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Town Meeting ’18 – 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.

We had been moving at a decent pace through Town Meeting so far, but tonight we slowed down quite a bit in the budgets.

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

As Chairperson of the Select Board, I welcomed the visitors from Nagaokakyo.  We have been sister cities since 1984 with some 75 exchanges over the years.  We heard remarks from their teacher, Connor Boyle.  In my remarks I forgot to thank the families in town who host the visitors, and I forgot to thank Sue Sheffler for her hard work on the program.

Announcements and Reports

  • Moderator John Leone reminded everyone that clapping for individual speakers is not appropriate and is a form of intimidation.
  • I announced that the Symmes fund financial report was available in the back of the room.
  • Jane Howard announced the Spy Pond cleanup.
  • I didn’t get all the announcements recorded – I had too much going on to catch them all. 
  • The school committee report was received from Kirsi Allison-Ampe
  • The Recycling Committee report was presented by Larry Slotnick and and Priya Sakalia.
  • John Ellis reported on the tree inventory.

Article 34 Minuteman. Fin Comm Member Stephen DeCourcey requested 10 minutes. He noted that Minuteman’s budget includes the capital costs along with the operating budget. Assistant Superintendent Kevin Mahoney gave the presentation. He relayed the changes in the budget and the new building progress. He answered questions, in particular about revenue opportunities for the old property. Minuteman was approved 212-1.

Budgets – Al Tosti had a substantive increase to the education budget, and a number of administrative changes related

Board of Selectmen – Questions on elections and increased staffing in the department.

Information Technology – There was a question about Request/Answer upgrades. There was a question on our preparedness for a cyber threat.

Treasurer/Collector – There were questions on what out-of-grade pay was and the balance on the Symmes debt.

Assessor – Many questions about how the department does it’s work. There was a question about creating a differential for commercial tax rates v residential rates.

We took a break.

Planning – John Maher thinks the Planning Director is underpaid. Questions on traffic hiring and MBTA.

Public Works – There were discussions of road salt and drinking fountains. Or, as I term it, we chatted about salt and water. There were questions about traffic signal maintenance as well. There was a question about how often trucks are washed.  Schlichtman moved to terminate debate. I confess at this point I was hoping the debate would move along more quickly. The questions could have been asked beforehand, and could have been delivered with more precision.

Facilities – There was a question about a budget change, and it was answered that there was a change between consulting and personnel. The FinCom budget document gives a lot of information, but it is only a summary of the budget. The next deepest layer is the Town Manager’s report. Many of the questions in town meeting are answered in that document.  It’s possible to dig even deeper if you want – FinComm members get a budget every year, hundreds of pages, that breaks it down line-by-line.  But I find the Town Manager’s report to be the best level of narrative and detail.

Police – There were several questions on position changes and staffing.

Education – There were questions on Gibbs cost increases, Gibbs library funding. There was discussion on PTO spending and how they were funding more “must haves” not just “nice to have.” There were compliments on the quality and cost effectiveness of the Arlington education system. There was a question about how the school checks residency. Someone in the meeting shouted “scope.” The question was absolutely in scope – even if I wish the questioner was asking in a more efficient venue, not in full town meeting. The speaker was clearly rattled. However, the only person who can determine if something is or isn’t in scope is the moderator – it’s not determined by the peanut gallery. My advice to the speaker: ignore the people shouting at you – the only person who can stop you is the moderator. If the disruptions become too much you should appeal to the moderator for help, not engage with the shouters. There was a question about bullying.  We finished the discussion of education.

The meeting adjourned.  Wednesday is the special town meeting and maybe? hopefully? the rest of the regular town meeting.


Comment from Adam Auster
Time: May 1, 2018, 7:21 am

“As Chairperson of the Select Board…”: an historic first.

Comment from jo anne preston
Time: May 2, 2018, 12:13 am

Why didn’t the moderator stop the “scope” yelling at that time? I think it was far more of a problem than applauding, especially since the speaker was on topic.

Comment from Daniel Jalkut
Time: May 2, 2018, 1:35 pm

Thanks as always for writing up as much as you can about the meetings. Your comments about wishing folks would address questions to department heads/etc is interesting, and I have to confess I had to look back at Mr. Leone’s letter to members to see that he also encouraged that. I guess I’ll admit that I, for one, wasn’t really tuned in to that convention and will try to do that more often in the future when I have something to ask, particularly about a budget-related issue.

Comment from dunster
Time: May 2, 2018, 5:26 pm

Jo Anne – I think that you can reasonably ask the Moderator that, but I’d do it over phone or email or some other private medium.

Daniel – It’s a fine line. Town Meeting’s role is to approve spending, and it is the right of Town Meeting to ask questions. It’s appropriate to ask questions, too. The gray area: when is a question good for the whole body to hear? Or when is the question just making the meeting longer, which leads to lower turnout and higher dropout? There’s no clear answer.

I think the that the speech about PTO spending was a really good one because it was about systemic budgeting, and it was on point. It was a call for different budgeting in the future.

On the other hand, I think some of the other ones like “why did this move by $15k” are just trivia. If you ask the department head about the $15k before the meeting, and that department head gives you an answer you don’t like, then by all means, that’s a great thing for town meeting to talk about.

As I type this out I think my frustration is that sometimes people are just looking to satisfy their curiosity. I want them to get their answers, but it’s not fair to the other 250+ people in the room. There are better ways to handle the case of curiosity.

Comment from Daniel Jalkut
Time: May 2, 2018, 11:30 pm

Thansk, Dan. I really appreciated the comments about PTO, too. I hope it was received by everybody in the positive spirit it was obviously intended.