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Town Meeting ’20 – Outdoor Edition

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 opened the meeting at 6:30. We are, most unusually, all seated on the turf of Arlington High School.  Because of the pandemic Town Meeting has been postponed, moved outside, and even more importantly has a truncated agenda.  Town Meeting is the master of its own destiny, and the body can debate anything on the warrant.  But the proposed plan is defer debate to a future meeting, to vote “no action” on everything except vital budget articles.  Pictures on Twitter

We recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

A prayer was given.

The moderator welcomed 84th Town Meeting under the Town Manager Act and 214th? overall. He introduced the newly elected town-wide office holders Town Clerk Juli Brazile, Select Board Len Diggins, School Committee Member Elizabeth Exton, and Housing Authority JoAnne Preston. He noted that there is no electronic voting this year. This year is paper materials; it will be electronic materials again next year. He noted that our meeting is governed by Bylaws and Town Meeting time. He reminded everyone how a manual vote worked. He reminded everyone that two consent agendas are in play this year – one for citizen articles and one for housekeeping financial articles. He said that debate will be just like regular Town Meeting.

We had a moment of silence.

The moderator swore in new and re-elected Town Meeting Members. The received a round of applause.

Select Board Chair John Hurd made the pro forma motion about seating. He also moved that if we don’t finish, we come back June 17. This wasn’t necessary, thankfully.

No announcements.

Article 3 – Reports of Committees.

  • Al Tosti submitted the Fincomm report.
  • John Hurd submitted the Select Board report.
  • Eric Helmuth submitted the Community Preservation Act Committee report.
  • Timur Yontar submitted the Capital Planning Committee report.
  • Andrew Bunnell submitted the Arlington Redevelopment Board report.

Al Tosti moved the various motions within the received reports as the main motions. This is actually a very powerful motion. It means that each article we take up has a motion already on the table – the motion that was made by the respective committee.  That is what makes the various hearings of the Select Board, ARB, FinComm, etc. so important. Those hearings are what set the starting point of each article.

Article 4 – Measurer of Wood and Bark – Reappointed John Worden

Article 5 – Assistant Town Moderator  James O’Connor was re-elected without opposition.

Consent agenda – 68 articles.
We had a discussion about what it meant for all of the articles to be “no action” in this year – that they will come back for the next Town Meeting. This year, we didn’t finish the public hearings or vetting of the articles before the pandemic.  So for Town Meeting the intent is to do finance articles and nothing else. Eventually the consent agenda was approved.

Article 50 – Community Development Block Grants was approved.

Article 61 – Minuteman Regional School District. Superintendent Ed Bouquillon talked about the new building. Only 14 out-of-district students next year. 650 students in the fall – more than the designed capacity. There is a waiting list. Zarina Memon had a question about the enrollment and budget. Her questions were explained in the Minuteman report which was posted on the town website. Approved unanimously on voice vote.

Article 53 – Town Budgets. Al Tosti talked about the process of revising the FY21 budget after the pandemic broke. The budget for FY21 has several cuts from original intent. The budgets are larger than FY20, but the increase is smaller than had been planned. He talked about the looming June ’23 override and how large it will be on the current trajectory (16%).

Town Manager Budget – passed.

Public Works Budget – John Leonard asked about the traffic signal maintenance budget. DPW Michael Rademacher answered it. There was no question about the salt budget! I’m told Ed Trembly asked the question online, but I missed it.  Probably better done that way than in person, really, but I did miss moment.

Police Budget – Jordan Weinstein asked about the raises in the police department and why they were different. Al Tosti noted some of the unions have reached a negotiated agreement, but the patrolmen’s union has not settled. Deputy Town Manager Sandy Pooler noted that last year’s Town Meeting approved the raises for officers in a separate article from the budget, so this year’s budget is actually 2 years of raises in one for captains, lieutenants, and sergeants – that’s why the percentage increase is so large. For patrolmen, they are in arbitration, so there is no raise yet.  There’s a lot to unpack in this discussion.  As was noted during debate, Town Meeting can modify or approve a bottom line for a budget, but it doesn’t have the legal authority to change the individual line items.  Also, union contracts, once approved, have really strong protections.  If you want to challenge a raise it’s much more effective to do that beforehand, or during the contract approval – but not during the contract itself. Furthermore, I think there was some confusion about the relationship between raises and the budget itself.  A budget’s percentage increase doesn’t always represent a raise – it can represent salary “step increases,” or a new hire, or retirement payouts, or a bunch of other factors – it’s not just raises.  You don’t know from looking at the line item, you have to dig deeper.  Weinstein asked if he could make a motion.   The implication is that Weinstein wanted to reduce the raises for the police leadership, though it was never specifically stated.   After discussion John Leone ruled that the motion was out of order because it wasn’t in writing beforehand as had been required.  The Town Moderator indicated that he and Weinstein had talked about the process to make an amendment, and the deadline for making the amendment, but Weinstein hadn’t made one.  Why didn’t he submit an amendment beforehand, when he could?  I wish I knew.

Education Budget – Sheri Baron asked about the cuts discussed earlier. It was clarified by school CFO Mike Mason that it’s a reduction in the increase, and no one was let go. John Leonard asked about security during the school building process. Superintendent Kathy Bodie said cameras were being added and some security protocols were changed; they don’t plan at this time to have overnight in-person security.

Reserve Fund – pass

Ed Burns Arena – BethAnn Friedman asked about the missing revenue due to pandemic. Sandy Pooler talked about the plans for the fall reopen and the revenue. The longer it is closed, though, the lower the revenues are.  The town has been able to balance so far.

The budgets were approved by voice vote.

The Moderator thanked Al Tosti for 27 years of chairing FinComm. He received a standing ovation of thanks. It’s hard to overstate Al’s contribution to Arlington over these decades.  “Show me your budget, and I’ll show you your values.” He added me to FinComm 15 years ago, and I was so impressed with how he took a committee of 21 people, let them say what they want, listened to the arguments, and guided them to a consensus.  We owe him a lot of thanks.  

Article 54, 59, and 60 – Capital Planning. Timur Yontar thanked Charlie Foskett for chairing for three decades, and for Brian Rehrig and Steve Andrew’s service. He walked through the high points of the capital budget. Jordan Weinstein asked about the police vehicle capital budget. Timur answered that it’s typically 3 vehicles per year. Elizabeth Dray asked a more detailed question about the vehicle replacement cycle.  Police Chief Julie Flaherty answered that vehicles are often 3-4 years, motorcycles are longer. There is one parking control vehicle, and there will be a 2nd in 2025. Gordon Jamieson noted that the largest budget under the Town Manager is the Water and Sewer budget, not the police budget. He noted the adherence to the 5% of revenue for capital. Annie LaCourt asked about the planning for the future, in the face of fiscal crisis; Timur answered that the 5% is in general good practice. Police budget is 8.3% of the non-school budget. John Deyst asked about electronic police cars and explained that they are inefficient at powering the police electronics. Approved unanimously.

Article 66 and 67 – Community Preservation Act. Chair Eric Helmuth reported that some projects were delayed in deference to the pandemic. The programs that are being put forward tonight are either urgent or already approved by Town Meeting.

Consent agenda two. The finance articles were all approved.

Article 77 – Fiscal Stability Fund. Approved

The Town Meeting was dissolved.


Comment from Daniel Jalkut
Time: June 15, 2020, 11:48 pm

Thank you for continuing your blog posts about Town Meeting, even in this most unusual year.

Comment from Michael Watson
Time: June 16, 2020, 9:35 am

Dan, thank you for continuing your service to the town as a TMM and continuing to write this invaluable blog.

Comment from Peter Fuller
Time: June 16, 2020, 11:52 am

Another vote of thanks, Dan, for your long and continuing service to the Town, especially for 9 productive years on the Select Board.

You write “The moderator welcomed 84th Town Meeting under the Town Manager Act and 214th? overall.” I think the moderator said 84th representative Town Meeting, which is only partly correct. The Town requested, received, and accepted a special act by the state legislature (Chapter 642 of the Acts of 1920) authorizing a representative Town Meeting, and held its first in 1921, so 2020 was the 100th.

The 2020 annual meeting was also:
– the 214th overall, beginning with our incorporation as Town of West Cambridge in 1807.
– the 84th since we accepted the uniform standard form of representative town meeting law in 1937, replacing the 2020 act.
– the 68th since the Town Manager Act first took effect in 1937.

Comment from Jordan Weinstein
Time: June 16, 2020, 1:26 pm

One thing Dan overlooks (as does Bob Sprague in his article in yourArlington, is that at least a dozen Town Meeting Members took a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance. I’ve never seen that in my short three years in Town Meeting and think it is important to acknowledge. Mr. Dunn and Mr. Sprague might want to ask themselves why they didn’t report this.

Comment from Peter Fuller
Time: June 16, 2020, 4:42 pm

Also not reported so far:
Early in the meeting someone was flying a drone over the field. Annoying noise, at least to me. Wonder whether it was ACMi flying the thing.
Late in the meeting someone on the bike path near the field yelled “Arlington is a police state!”

Correction to my earlier comment: Town Manager Act first took effect in 1953, not 1937.