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Town Meeting ’17 – 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. 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.

Jane Howard played the National Anthem on the piano, and the meeting joined in song.

There was at least one new town meeting member appointed tonight to fill a vacancy, and he was sworn in by the moderator.

The test vote on the clicker was 19-145-19 – it was a question about Jackson Pollack. That count of votes was pretty low, but I think people just skipped this test vote. Later on in the meeting we had as high as 214 votes. Our attendance has been higher this year than years past. Looking at my past notes, 2015 had 195 voters on Session 3. Farther back you see a big dropoff.  The infamous leaf blower vote was only 169 voters, in Session 4 of 2008.  In 2002, Session 3 was only 160 attendees.  I found one vote in 2008 that was 110 votes.  I attribute the higher attendance to electronic voting.  It has increased accountability both in attendance and in the substance of votes taken, and has driven turnover at the ballot box.  More people are showing up, night in and night out.

Board of Selectman Chairman Joe Curro moved for us to reconvene on Wednesday May 3, and it was approved.

The representative of the school committee of our sister city in Japan, Nagaokakyo gave a brief speech. She talked about the students’ 10-day visit. She thanked everyone for their welcome.

Article 3, Reports

  • Al Tosti updated the Finance Committee report. In Article 32, he deleted Section 2, item A and Section 3, item A. The Moderator said the change was made administratively, without further vote.
  • John Ellis gave the report of the Tree Committee. 187 trees removed, 175 added by the town last year. He reported on other programs the committee is working on, including working with the new Tree Warden.
  • Rich Greco, Retirement Administrator, gave the report of the Retirement Board. I thought this was a great report. The retirement system has a big impact on our town budget, and I don’t think it is generally well understood. It was a good education piece. I’ve asked Rich to post it on the town’s website.

Announcements

  • Michael Ruderman announced that today’s bake sale are items made today at the Minuteman Voc High School.
  • Steve Revilak announced that his neighbors had removed 42 bags of trash on the Mystic. He commended the town and volunteers for removing the trash.
  • Jane Howard announced Spy Pond cleanup day is May 13 9am to 1pm, they are focused on the section along Route 2. Rain or shine.
  • Betty Stone announced May 24th evening at the library is a film and discussion about women and immigration issues.
  • Selectman Curro June 6th 6:30-9 visioning session on Arts and Culture.
  • Angela O announced that the ATED visitor center is open, and the Uncle Sam Plaza site work is finished. “They Want You” to work at the visitor center.

Article 3 is tabled.

Al Tosti moved 19 be 43 be tabled.

Article 44 – Minuteman Vocational Regional High

FinComm member Steve DeCourcey asked for 15 minutes for the presentation. He gave the FinComm’s recommendation of the budget. He explained that the school district budget is down, but Arlington’s budget is up. Dr. Bouquillon gave a presentation about the school’s status and the changes to the budget. Gordon Jamieson asked about how Minuteman was able to shave a year off the school build: Bouquillon answered that it was an aggressive bid. Bond premium paid, he asked? yes – projected at $6million if they hit what they are planning. Topher Heigham: what is in the debt service? Why did the assessment jump so much? Answer: the rolling average includes some high years. Dean Carman – note that member towns get preference in acceptance if the enrollment gets larger than capacity in the new building.  Michelle Durocher had a question about the “academy model” at Minuteman. It’s an organization oriented at supporting students. Teachers are in academies organized by program, math and english aren’t separate departments, but are aligned within the academy. Mark McCabe moved to terminate debate on Article 44. Terminated on voice vote. Budget approved 216-3.

19 and 43 were removed from the table.

Article 19 – Appointment of Treasurer, continued

Al Tosti spoke on his behalf, not on behalf of FinCom. Tosti spoke in favor of the change. He argued that the position is not political, and is professional, among other arguments. MaryEllen Bilafer shared former Treasurer Bilafer’s thoughts. He now supports making this an appointed position. Ms. Bilafer joined her father in supporting this change, saying that now is the time. She had a great quote: “Now it the time to take chance out of the process.” John Worden was opposed, and thinks the voters should decide who the treasurer is. BethAnn Friedman is favor, but had a question about the transition. Dean Carman said that he was already farming out most of the job to the deputy treasurer. Town Manager Chapdelaine gave a general picture of how it would work in three years if approved by the voters. Gordon Jamieson had several questions about the current appointment processes of various finance officials. Jud Pierce is opposed to this because he is worried that this will lead to a merging of school and town’s finance departments. I disagree with Jud on two levels. First, I think this vote should be taken on its own merits, not on future concerns. This issue isn’t a slippery slope change; the boundaries are clearly defined. Any future changes would be carefully scrutinized by town meeting. My second disagreement is that I do think that much of the school finance department should be merged with the town’s. I believe that Jud and I agree that the School Committee and Superintendent must retain independence to run the school system, and use the authority granted them by state law and the town’s charter. The School Committee should not need to ask permission of the Town Manager or anyone else (beyond reasonable checks) in order to run the school department. However, there are a lot of processes and systems that are entirely about execution, not policy, and those are the type of things that would be improved by merging the departments. Payroll is an excellent example. The Superintendent decides who gets hired and at what payscale, but the actual checkwriting is done by a joint team. Still, there are systems that are separate that should be integrated. The invoicing system is one of them. The schools are still using an outdated paper system, and invoices are not entered into the town’s electronic accounting system on a timely manner.  This is both expensive and increases risks of budget overruns. As with payroll, the actual invoice, the decision about spending, should be controlled by the school management. But once that spending decision is made, the actual flow of the money should be managed by a joint department. This is why we need integration. It’s an argument for another day. Adam Auster thinks that this is an appropriate position to be professionally chosen, not elected.

break for 10 minutes

Joe Tully is opposed to the change, and thinks it should be elected. Andrew Fischer also thinks it should be elected. John Deyst thinks that Dean Carmen and Adam Chapdelaine are the right two people to figure out the right structure, and supports the change. Steve Gilligan spoke next, in opposition to the change. He thinks that local, passionate candidates are the best choice. He noted other towns and cities that are unhappy with elected treasurers. There were too many points in Mr. Gilligan’s speech for me to capture them in detail while he spoke. I think that some of his points were factually correct, but many of them served in support of the change, not in favor of his position. Some of his arguments (and facts) were wrong.  He also brought some personality-driven elements to the debate, the elements that had made previous discussions less productive and more unpleasant.  It’s unfortunate that he chose to do that.  The debate had been generally focused on the merits, and there was no need to re-open those irrelevant issues. There was a question about how a treasurer could be removed, and Town Counsel Doug Heim gave an overview of the town’s recall procedures (Town Manager Act sections 36-44).  Steve Gilligan rose with a “point of information” and said that Town Counsel was wrong, and that the Board of Selectmen can remove an elected Treasurer for “malfeasance.” Neither Town Counsel nor I are aware of any such power of the selectmen to remove the treasurer, for any reason.  There used to be a statute where the state Commissioner of Revenue had the power to remove a treasurer, but it was never used and was regarded as unenforceable, and was ultimately repealed.  I think Gilligan was entirely wrong on his point of information. Ted Paluso argued that the “we need to trust the voters” argument means that if we trust the voters, we should send this question to the voters. Mark McCabe moved the question and it was terminated on voice vote. The change was approved 154-57-1 and will go to the voters.

Article 21 – Surveillance

The moderator asked who had held this off the consent agenda. A gentleman stood up, but he didn’t have a substitute motion. I believe the speaker is confused about the difference between a warrant article and a motion under an article. The warrant article serves as notice to the town residents that something will be discussed, but it is not actually a proposal for change. If you look at the language in the warrant, the articles all start with “To see if. . . .” They aren’t actions, they are considerations.  Later, the actual motions all start with “It is moved that. . .”  They are actions. No action was approved on voice vote.

Article 22, 23, 24, and 25 – Senior Tax Relief

Selectman Joe Curro thanked the town employees for their work on these. John Leonard had a series of questions about the programs. Gordon Jamieson had questions. Several speakers passed. Charlie Foskett wanted to understand what work was being done, and what effect it would have on collected taxes. Zarina Memon moved to terminate debate, done on voice vote. The four articles passed, 202-5-1. 199-7-1. 201-5-0. 199-4-1.

Article 26 – Parking Benefits District

Selectman Joe Curro said that it is part of the town’s economic development plan for Arlington Center. Last year town meeting did a bit of stick with the vacancy regulations, and this vote tonight is a carrot. The parking meters have encouraged turnover in parking spaces on-street, and usage of the off-street lots has increased by 20%. This district would permit us to put the revenue from the meters into improvements in the business district. Gordon Jamieson had a series of questions about the financial details. That was the fourth time he was called on tonight, the same number as Joe Curro. I didn’t clock Jamieson’s exact time at the podium, but I estimate it was 15-20 minutes out of the 160 minutes we met tonight. A speaker asked who spends the money, and why we’re doing this vote now. Chapdelaine: we’re doing it now because we want to use the money sooner than later, and this permits us to start looking at projects. Andrew Fischer had questions about the amount of anticipated new revenue ($150k) and what it would be used for. He is opposed. Phil Goff moved to terminate debate, and it was approved on voice vote. 170-28 we approved the district.

We adjourned a few minutes early.

Comments

Comment from Adam Auster
Time: May 2, 2017, 10:39 am

Bilafer’s remarks, and her father’s change of heart, were the turning point of this whole long debate. I hope the voters attend to what she has to say.

I am always put off by Gilligan’s defensiveness and tendency to bluster, but initially gave him credit for at least waiting his turn this time and not speaking out of turn.

Then he went ahead and did that bogus “point of information” thing again. I do not understand why our usually diligent moderator lets him get away with that–it only encourages bad behavior.

Comment from Rich Carreiro
Time: May 3, 2017, 12:50 am

“Some of [Gilligan’s] arguments (and facts) were wrong. He also brought some personality-driven elements to the debate, the elements that had made previous discussions less productive and more unpleasant.”

I see nothing has changed in the 8 years since I left Town Meeting.

Comment from Adam Auster
Time: May 3, 2017, 9:48 am

Yes, but we miss you, Rich!

Comment from Rich Carreiro
Time: May 7, 2017, 12:21 am

That’s a good one, Adam!

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