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Town Meeting ’19 – Session 4

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.

Moderator John Leone called the meeting to order.

Town Meeting Member Rieko Tanaka again played the National Anthem on the piano, and the meeting members sang along.

The moderator asked for a moment of silence in memory of Judy Paradis who passed away on Sunday.

The moderator swore in Lori Leahy, a new Town Meeting Member from Precinct 21. This is my precinct. One of our members resigned, and we had 2 people apply for the vacant seat. Lori was the winner.

The moderator reminded everyone that civility is required, and it includes no snickering.

Select Board Chair Diane Mahon moved that we come back Monday for the next meeting.

Clicker test: is the funny bone a bone located in the elbow? 81 said yes, 93 said no, 14 abstained. Answer was no.

Announcements

  • John Maher – Symmes Non-Profit Medical Use Committee. $1m left. RFP this year are due June 7. The fund has given nearly a million dollars given so far. Donations go to Council on Aging, School Department, Youth Services, visiting nurses, and more. The funds are medical use only.
  • Phil Goff – Alewife Brook Greenway and Minuteman Bike Path cleanup is Saturday. East Arlington cleanup is starting at the dog park by Thorndike 9am sharp at saturday. Bicycle Advisory Committee is working on the Minuteman and is meeting behind Trader Joes. Sunnyside is meeting at north end of Alewife Brook Greenway.

Reports

  • Susan Stamps gave the report of the Tree Committee. Most people don’t know about the tree bylaws, she reported.
  • Eric Helmuth gave the chair of the Community Preservation Act Committee. He reviewed the money spent, and leveraged funds that have been leveraged.
  • Dave Swanson and Naomi Greenfield jointly gave the report of the Human Rights Commission. They closed with a moving speech about working to stop hate in Arlington. This was very well said, and I gave it my strongest applause.

Article 3 was tabled.

Article 22 Zoning Bylaw Corrections
Director of Planning and Community Development Jenny Raitt said this change fixes 6 references to the old zoning bylaw. Approved 203-1

Article 24 Definition of Half-Story Building
Residential Study Group member Elizabeth Pyle explained that this will make the definition easier to calculate. It will also slightly reduce the massing – only 3″ of ceiling height. She supports, personally, the amendment from Christian Klein. She says the ARB supports the article and amendment. Christian Klein moved an amendment that would more comprehensively define roof types and their slope. Gordon Jamieson had a question about how the floor space is calculated. He’s also concerned that the various zoning committees and study groups need to be more careful about their minutes and reporting. Daniel Jalkut had a question about how we’re taking advantage of state law or not. Mark McCabe moved to terminate debate on Article 24, and it was on voice vote. Klein’s amendment carried 194-15. I was typing these notes, and I forgot to vote on the amendment! I do support it, but no vote recorded. The motion as amended carried 201-7-1.

Article 26 Billboards and Signs
Bill Berkowitz asked where he could find the referenced “Display of Notices.” Town Counsel Doug Heim said they were on the website. Approved 210-3.

Article 27 Meeting Speaking Times
Jim O’Conor Town Meeting Procedures Committee recommends no action. Michael Jacoby Brown seeks to respect Town Meeting Members. He didn’t actually say the words “I move a substitute motion.” It was not clear to everyone in the room that there was actually a substitute motion. But he had submitted one in writing. Adam Auster is opposed. Roderick Holland is opposed. Joe Tully is opposed. He had several concrete suggestions about how speakers can be more respectful of the meeting members’ time. They were very well said, and Joe gave me his speech which I paraphrase here:

  • We should pay attention so we can limit repeated answers.
  • If you question is amatter of curiousity, but not relevant to how you will vote, perhaps you should ask at a different time.
  • If your observation is intended to demonstrate your subject matter expertise but isn’t particularly aimed at informing the debate, perhaps it’s not the best use of the meeting’s time.
  • When you speak, be prepared.
  • Just because you’re good at budgets doesn’t mean you have to speak on every budget.
  • Having 7 minutes doesn’t mean you need to use all 7.

Daniel Jalkut is opposed. John Worden is opposed. Len Diggins is opposed. Len is the regular staffer for ACMI for Select Board meetings. He made a joke about limiting Select Board new business to 5 minutes – it made me laugh. Paul Schlichtman moved to terminate debate, and it was. The vote started, then there was a point of information about what the question being voted was. On the vote to substitute Brown’s motion failed 26-178-2. No action prevailed.

Article 28 Recycling Committee Membership and Mission
Larry Slotnick, Recycling Committee Member explained that it changes the name and size of the committee and updates the mission of the committee. He talked about the need to move from just “recycle” to more reduce and reuse. He showed examples of areas where the town can improve. Jim O’Conor is in favor, as is Ted Paluso. Jordan Weinstein asked about current recycling, and we heard about how recycling market is failing. Christopher Moore moved to terminate debate. 208-4 approved

Article 29 Polystyrene
Juli Brazile explained that this would ban the sale of foam coffee cups and other polystyrene within the town. It can still be bought outside the town and used in the town. It does not require that the replacement product be biodegradeable. This is the plastic type to reduce first – it’s the least recyclable. Jim Ballin explained that these materials are easily recyclable. He described the outreach that the committee has done and reviewed steps other towns have taken. There was a question about the definition of a “food service item.” Jim DiTullio is in favor. He compared it favorably to the plastic bag ban.

9:33 break
9:47 return

Phil Goff moved to terminate debate. It was terminated on voice vote. 192-3 the ban was approved.

Article 30 Waterline
Voted no action.

Article 31 CPA Committee Renaming
This motion was already passed on the consent agenda, but there was confusion. So we voted on it a second time. We changed the name on a 163-1 vote.

Article 32 Tree Protection and Preservation.
Town Counsel Doug Heim made an administrative change. Tree Committee member Susan Stamps explained the changes to the requirements for a tree plan. She explained the change in permitted mitigation that payment is now the only option. Mustafa Varoglu asked about the definition of “near.” Greg Christina also asked about whether “near” was the right term to use. Daniel Jalkut was concerned with the consistency of capitalization. The speaker apologized for being a nitpicker, but argued that he’s making the bylaw better. But how much better? The capitalization changes have no meaningful improvement in the bylaw.  I’m not opposed to the changes themselves; I just wish he’d take these questions up before the meeting rather than during it. 3.5 minutes times 250 people is 14.5 hours.  The bylaw didn’t get 14.5 hours better with those capitals.  Zarina Memon is concerned about how the diameter is measured. Stephen Revilak asked, and DPW Director Mike Rademacher explained that there is a donation/fine account for trees and a line item in the budget. We plant 225 years last year and have a goal of 300 going forward. Beth Anne Friedman asked if we will reach out to tree removal companies. Mike Rademacher shared the process. Mark McCabe moved to terminate debate. It was approved 203-1.

Article 33 Notice of Demolition
Elizabeth Pyle of the Residential Study Group put the motion forward with RSG support. This adds tree plans the “Good Neighbor Agreement”. The result is notification of abutters during large renovations and new construction. JoAnne Preston asked about how enforcement would work going forward. Steve Revilak asked about the timeline of a project under this bylaw. Gordon Jamieson had a series of capitalization concerns.  I hope this isn’t a trend.  Or if it is a trend, it runs its course and concludes before 8pm on Monday.  Timur Yontar moved to terminate debate. 200-0.

Article 34 Dark Skies
Paul Schlichtman presented the article. He explained that this expands coverage from residential to commercial properties. He showed a particularly offensive light and how it could be reigned in. Christian Klein moved an amendment to expand the approving bodies for special events. Charlie Foskett asked questions about some of the aspects of the proposal. He thinks that it’s flawed, and not well defined, and is opposed to it. Beth Benedikt is opposed because she is concerned it affects her home lighting. Ed Trembly is also opposed because of public safety. Gordon Jamieson asked about the Leader Bank facade and expressed displeasure of it. He moved to strike the building facade reference from the bylaw. A speaker was opposed because she didn’t think the scope was clearly enough explained. Andrew Fisher is in favor. Deborah Sirotkin Butler had questions about the model law – we could use a lumen-based bylaw, but that’s not what this proposal does, this is less strict. Greg Christiana asked about public safety – whether this article would hinder public safety. Acting Police Chief Julie Flaherty didn’t think this bylaw would hinder public safety. Roderick Holland was unaware of the existing bylaw. There was a motion to adjourn, which failed. Timur Yontar moved to terminate debate. Klein’s amendment approved 157-38. Jamieson’s amendment passed 126-65-5. The main motion was approved 117-69-5.

Paul Schlichtman gave notice of reconsideration on Article 34

Minuteman, budgets, and capital budgets will be discussed on Monday.

We adjourned.

Comments

Comment from Daniel Jalkut
Time: May 2, 2019, 12:57 am

I’m sorry for initiating the nitpicking trend. I almost instantly regretted it, and I’ll try to be more mindful of priorities. It’s easy for me to get caught up in perfectionism over minor issues.

I’m more sorry for citing a phrase in my argument that we “don’t look idiots.” I realized quickly after that it could be construed as accusing Doug Heim, Adam Chapdelaine, and countless others as being idiots. This was not my intention. I immediately apologized to Doug Heim after the meeting, and sent a lengthier apology to the Select Board and others.

I do take a little exception to the strict accounting of time spent by speakers. Arguing that 3.5 minutes times 250 people is 14.5 hours may be strictly true, but I think you run a risk by trying to boil everything down to merit for time spent. Is the 7-minute break, which often runs to 10 or possibly even 15 minutes, worth the collective 30-60 hours that it takes? No, but almost nobody would think of it that way.

Comment from Paul Schlichtman
Time: May 2, 2019, 8:51 am

The frustrating trend from last night’s meeting would be to see folks get up and opine about a vote that emerges from one of the major reports (Select Board, Fincom, Redevelopment Board) when it is clear they haven’t read the report. Town Meeting requires a certain amount of homework. I can’t imagine why someone who doesn’t do their homework would stand up at the podium and confess to the rest of the Meeting.

Also, point well taken about technical corrections. 3.5 minutes here, 2.5 minutes there, next thing you know we are extending the Meeting another night to finish the town’s business.

Comment from Adam Auster
Time: May 2, 2019, 9:24 am

Correcting grammatical errors (such as the one no one said anything about in the proposal brought by the recycling committee) has value and in some cases may avoid misunderstanding or difficulty applying the bylaw. I question the value of calling out minor differences in usage where the meaning is not in doubt.

They are “difference,” not errors. If anything the trend for many years has been towards a more “down” style in which terms and phrases that are not actually proper names are lower case.

The Legal Profession has Resisted this Trend in favor of its fusty Nineteenth-Century Practices.

If we decide this is actually important, perhaps the Town can assign proofreading duties to someone on the staff, or this service can be rendered, in advance, by a volunteer committee, to which we can give a Suitably Grandiloquent Name.

Comment from Joe Tully
Time: May 2, 2019, 10:39 am

After listening to some of the speakers that came after me I was (facetiously) telling myself that I must have been very persuasive! I’m somewhere in the middle when it comes to correcting the grammar/spelling stuff. Poor grammar, misuse of words and misspellings are a particular pet peeve of mine. At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, this stuff matters, but no one seems care about it anymore. I think Daniel is correct to point out that we defined some terms in the text and then didn’t properly capitalize them in subsequent references. But, it’s probably not the best use of meeting time. My solution would be to allow someone to point out those flaws at any time before the final bylaw goes to press or the TM gets certified by the AG, so that it doesn’t have to be done on the floor of the meeting. I disagree with Adam that this is a vestige of days gone by. It’s important that laws be well crafted and drafted. It’s not just a “technicality” that someone might pick on to dispute the statute, it can often have very real ramifications on how one reads the statute. There are cases that, rightly so, hinge on the fact that a particular clause has (or doesn’t have) a comma. I’m reminded of the old Benny Hill sketch where they compare two versions of the same comment. (1) “What’s that in the road ahead”? (2) “What’s that in the road, a head?”

Comment from Paul Schlichtman
Time: May 2, 2019, 10:51 am

Perhaps we should draft an article for the 2020 town meeting, requiring the use of the Oxford comma in all town documents.

Comment from Paul Schlichtman
Time: May 2, 2019, 10:56 am

In response to Adam Auster, we could set up a panel for this purpose:
Usage & Grammar Legal Inconsistencies Evaluative Review (UGLIER) committee.

Comment from dunster
Time: May 2, 2019, 11:24 am

Daniel – I do think the minute accounting is fair. Your example of the meeting break is a great one. The test is, “does the meeting need this activity to function at high level?” And the answer is yes – people need a break, or the meeting falls apart. So that makes it a good use of the group’s time. Of course, this is all about judgement, and different people will use different criteria. I think Joe Tully’s example is also about judgement. If the comma is going to make a difference in the actual meaning of the vote, then absolutely yes we should take the time to fix it. But if the meaning is the same, capitalized or not. . . in my judgement is that it’s skippable.

Proofing this stuff is non-trivial. The timelines are more constrained and the improvements come in all the time. Overall, the Select Board report I think is much higher quality this year than last year – last year I was somewhat embarrassed, this year I’m fairly pleased. But there is always room to improve.

I look forward to the UGLIER report next year.

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