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2003 Town Meeting

I took notes during Town Meeting 2003. They are not official in any way. As I listened to people speak, I scribbled notes. I'm sure that, at times, I misheard or misunderstood the speaker, but my notes represent what I heard at the time. I then published the notes every night after the meeting I went back and made a few edits as errors were pointed out to me.

I did not try to reproduce my entire notepad for this online version. Sometimes I relay a quote from a specific speaker. Most of the time I only summarize the discussion. At points I give a purely personal opinion; those are clearly labeled like this: Personal note.

4/28 - 4/30 - 5/5 - 5/7 - 5/12 - 5/14 - 5/19 - 5/21
5/28 - 6/4 - 6/9 - 6/11 - 6/16 - 6/18 - top

4/28/03 - First Meeting

The State of the Town was at 7PM; I missed most of it (still at work). I did make it in time for Supt. of Schools Donovan to introduce Suzanne Baratta Owayda for the State of the Schools. After her speech, I ran out for a quick meeting of the Power Company Feasibility Committee where we gave final approval to the report that was given to Town Meeting.

The state of the town speech ran later than it was expected (I think). This resulted in a huge clog of Town Meeting Members trying to check in at the Town Clerk's desk and pick up their informational packets in the back of the room. This was pretty badly organized - 200 or so people trying to find their name in boxes on a small table up against the wall. But it got really funny when the color guard arrived - a dozen or revolutionary re-enactors with flags, fife, drums, and, you guessed it, muskets. Their staging area was the same place as the paper table, and the confusion only got worse. This was a moment of unintentional humor if there ever was one - I almost expected the color guard to affix bayonets and clear some working room.

Moderator John Worden gaveled the meeting open (while the mayhem of paper in back continued). The drum and fife brought the flag in, and the national anthem was sung by the Town Meeting. The leader of the Countryside Bible Chapel read a prayer attributed to St. Patrick.

The moderator gave some opening remarks. Notable points included the fact that the TM has the power to dispose of issues, his disagreement with selectmen about when meeting should start, when he thought the warrant should close (much later than it does), and his thoughts on warrant articles that didn't have direct effect on the town (he thinks they're ok).

New Town Meeting Members were sworn in (after a good round of applause). A really great tradition. Unexpected and sincere applause is very moving to those who receive it. Re-elected TMM were sworn in.

Selectman Greeley made a motion to permit town office-holders and employees to "sit on the floor" with the elected members.

Town Clerk Rainville read the warrant.

Mr. Greeley made a motion that the meeting should reconvene on Wednesday at 8PM. Mr. Greeley then brought forward the selectmen's recommendations for earlier start times for meetings. He and the moderator knocked heads for a bit. By show of hands, a large number of people wanted to start earlier (7PM). Very few wanted a Saturday session. It was not determined when the meeting should adjourn. I really hope we run until 11PM. I'd love to have fewer, longer sessions. The start-up and shut-down of meetings is pretty inefficient. Once the meeting gets rolling, it can get more done.

Article 2 - Committee Reports
Finally! Some business!

  • Selectmen's report was given by Mr Greeley.
  • Redevelopment Board was given by Roland Chaput.
  • Noise Abatement Study Committee was given by Frank Ciano.
  • Public Access Report was given by Barbara Costa. She asked for Glen Koenig to come forward. This was the first report to have associated verbal remarks. He discussed progress on creating a non-profit organization that would provide cable to both in-town networks. It sounds like they are doing good things, but he said one thing that irritated me - he said that his cable appropriation "didn't raise taxes or take money from others." He seemed to think that since it was allocated for him, then it was somehow free of moral encumbrance. In other words, just because they didn't fire a teacher to give him his money, he wasn't actually competing with the schools for money. It's just not that simple! He may be doing good things with the town's money, but to somehow think of it as free just isn't right.
  • Zoning Bylaw Review Committee report was given by John Leone. Previous chair, Freeland Abbot, is evidently hiking the Appalachian Trail. Board is down 5 members - no quorum even. They still favor the Special Places By-Law, and didn't attend the Selectmen's hearing on the issue because they didn't know about it. Last year's version has not yet been enacted by the state.
  • At this point, the moderator invited everyone to apply for committees. There are many.
  • Telecommunications Committee report was given by Roland Chaput. He reported that their work was done, and that the current by-laws are adequate to protect the town. He asked that the committee be dissolved, and it was.
  • The Power Company Feasibility Committee report was given by Michael Quinn. I put in a lot of work on this report - it was nice for it to see the light of day.
  • Several other committees indicated they would report at a later date.
  • The Finance Committee report will be done on May 7th, reported Alan Tosti. They had waited for the House to report a budget before staring final steps. There will be a Part A and Part B budget, a version with and a version without the override.
  • Mr. Tosti made a motion to lay Article 2 on the table so that we could pick it up again at a later meeting. Motion passed.

Article 3 - Wood and Bark. John FitzMaurice was re-appointed.

Article 4 - Bicycle Parking. Mr. Chaput described that the by-law had been proposed last year but narrowly failed. It had been re-tuned. At this point, I became the first non-scripted speaker of the night. I never would have thought that would happen! I even made a successful joke as I started -even less likely. Anyway, I was opposed to this. I said: "We don't need this. I'm a bicyclist. I don't even own a car. Last year, when we considered this by-law, I was the only bike on the rack. Today, there were 3. There just isn't that much need. We don't need this. I buy groceries at Stop and Shop - they have a bike rack. Foodmaster doesn't, and I don't buy there. Let the developer look at this and make decisions on what is going to make them money. There were a few questions and several speakers. Topics included the appropriate ratio of car to bike spaces, separation of traffic flows, public safety, the easy and difficulty of finding bike parking, enforcement provisions, whether it was business friendly. One speaker talked about how he couldn't find a bike parking space at Fleet when he wanted cash out of the ATM before the meeting. I sympathize with him, but this is not the solution! This by-law won't get him his parking space. What WILL get him his space is if he tells the manager that he's pulling his account if they don't put up a bike rack for him - they have great bike parking at Cambridge Savings. He wants a space, and he voted for this thinking that he would get it; it just isn't that easy. The motion carried 141-47.

10 minute recess.

The Hurd Walk was announced by Lyman Judd.

Article 5 - Zoning change near Ottoson. Roland Chaput spoke. The fields by Ottoson change from residential to open space. Unanimous voice vote.

Article 6 - Zoning change on Summer St. Change a segment from light industrial to retail. It is an expansion of a current zoning designation. All owners are on board with it and the current use conforms. Unanimous voice vote.

Article 7 - Warrant mailing. State doesn't require a mailing for state elections, but we do. One speaker for the savings (about $5k), one speaker opposed because we need to encourage voting more. Passed.

Article 8 - Special Places. Tabled.

Article 9 - Creating dog parks. There was discussion of pooper-scooper, fencing, and likely rules of use. A question was asked if the 2nd "or" in the amendment was necessary. At this point, town government was utterly paralyzed. Selectmen, moderator, counsel, and manager all feverishly read and re-read the convoluted English of this by-law. I think it was compounded by the underlining- it made it harder to read. Selectman Mahon hid her head under her report. At this point, and I kid you not, a cat strolled into the proceeding. It said hello to Town Counsel and rubbed up against the Finance Chair. It proceeded to waltz through the aisles, checking out the contents of book bags. I couldn't make this up if I tried. Somebody really needed to put them out of their misery. The question was moved and passed.

Article 10 - No leash law in dog parks. Several speakers were actually speaking to the previous question. Topics included the creation of dog parks at locations other than Reed's Brook, the design of dog parks, the definition of dog parks, town liability, and whether fencing was actually required. Michael Quinn gave notice of reconsideration of Article 9. This, I think, is about fences. We didn't require them in this by-law, but we don't have to. I trust the judgment of the Recreation Commission to make the right call on a case by case basis. We don't have to be so restrictive; there is plenty of time to decide on fences later. The question was moved with 2 speakers in the queue. Motion passed.

Article 11 - Remove the parking meter by-laws. There was a question about parking lots, which are unaffected by this. Passed.

Article 12 - Historic District Commission membership. No discussion, passed 157-2.

Article 13 - Health inspection fees. This is part of the town's efforts to save money and find revenue. There were questions about whether non-profits were previously required to pay fees - no. There was a question about pools - are there any that this applies to? And what was the fee beforehand? The answer is that there are 9 pools, and we're raising the fees from $80 to $110. This is the moment that I marvel that we're actually talking about this. $30 dollars times 9 pools is $270. If I agree to write a check for $300, can we stop talking about this? This offer has popped into my head before. Several questions arose about what the other fees used to be and the numbering scheme in the original by-laws. It became clear that some error in number has occurred. The article was tabled. Thus, the $270 question isn't dead yet; we get to debate it again later.

Article 14 - Assistant Moderator position. Passed.

Article 15 - Alewife. Selectman Dias not here, postponed to Wednesday.

Article 16 - Refuse contract. Mr. Tosti moves to table. Passed.

Article 17 - Liquor/beer stores. No action voted.

Article 18 - Town owned liquor store. Question about putting this to voters. No action voted.

Article 19 - Rental inspections. Ms. Mahon moved to table. This tabling thing was getting old. Sometimes you're waiting for an external event, and that I understand. This was the second one in a row where they just weren't ready or weren't there. I just don't see how Town Meeting can catch you unprepared.

Article 20 - Health Insurance. Andrew Fischer not ready, so he moved to adjourn the meeting (it was 10:55PM).

John Kohl gave notice of reconsideration for Article 17, Jackie Harrington 17, Mr. Judd 17 and 18. Meeting adjourned.

4/28 - 4/30 - 5/5 - 5/7 - 5/12 - 5/14 - 5/19 - 5/21
5/28 - 6/4 - 6/9 - 6/11 - 6/16 - 6/18 - top

4/30/03 - Second Meeting

The meeting opened with the national anthem and a prayer from the Greek Orthodox priest.

The moderator announced that town government day with high school seniors is tomorrow. He made some comments about using the microphone properly and a past 20-session Town Meeting.

The next Town Meeting was set for 8PM (not 7PM because of a school hearing). We'll open the regular town meeting, recess, and convene the Special Town Meeting.

Article 2 - Committee Reports

  • Selectmen's supplemental report was introduced by Diane Mahon.
  • Redevelopment Board's Reeds Brook update introduced by Alan McClennen.
  • Several reports in anticipation of the Special Town Meeting were introduced.
  • Affordable Housing Task Force report was given by Selectman Lyons. He gave comments on the challenges and successes of the committee.

Article 20 - Community-based Health Insurance. Andrew Fischer spoke in favor of this - he wants to create a committee to study this. He had a minor amendment increasing the membership to 7. After a brief discussion, the amendment and main motion passed.

Article 15 - Alewife organization. This was taken from the table. Selectmen Dias spoke on the issue. After determining that no money was being expended, the article passed.

Article 13 - Health inspection fees. This was taken from the table. Town Counsel Maher apologized for the confusion of Monday night. Mr. Tosti of the finance committee endorsed the proposal, but put forward and amendment to increase the fines from $50 to $100. Mr. Leone proposed an amendment to exclude out-of-town caterers serving a non-profit organization. A lengthy discussion ensued. There was much confusion about who Mr. Leone's amendment would apply to, including Town Day or events at "the Sons of Elks." There were questions on applicable state law and enforcement provisions. There were several analogies made about non-profit tax situations. As we all knew, the $270 question came back, and it was just as exciting as the first round. So much time, so little money. This is what makes it Town Meeting. The fine amendment passed, the non-profit amendment failed, the motion carried.

Article 19 - This was taken from the table. Selectman Mahon made a substitute motion. At this point, the meeting lurched to a halt while the moderator struggled to find the right piece of paper, and then lecture about unsigned pieces of paper. Selectman Lyons spoke about the motives behind the original (citing the Tufts fire) and similar actions from area towns. They realized the proposed article went too far, and are proposing study instead. There was discussion about what we actually inspect now. One speaker pointed out that this doesn't apply to ILLEGAL apartments, because they aren't inspected anyway. The Tufts fire was at an illegal apartment; this legislation wouldn't have helped him one bit. I applaud her for pointing that out. Shame on the selectmen for misusing tragedy to advance policy. Motion passed.

Article 21 - Town-based property insurance. Voted no action.

10 minute recess.

Article 22 - Exempt George White from age requirements. Selectman Mahon presented this. State law says that new officers have to be younger than 32; he's 42. He and his lawyer spoke about who he was and why he was qualified. I think it was a bad move having his lawyer speak for him so extensively. The lawyer came off as a pretty squirrelly guy that I wouldn't trust to file my dog registration, let alone speak about my career ambitions. A lengthy discussion (45 minutes?) ensued. Some people spoke against making exceptions from laws because the exceptions are unfair. Others spoke against age discrimination. Many spoke about the town being stuck between the bad age discrimination law and the bad physical fitness laws. Police Chief Ryan spoke and tap-danced around the issue nicely. He was in a tough spot on this question. Motion passed 120-38. I voted in favor of this. I think any law that is based on age, not merit, is a bad one. I would vote for any exception presented to Town Meeting.

Article 23 - Symmes. No action.

Article 24 - News Racks. Mr. Maher and Jeff Theilman spoke on this issue. It is one of aesthetics and constitutionality - limiting the distribution of the press. Passed after a brief discussion. It's not clear to me why we bothered with this article. We voted to "encourage" a committee to present to another committee; this is wanking at a high level. I'm glad it was quick.

Article 25 - Power Committee. Presentation ready, but projector not set up. Tabled.

Article 26 - Gibbs disposition. The recommendation is to extend the current Gibbs status for 10 years and reconsider then. There were questions about what this does or does not commit the town to. There were discussions about amount of money this gains the town, alternate uses, bid process, and history of past schools. I generally like Alan McClennen, but his speech on this issue was a bit of bullying and a lot of scare tactics. He's right to point out the consequences of various actions, but in this case it was HOW he pointed them out. He should give facts and let them speak for themselves. Ray Bloom pointed out that under the current wording, we wouldn't be EXTENDING the current status but amending the current status. If we're amending, we should only amend the ending date, not the start date. By amending, we're sort of acting like the current lease never happened. This lead to confusion, and being 11PM, adjournment.

Diane Mahon gave notice of reconsideration for article 22. Meeting adjourned.

4/28 - 4/30 - 5/5 - 5/7 - 5/12 - 5/14 - 5/19 - 5/21
5/28 - 6/4 - 6/9 - 6/11 - 6/16 - 6/18 - top

5/5/03 - Third Meeting/Special Town Meeting

The meeting opened with the national anthem and a prayer.

The moderator reported on the results of the student government town meeting. They opposed PAYT, favored an override, and wanted to study liquor stores more closely.

The moderator described the order of the day's operations. Regular town meeting would open, then recess, then we'd open the Special Town Meeting.

Selectman Greeley made a motion that the meeting should re-convene at 7:30PM on Wednesday. Rich Carreiro made an amendment for 8PM. After a brief discussion, the amendment passed. This surprised me; I thought we'd get an earlier start. Ah well - more work days, I guess.

The regular meeting recessed, and the special was called to order. The opening motion and reading of the warrant were done.

Article 1 - Committee Reports

  • Selectmen's Report was entered by Mr. Greeley.
  • Redevelopment Board's report was entered by Mr. McClennen.
  • Board of Cemetery Commissioners report, and remarks, were given by Michele Hassler. She was somewhat miffed that there wasn't cemetery space at Symmes and wanted TM to keep her in mind.
  • Arlington Housing Task Force report was given by Mr. Lyons.
  • The Symmes Advisory Committee report came from Charles Foskett with a request for an hour to give the report. After some hemming and hawing, he got the time. I note that one person loudly objected, but the moderator heard the objection, commented on it, and granted the time anyway. There really should have been a vote. I can't reproduce his entire report, but more information can be found at the Symmes Advisory Committee official website. A few points from the report: it covered the committee membership, the process goals, and the process history. It pointed out the impact of the vote: to give the Redevelopment board the authority and confidence to ask, and to limit possible Symmes uses. The cost to the town, affordable housing, health uses were covered. If you're looking for some examples of bad PowerPoint slides, this presentation had them! The content was good, but the presentation was bad. There was a useless, distracting artwork on every slide that was the same color as the text - not readable. Also not readable: yellow text on a white background in a cramped Excel graph. I think it was a good report, but he really needs to read some Edward Tufte. The presentation was only 35 minutes in the end.
Article 1 was laid upon the table.

Article 2 - Arlington Housing Authority proposal for Symmes. Mr. Greeley gave the selectmen's recommendation of no action. They believe that the AHA should act within the guidelines set by the Symmes committee.

Patricia Worden rose with a substitute motion and requested 35 minutes for her presentation (by my watch they were done in 29 minutes). Her report, in brief: The AHA is offering $800,000 for 40,000 square feet (a bit more than 9/10 of an acre) to build housing for the elderly and disabled. She described it as the last chance to provide for aging baby boomers. She had some harsh words for the Symmes committee (which I think she is a member of ?!?), calling some of their plans "pie in the sky" and citing examples of past failures. She sounded like she wanted to defend the existing Symmes buildings rather than tear them down. John Griffin of the AHA also spoke, thanking TM for past support of AHA articles. Mr. Hurd also spoke in support and mentioned the AHA mailing that came over the weekend.

The meeting recessed for 10 minutes (actually 14 by my watch).

An hour of discussion ensued. It was pointed out that the $800,000 would go towards Symmes debt, not operating expenses of the town. It was pointed out that AHA was not offering to help with the site development. The effect of taking the AHA portion out of the tax base was debated. The timing of the AHA motion was questioned. Both AHA and Redevelopment boards were chastised for not working this out. The effect on the overall plan was debated. The lack of family housing in the AHA plan was discussed. Barring a major development on Wednesday, I'm voting "no" on Wednesday. Symmes is a complex issue. If EVERY board with an interest in the property did what AHA is doing, we'd never get anywhere. AHA, Symmes, conservation, parks, cemeteries, etc. each with their own article? It would be insane. We created a committee to weigh all of these things against each other. That committee has a recommendation that seems reasonable and thoughtful. I intend to support that committee's good works.

I have some other comments (you're all shocked, I know). First, why couldn't these two boards work better together? One of them, and I suspect it is the AHA, was being too demanding. It's unimpressive, whoever the real culprit(s) are. Second, why is the AHA so adamant about not being a tenant? There were several AHA statements about how they will only own and operate, never rent. They flatly refused to work in any environment where they don't own the property. Why? It seems to me that flexibility is a strength. I was also frustrated with some of the individual comments. One speaker talked about how the price was below market rate because we were "helping people." While accurate, this was very short-sighted. We can only help people so much; helping costs money, and we have to live within a budget. The Symmes committee weighed those things. The AHA proposal, and bland exhortations to "help people," don't take budgeting into account. Another speaker phrased a no-vote as an attack upon the elderly. I can't stand it when people characterize votes this way (see my comments on last year's fire station discussion). When I vote no on Wednesday, it will not be because I have something against old people! I think that we can help them in a more sustainable way by following the Symmes recommendation. People who characterize debates like this (elderly, schools, fire, police, etc.) in an us vs. them context do a disservice to themselves, their causes, and the town as a whole.

It was 11PM, and there were 16 people on the list. The meeting adjourned.

I note, with irony, that we didn't have to worry about any of those pesky notices for reconsideration. The meeting took no substantive action, so there was nothing to reconsider!

4/28 - 4/30 - 5/5 - 5/7 - 5/12 - 5/14 - 5/19 - 5/21
5/28 - 6/4 - 6/9 - 6/11 - 6/16 - 6/18 - top

5/7/03 - Fourth Meeting/Special Town Meeting Two

The meeting opened with the national anthem sung by the Arlington High Madrigal Singers. They performed a few songs afterwards. A prayer was given.

The moderator gave a few comments about new microphones, his method of finding speakers on the floor, and asked for more paper to be given to him.

The moderator said that AHA and Symmes Advisory were in talks; Mr. Greeley pointed out that the selectmen were orchestrating the talks. The regular meeting will continue while those go on.

Mr. Greeley announced an override meeting at the Regent Theatre tomorrow.

Article 2 - Committee Reports. Taken from the table.

  • Finance Committee's report was given by Allan Tosti. His remarks were brief, introducing the board, thanking other participants, asked the TM to resist increasing appropriations, and promised more discussion later.
Article 2 was tabled.

Article 26 - Gibbs disposition continued. Mr. Greeley proposed amended text with the same intent but better wording. The amendment passed, and the motion passed unanimously.

Article 27 - Sale of town property. Mr. Greeley said that the selectmen had wanted the option, but had decided it was a bad idea. The moderator remarked at how relieved he was because he thought the warrant article was far too broad to act upon. Voted no action.

Article 28 - Amend Town Manager Act. Mr. Greeley gave the selectmen's recommendation to expand the possible required backgrounds by including non-manager experience, but to keep the manager an Arlington resident. Mr. Tosti proposed an amendment to remove the residency requirement. He argued that this requirement prevents many good candidates from applying and the town needs those applicants. Mrs. Harrington proposed an amendment that the non-manager experience must be five years in length (as opposed to three years in the current text). The debate covered many issues, including the role of legislature in the final decision and the risks of their refusal; the cost of living in town; whether or not candidates would "fake" their residency; the quality of past applicants; the depth of past applicant pools; how these amendments might affect the application of the current Acting Town Manager; whether being able to leave town for the night was a good or a bad thing; and the emotional impact of living in town. Debate was eventually terminated. It was agony watching the moderator try to interpret the amendments. They seemed pretty clear to me; I don't understand why it was so hard. Mrs. Harrington's amendment failed 47-133, and Mr. Tosti's failed 70-117. The main motion carried 171-8. I was in favor of Mr. Tosti's amendment and opposed to Mrs. Harrington's. I think that anything we do to expand the pool of qualified applicants is a win for the town. I'd certainly prefer a local manager, but you can't always get what you want. I'd certainly prefer a good manager who lives in, say, Billerica to a bad manager who lives next door. Listening to the debate, I might have noticed a trend in who was likely to vote which way. I'd be very curious to see the average years of residency for the voters on either side of the Tosti amendment. I suspect that you'd find that those who favor the residency requirement were themselves long-term residents (on average).

Article 29 - Tree committee. Patricia Thomas offered a substitute motion that was very similar in nature to the original but changed the way the membership was chosen. She spoke of the importance of trees. She wants to create a committee to consider how other towns study trees and to make recommendations about how Arlington should consider trees. The discussion included the importance of trees to the environment and how this might eventually impinge on the rights of private property owners. In general, creating a committee is fairly innocuous. In this case, I'm very afraid of what it might result in. Some towns have bylaws that require a permit to cut down a tree over a certain size - and that size can be pretty stupidly small. One speaker pointed out that this is already law in wetland areas; that seems more reasonable to me, but I see no need to expand it. Other speakers talked about favorite trees that have been lost. This may be sad, but it is just not relevant. If a tree is diseased, no committee can save it. Others talked about being upset when neighbors cut down trees. I'd suggest that if they like the trees that much, then they should buy the land! Just as one neighbor can't cut down another's trees, one neighbor shouldn't be able to require another to keep his. I voted "no." Committees are relatively painless, but in this case, I'd prefer to nip the idea in the . . . seedling.

The meeting recessed for 10 minutes.

Debate continued for a short time. Amendment and motion both passed by voice vote.

The regular meeting recessed and the Special Town Meeting was called to order at 10PM.

Article 2 - Arlington Housing Authority proposal for Symmes, continued. The moderator announced that he was exercising his discretion and discarding the previous list of speakers and recognizing Charlie Foskett. The moderator might get some flak for this, but it was a good move. The issue under debate was about to fundamentally change. Wiping the slate was a good idea. Mr. Foskett emphasized, repeatedly, that he was speaking as a TMM, and not the chair of the Symmes Advisory Committee; the committee had not met. He proposed an amendment that he and Patricia Worden and agreed to. It removed the sale requirements and directed the parties to talk in good faith before the RFPs were written. He thanked the selectmen for some good ideas. He said that he had needed fewer specifics in the motion. Specifics would scare off developers. He understood that the AHA needed a process to reply upon. This amendment satisfied those needs. He said will vote for this amendment. The moderator communicated that town counsel had blessed the new wording. Mr. Greeley gave the selectmen's blessing. Patricia Worden thanked everyone involved (by name), but conspicuously did not speak favorably about the amendment. A significant debate followed. There was discussion of whether this gave the AHA veto power, praise for finally reaching a compromise, the legal status of the land given that it was originally donated, and what "good faith" actually means. William Taber offered an amendment that required all parties to act in good faith, not just the Redevelopment Board. Further debate included the merits of reusing the current buildings, AHA's power of eminent domain, support for the original goals given by the selectmen, and the importance of following the original plan for process. I'd like to call out the speech of Allen Reedy and give it high praise. He is a TMM and a member of the Symmes Advisory Committee. His speech was just superb. It was thoughtful, reasonable, persuasive, and emotional. In short, he reminded everyone that the Symmes committee had repeatedly touted their transparent and inclusive process as the strength of the committee. This article was about a "deal," and the deal was outside of the process. He made the points that I wrote about two nights ago: what would happen if EVERY interested party did what the AHA did? He said, correctly, that the Symmes site simply cannot be all things to all people. Just as we approached 11PM and adjournment, the question was called. The moderator started to read the voting instruction. I jumped up and shouted to the moderator; I asked him to speak directly into the microphone. This is such a frustrating problem. Whenever the moderator wants to get something exactly correct, he reads it off paper. But every time that he reads, he looks at the desk and talks to it - the microphone is too far away. The exact moment of importance ends up being the exact moment that no one can hear the moderator. Mr. Taber's motion failed by voice vote. Mr. Foskett's amendment (the compromise) was approved 116-47. The AHA motion, as amended, failed by 55-107, and the original motion of no action carried by voice vote. I was, of course, very happy with this outcome. It was one of the days when I bike home with firm belief that this is government functioning at its best. Four hours of debate may have been too long, but we got it right. It's a time to be proud of the work that was done, the debate that was given, and the votes that were taken.

The meeting was adjourned. I think I heard someone trying to give notice of reconsideration, but order was not being maintained.

4/28 - 4/30 - 5/5 - 5/7 - 5/12 - 5/14 - 5/19 - 5/21
5/28 - 6/4 - 6/9 - 6/11 - 6/16 - 6/18 - top

5/12/03 - Fifth Meeting/Special Town Meeting Three

The meeting opened with the national anthem and a prayer from St. Camilla's.

The moderator gave a further comment about microphones. He had not called for notice of reconsideration during the 4th session of TM, and called for them now. Mrs. Harrington and Mr. Lobel gave notice of reconsideration for Article 28.

Handicap parking changes and an engagement were announced.

Article 2 - Committee Reports. Taken from the table.

  • Conservation Committee report was given by Nathaniel Stevens. He particularly pointed out the Land Steward program.
Article 2 was tabled.

The regular meeting recessed, and the special town meeting was called to order.

Mr. McCabe had a question about the outcome of Special Meeting Article 2.

Article 3 - Symmes Advisory Committee report. Mrs. Mahon said a few words of endorsement. Mr. Foskett gave highlights of his presentation of the previous week. Dr. Worden read a four-page, single-spaced statement of opposition. There was some serious grumbling on this one. First, we'd already argued her points in Article 2. I don't buy this argument so much. Second, why was she reading words that she'd handed everyone in written form? This one I agree with; I'm not a fan of giving a report and just reading it aloud. It is a waste of 9 minutes. Five speakers went, then a motion to terminate debate that failed 93-84 (requires 2/3). Nine or so speakers followed. Debate included questions about how binding the vote was on the Redevelopment board, the positions of the Arlington Housing Corporation and the Interfaith Council, how far from the end of the process the town is, concerns about existing buildings, concerns of neighbors, the community center ("treehouse"), the role of medical facilities, and the wisdom of developers in general. One of the themes in the debate was that the site cannot be all things to all people. Someone brought up the Rolling Stones - "You Can't Always Get What You Want." This got a titter from the crowd. A later speaker, in a mild rebuttal, pointed out the next line, and said, "I'm probably misquoting, 'but you might get what you need.'" The next moment was priceless - half of Town Meeting stared at the ceiling, mouthing Rolling Stones lyrics, trying to remember the exact line of the song ("But if you try sometimes you might find; You get what you need."). Just priceless. There was a 14-minute recess in the later parts of the debate. Two amendments were offered. The first was that TM "endorse" rather than "fully endorse" the report. The second was to virtually require a community center be a part of the final plan. The first amendment passed while the second failed. The amended motion passed unanimously.

Mr. Tosti stood, named the Symmes Advisory Committee members, and asked Town Meeting to thank them for their work. They received a lengthy standing ovation. This was well-deserved. This group of people did a ton of high-quality work that will benefit the town for years, if not decades, to come.

Article 4 - Modify the Urban Redevelopment plan. Mrs. Harrington offered an amendment to make it more difficult to tear down the existing buildings - essentially any tear-down has to come before TM again. Mr. Chaput and the Redevelopment Board had no problem with it. There was discussion of how this might affect the RFP process, the age of the buildings, whether the buildings were "butt-ugly" or not, and how much money the current site is costing the town. Mrs. Harrington's amendment passed 101-51. I voted against this. I'm opposed to ANYTHING that might slow or hinder development at Symmes. We need to get this property out of our hands as fast as reasonably possible. I really don't care whether an ugly brick slab of a building is kept or tossed. Kind of an interesting note: at first, this was a voice vote. I thought it was closer than it was, and I asked for a standing vote. I was surprised to see how lopsided it actually was. I wonder if some votes changed from voice to stand, or whether I just totally misjudged it. The amended motion passed unanimously.

Article 5 - Wetlands by-law amendment. Mr. McClennen spoke of how the current Pierce field is at a tilt, and righting it will require filling in land that is labeled as flood plain on a FEMA map. If we live within the current by-law, it might add $5 million to the cost. There was discussion of how this change to the by-laws would improve the situation of the Sullivan family and state pollution laws. Mrs. Mahon (as TMM) spoke against the article as being hypocritical. I'm a bit torn on this one. Part of me notes that the actual request is very reasonable - if it doesn't actually flood, then expensive mitigation is unnecessary. Furthermore, a few other hardship cases can be fixed under this provision. The other part of me sees this as convincing proof that the wetlands by-law is seriously flawed. It doesn't make sense to pass individual exemptions. Right now, the pain is being felt by the schools and town; they know how to work the system to get the exemption. What about the average property owner? They don't have the resources or contacts of the town, and they would be out of luck. Mr. Carreiro is quite emphatic on this point. I'm inclined to agree with him.

There were no notices of reconsideration (opportunity was there). Meeting adjourned.

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5/14/03 - Sixth Meeting/Special Town Meeting Four

The meeting opened with the national anthem and a prayer from the Unitarian Universalist church.

The moderator gave a further comment about microphones. He gave a quote about the beauty of Town Meeting as a form of government.

Article 2 - Committee Reports. Taken from the table.

  • The Capital Committee report was given by Mr. Foskett.
Article 2 was tabled.

The regular meeting recessed, and the special town meeting was called to order.

Article 5 - Wetlands by-law amendment, continued. Discussion picked up where it left off. Mr. Carreiro offered two amendments: the first would remove restrictions of structure, the second would remove the sunset provision. Ms. Sullivan (of flooding fame) spoke about her situation. Debate covered fairness, Mugar development, chromium deposits, politics in the variance process, the position of the League of Women Voters, and if there are other pending applications. Debate was terminated. Both amendments lost on voice vote, and the main motion carried. My vote against the motion was the only one that I heard. The debate changed my opinion a bit - I'm less upset about how we restrict the TYPE of development. I'm still very opposed to the sunset provision. What will happen in 2005 when some other unlucky family goes through what the Sullivans are going through? They will have no recourse. This is a bad by-law and I'm sorry to see the amendment pass.

The Special Town Meeting was dissolved by voice vote and the regular meeting returned to session.

Article 25 - Power Committee. Michael Quinn asked the article be taken from the table. He gave a presentation explaining the current power generation law, what aggregation is, what the benefits might be for the town, and what the next steps would be. He answered a number of questions (six speakers) about future expenses, municipalization, efficiency fund uses, NSTAR's role, and uneconomic investments. The article passed unanimously. I'm quite pleased with how that went. The report and presentation worked well, I think. I'll put them up on this website this weekend - I meant to do it already, but time hasn't permitted.

Article 30 - PAYT. Selectman Mahon gave a brief explanation of the selectmen's vote of no action. Susan Wyly-Jones offered a substitute amendment that would bring about PAYT. Peter Allison of the Recycling Commission gave the presentation. He had three main points: it helps the environment, saves money, and is more equitable to the town citizens. The meeting recessed for 15 minutes and then 40 minutes of debate began. People discussed how it was a service that townspeople had come to expect, that it was a tangible benefit of paying taxes, the difficulty of assessing equity/subsidy in government, the number of phonecalls received by TMM, the experiences of other towns, and illegal dumping. I was disappointed in quality of this debate. There were a number of illogical statements, and the one-sided nature of the debate (the substitute was destined for failure) meant that none of the bad arguments were called out. First of all, someone suggested that because of the NESWC contract, the town can't save money by recycling. We are contracted to pay for a certain tonnage whether we use it or not at something like $150/ton. BUT, if we recycle, we can re-sell our unused tonnage for something like $70/ton. It is quite clear that recycling does save us money - the $70/ton we get when we don't use it. Second of all, people argued that this proposal doesn't save money - it just shifts the costs around. The proponents argued that (roughly) $1 million would be saved out of the town budget. Some of that money would be paid by residents with large amounts of trash. But, residents wouldn't end up paying one-for-one what the town saves. The residents would have incentive to recycle - the total bill paid would go DOWN because of the additional recycling. This point was conveniently ignored by those opposed to this motion; they argued that it is a zero-sum game when it is not; the additional recycling lowers the sum being paid. Finally, someone argued that this would harm the elderly. Do you know of any elderly who generate more than a trash barrel per week? I sure don't. Overall, I think this lost because of fear of change. People adopted arguments that fit what they already wanted to believe - regardless of the arguments' validity. Maybe next year, I guess; life goes on.

Article 31 - PAYT version 2. Voted no action.

Article 32 - LEED green building standards. Gene Benson of Vision 2020 gave the presentation. He talked about how it works, towns that already use it, the scoring system that it uses, and financial benefits of adoption. Several speakers asked questions about existing town buildings' qualifications, whether this was a requirement or a goal, why it was a by-law level change, and the cost of including it in the building process. It passed by a voice vote. I was opposed to this. One speaker hit it right on the head - if these requirements are going to save us so much money (as they claim), then why do we need legislation to require them? The free market and our interest in saving the town money will drive us to them naturally. In reality, I don't think these requirements have been studied closely enough and we don't know the effects they will have on building costs. It can't be as easy as the proponents claim it to be; if it is that easy, there is no need to make it a by-law.

There was a motion to adjourn. Mrs. Harrington and Mr. Gilligan gave notice of reconsideration of Article 32. Meeting adjourned at 10:45. If I read this correctly, the early adjournment was driven by the proponents of the CPA. They saw they were up next and didn't want to have a rushed presentation.

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5/19/03 - Seventh Meeting

The meeting opened with the national anthem and a prayer from St. Agnes church.

The moderator gave a further comment about microphones and lighting. He noted that at the current pace we have 9 sessions left. He called for several precincts to elect their chairs during the break (including mine, and we did). He gave an address for people to order Town Meeting Time:
Edward Newman
27 Whitney Road
Stowe, MA 01775
Send a $25 check made out to the Massachusetts Moderator's Association.

Mr. Bernadin made an announcement about organizing a group to talk about Article 74, school rebuilding debt.

I noted that the hall was particularly empty at the start of the meeting. The Selectmen's meeting ran a bit late, I think, but there was more than that at work. It did fill in as the evening went along.

Article 2 - Committee Reports. Taken from the table.

  • The Open Space Committee report was given by Ann LeRoyer. It is the '02-07 report, and it was big and bound. It was not distributed.
Article 2 was tabled.

Article 33 - Community Preservation Act. Mr. Greeley re-iterated the selectmen's vote of no action; they did not want conflict with the 2 1/2 override. Clarissa Rowe spoke very briefly, offering a substitute motion (the motion had been provided in writing to TM on 4/30). Leslie Mayer gave the presentation. She named the committee members and gave an overview of what the CPA is. She said that it does not avoid the provisions of 2 1/2 because it is still voter approved, that there were some protections of the matching funds at state level, that funding was likely through 2008, and that it doesn't really compete with the June override vote. Discussion started with a speaker in favor, and then a speaker against. Ms. Rowe had a cast on her foot and was on crutches. She had a stool with her and sat at the podium at the front of the hall for reasons that are unclear to me - she wasn't the presenter and didn't really answer questions. When speakers spoke against the CPA, she would make faces of disgust and anger, roll her eyes, wave to her friends in the audience, and mouth questions and comments. I imagine she didn't realize how obvious it was, but it was quite rude and distracting. After the speaker was done talking, she would then try to rebut the arguments against her position, claiming personal privilege, points of information, and other vehicles. They were entirely inappropriate. She really needed to sit down and let the process work the way it does for the other eighty-odd articles TM considers. Her expectation of special treatment was irritating. Finance Committee and Capital Planning committee were both against the CPA because of the 2 1/2 vote, the balkanization of funds, and unfinished schools. There was discussion of the length of the financial crisis, prioritization of spending with open space and safety services, the 9% response rate on the Vision 2020 survey, the actual amount of tax increase, the urge to let the voters decide in the ballot box, whether CPA is a "rogue committee," open space projects, historical projects, conservation projects, and separating money to be controlled by a small committee. With 11 people still on the list, debate was terminated in a relatively close voice vote. I didn't get a chance to say this at meeting, but I get to say it here: First of all, I'd like to rebut the belief that the state CPA fund won't be raided by the state in times of fiscal pain. People thought the Renewable Energy Trust Fund was safe (can't find my Globe cite!!), but it got hit up for millions this spring; there is just no way to say that CPA won't be next. Second, I reject the argument that we should "just let the voters decide." There is a reason that the law puts this before Town Meeting before the voters. TM is expected to screen, vet, and consider these proposals before they go to the town in full; if it was meant to go straight to the town, it would be written that way. I refuse to abdicate my responsibility. If I think the idea is a good one, or at least worthy of further consideration, then I will vote to put it on the ballot. If I think it is a bad idea, I'm going to stop it at every chance that I get. Third, one argument in favor of the CPA was that the town will "never have benefactors" like Robbins again. This can't be proven, and counter-examples can be provided - the Uncle Sam statue, for instance. Fourth, I was irritated that the proponents said that the tax wasn't permanent because it could be repealed. That is like saying the 2 1/2 override isn't permanent because a future ballot could rescind it (and it would be a ballot action to rescind the CPA!). I certainly consider it to be permanent. This brings me to my final point. If the CPA is really about getting state funds, then let's make it revenue-neutral for property taxes. Put the CPA's 1.5% tax increase on the ballot paired with a Proposition 2 1/2 underride of 1.5%. By making it a property tax-neutral question we can consider things like governance and fund balkanization separately from whether or not we want to increase the burden on the taxpayer. The voice vote was ruled to be affirmative, but a standing vote was called for: substitute motion of the CPA failed 70-112. The original vote of no action was approved by voice vote. I voted against this. I don't like the tax increase, the way it hamstrings future budgets, or the designation of open space, historical, and housing as "special" items that are more important than the town's other functions.

Article 34 - Community Preservation Act part two. Voted no action.

Article 35 - Community Development Block Grants. Postponed to Wednesday.

Article 36 - Receive grants. Voted unanimously.

Article 37-39 - Tabled in case legislation is passed.

Article 40 - Revolving funds. Passed unanimously. I heard a couple of no's, but they were really quiet. If you're going to say no, then say it loud! Stick with your conviction. There is no way the moderator can hear these almost-silent dissenters. I assure you, when I vote no, the whole room knows.

Article 41 - Extension of ordinary disability benefit. Mr. Maher explained that the effect of this would be to extend disability benefits to town employees who are hurt off the job to people who have worked for the town for 10 years rather than 15. The Board of Selectmen was in favor of this while Finance Committee was opposed. Discussion included several rather ambiguous statements by the Retirement Board, whether the benefit should apply to non-veterans, whether the $10,000 cost was annual or one-time, and equity issues. Passed by voice vote (with considerable dissent). I voted against this. If you want to know how our personnel costs get so high, this is a textbook case. The Selectmen want things to be "equitable." I agree with the goal, but equitable does not mean giving the best benefit available to every employee. We should be trying to get the teacher's union (cited repeatedly in debate) to accept 15 years, not simply hand the 10 year benefit to everyone else. Still, with no strong proponent, $10,000/year just sailed through town meeting. Anyone want to guess how much that will cost us in the long run?

Article 42 - Veterans buy-back. Passed unanimously. More grumbling dissent.

Article 43 - Retiree adjustment. Retirement recommended $0. Mr. Roselli, of the Retirement Board, attempted to table the article, but Mr. Maher glared at him until he withdrew the motion. Passed unanimously.

Article 44-52 - Tabled.

Article 53 - Reclassification of positions. Caryn Cove, Director of Personnel gave an explanation of why reclassification occurs. There were several questions about the financial impact of the changes, but the number was not available; the answer was that they were "included in the budget." The motion was tabled with the intent that firm numbers be available for consideration.

Article 54 - Town Budget. Mr. Tosti was out of town, and the article was tabled.

Article 55 - Tabled so that we could get to Article 56, which was ready.

Article 56 - Capital budget. Mr. Foskett spoke about the town's obligations and how the prioritization is done. There was a discussion of copier costs and why they weren't lumped into a single contract. The fact that part of this article is to pay debt already incurred was discussed. The use of the antenna funds was discussed. Mr. Sanchez, the new head of the Department of Public Works, talked about Forest Street, a 10-year road plan, and rebuilding the dam. The water problem at Ottoson was discussed; the problem was not anticipated at the time of the rebuild. There were separate motions to end debate and to table the article which both failed by wide margins. I rose and asked about Park Circle - why was it delayed? Some of you will remember I voted against earmarking funds for Park last year. Part of the argument in favor of the funds last year was one of urgency; it just had to be done in 2002 so that we could build in 2003. I thought the urgency was overblown last year, and that the cost had not been fully considered. I feel somewhat vindicated by events. The explanation for the delay was the town finances. First, the actual construction is expensive. Second, if the override fails, we may not have the money to staff three fire stations. Two different speakers rubbed me very raw during this discussion. They both were in favor of rebuilding Park Circle fire station as quickly as possible. The problem wasn't in their position, but in how they expressed it. They turn the issue into a personal attack on anyone who opposes them. They use words like "outrage" and say the situation deteriorates "by the second" and needs to be fixed "yesterday." Rhetoric is fine, but there is a line, and they cross it. There are logical reasons to rebuild Park soon, and they should feel free to express them. But they decline to make any argument at all. You can tell them that we may not have the money to staff Park Circle, and they tell you that the conditions at Park Circle are deplorable. They don't, or won't, grasp the underlying point, the point that drives the decision. They inflame emotion, not to carry the day, but to obscure and distract. They make the job of the meeting harder. I wish they would tone down the rhetoric, accept that there are good people with legitimate points of disagreement, and engage them in debate. Wailing and beating your breast is not a way to have a debate. The article will continue on Wednesday.

Mr. Bilafer gave notice of reconsideration for article 41, Mr. Cleinman for 33 and 34, and Mrs. Harrington for 41 (there may be someone I missed). Meeting adjourned.

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5/21/03 - Eighth Meeting

The meeting opened with the national anthem and a prayer from the Trinity Baptist church. The anthem was performed by the Ottoson Select Chorus, which also gave a brief performance.

The moderator noted that the light bulbs had been replaced, and seemed to avoid all references to microphones. He gave a quote about giving brief speeches.

Article 2 - Committee Reports. Taken from the table.

  • The Annual Report was presented by Acting Town Manager Nancy Galkowski.
  • The Vision 2020 report was presented by Jane Howard. She gave remarks, speaking for almost 18 minutes about the contents of the report that had just been distributed. She talked about people's opinion on the budget, the environment, diversity, and transportation. I note with pleasure that her remarks were shorter than last year. Still, we should use written reports as a tool to save time that would otherwise be spent meeting as a group, not as a speaking tool. I did find myself wondering how the demographics/opinions of the 9% responding to the survey corresponded to the 20% voter turnout in April and the 100% of total residents.
Article 2 was tabled.

Article 56 - Capital budget continued. Ms. Galkowski, at the request of the moderator, gave an explanation as to why Park Circle fire station was delayed. It basically came down to money. The schools are being paid out of a debt exclusion, but the fire department is out of operating budget. There aren't the grant resources, either. Mr. Bernadin offered an amendment to increase the budget by $20,000 to pay for projects at the schools that have not yet been rebuilt. He described bad bathrooms and electrical work in Dallin. There was discussion of whether or not this was a maintenance matter and what the right process to address this might be. Several people spoke about how increased costs (like this amendment) really need to have offsetting reductions or revenue. Park Circle's timing and actual need, the Robbins Garden, Dallin, support of the capital committee, and the difference between maintenance and capital expenditures were discussed. Debate was terminated in a standing vote of 126-44. The amendment failed 34-129. The part including Park Circle passed 151-7; the rest passed uneventfully. The irony here is that, as I pointed out on Monday, last year I was on the losing side of a lopsided vote on Park Circle because I wanted to delay it. This year, I'm on the winning side because it was actually delayed. The sad part is that this is the worst of both worlds. I wanted the delay so that we could study more closely just how many fire stations we need, and the firefighters wanted a habitable building. Neither of us is getting what we want.

Article 35 - Community Development Block Grants. Tabled so that we can do the budget.

Article 54 - Town budget. The moderator described the process he intended to use where budget sections are read off quickly and people with questions on the budget section shout for "holds," indicating that we should go back to that item. Brian Lavalle moved that the budgets be considered individually. The motion carried. I was surprised and pleased to see this motion carry. The budgets are important, the "meat of the order" in many ways. This process gives more opportunity for discussion. Mr. Tosti pointed out various sections of the Finance Committee's report, particularly the use of reserve funds. He encouraged TM to resist the many requests for money that are surely coming; there is not the money to fund them. Mr. Greeley moved to table budgets 1-16 because one of the chiefs (he did not specify which) would be unavailable next week; the motion passed, bringing up the Public Safety budget. He then offered an amendment to increase the fire and police budgets by a combined $160,000 to maintain "minimum staffing" levels, the levels that the town has established as a staffing guideline. The moderator ruled that we should consider the fire and police budgets separately. I thought this was a bit silly. The amendment covers both and the underlying issues are fundamentally the same. Police Chief Ryan spoke about minimum manning and its importance. He talked about children, loved ones, and the impact of things like the increase in the federal terrorism alert level. Several of the following speakers asked where the $160,000 would come from. Mr. Greeley at first didn't have an answer, and then said that some would be found in the trash tipping fee and that the rest would come from the reserves. In response to another question, Mr. Ryan indicated that a passed override and the resulting 4 hires would also serve to solve the problem. Mr. Greeley was then asked what would happen to the $160k; he answered that it would go to "next year's free cash." The TM was clearly displeased with this answer. What he should have said was that we'd reconsider this article and return the money to reserves immediately. TMM didn't like the idea of appropriating money twice (here and after the override) to solve the same problem. The head of the Patrolmen's Association spoke in favor of the article. Several speakers rose to discuss what an appropriate level of manning was, the timing of this amendment, the current low crime rate, the current low ratio of officers to town residents, the ratio of supervisors to patrolmen, and the importance of the override. I have tended to shy away from naming names in a negative context, but I'm afraid I'm breaking this trend with Mrs. Mahon. I guess I'm holding her to a different standard than the average TMM because she is also a selectman; she has the benefit of broader knowledge and the responsibility to be a leader. She spoke in favor of this amendment, and my complaint is that she is only going half-way. I agree with her that safety issues are the most important ones. But, the effect of her motion is to simply spend more money. We don't have the money this year, and we'll have even less next year. Mrs. Mahon said that she could "think of seven different things to cut to save this money," and mentioned a few of them. Well, then, she should make the motion to cut them from the budget! If she thinks we should spend our money on different things, she should say so; her current position is to increase total spending, not to spend on only important items. Her support of this motion indicates that she disagrees with the prioritization given by the Finance Committee. I do, too. But, I also recognize that we're in a financial crisis. That means we have to make hard decisions. It is unfortunate that the selectmen are not willing to take more of a lead on these tough questions. Mr. Bernadin made a motion to postpone this budget until June 16th, after the override. There were few speakers, most of the encouraging TM to be courageous and to make the decisions that need to be made. The motion failed. After one more speaker, it was time for adjournment.

Mr. Bernadin and Mr. Foskett gave notice of reconsideration of Article 56.

Fundamentally, I think police and fire are more important than most other town functions. But, I also believe this financial crisis is worse than most people realize. We're passing these "tough" budgets when the following years are even tougher, even with an override. We simply can't pay for everything that we used to. We can't afford level services. We have to have lesser services. I can't vote to spend more money now when it will only bite us harder, later. I will probably vote no when this comes to a vote next week. As I look over the priorities chosen by the Finance Committee, I don't agree with them. But, I like the bottom line even less. I've been trying to come up with a way for me to realistically implement this. You may see me make some reduction motions next week - not to free up money for a specific purpose, but to reduce expenditures as a whole.

One final note. I think it is somewhat propitious that this particular budget came up first. No matter which way we go, it's going to be a knock-down, drag-out debate. The energy we put into drawing the line here will make it easier to draw the line on other budgets. Schools will still be tough, but a lot of others will become easier.

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5/28/03 - Ninth Meeting

The meeting opened with the national anthem and a prayer from a rabbi (I missed his name and the name of his temple).

The moderator gave a quote about decorum at Town Meeting. I note that Bill and Ted's advice remains as good as it always was: "Be excellent to each other."

Jack Hurd made an announcement about a Save the Fox event at Flora on Monday at 6:30PM.

Article 2 - Committee Reports. Taken from the table.

  • The report of the Permanent Town Building Committee was given by John Cole. He asked for 15 minutes of time, and someone objected. He was given the extra 5 minutes by voice vote. The committee is contemplating some $40 million in projects. And someone wanted him to keep him from talking for 15 minutes? He spoke about Park Circle Fire Station, Brackett, Hardy remediation, and Pierce. He talked about Dallin proposal and Thomson and Stafford status. He noted that smaller neighborhood schools come at a price.
Article 2 was tabled.

Article 54 - Town budget, continued. Mr. Greeley was recognized; he said that there were budgeting number changes coming including state funds and unemployment costs. He moved to table the article. The motion passed. The anticipated budget showdown was thus abruptly delayed. Did the selectmen calculate that they were going to lose and put off the battle? Or is the financial picture changing from week to week? I'm not too thrilled with this. I would have preferred to put things to a vote and drawn a line in the budgeting sand. But, if numbers aren't ready, then they're not ready. I supported the motion. Also, I note that some Town Meeting members left as soon as this happened - evidently, they don't think the rest of the warrant is worth their time. I wish I recognized them so I could name them here.

Article 71 - Dallin school building taken out of order. The Finance Committee recommended no action, but the selectmen offered an $11.8 million substitute motion. Mr. Lyons gave the argument: school spending has been exempted from the strictures of Proposition 2 1/2 by the voters and economic conditions make it a good time to build. The discussion was long - perhaps an hour and 45 minutes. The element of risk was discussed at length; if the state does not make good on it's 63%, then the town will have the amount placed on the tax bill. The legal and ethical ramifications of the pro-debt exclusion group's public statements were discussed. The commitment to rebuild the various schools was reviewed. The School Committee supported FinComm. A number of Dallin parents talked about their children. Mrs. Harrington offered an amendment to reduce the supplemental funding to $1.455 million. Her amendment failed 50-105. The substitute motion was defeated by voice vote, and the original vote of no action carried. I voted against this. There is real risk in spending this money with measurable uncertainty about its reimbursement rate. I reject the argument that we have to build this year because there was a promise made to rebuild the schools - the implication is that the promise had a "no matter what" clause. The promise wasn't open ended. It had some very reasonable fine print: it was expected that the state would pay 63% of the cost and in a timely fashion. Furthermore, the promise is not being abandoned. The way the promise is fulfilled is changing as conditions change, but it will be made good.

This debate was marred by a number of speakers trying to weasel themselves to the front of the queue by using ploys like points of personal privilege and points of order. I strongly disapprove of people who think that the rules apply to everyone else, but not to them. Mr. Roselli used a point of order improperly on the previous article. Mr. Bilafer stood to answer a question - and then requested 15 minutes to give his answer! It is beyond me why the moderator permitted that. Mr. Lyons used a point of personal privilege (for when the speaker issues a personal insult) to "clarify" his position. This is abuse of the system, and it should not be tolerated.

Article 57 - Parks and Rec. No action unanimously.

Article 58 - Borrowing authority. No action unanimously.

Article 59 - Minuteman. Tabled until superintendent can attend.

Article 60 - Committees. FinComm recommended $27k. Passed by voice vote.

Article 61 - Conservation Commission funds. No action by voice vote.

Article 62 - Wetlands By-Law. No action by voice vote.

Article 63 - FinComm recommended $11k. Passed by voice vote.

Article 64 - FinComm recommended $11k. After a brief discussion, passed by voice vote.

Article 65 - Sewers. No action by voice vote.

Article 66 - Water mains. No action by voice vote.

Article 67 - Transportation study. No action by voice vote.

Article 68 - Park Circle Fire Station. No action by voice vote.

Article 69 - Hasi Construction. No action by voice vote.

Article 70 - Spy Pond. After a brief discussion about the Part B budget, passed by voice vote.

Article 72 - Still in negotiation. Tabled.

Article 73 - Healthcare Trust Fund. $180k voted unanimously.

Article 74 - Borrowing cap. Mr. Bernadin offered a substitute motion. The motion was later determined to be independent of the original motion, and they were considered separately. Mr. Bernadin moved to temporarily change the membership of the School Facilities Working Group to include school district representatives and to compel the SFWG to present multiple options for funding the remaining school projects. Mr. Bilafer thought the motion was fine - he was committed to working on the project in any event. Several speakers talked about the DoR, avoiding narrow interests, and exempt versus non-exempt spending. Mr. Bernadin's motion carried and the Finance Committee's failed by voice vote. I voted against Mr. Bernadin's motion. I think that the intention was good, but it was half-baked. I think there are better vehicles to consider this issue (like the Capital Committee, or Permanent Building Committee). I also wonder if by involving this group he is effectively precluding the involvement of other groups that might be more helpful to his cause, such as the pro-override group. Furthermore, Mr. Bernadin has repeatedly stated that he didn't have enough time to come up with a proper solution. But the Finance Committee's report has been out for a full month, and this recommendation was public for longer than that. Why did he only start work on this recently? It is not OK to shoot from the hip on multi-million dollar issues.

Mr. Judd gave notice of reconsideration for Article 71; Mr. Tosti for 57-70, 73, and 74; Mrs. Mahon for 68 and 71; McCabe 74; and Mr. Gilligan 74. Meeting adjourned.

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6/4/03 - Tenth Meeting

This website, and Rich Carreiro's, got a bit of press less week in the Advocate. I'm pleased with the article.

Last week, there were a number of "vote no" sign-holders outside of Town Hall before the meeting. Today, there were a large number of "vote yes" signs (and a few no's, fewer than last week). I chatted with them briefly about this website and the override.

I was a few minutes late tonight and I didn't hear the anthem or who gave the prayer.

The moderator made a few remarks about the microphone, the developments in the budget, and that a few precincts have not yet chosen their officers. The meeting looked well attended tonight. I'll be curious to see what the actual recorded attendance was.

Mr. Greeley read a proclamation honoring the volunteers who worked and organized the Robbin's playground. They saved the town about $100,000 through volunteer work.

Article 54 - Budget. The budget was taken from the table. Mr. Greeley announced that the Budget Task Force had met on Monday. Back when the deficit was forecasted in December, it was $13 million for a level-service budget. The budget and override were crafted thinking the deficit was $8 million. They now think it is $7 million. The recent changes:

  • Use the senate's Chapter 70 budget: $270k
  • Smaller Minuteman assessment: $200k
  • NESWC votes a smaller tipping fee: $120k
  • Reduction in health insurance (unemployment): $410k
The O'Neil formula was applied. The town used its $440k to remove the proposed field use fee, and to add fire and police overtime, library, and youth and aging services. $560k was applied to the school budget (13.5 people and $25k in textbooks). Mr. Greeley gave a limited mea culpa about the changing numbers. Interestingly, he said that while the ballot obviously will not change, he was going to make a motion at the next selectmen's meeting to, as a policy decision, only increase the taxes by $3 million, not $4 million. I do find the changing numbers to be somewhat frustrating. About half of this number is easy to understand; the Senate and NESWC change their minds, and that is uncontrollable. But the Minuteman and the health insurance seem very predictable - I don't get why they are so late in the game. It seems that some of these numbers have been known for weeks, as well. As for the override - that is fascinating. If the override passes, and if Mr. Greeley makes his motion and it passes, I think the town will not be receiving the maximum revenue permitted by law. But, the selectmen can change that next year and any year after that unless the town were to pass an underride. That is, the override vote will be authorizing $4 million increase, and a 2.5% increase over the $4M annually, essentially forever; it's just a matter of when the selectmen decide to take the revenue. I have to confirm the wording of the ballot question and the law, but I think my first impression is correct. After a couple procedural questions, we moved to the specific budgets. It is easier to understand if you look at the Finance Committee Report.

Budget 1 - Finance Committee, $10k. Passed without discussion.

Budget 2 - Board of Selectmen, $292k. I asked a question about how the found $1 million affects future projected deficits. I didn't get the specific answer I was hoping for, but basically was told that good things we do this year (in narrowing deficits) help us in future years as well. A couple of other speakers followed up with budget-wide questions, but were shut down by the moderator; he was intent on questions having to pertain to this specific budget. I strongly disagree with the moderator's decision. I appreciate that he is trying to keep discussion on track and productive. However, the budget is a forest, and departments are trees. We have to vote on each tree, but it is healthy to look at the forest as a whole as well. The moderator is giving us a guided tour of each tree, but looking at the forest is expressly forbidden. Questions were asked about selectmen's salaries, the TM clerk, and general budget size. Passed by voice vote.

Budget 3 - Town Manager, $272k. Passed without discussion.

Budget 4 - Personnel, $135k. Passed without discussion. I voted no on this one. In fact, I voted no on most of these budgets (except for the public safety ones). As I've mentioned before, I'm very concerned that this budget crisis is being dealt with on a year-by-year basis. Next year is worse, and so is the year after that. Cuts we make this year reward us in each of the following years - we will have spent less of our savings and can maintain services for longer. I'm distressed that we're spending so much of our reserves while doing an override; we just can't do both year after year. We have to spend less, in each department. I prioritize fire, police, and schools the highest. After that, everything needs to be cut, and cut more that what we've done so far. I invite discussion on this one - if you agree or disagree, I'm curious to hear it.

Budget 5 - Comptroller, $758k. After a salary question, passed.

Budget 6 - Treasurer, $530k. Passed without discussion.

Budget 7 - Postage, $122k. A question was asked about rising postal rates and this 20% budget cut. Treasurer Bilafer replied that "discretionary mailings" are more controlled. I rose to ask what a "discretionary mailing" was - trash notification and mail to school parents. Another speaker asked why more wasn't done with email. I find this budget to be particularly bad. "Discretionary" mailings? If we can just take 20% off the top this year, why not 40%? And why hasn't more been done with email? How many pieces of mail come to my house from the town, what fraction are required by the state, and what fraction could be done by email? I'm not saying that everyone should use email. There are people that need their paper. But if the town doesn't have to do the paper, then why is it still doing it? Passed by voice vote.

Budget 8 - Assessors, $266k. There was a question about 10 year re-valuation. Passed by voice vote.

Budget 9 - Legal, $595k. There was a question about raises. There was significant discussion about the need for two lawyers. Mr. Maher argued this was necessary because of the self-insurance, and it was cheaper than using an agency. The schools use a different labor negotiator but use the town for the rest. The legal expenses line was discussed. Passed by voice vote.

Budget 10 - Town Clerk, $190k. Passed without discussion.

Budget 11 - Board of Registrars, $50k. Passed after a quick question.

Budget 12 - Parking, $70k. Passed without discussion.

Budget 13 - Planning, $187k. There was a question about the Central School Allocation. There was discussion about retirement of the director and salary changes. There were questions about line items, raises, and the overall net of operating the unused schools. Funny moment. The budget had a typo, and a speaker whose name I didn't catch asked, "Why, if Arlington is a dry town, are we accepting 'Community Development Bock Grants?'" Passed by voice vote.

Budget 14 - Redevelopment, $328k. Passed without discussion.

Budget 15 - Zoning Board, $20k. Passed without discussion.

Recess for 10-15 minutes.

Budget 16 - Public Works, $5.837 million. This was the first budget affected by the newly-found $1 million. There was significant discussion of field use fees and equity among sports. NESWC and cemetery's perpetual care were discussed. Passed, as amended, by voice vote.

Budget 17 - Public Safety, $9.9 million. The first part of the budget, administration, passed quickly. The police discussion was much longer. The length of time to get a new-hire onto the street was discussed. The effects of the override were discussed. Crime rate, population density, number of total calls, past manning levels, minimum manning levels, homeland security, and budgetary flexibility were discussed. Mr. Roselli made a motion to restore funding to 2002 levels by spending reserves, an increase of $250k. Mr. Roselli wanted to speak about fire and police manning levels, but the moderator would only let him talk about one. Once again, his insistence on focusing on tiny pieces thwarted useful debate. I think that "public safety" is a very reasonable, bite-size topic that can be intelligently debated. I just do not understand why it has to be narrowed so tightly, narrowed past the point of useful discussion. We're not even studying an individual tree anymore; we're working on them one branch at a time. Mr. Roselli's motion failed, the selectmen/finance committee amendment passed, and the main budget passed. The fire department was next. Mr. Roselli made a similar amendment and a longish speech about manning levels and his past predictions of fire and police staffing needs. The number of structure fires and why it is declining was discussed, as were response times, hiring freezes, the effects of Lexington closing their eastern substation, the role of Arlington's override, the length of the training period, the number of calls, the fraction of medical calls, the number of apparatus, and the staffing per call were discussed. Mr. Roselli's motion failed, the selectmen/finance committee amendment passed, and the main budget passed.

Mr. Tosti, Mrs. Harrington, Mr. Judd, and Mr. Gilligan all gave notice of reconsideration on all issues decided tonight. Meeting adjourned.

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6/9/03 - Eleventh Meeting

Before reporting on tonight's meeting, I'd like to talk about something that's on the front of everyone's mind: Saturday's vote to override Proposition 2 1/2 to raise taxes in Arlington by up to $4 million. I'm going to vote "No," and I want to explain why.

Most of what I want to say was said by Charles Foskett in Thursday's Arlington Advocate. He is quite articulate and his arguments are well reasoned; I'm not going to waste time trying to improve upon his argument.

Mr. Foskett bases much of his argument on the report of the Finance Committee. I suggest you read pages D-1 through D-3 (51-53 in the PDF document). Even with the override, 2005 is $4 million short and 2006 is $8 million short. How can we vote to increase taxes this year when we don't have a plan for those years? Given our strategy this year, the implied plan is a $4 million override each year.

This just isn't acceptable. We need to plan for more than one year at a time. We need to be cutting more aggressively this year. We need to be more aggressively looking at ways to fundamentally change our costs - fire departments that cross town lines; larger, fewer, and more efficient schools; and better negotiation of contracts.

I'm voting "No" because I think the town needs to make fundamental changes in the way that it operates.

There were a number of people out front holding signs for and against the override - 60ish, perhaps?

The meeting opened with the national anthem and a fairly politically oriented prayer from the Church of our Savior.

Article 2 - Committee Reports. Taken from the table.

  • The Transportation Advisory Committee report was delivered by Ed Starr. He spoke of enforcement, education, and crash data in Arlington.
  • The Dallin Museum report was given.
Article 2 was tabled.

Article 54 - Budget, continued.

Budget 17 - Public Safety, $9.9 million, continued. Discussion continued on support services. There was discussion about layoffs, seniority, privatization, sodium vapor lights, and position reclassification. The budget passed 135-21.

Budget 18 - Inspectional Services and street lighting, $720k. There were questions about the Concord Turnpike lights, sodium vapor light quality, the timing of the changeover to the new lights, and the cost of our light replacement service.

Budget 19 - Schools, $30 million. Suzanne Baratta Owayda, chair, gave a speech about the challenges to and accomplishments of the Arlington schools. She reported that the proposed budget would not provide the same budget as past years. The committee was not happy with the O'Neill formula or the resulting budget, but adopted it as the best available. Superintendent Kathleen Donovan spoke next. She expressed distress with the vote taken by the Board of Selectmen immediately before the meeting (more on this in a bit). She said that if the override fails that "every one of the cuts that was recommended will be made." She described the severity of the losses that the schools face. The first question posed was about the difference between the house and senate budgets. The next question was about the selectmen's vote; few people in the hall had heard the results (including me), so this was big news. Evidently the selectmen had voted as "a matter of policy" to only spend $3 million of the $4 million override, with 75% for the school and 25% for the town. This generated quite a bit of grumbling from the meeting. I think I understand why. This arrangement leaves the schools with $560,000 more than anticipated if there is no override, but with $200,000 less than anticipated if the override succeeds.

No override Override
(with found $1M)
(w/o found $1M)
Original projected schools deficit: 4.5M 4.5M 4.5M
Find a million dollars: -.56M -.56M 0
Override: 0 -2.25M -3M
Revised Deficit: 4M 1.7M 1.5M

I think a speaker tonight phrased this correctly: because of the way things have been done, if the override passes, the schools get 56% of the first million (a.k.a. the "found" million), and 75% of the next three million. This is, of course, different than the 75%-of-4-million that has been the premise of the override debate. Judging by past statements, statements made tonight, and educated guesses - the school committee must be seething over this. They've been put in a place where they fight for the override expecting one number, but end up getting less. Interestingly, I don't think they have any immediate recourse. They can't afford to make a stink about it for fear of hurting the override's chances. I will not be at all surprised to see this come back in some form on sometime after June 15th; there are some town/school clashes in our future. Questions turned to pink slips - why 110 with 60-odd layoffs? The reason is that tenured teachers with pink slips can "bump" a non-tenured teacher in a different job; they have to accommodate all possible layoffs and bumps with pink slips. High School heating was discussed, as was out of district tuition, state and federal funding, private insurance, the lack of raises for teachers next year, expanding collaborative schools, Pierce school bonding, what the $560k of the "found million" was being applied to, and level service budgets. A vote to terminate debate failed by 92-64. The question was asked if the school committee or superintendent knew about the selectmen's vote beforehand; both indicated that they had thought the vote would be for $3.5M, or half of the deficit. The moderator reigned in a couple of speakers who were debating the override rather than the school budget. Questions continued about the report format, the role of the override, pink slip timing, Dallin transportation and maintenance, and a line item about assistant principals. Debate was terminated and the budget, as amended, passed.

Budget 20 - Libraries, $1.45 million. There was a question about library fines. Three very long-winded speakers felt the need to debate the Fox Library. The budget passed.

Budget 21 - Human Services, $514k. There was discussion about the cuts in clerical staff and whether services could be maintained. The budget passed.

Budget 22 - Non-contributory retirement, $320k. The budget passed unanimously.

Budget 23 - Contributory retirement, $5.55M. The budget passed.

Budget 24 - Insurance, $12.9M. The budget passed unanimously (after it was pointed out that 2/3 vote was necessary).

Budget 25 - Reserve fund, $400k. The budget passed.

Enterprise Fund A - Water and Sewer, $12.8M. The budget passed.

Enterprise Fund B - Recreation, $400k. I voted no on the amendment and the final. I think that user fees for fields are a really good idea. It frustrates me that we're not ready to implement them this year - we really need them. The budget passed.

Enterprise Fund C - Veteran's Rink, $400k. The budget passed.

Enterprise Fund D - Council on Aging Transport, $100k. The budget passed.

Enterprise Fund E - Youth Services, $200k. The budget passed.

Mr. Tosti, Mr. Deyst, and Mr. Gilligan gave notice of reconsideration on all budgets; Mr. McCabe gave notice for budget 21; someone whose name I did not get also gave notice for 21.

It was determined that progress had been too slow tonight, and a meeting on Wednesday would be necessary. Meeting adjourned.

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6/11/03 - Twelfth Meeting

The meeting opened with the national anthem (I arrived a few minutes late, just as the anthem completed).

The moderator noted that Saturday is Flag Day and gave a history of the flag described in the national anthem.

Article 54 - Budget, continued. The article was tabled in anticipation of the override vote.

Article 59 - Minuteman Schools, $2 million. The article was taken from the table. Mr. DeCourcey offered a Finance Committee amendment to increase the amount by about $8,000. Dr. Fitzgerald of the Minuteman District spoke. He described the new assessment process, the way the state has changed various funding rules, cuts that he has made, and special ed levels at the school. He answered a number of questions about per pupil costs, using capital to pay for operating expenses, which teachers were cut, and other state funding issues. It sounds like they operate at the whim of the state even more than we do. I don't envy his situation. Motion was amended and passed.

Article 75 - Fees. Voted no action.

Article 76 - Local option taxes. Voted no action.

Article 77 - Tip fee stabilization, $2.1 million. Passed unanimously.

Article 78 - Cemetery fund transfer. No action.

Article 79 - Overlay reserve, $500k. Passed unanimously.

Article 80 - "Free" cash, $1.77 million. A question was asked about how much would be left afterwards. Passed. I voted no on this one, on the same theme as other votes I cast on budgets. We're spending savings at an extraordinary rate without first developing a plan on how to pay our bills over the next two or three years - it's just not smart.

Article 81 - USA Patriot Act. The moderator announced that he would test a different method for the next two articles. There would be "for" and "against" microphones. People would line up according to their feelings, and speakers would alternate. The speakers requested 15 minutes, and were voted down. Their speech ran a bit over 10 minutes, but not by more than a couple of minutes. They spoke about the flaws they perceive in the act and the reasons that Arlington should get involved. Five or so speakers went, taking turns for and against. Terrorism, racial profiling, Noam Chomsky, the right to bear arms, the relevance to Arlington, and the text of the vote were discussed. You can probably read the preceding sentence and imagine an orderly, reasoned, and passionate debate. I assure you, it was anything but reasoned or orderly, though it had its passion. Improper points of order, shouting, multiple people talking at once, booing, hissing, and loud applause ruled the debate. A few TMMs even walked out in protest. It was a colossal waste of time. Before this article was done, it occupied more than 90 minutes of town meeting time. Did we spend or save any money? Did we pass a by-law? Did we change the lives of a single resident of Arlington? The answer, of course, is no. Town Meeting is not an appropriate place for items like this. When TM has a hard question, we study it to death. We create committees. We debate. When we're ready, we take AN ACTION. There was no study, no real debate, and no action taken. If you're sitting at home right now, thinking that next year's town meeting would be a great time to introduce a warrant article advocating traditional families or gay marriage, or whether we should or should not to eat meat, or whether we think it's time to reform the Electoral College - please don't. Town Meeting has enough work to do on issues that are closer to home, issues where it can have a real impact, that it doesn't need these noisy distractions. Vote was terminated with 10ish speakers left, first by voice vote then standing 108-42. The main motion's voice vote was inconclusive. The standing vote was 91-52. Thirty people demanded a roll call, and it was done - evidently, the first roll call in years. 98 voted in favor, 45 against, 20 voted "present," and 86 were absent.

Article 82 - Child Discipline. The proponent spoke for a few minutes about the effects of violence on children and what it can lead to. There was a single speaker questioning whether this should be before Town Meeting. Motion failed on voice vote. I was contemplating a couple of substitute motions. One was going to advocate the "Return of the Ruler: Rap those Knuckles!" The other was to agree that corporal punishment was bad, but sensory deprivation and psychological torture were far more effective. Good sense prevailed, and I saved the suggestions for this page.

Article 53 - Reclassification of positions, taken from the table. Dan O'Neill presented the substitute motion, an expanded position description. A couple speakers questioned why, if we were removing a general foreman, was there still a line item in the budget to pay their salary. Caryn Cove, Director of Personnel and John Sanchez, Director of Public Works labored over this question for several minutes. I believe that the final explanation was that there were still three management positions (2 foremen and a director), but the budget had a director, general foreman, and a regular foreman. Motion passed on voice vote. This was not a tour-de-force on the part of the town. That said, it is tough to be put on the spot in front of a couple hundred people. I hope a lesson is learned about the details that many TMMs require and it becomes easier in the future.

Article 35 - Community Development Block Grants, taken from the table. Mr. Greeley introduced Alan McClennen. He noted Mr. McClennen's impending retirement and thanked him for his past work. Mr. McClennen came to the floor to a sustained standing ovation from the meeting. Mr. McClennen gave some very interesting remarks about his history with Arlington and CDBG and Town Meeting. A few questions were asked about what fraction of grants were awarded and how the census might affect us. Passed unanimously.

Article 8 - Special Places, taken from the table. Mr. Leone presented a substitute motion creating a Special Places by-law. He described the merits and reasoning of the by-law. Mr. Greeley urged that the meeting to support the Selectmen's recommendation of no action. Mr. Carreiro spoke against the by-law and offered an amendment to remove its most offensive parts: to remove subdivided lots from "taint" of special places, put teeth into anti-stalling segments of the by-law, and to create a variance process.

Mr. Tosti gave notice of reconsideration to several articles (I missed the exact numbers). Mrs. Harrington gave notice for 53 and 80. Meeting adjourned.

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6/16/03 - Thirteenth Meeting

As I walked in tonight, there were a number of "no" sign holders with "thank you" written on them outside Town Hall. I showed up as they were leaving, and I overheard one say to another, half in jest, "See you next year!"

The meeting opened with the national anthem and a prayer from the Salvation Army.

Article 8 - Special Places, continued. Several speakers rose on both sides of this question. They questioned the need for this bylaw and argued that it was needed for future protection; they wanted to protect buildings on Mass Ave and argued that they were already protected; they argued that the 100 foot limit was well-thought out and that it was arbitrary. Mr. Carreiro's amendment failed by voice vote. The substitute motion offered by Mr. Leone passed by 73-72. With that narrow margin, the normally-perfunctory vote to approve the main motion was hotly contested, and passed 79-78. Over the space of 3 minutes, both sides gained six votes. I voted no on this. I think that it is unnecessary; we have plenty of regulations in place already that provide adequate protection for our historical sites. I think that several proponents were simply trying to legislate against ugly buildings. If that is their goal, this should not be the vehicle. I don't think there was any real consideration to the radius; Mr. Leone said in his speech that "it sounded right." That is just not good legislation. As a parting shot on the issue, I'll give you the punchline running around my household: "Mommy, the bad developer tried to touch me in my Special Places!"

Article 16 - Refuse contract. Ms. Galkowski gave the first description. The town was negotiating a 5-year contract to start in 2005 to dispose of our trash with NESWC and Wheelabrator. There is no guaranteed tonnage that we have to pay for. There were three points of lingering controversy: price, indemnification, and the "flip-up." The flip-up was the most complex. The flip-up is a financial vehicle where Wheelabrator can extend the bonds (and the no-tax interest rate) for its own use, theoretically at no risk to the town. The indemnification is slightly less complex. If the town or Wheelabrator gets sued, presumably for environmental problems, how much do we release each other from claims? The price was the least complex. We had hired two consultants to look at the price, and they disagreed about whether or not it was good. Mr. Tosti announced that the Finance Committee recommended no action because of insufficient information. A lengthy discussion ensued. The details and ramifications of the flip-up were discussed. Would it harm Arlington's credit? Would we be aiding a corporation in dodging taxes? Was agreement to the flip-up necessary to get the prices currently on the table? I'm not certain that any of these questions were definitively answered, but the answers seem to be no, yes, and no. A lawyer tried to explain indemnity and how much we have and give under the proposed contract. The possible prices from other sources were mentioned. The degree of awfulness of the old deal was discussed, and how much the town distrusts Wheelabrator. Wheelabrator's right of first refusal was discussed. The June 30th deadline was covered. The age and health of the plant was questioned. The fact that the decision is Ms. Galkowski's, TM can only offer advice was discussed. Mrs. Harrington offered an amendment that encouraged ditching the flip-up and a renegotiation of the indemnity, but accepting the main motion. After the recess, Mr. Deyst offered a motion to endorse the deal, but only if FinComm and the selectmen concur. The results of saying "no" were discussed, as was the lack of alternatives to NESWC. Due diligence, other towns' decisions, the RFP process, and the June 30th deadline were discussed. The moderator accepted a motion to table the question that passed by voice vote. This was a frustrating discussion. According to discussion, this contract was received by the town in February. The selectmen's recommendation was made in April. Why, and I mean WHY are there still unanswered questions on this contract? It's June 16th, and FinComm is saying that it still doesn't have enough information? Why is it that I never heard the term "flip-up" until tonight? If it's such a key issue, why haven't I received paper on the issue? Further organizational complaint: We had no less than four lawyers (paid, not volunteer) at the front of Town Meeting, each representing a different party. The issues they were discussing are quite complex. Town Meeting, as good as it is, does have limitations. We cannot act as a committee of 252 different people. We need ideas to be laid out in front of us, key points identified, and facts to be (relatively) established. We cannot listen to a 5-minute definition of indemnity and vote intelligently! A final organizational point: if our role is advisory, then why the heck are we spending so much time on this? The Town Manager can take our temperature, get a quick vote on the main points, and then do her thing. Our vote has no legal significance, and we should act expediently.

Article 37 - Early Retirement. Voted no action.

Article 38 - Education Reform. Voted no action unanimously.

Article 39 - Special Education. Voted no action.

Article 54 - Budgets. The moderator had held this open in anticipation of the override, but given that it failed, declared it closed. Mr. Rehrig rose to ask if the FinComm was going to correct the 75-25% error (described above). The answer was no.

Article 44 - Local 680. Ms. Galkowski explained that this is for 7/02-6/03. It is a 3% raise, basically already in the budget. Mr. Tosti pointed out that the town got some concessions in medical insurance issues. Some people spoke in favor of this on fairness reasons - other unions got this already. Others spoke against it because it was too high given low inflation and the town's financial needs. Passed. I voted against this. This is business as usual. Business as usual is not working. The town cannot do the same thing every year if it is to solve the current problems. I also don't buy the fairness issue. If every union is meant to get the same deal, then we should negotiate one deal. There are risks to prolonging negotiations, as well as possible reward. The 680 delayed, and the financial situation deteriorated. I have no qualms about giving them a different deal because the situation has changed.

Article 45 - NAGE. Voted no action.

Article 46 - Library. Voted no action.

Article 47 - Fire Union. FinComm recommended no action. Ms. Galkowski offered a substitute motion with a 3% raise. Mr. Maher spoke in support. He explained that this was different than other budgets because it came out of binding arbitration, not out of negotiation. He was legally bound to support it, and could not give unbiased advice, so had hired outside counsel to represent the town. He explained that the town had asked for things and been denied, as had the union. He said that the decision was largely based on the fact that Arlington was in the bottom third in the 18 comparable communities. The recent head of the fire union spoke in favor, reiterating many of Mr. Maher's points. He said the firefighters were ready to make concessions, but next year - no one else had concessions this year, either. Mr. Tosti spoke against the deal. Every other union had made concessions in health care. He said that health care was the budget buster, and changes had to be made. A few speakers repeated some of these points. The substitute motion carried 124-44. I voted against this (I'm sure you're all shocked, given my past voting record). This is one of the few times where FinComm has drawn a line, and I think they need to draw it more often. It is votes like this that get us into financial trouble. I recognize that saying "no" isn't always easy, but we simply have to do it. We cannot say yes to every well-meaning request that comes before us. We must show more restraint while spending taxpayer's money.

Article 48 - Police Union. There are two votes to do here: one is identical to the fire union, the other is a side-letter for defibrillator stipend. This opened up with 9 minutes left before 11PM. We'd just had the debate on the issue for the fire department. We could have disposed of this in just a few minutes - the issues involved had already been covered. The side letter was uncontroversial and would have sailed right through. But the moderator hemmed and hawed, and we got zero debate done! If he had been more prepared, we'd have crossed this off by 11. I'm happy to give my time to Town Meeting, but I'm not happy when I'm wasting my time. We could have finished Town Meeting tonight. It was confusion like this (and the trash issue) that means that we have to come back on Wednesday.

Mrs. Harrington gave notice of reconsideration on Article 47, Mr. Gilligan on Article 8. Meeting adjourned.

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6/18/03 - Fourteenth Meeting

Meeting opened with the national anthem and the traditional opening speech of Concord's Town Meeting.

Article 48 - Tabled.

Article 16 - Refuse contract was taken from the table. Mr. Tosti reported that the Finance Committee had voted to support the selectmen's motion by a 8-7 vote. Most of the opposition, he reported, preferred a slightly slower approach, and were not completely opposed to the contract. Ms. Galkowski spoke, referring to her new memo on the three troubling issues - price, indemnity, and the flip-up. The lawyer for NESWC from Palmer and Dodge gave a quite lengthy description about the flip-up. His description did not materially differ from what I understood on Monday. Mr. Deyst withdrew his amendment. Mrs. Harrington withdrew her amendment and offered a different one. She argued that if you were in doubt about the right choice, that hers was the best option; a full no or a full yes had repercussions, and her amendment was a "maybe" that let people negotiate for the rest of the month. Several questions were asked. It was determined that each of the NESWC towns were negotiating separately, as a group. Acton had said no, 5 other towns had said yes, the rest were still considering. The town retains the option of getting out of the trash business entirely. We had not given an RFP yet because we were obligated by the old contract to negotiate first. A speaker advocated recycling. Debate was terminated, and Mrs. Harrington's amendment carried 82-81. The main motion carried.

Article 48 - Police union, continued. There were two votes to be considered. The first was a "side-letter" agreement to give raises to officers who were trained in the use of the defibrillator. This motion passed. The second vote was over the arbitrator's award to the police union. Ms. Galkowski and Mr. Maher supported the award as they were legally required to do. The only real difference that I heard was that the police union did request additional concessions, but did not agree to the town's request for concessions. Mr. Tosti and Mr. Foskett gave strongly-worded arguments against the agreement. They recognized the concessions that NAGE, etc. had made, the leadership they had exhibited, and urged that the town meeting reject this concession-free, externally-imposed arbitration award. Several speakers followed. Some argued that the arbitration award was an agreement that the town was obligated, in good faith, to adhere to. The past raises of the fire department were discussed. The timing of the health insurance concessions of the other unions was asked: Jan 1, 2004, if all unions agree. Some speakers questioned why we were giving raises to some while firing others. The vote of the Finance Committee was scrutinized. There were some claims of misinformation from both sides. Discussion was terminated by voice vote. The moderator called for yeas without using the microphone at all, and there was significant confusion about when to stand up. I shouted a point of order, asking for the moderator to repeat the request for votes. The vote carried 111-54. I voted against this for the same reasons that I voted against the fire union. What kind of message are we sending to the unions, to the town's negotiators, and the voters of the town? We are saying that there is no real need to negotiate - town meeting will give the union what it wants anyway. I expect that next year there will be another override vote. Town Meeting just handed the "no" campaign its best argument: Town Meeting can't be counted on to control spending, even when the Finance Committee recommends against the expenditure.

Article 49 - Ranking Police Officers. Defibrillator side-letter was passed.

Article 50 - M-schedule raises. It was asked when the co-pay changes and premium payment changes would take effect - with the rest of the unions and the first payment, respectively. Mrs. Mahon asked a question of the finance board. It is not clear to me what she asked. Merriam Webster tells me that her question was "circumlocutory." I think she was asking if Finance Board had considered giving pay cuts to some M-schedule employees.. Mr. Foskett responded that in many cases, the higher insurance premium was larger than their raise - a functional paycut. Mrs. Mahon questioned why Finance Committee hadn't implemented so many of her cost-cutting suggestions. Mr. Foskett, on a point of personal privilege, said that each suggestion had been considered. This was pretty snippy. It's one of things where you know there is a lot more to the story, and you'll probably never know the whole story anyway. The rising cost of insurance was discussed, as was the increase in premiums paid by these employees. It was requested that rather than vote on last year, it would be better to negotiate earlier so that Town Meeting can consider next year. Motion passed.

Article 51 - Elected officials' raise. Passed by voice vote.

Article 52 - Future collective bargaining. Amended down to reflect the amount spent in 47 and 48. Passed.

Article 55 - Augment deferred compensation. Passed.

Article 72 - Hardy. No action. Unanimous.

Article 76 - Local option taxes. No action. Unanimous.

Article 28 - Josh Lobel moved reconsideration of Article 28 to remove the residency requirement of the Town Manager. The debate of May 7th was rehashed by speakers for and against. Motion failed. I agree with Mr. Lobel, but this issue was dead and gone. It's only worth reconsidering if there are new facts, and there were none.

Article 2 - taken from the table. The meeting gave Acting Town Manager Nancy Galkowski a standing ovation for her work in a difficult time with difficult circumstances. The meeting voted to dissolve.

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