challenge is that Town Meeting passes a resolution that prohibits equal access to the floor and puts the Selectman in prominent seats within the already restricted enclosure. Wearing a campaign button seems to violate the equal access provision of the OCPF.

Also, since the Board of Selectman is in formal session concurrently with Town Meeting, I’m sure there is guidance on what campaign activities a special municipal employee can be engaged in during a formal session.

Public Employees, Public Resources and Political Activity
III. Public Resources and Campaigns
Public buildings: Using a public building or any part thereof for political campaign purposes is prohibited, unless equal access to the building is provided to any group wishing to use it, under the same terms and conditions as all other groups. Under no circumstances may any political fundraising go on in a public building or any part of any building occupied for a state, county or municipal purpose.

Comment from Adam Auster
Time: April 27, 2017, 12:07 pm

The exchange about why not just ban garage-unders (because compromise) neatly encapsulates the work of the Residential Study Group this year.

Zoning changes require a two-thirds vote. Last year, after defeating several proposed changes to the zoning bylaw, Town Meeting adopted a resolution calling for more work on issues such as the garage-under design.

The resolution passed, but not by two thirds, suggesting that compromise is necessary (and probably wise as well).

I think we are seeing a genuine appetite for tackling some of these new-construction issues. These may be baby steps, but they reset the agenda after 2 years of acrimony and failure.

Comment from Dan Dunn
Time: April 27, 2017, 12:07 pm

That is interesting that it has happened before, but it doesn’t change my mind. I would have supported that person’s choice to wear the pins, even though I would have disagreed with the message.

I agree that fundraising would be inappropriate (and illegal) during town meeting.

I also make a distinction between speech that is disruptive or distracting to the meeting. An off-topic speech, or even a waving sign might be an interruption. Buttons worn on the lapel are clearly sanctioned – they are passed out at the start of the meeting. Objections to political buttons are objections to the speech itself, and that speech is clearly protected by law.

Comment from Neal Connor
Time: April 27, 2017, 2:19 pm

Dan, I wholeheartedly agree on the applause and with your reasons. Rough-and-tumble is part of the Town Meeting process, but cheering for an article that had little chance of losing in the first place is just a form of taunting. I disagree with Daniel, in that negative feedback to a speaker is an education in the sense of the members as much as positive feedback. Every meeting has its gadflies and time-wasters who love to hear themselves. We are under no obligation to reward that impulse.

Comment from Rich Carreiro
Time: April 28, 2017, 12:51 am

‘In prior Town Meetings a member was asked to take off their “Big Government Sucks!”’

“I would have supported that person’s choice to wear the pins, even though I would have disagreed with the message.”

Completed your journey to the Dark Side? 1/2 🙂

Pingback from LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission Established | Paul Schlichtman – Arlington School Committee & TMM Precinct 9
Time: May 1, 2017, 5:56 pm

[…] Arlington Town Meeting voted 189-12-3 to establish a LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission.  Dan Dunn has a brief report of the debate, because the debate was brief. No big […]