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2004 Town Meeting

I take notes during Town Meeting. They are not official in any way. As I listen to people speak, I scribble notes. I'm sure that, at times, I mishear or misunderstand the speaker, but my notes represent what I hear at the time. I then publish the notes every night after the meeting. I do go back and make a few edits as errors are pointed out to me.

I do 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.

The Special Town Meeting notes are mixed with the Annual Meeting notes - the special starts on 5/19.

4/26 - 4/28 - 5/3 - 5/5 - 5/10 - 5/12
5/17 - 5/19 - 5/24 - 5/26 - 6/2 - 6/7 - top

4/26/04 - First Meeting

The State of the Town was at 7PM; I was stuck at work and I missed it. You can find Selectman Diane Mahon's remarks on Live from Arlington.

A color guard of Revolutionary War reenactors carried the flag to the front of the meeting. The fife and drum played the national anthem, with the meeting members and audience singing.

The rector of the Church of our Savior gave a blessing.

Moderator John Worden called the 198th Town Meeting to order and gave a few remarks about the wisdom of the meeting.

Newly elected and reelected members were sworn in. The moderator advised the new to seek advice, and the veterans to give advice.

The meeting voted to permit non-members who are on committees, are employees, consultants, etc. to sit on the main floor (everyone else is required to sit up in the balconies). The warrant was read by the Town Clerk. The next meeting was scheduled for the 28th.

Article 2 - Reports of Committees. Town Meeting accepted several reports:

  • Board of Selectmen's report was submitted by Diane Mahon.
  • The Annual Report was submitted by Diane Mahon.
  • The Redevelopment Board's report was submitted.
  • The Affordable Housing Task Force report was given my Selectman Charles Lyons. He gave several minutes of remarks on the high prices of housing in town, the progress that had been made (including our bylaws and use of Community Development Block Grants (CDBG)), and the progress that was hoped for.
  • The Noise Abatement Committee report was submitted. First moment of Town Meeting irony: The chair of the Noise Abatement Committee was so quiet that I didn't catch his name.
  • The Reinspection of Vacated Premises Committee report was presented by Ryan Ferrara. Mr. Ferrara went on at great length about the debates and considerations of the committee, which, in the end, decided to educate, not mandate. At the 10 minute mark, I wondered when the moderator would step in. At the 15 minute mark, I wondered if we were getting a minute-by-minute description of the debate. Let's just say the 5-minute report rule was not honored.
  • The Tree Committee (represented by Patricia Thomas) asked that people fill out the tree survey so that their report could be completed
  • The Finance Committee report was given by Allan Tosti. He asked for, and was granted, 15 minutes to speak. He described the budget as better than very recent ones. He noted that the town depends on increasing levels of funding from the state to maintain services. He said that this year's health insurance was a pleasant surprise. He described how the gap in revenues and expenditures was closed. He made remarks on the spending of reserves, how the budgets were displayed in the reports, and asked the meeting to not spend money that would put the budget out of balance.
The article was tabled.

Article 3 - John FitzMaurice was appointed Measurer of Wood and Bark.

Article 4 - Election of Assistant Moderator. Arlington has never had one of these before. The moderator announced that the ballots would be handed out on Wednesday, and then opened the floor to nominations.
  • John Leone
  • Tom Caccavaro
  • Harry McCabe
Article 5 - Bicycle Parking. Roland Chaput described it as a housekeeping article. The change is to make sure that developers seeking an environmental review notice the requirement for bicycle parking that was added last year. Jack Johnson of the Bike Committee described it as a cross-reference. The moderator noted that this required a 2/3 vote because it is a bylaw change. He noted that a unanimous vote wouldn't require a count, but any objection would require a standing vote by count. He suggested in the interest of time that a unanimous vote was best. The bylaw passed unanimously. I thought the moderator's remarks were quite inappropriate. The moderator was essentially trying to bully people who object to the bylaw into silence. The 2/3 requirement is there so that a majority can't stomp on the rights of the majority; the super-majority is a protection of minority opinion. I was opposed to this last year and I'm still opposed to it now. I was OK with this bylaw because it doesn't strengthen the rule I disagree with, but provides clarity. But who is the moderator to say that I shouldn't object, in the interests of time?

Article 6 - Density Regulations. Before the presentation started Elsie Fiore asked for 6, 7 and 8 to be postponed to Monday so there could be more study. Motion passed.

Article 9 - Off-street Parking. Freeland Abbott made a substitute motion to replace the Redevelopment Board's vote of no action. His point was that people who live in single-occupancy housing are often low income, and don't own cars. By removing the parking requirement (or at least permitting it to be sometimes removed), the price of housing can be lowered. The meeting had a 10-minute break. Nora Mann spoke after the break. She and Freeland had spoken during the break, and had agreed to work on this over the next year. The substitute motion failed, and the main motion was voted no action.

Article 10 - No action.

Article 11 - No action.

Article 12 - Affordable Housing Bylaw. Freeland Abbott made a substitute motion to replace the Redevelopment Board's vote of no action. His motion was to permit, at the discretion of the Redevelopment Board, a developer to build affordable housing units of the same cost and a greater number of units at a different location than the main development. Nora Mann spoke for the Redevelopment Board, Affordable Housing Task Force, and Arlington Housing Authority against the motion. She doesn't want developers to be able to "buy their way" out of the bylaw and thinks the bylaw is contrary to the town's goal of inclusionary zoning. A number of speakers made similar comments. Several people asked questions or made statements about why the Redevelopment Board wasn't interested in having the option, but not be required to use it. A motion to postpone was made, and failed 53-105. After further discussion, the substitute motion failed on voice vote, and no action carried. I was in favor of the substitute motion. I just don't understand how additional flexibility can possibly be a bad thing. The option offered by the substitute would create more housing and would cost the developer the same amount of money. There were a number of not-so-thinly veiled statements that voting for this was a racist or classist act. I reject that accusation. My vote was about increasing flexibility in a too-rigid zoning bylaw.

Article 13 - Temporary Signs. Leslie Mayer of the Parks and Recreation Commission made a substitute motion to replace the Redevelopment Board's vote of no action. This article, paired with Article 15, will permit advertising on town fields. She gave a speech talking about other methods that teams use to raise money - complete with props - and the limited impact this would have on open space. Town Counsel raised the objection, through the moderator, that the proposed bylaw change wasn't rigid enough. It included reference to an incomplete document, and zoning bylaws needed to be "cast in bronze." After some dickering, the article was tabled. This is one of those times where the members of the meeting roll their eyes and wonder why the heck wasn't this language worked out before the meeting? I plan on voting in favor of this. It doesn't harm the "look" of the fields and it helps raise money for town and community.

A motion to adjourn was made, and failed; it was only 10:40.

Article 14 - Off Street Parking. Barry Faulkner spoke for the Redevelopment Board's vote of no action. He said that the recommended change would unreasonably increase the number of required parking spaces for apartments. This would have the effect of raising housing costs while lowering the amount of housing. The vote of no action passed unanimously. Two comments on this one: First, I heard someone say "no" really quietly. If you are going to vote no, do it with authority! Vote with your conviction, I say. Second, I was highly amused by Laurence McKinney who complained about his neighbors. They don't have enough parking so they park in their lawn and turn it to mud. When pressed by the moderator to get to the point, he said he was "opposed." Opposed to "no action" means you are in favor of . . . action, I guess.

Article 15 - Tabled (with 13).

Article 16 - Abandoning Exterior Lines on Mass Ave. Town Counsel Maher spoke. In the 20s and 30s the town bought easements in case it ever wished to widen Mass Ave. Now, these easements only keep people from building on their full property. There were a number of questions about sidewalks, about whether the town should try to recover money for giving up the easements, and why this proposal was made. In general, it was so that the builder in question could build closer to the street and farther from the residences nearby. The motion passed.

Jacqueline Harrington gave notice of reconsideration on articles 9 and 12. Lyman Judd gave notice on 12 and 14. Meeting adjourned a minute or two after 11PM.

4/26 - 4/28 - 5/3 - 5/5 - 5/10 - 5/12
5/17 - 5/19 - 5/24 - 5/26 - 6/2 - 6/7 - top

4/28/04 - Second Meeting

We opened with the national anthem and a prayer from St. Eulalia's.

The moderator made the point that if you've had 3.5 months to prepare an article, you really should have the substitute motion in writing. He also reminded people that unsigned pieces of paper left for meeting members should be discarded. He says this every year, and it hasn't started making sense. Anonymous speech is protected speech. If you ever go to town meeting and find an unsigned piece of paper that says simply "I'm exercising my right of anonymous speech," well, you'll be able to guess who did it.

We swore in one new member.

The next meeting was scheduled for May 3rd.

Mr. Maher reported that earlier in the day that Arlington and one of its police officers had won a jury-trial civil rights case. He credited town employees with our track record of successful court wins. After applause, he told a joke. This was a weird, but kind of funny moment.

The moderator announced that the State of the Town could be found on Arlington Studio. The State of the Town and meeting notes could be found on Live from Arlington. Of course, he's referring to these notes (and others). David Coletta tells me he didn't prompt the announcement - someone out there is reading!

The stenographer for the night was a no-show. It was pointed out that the bylaws require that the meeting be transcribed. Selectman Mahon is a court reporter, and she volunteered to transcribe the meeting. Three cheers for Diane Mahon. She's busy already at these meetings, and it was very gracious of her to do double-duty and transcribe the whole meeting for us.

Article 2 - Reports of Committees. Town Meeting accepted several reports:

  • The Arlington Human Rights Commission report was given by Bill Shea. This marks the 10th year of the commissions's existence. He described past activities, including hearing complaints, creating dialog, book events, working with Mass Commission against Discrimination, and working in the schools.
  • The Zoning Bylaw Review Committee report was given by John Leone.
  • The Arlington Housing Task Force had a minority report. It was given by Patricia Worden. She made several remarks.
Article 2 was tabled.

Article 4 - Election of Assistant Moderator. Each candidate was invited to speak.
  • Tom Caccavaro - His speech was short. He said he would have energy for the job.
  • John Leone - His speech was a bit longer. He described his law practice in Arlington that often worked in the town, his 10-year perfect attendance record, and his children in the schools.
  • Harry McCabe - His speech was much longer. He listed past offices held and achievements, including Selectman, Moderator, founding the Council on Aging, HeadStart program, Boys and Girls Club, ending the use of Robert's Rules of Order, and more.
After a brief question to the moderator about what the role will do, the ballots were collected and counted. I don't understand why they were counted right away. We all sat around and did nothing. We should have waited to count them during the recess. A few hundred people time 10 minutes is too much wasted time. Mr. Leone won by a wide margin - 122 to 34 each for Caccavaro and McCabe, with 10 write-ins for Rich Carreiro.

Article 17 - Parmenter School. Evidently, both the Selectmen and the Redevelopment Board though the other body would make a recommendation. Ed Tsoi ended up making the motion. Basically, the town had forgotten to extend the jurisdiction of the Redevelopment Board over the Parmenter school back in 1998. The motion fixed that, and extended the term to 2008. Passed unanimously.

Article 18 - Environmental and Energy Efficient Buildings. Roland Chaput spoke on this. The Redevelopment Board liked the idea, but thought the LEEDS method that was suggested applied better to really large construction, and wasn't appropriate for Arlington.

Article 19 - Snow Removal, Residences. Diane Mahon presented this article. The town wanted there to be more "teeth" in the rules as they apply to people who ignore the requirement to clear the sidewalks, and so wanted to raise the fine. There were questions about how many citations were given last year and how many would be given, about how to otherwise publicize the rules, and about people who have "wars" about their neighbors' snow. The article passed on a voice vote. I voted no on this. I think the bylaw in question is not a good one. It doesn't specify important questions, like whether or not the landlord or the renter is responsible. It requires the cleaning to be within 8 hours of the start of the snowfall. According to the way it reads, you're in trouble if you get plowed over even after you already cleaned the sidewalk. I do believe in the discretion of the police, but I also believe in sound legislation. I don't think we should raise the fine on such a poorly defined infraction.

Article 20 - Snow Removal, Apartment Buildings. This is similar to the previous, but a different class of buildings and a different fine structure. Mr. Doherty offered an amendment to change the fine to $50 rather than $25 (currently $10). It was asked if that was within the scope of the original article, and it was. It was pointed out that the rule requires these people to shovel within 3 hours, not 8, as the text reads in the motion. There were similar questions to the previous article, plus questions about the definition of condominiums and whether or not there were exemptions for the elderly. The amendment and main motion passed by voice vote. I voted no on both - see previous.

We had a 10-minute break.

Article 21 - Snow Removal, Businesses. There weren't many people in the hall when this started; I could hear lots of talking out in the hall. Passed by voice vote.

Article 22 - Bylaw Amendment, Public Ways. The town currently doesn't prohibit people from throwing snow into the street. This bylaw would change that. Mr. Leonard offered an amendment to add "leaves" to the list of things you can't throw in the street. There were questions about whether salt was permitted to be thrown, why was the town exempt from the rule, and private plows leaving a little bit of snow on the road. The first attempt to terminate debate failed, but the second passed. The amendment and main motion both passed. John Kohl gave notice of reconsideration. I voted in favor of this. The town has a legitimate interest in keeping people from blocking the roads.

Article 23 - Bylaw Amendment, Repair of Private Ways. The town maintains a revolving fund to facilitate work on private roads. If the owners of a private road wish, they can request the town to make temporary repairs to the road. The fund pays for the repairs. The owners pay for part (or all) of the cost to the revolving fund. The part that isn't paid immediately is assessed as a lien on the owners' property. That assessment is paid back, not to the revolving fund, but to the town's general fund. This is a matter of state law. The problem is that the revolving fund has too little money in it, and most projects go unfunded. This amendment is intended to revitalize the fund. One of the key points of debate is how much money must be paid up front by the owners. Currently, it is 1/3; the motion was for 2/3. Jacqueline Harrington quickly made an amendment to make it 1/3. A lengthy discussion (perhaps 45 minutes) ensued. Several members of town meeting simply didn't understand the financial mechanism. There were several labored exchanges about the nuances of revolving funds and liens. I think most people got this pretty quickly. Unfortunately, everyone who managed to get their hands on the microphone didn't get it. This lead to much boredom. I noted more than one set of closed eyes, and perhaps a certain member at the head table who started to fall off his chair as his head nodded. There was discussion about the planned future practice of money paid from liens be appropriated by Town Meeting into the revolving fund. There was discussion about whether or not 1/3 or 2/3 up-front payment would be enough to keep the fund viable. The costs of repairs were estimated and compared. The method of choosing which type of repair was discussed at great length. People were reminded that these were privately owned roads, not town roads. People talked of their own experiences with private roads. It was asked how many projects happen with the current plan - the answer was "a few." It is unfortunate that there weren't more hard data provided. I think the DPW missed the boat in two ways. First, they could have provided a spreadsheet, or a back-of-the-envelope example of the cashflow differences between the 1/3 and 2/3. That would have been more convincing than "1/3 won't work, but 2/3 will." Also, we should know more definitively how much this is used than "a few." Finally, debate was terminated. The amendment failed and the main motion passed by voice vote.

The meeting was adjourned.

4/26 - 4/28 - 5/3 - 5/5 - 5/10 - 5/12
5/17 - 5/19 - 5/24 - 5/26 - 6/2 - 6/7 - top

5/3/04 - Third Meeting

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

Two new members were sworn in.

Article 2 - Reports of Committees. Article 2 was taken from the table:

  • The Conservation Commission report was given by Nathaniel Stevens.
  • The Arlington Human Rights Commission report was added to by Bill Shea. He called for everyone to act in cases of rights abuse.
Article 2 was tabled.

Article 6 - Zoning Bylaw, setbacks, etc. The article was taken from the table. Barry Faulkner described the change the Arlington Redevelopment Board (ARB) wanted. The change is only for residences being built in a business district. In a business district, if someone wants to build a residence, then that residence should be at least 10 feet from the road. Current law does not have that restriction. A house right up on the street doesn't look right. Christopher Loreti offered a substitute motion (he asked for an extra five minutes to speak, and it was granted). His motion would go even further than the ARB. It increased the setback, increased the amount of frontage required, required a larger lot, and decreased the size of the house that could be built. He described areas in town where business zones were adjacent to resident zones, and he wanted the zones to be consistent. He also wanted to make this use case less appealing to developers in order to protect the business districts. Mr. Loreti was an excellent speaker. He had a good grasp of the points he was trying to make, and he was very clear in his delivery and message. I was very impressed. Several speakers said that they liked both motions, in particular because of a recent building on Broadway that this change would have prohibited. There were questions about how many lots this affected (not clear), what would happen if the lot weren't big enough (it couldn't be a residence, and would have to be business), and what would happen to existing buildings (nothing). There were questions about why the bylaw hadn't been changed earlier, where the setback was measured from, and mixed-use buildings. There was discussion of other, similar changes in the past that helped the Morningside neighborhood. I think the substitute motion was a bit misguided. He was looking for consistency between B1 and R2 - he wanted the residences permitted in B1 to be similar to the ones in R2. But, the way I read the bylaws, B1 residences look like R3 residences in the ARB's motion. I don't understand why he was trying to align with R2, but not R3. In the absence of a compelling reason, I'm always going to choose the less-restrictive law. I voted against the substitute, but for the main motion. Additionally, I really don't understand why this was being discussed at this stage. Why didn't Mr. Loreti go to the ARB hearing back in March? The substitution was made by voice vote, and the main motion passed 190-2.

Article 7 - Zoning Bylaw, Floodplain. Nora Mann presented this motion. The intent is to make our laws conform with the Flood Plan Insurance Program. It basically removes text from our laws and refers to similar text in state law. It was noted that the wetlands protection bylaw was totally separate. There were questions about some of the text and whether it was prudent to include other works by reference. The motion passed 189-8.

There was a 10-minute break.

Article 8 - Zoning Bylaw, Wetland Overlay. Barry Faulker presented this motion. The motion is to change the town zoning map by adding several areas as designated wetlands (see the maps). The wetlands have already been designated by the Conservation Commission. The change does not affect the wetlands bylaw or the work done by the Conservation Commission; the change will reproduce the designations so that the designated areas are also affected by the zoning bylaws. Mr. Greeley made an amendment to remove the property near Ryder Road because the owner (later determined to be the Mirak family) was going to ask the Conservation Commission to reclassify the area as not being a wetland. Mr. Faulker said that the ARB had no problem with the amendment. Nathaniel Stevens said that the Conservation Commission hadn't met on the question yet, but that the hearing was a good way to do it; he seemed fine with the amendment as well. There were questions about whether the town and state had to comply (not really, but covered by the wetland bylaw), how wetlands were determined, which areas had been professionally delineated, and how certain areas in Reed's Brook were classified. There were concerns about giving people special treatment. The amendment failed by voice vote, and the by-law carried unanimously. In my view, the amendment failed because Town Meeting didn't want to play favorites. Mirak was perceived as pulling strings, and Town Meeting didn't want to be pulled. I blew it on this one. I should have spoken, and I should have voted differently. This bylaw change, by definition, hurts the property owner. That means we should err on the side of the owner. We should be sure before we act. I think the Ryder street area is in question, and the two relevant boards were open to looking at it more closely. We should have waited for that examination. The question shouldn't have been about who owned the property. The question should be whether or not it was a wetland, and whether or not we'd get better information if we waited. That is essentially what I should have said in Town Meeting. No one had made that point, and I should have stood up and done it myself. Really, I wish I'd gotten the amendment earlier. I would have had my thoughts more in order. And, I should have voted "no" on the main motion. I regret voting in favor of classifying the area as a wetland. I hope it gets straightened out.

Article 24 - Scooters. Chief Ryan presented the article. Currently, state law doesn't cover motorized skateboards and the like. There have been complaints, but the town had no recourse. This bylaw was intended to cover that. There were several questions about the wording and three or four amendments offered to make the intent more clear. In the end, the article was postponed to Wednesday. Check out the language in Article 24, Section 2. It's awful! This is one of those things that the hearing process is supposed to fix before it gets to Town Meeting. At the same time, it is one of the great things about Town Meeting: the article needed work, so we sent it back. It was not a rubber stamp.

Article 25 - Tabled. (This will come back after we finish 46/47 - read my previous notes on ISAC).

Article 26 - No action.

It was a few minutes before 11, but the next article was the dog park - we adjourned.

4/26 - 4/28 - 5/3 - 5/5 - 5/10 - 5/12
5/17 - 5/19 - 5/24 - 5/26 - 6/2 - 6/7 - top

5/5/04 - Fourth Meeting

We opened with the national anthem and a prayer from Rev. Carlton E. Smith of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church.

The next meeting was set for Monday, May 10th.

Two announcements were made:

  • Nora Mann announced a "Mini Million Mom March" for Arlington, 9-10AM at Arlington Center in honor of the march in Washington.
  • Selectmen Greeley introduced Scott Smith for the Arlington Transportation Fair. He suggested that next week, on Wednesday, that everyone who drove their own car to Town Meeting should use a different method to attend. Read more about the fair on Live from Arlington.
Article 24 - Scooters. The article had been postponed. The moderator reminded the meeting that when an article is postponed, he starts a new list of speakers - if you were on the list on Monday, you have to get on it again. Diane Mahon presented an amendment. It removed reference to 2-wheeled vehicles and removed much of the confusing language. Town Counsel apologized for the poor wording and some of his answers from Monday. Chief Ryan pointed out that the question of Segway use was being pondered by state legislature. It was asked and answered that there were roughly one complaint per week about motorized skateboards impeding travel. It was asked and confirmed that the substitute motion would prohibit everyone, even adults, from using these vehicles. There were statements that the substitute motion didn't go far enough and that Segways were dangerous. Mr. Abbott moved to postpone the motion again because it still wasn't clear. Town Counsel suggested that there was no more clarity to be had, only the will of Town Meeting. The source of the original text was asked (other towns' bylaws). Debate was terminated. The vote to postpone was defeated. The moderator then decided to take up Mrs. Mahon's motion in three separate pieces. I think that this was a bad move. It led to tons of confusion. Mrs. Mahon's motion was made as a unit, and should have been taken up that way. Furthermore, the moderator's confusion around which town meeting member made which amendment was even more confusing. This was not a meeting highpoint. First, the element of Mrs. Mahon's motion that would prohibit adults from riding was voted down. Mr. Karzarian's motion to clarify the language carried, rendering Mrs. Fiori's moot. Then both of Mrs. Mahon's remaining changes failed. The amended motion carried 128-38 (I may have misheard the actual number, but that is close). In the end, I voted against this. There was just too much confusion about what was actually being voted on and what effect it would have. As the votes were being counted, I could hear at least two different conversations where people were asking what their vote meant! I'm sure they weren't the only ones.

Article 27 - Dog Park Fences. Diane Mahon explained that it was to require a fence around designated dog parks. After a quick question about scope, the article passed.

Article 28 - Town Fees. Diane Mahon explained that this would be covered by the creation of a Fee Manual in the future. Unanimous no action.

Article 29 - News Racks. Diane Mahon and John Maher explained that the pilot program to require newspaper vendors to place their racks in condos or corrals wasn't ready. A vote of no action was made. When this finally does come up, I'm probably going to be fighting it. I can't see a way to do this without limiting the number of papers available. I can't see a fair way to decide which papers are selected. I'm opposed to limiting the voice of minority veiwpoints.

Article 30 - Permitted Park Use. Diane Mahon and Parks Commissioner Joseph Carabello explained that the intent of this article was to prevent groups who hold permits to use parks from doing so when the fields need to be closed for maintenance/protection. There were questions as to why this article didn't go further and prohibit all use when the fields were unusable, not just use by groups with permits. There were questions about the definition of an organized group. There was discussion about coaches' and athletes' education about field protection, the role of police and their discretion, and the cost of maintaining fields. Mr. Abbot suggested an amendment that would permit a fee to be levied on permit holders. Mr. Deyst made a motion to raise the fine from $200 to $300. Mr. Rehrig noted that the bylaw actually lists the fine amount twice, and that the motion needed to be corrected to cover that. The fine also applies to drinking alcohol on the fields. Mr. Maher made an amendment on the fly to correct the error. Unfortunately, this was another source of confusion. The moderator read the amendment twice, then it was changed - one of the changes proposed in the amendment was backed out. I wish these things could be straightened out before we even sit down. All amendments passed, and the main motion passed. One of the people I was sitting near had an excellent question. Rather than go through this bylaw change, why not just update the text of the permit to make the permit invalid when the parks are closed? It seems much simpler than re-writing a bylaw, with the exact same effect. I had put myself on the list of speakers pretty early, but debate was terminated before I was called. In the end, I voted yes. It's redundant, but not bad.

Article 31 - Wetlands Bylaw Variance Provision. Diane Mahon explained the Selectmen's vote of no action - the variance process should only exist at times when it is needed. Rich Carreiro offered a substitute motion. The current bylaw has a provision to extend variances in specific cases, but that provision is due to expire in June. He moved that the provision should not expire, and that the variance power should be extended indefinitely. Mrs. Fiori moved to postpone because there were no members of the Conservation Commission present. There were arguments against the motion that it was not needed, that it would encourage lawsuits, and that it would be sufficient to re-enact the provision if it were ever needed. I stood and spoke for the first time this year, in favor of the substitute motion. I argued that clearly the Town and the Sullivans had needed the variances. I said that the Sullivans were not proof that the system worked; the Sullivans were lucky that their needs aligned with those of the town's and school's at Pierce Field. I suggested that making this law more rigid was an error; it should retain flexibility. Other speakers spoke in favor of flexibility and that the Sullivans were indeed lucky. Debate was terminated and the motion to postpone failed. The substitute motion was approved 95-66, and carried. I'm very happy with this result. We didn't get this right last year, but we got it eventually.

Article 32 - Old Schwamb Mill. Pamela Meister of the Historical Commission explained the process that was followed to evaluate whether or not Old Schwamb Mill should be designated a Special Place. Several abutters objected, so the plan was abandoned. She suggested that the process had worked - Old Schwamb Mill wasn't a good candidate. Voted no action.

Article 33 - Special Places. Diane Mahon briefly stated that the selectmen suggested no action. John Kohl proposed a substitute motion to repeal the article. He argued that the authority belongs in the zoning bylaw, not the town bylaws. Because it is a town bylaw, it can be affected by a simple majority, rather than the 2/3 required of a zoning bylaw. That means that property owners are too easily affected. He argued that the 100-foot limit from the edge of the Special Place property line to the edge of any other property line was arbitrary, particularly where there are large lots. He argued that there were flaws in the writing and that the process doesn't have enough protections for property owners. A speaker was opposed to the bylaw, bringing up the example of the Jason Russell house. Another speaker argued that the bylaw was appropriate, was well-written, could do no harm, and was properly not a zoning bylaw. It was almost 11, and debate ended until next week. I'm very much in favor of this motion. I thought it was a bad idea in 2003 and in 2002 and my opinion hasn't improved with time. I think Mr. Kohl puts together an excellent argument. I'm on the list to speak, and I hope to point out that last time the Selectmen voted against this; I want to know what changed.

Meeting adjourned after several notices of reconsideration.

4/26 - 4/28 - 5/3 - 5/5 - 5/10 - 5/12
5/17 - 5/19 - 5/24 - 5/26 - 6/2 - 6/7 - top

5/10/04 - Fifth Meeting

We opened with the national anthem and three other songs from the Madrigal Singers.

A prayer was given by Pastor Jed Snyder of the Countryside Bible Chapel.

The moderator noted that Wednesday will be Student Government Day; 5 articles will be debated by high school students in Town Hall. He noted that Plymouth voted to retain its town meeting government structure. He elaborated on the difference between postponing and tabling. Tabling is immediately voted on without debate, and requires 2/3 vote. A postponement is to a specific time, and is debatable. If the speaker wishes to stop discussion right away, the table is the way to do it. Otherwise, the question of postponement must be called and voted on. (It's worth noting that a subsequent speaker can call the question of postponement without calling the main motion; we can vote on whether or not to postpone, then keep debating). Also, precincts 2, 6, 13, and 20 had not yet elected their chairs and clerks.

The next meeting was set for Wednesday May 12th.

Mrs. Mahon read a resolution of the Board of Selectmen about hate group leaflets. The resolution noted the importance of protecting free speech and free thought. It went on to say that bigotry is contrary to Arlington's values of inclusiveness. The community has an obligation to not stand idly by. There was much applause from the meeting. Mrs. Mahon also reminded members that Wednesday would be alternative transportation day; people should avoid traveling by themselves in a car. She noted that the schools were not included in the annual report, and said that it was because of circumstances beyond the control of the school committee, and the School Board Chair and Superintendent would be able to speak on the issue. Finally, she announced that the Department of Public Works would have an open house as a part of DPW Week. On May 22nd from 9-12PM, the DPW yard on Grove Street would be open for kids and interested visitors.

Mr. Tosti announced that the Finance Committee's report for the May 19th Special Town Meeting won't be ready until that night because bids were received this week. Town Meeting would have the option of postponing discussion while digesting the report. I think this is a good idea. We will have plenty of regular business remaining. We should work on the regular articles on the 19th, and then take up the special articles on the 24th, once we've read them. He also announced that he intended to ask Town Meeting to table the collective bargaining articles until bargaining had progressed further.

Jane Howard announced the Spy Pond Committee's meeting to hear details about a proposed land swap (read more on Live From Arlington). Mrs. Fiori made a Point of Order where she announced that she was opposed to the land swap. Mrs. Fiori was completely out of order. Her opinion is irrelevant to the announcement of a meeting, and it was not a point of order at all. I disapprove of people who manipulate the rules to inject their opinions inappropriately.

Article 33 - Special Places, continued. Five speakers were heard, two in favor, two opposed, and one undeclared. One questioner asked if the town might be sued, and Mr. Maher answered that it was likely, though he thought the bylaw was sustainable. One asked about storm doors and windows. One of the speakers was someone who lived within 100 feet of Old Schwamb Mill, and was nearly affected by the bylaw; she wanted to repeal the bylaw. The opponents of the bylaw described it as vague, arbitrary, and unlimited in scope. They questioned the level of required notification. The speakers in favor of the bylaw suggested that non-lawyers were using legal terms in appropriately. They argued that there were sufficient protections for landowners. Debate was terminated by a vote of 121-51. The substitute motion (to eliminate the bylaw) was approved 98-78. The main motion (as substituted) was approved 110-72, repealing the bylaw. It's interesting to note that the bylaw was approved 79-78 last year. Over the course of the year, the Special Place proponents lost a vote, while the opponents gained 20. I voted to repeal. I'm glad we got this right, finally.

Article 34 - Baby Safe Haven Law. Mrs. Mahon gave the Selectmen's recommendation - every effort to discourage abandonment is a good one. Barbara Costa spoke against the article. She had hoped to bring in a speaker, but they were unavailable (I missed the name). She said that there was no proof that the Safe Haven laws work, that there was no research that confirmed that it worked, and it avoided searches for the real root causes of the problem. Michael Morrisey of Lexington spoke in favor of the law explained why he was in favor of the law and gave some history of the law. Town Meeting had a 10 minute recess. A half-dozen speakers, all opposed to the motion, spoke after the break. There was a motion to table that failed. The various speakers talked about sex education, about the risks of not taking the main issue (teen pregnancy) head on, about how rare the problem was, about whom it actually affected, and about the importance of care for the mother and child. At least one speaker said that the real issue was abortion, and suggested that the motion proponents were hiding their affiliations/motives. It was suggested that the law would promote unwanted pregnancy, that it was unproven that the babies dropped off in havens in other states would otherwise be dead, and that teen pregnancy education funding had been cut. There were questions of town liability and additional needed equipment. The motion failed 53-112. I voted in favor of this law. Most of the people who spoke against this law seemed to do so because they thought this would somehow interfere with a woman's right to choose. I don't see the logic. It seems to me that many opponents were afraid that this law was some pro-life ploy to overturn Roe v. Wade. They didn't like the people proposing the law, so they didn't like the law itself. (I note that no actual statements about the proponents' abortion beliefs were made, just some insinuations). When you look past all that, and look at the law itself, abortion just isn't relevant. Some people didn't like the law because it doesn't solve the problem, and certainly there is no proof that it solves the problem. I think they are missing the point too. This law doesn't solve anything. But it provides an incremental improvement over the status quo. Some speakers said that they could support this if it was a part of a comprehensive plan. I don't see a benefit in waiting for an omnibus bill that solves teen pregnancy and baby abandonment. I'm ready to take small improvements, while working on the larger questions.

A new member, elected during the break, was sworn in.

Article 35 - Timothy Pacheco. Diane Mahon quickly reviewed the Selectmen's position that age should not prohibit hiring. Mr. Pacheco spoke and gave his training and history. Mr. Roselli read several testimonials about his skills and character. I spoke. My second speech of town meeting. I said that we should hire on qualifications, not on age. The law that puts the town in this position is a bad one. We can't repeal it, but we can escape it. I tried to soothe people who are uncomfortable making exceptions for individuals. I think we should accept all petitions like this; it won't be an exception, it will be the rule. Other speakers rose in opposition, saying that it was silly to deal with a raft of petitions, and it was unfair to people who don't know about the petition process. Some spoke in favor, but grudgingly - they want changes in the law to make it unnecessary. Chief Maimone had no objection, but didn't like that this option wasn't available to everyone. This has happened 2-3 times before, but all policemen so far. Passed, 110-50. After the meeting, someone approached me and suggested that at next year's meeting, I should propose that we accept the fitness rules and make the age rule moot. I responded that the fitness rules are equally bad. In fact, this issue is a vivid explanation of why I'm running for State Representative. I want to completely rewrite the laws that restrict the town's ability to hire public safety officers. The state's Civil Service laws have become so corrupted by special interests and exemptions that the state's own Civil Service Commission chairman called the system a "tragedy" that "handcuffs our ability to build a public safety workforce of the best and the brightest." (Read it on MassINC, free registration required.) The town shouldn't have to choose between a lesser of evils when hiring. It should be able to choose the best person for the job.

Article 36 - Legal Notices on the Web. The board of selectmen recommended no action. Freeland Abbott made a substitute motion that was a resolution. It was not available in print. The gist of it was that the state should provide web hosting to the town to post legal notices. Mrs. Mahon suggested that this proposal, and others, could be heard under the technology committee to be created under Article 47. She notes that the town could already choose to publish only on the web, but hasn't yet because not everyone has access to the web. The substitute motion failed, and the no action carried. I was opposed to the substitute. I really doubt that getting the state involved is a solution. Even if it is the solution, consider it as a part of the technology committee, not piecemeal. On another topic - think how much more effective the legal notices would be in a searchable database. Think about being able to create alerts, sent to your mailbox, based on words or locations or topics. Think how much more efficient that is than leafing through years and years of Advocates. The time to stop paying for the printing of notices is approaching, I hope.

Jacqueline Harrington gave notice of reconsideration on Articles 33 and 35. Meeting adjourned a few minutes early.

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5/12/04 - Sixth Meeting

We opened with the national anthem and a prayer from St. Eulalia's.

The moderator noted that the meeting was moving at a "deliberative" pace. He encouraged people to speak with brevity. He urged precincts 2, 6, and 20 to elect their chairs and clerks.

The next meeting is set for Monday May 17.

Selectman Greeley asked for a show of hands for walkers, bikers, and carpoolers - there were quite a few. Scott Smith repeated the announcement for this weekend's alternative transportation events.

Article 2 - Reports of Committees. Jane Howard gave the Vision 2020 report. Her remarks, a guided tour of a 12-page document, lasted just under 14 minutes.

Article 37 - Articles 37-93 were tabled. Article 94 should be done before Article 37, and this was one way of doing that.

Article 94 - Beer, Wine, and Alcohol. Selectman Mahon presented the recommended vote of the selectmen. The town should hold a series of hearings, construct a set of rules for beer, wine, and alcohol sales, and then ask the town to vote on whether or not to create 3 licenses. The plan is to have strict rules that lead to "nice" stores that aid foot traffic. During questions, we heard that the maximum license fee would be $2000. We will be able to restrict sales on Sunday if we choose, but we will not be able to restrict the sale of "nips" bottles. Winchester's recent experience was described. Several different groups would inspect the establishments, including police, board of health, and the state's Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. Several speakers against the idea brought up the influence of corporate money, that the licenses aren't enough revenue for the change to be worth it, that there was insufficient information on what the hearings would be about, the dangers of alcohol and alcoholism, underage drinking and alcohol accessibility. There were fewer speakers in favor. They compared this move to granting licenses for restaurants and the benefits the town has experienced and thought the voters should get a chance to decide. I spoke in favor of this motion. I said that most of the arguments against this article were red herrings. Comparing this article to opening an adult club or contrasting it with putting a tax override on the ballot is just smoke, with no substance. The town hasn't had a vote on this question in decades. I think that the town should consider the question. A motion to terminate debate carried 120-47. Harry McCabe made a point of information that he didn't understand an element of the proposed vote and thought it was inconsistent. This was another abuse of points of order/information. It was not a point of information. The part that was really out of line was his last sentence - "I think we should vote no." That is debate, and nothing more. The vote passed, 109-63.

Article 37 - Articles 37-93 were taken from the table. Article 37 was made moot by Article 94, and was voted no action.

Article 38 - All Alcohol Licenses for Restaurants. Mrs. Mahon explained that there was only one left, and they didn't want to be constrained by the 5 license limit. Speakers talked about the benefits of our current restaurants, of the dangers of alcoholism, of the need for long-term competitiveness of the town. We learned that there were only 4 restaurants currently large enough to get a license, and they all have one. Concerns were expressed about having three alcohol questions on the same ballot. The motion passed 154-15. I was in favor of this one, too. I think we should permit more of these establishments.

Article 39 - Revolving Funds. Mrs. Mahon made one notable change from the printed version, to increase the permitted amount in the Private Ways fund. There was a motion to table, particularly because of the Hardy School fund, that failed. There were questions about two of the funds amount and purpose. The meeting recessed for a few minutes. A motion was made to postpone for two weeks because of "discrepancies" that had been discovered. The motion to postpone failed, and the main motion passed. I was curious about the discrepancies, but there just wasn't a good reason to postpone. If there was a real problem, there was plenty of time to figure it out before this particular vote. If further research does turn up a problem, several people gave notice of reconsideration. We'll figure it out.

Article 40 - Community Development Block Grants. Tabled; written report will come Monday.

Article 41 - Residency for the Town Counsel. Diane Mahon explained that Mr. Maher has no plan on moving, but that it didn't make sense to have this single town position have a requirement. After one speaker, the motion passed.

Article 42 - Accepting Grants. After a speaker, the motion passed. Then someone complained that the moderator had not seen him. He spoke in favor of the article, and then we passed it again. I suggest that we didn't need to have so many speakers speak so long about what is a no-brainer. Not to mention speaking after it has already passed!

Article 43 - On Street Parking. Diane Mahon explained the recommended vote of no action. Gustavo Candelas made a substitute motion to make more stickers available to businesses for daytime parking. He asked Bill Rowe to speak. Mr. Rowe gave several examples of businesses that left Arlington because of parking and explained why he wanted the change. Speakers afterwards noted that the motion was only advisory to the selectmen. Concerns were expressed about parking problems in East Arlington and that this change would harm shoppers, retail businesses, and residents. A member of the Chamber of Commerce spoke and agreed that parking was a high-priority issue, but that this was not the solution. The number of spaces and stickers generally available was discussed, as was high school parking. The substitute motion failed, and no action was voted. I voted against the substitute. I approve in principle of the changes he's trying to make, to make parking more available, but I think the specific motion does not balance the competing parking needs.

Article 44 - Building Insurance Fund. Deputy Town Manager Nancy Galkowski explained that this fund is underutilized. We have made very few (one in the last 18 years) requests against this fund, and it has grown larger than it needs to. The motion would ask the legislature to permit us to transfer money from the fund to our reserves, where we can use it for operations. We have a $100,000 deductible per incident, and at a rate of an incident per year, there will still be enough for a decade's worth of payments. Mr. Foskett noted that FinComm supports the move. There were several questions about insurance, self insurance, and costs. The one request was for the Robbin's Library frozen pipe this summer. The Dallin's water damage had not been requested from this fund. There were several questions about the balances listed in the report, and at least one error was found. The motion passed 124-2.

Article 45 - Insurance Fund. No action passed unanimously.

Article 46 - Information Systems. No action passed unanimously.

Article 47 - Information Systems. Annie LaCourt explained the history of this article. It had started last year, and was accelerated by the website difficulties over the winter. The volunteers, hearings, and meetings were described. Mr. Berkowitz rose to make an amendment, but calls to adjourn cut debate short. I worked with Annie, and others, to write this article, and I'm fairly proud of it. I think (hope?) it will sail through when we return on Monday. I think Mr. Berkowitz's amendment is a good one. We definitely wrote the article with his concerns in mind, and his amendment codifies the idea more explicitly.

Jacqueline Harrington gave notice of reconsideration on Article 39. Mr. Foskett gave notice on Articles 39, 44, and 45. Meeting adjourned.

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5/17/04 - Seventh Meeting

I arrived a few minutes late, missing the national anthem and (I presume) a prayer.

The next meeting is set for Wednesday May 19, at the same time as the Special Town Meeting.

It was announced that part of the Finance Committee's report for Wednesday's Special Town Meeting would be ready later in the evening.

Article 47 - Information Systems. We picked up where we left off on Wednesday. Mr. Berkowitz offered an amendment to make communication with town residents a more explicit goal of the committee. There were questions about who would be appropriate to be on the committee, if it was responsive enough to communication needs, whether it would control the actual content of the website, about the actual membership of the committee, and why the motion took the form that it did. The amendment and motion both passed unanimously. I'm very glad to see this pass. Now, it will be up to the selectmen to find the right people for the committee, and then for the committee to do good work. I hope it is innovative and thoughtful, and I hope it saves the town a ton of money. Annie LaCourt deserves high praise for shepherding this article through an excellent process that I think created a very good bylaw.

Article 25 - Data Processing Advisory Board. Give the passage of 47, the DPAB is no longer needed. After a couple of procedural questions, it was repealed.

Articles 48-56 were tabled.

Article 57 - Capital Budget, $7,400,000. Charles Foskett gave the main presentation of the capital budget. Rob Allison explained the Dallin and other school elements. John FitzMaurice explained the changes to the public safety systems, including a new antenna and 911 consoles. Don Vitters described the Spy Pond work that was planned, the reductions in the proposal that had been made, and the need to do it in a single project. Leslie Mayer explained the plan for the dam at the Res, to reinforce the earthen dam with steel to keep as many of the trees as possible. Mr. Worden asked Comptroller Ruth Lewis if she would comply with the part of the motion that keeps money set aside over several years, and she said she would. I interpreted this as the moderator having an axe to grind over some money in the historical commission budget that wasn't distributed to his liking. There were a couple dozen questions from roughly 10 speakers. The questions were about details on the decision to go with gas over oil boilers; how last year's Special Town Meeting affected the accounting; about the antenna fund; about the use of reserves; about the method and price of purchasing pickup trucks; about the method, price, and number of copiers; about the location of the backup emergency command center at Park Circle; about the lack of restrooms at Spy Pond; about which surfaces were being redone at schools; about getting federal funds for bullet proof vests; about the accounting of the Ottoson rebuilding costs; about the cost of bonding; about the details of the Reservoir dam; about whether the purchased vehicles were fuel efficient; and about a foot path around Spy Pond. The article was voted in four parts. Each passed unanimously. I did hear one "no" on part three, but it was said pretty quietly. I've been the lonely no vote before (like when I lost 137-1), and I believe that if you're opposed to something, you should stand up and say so. I note with trepidation that the Park Circle Fire Station is planned for 2006. I hope that we study that carefully before we do it. I'll bring that up in private later this summer.

Articles 48-56 were taken from the table.

Article 48 - Committee on Revenue and Budgets. Diane Mahon gave the Selectmen's recommendation of no action. It was nice idea, but not needed. Nora Mann proposed a substitute motion. She wants to exploit the expertise of skilled town residents and revisit the way that budgets and revenues are determined and presented so that Town Meeting can put more of a stamp on priorities. Mr. Ford offered an amendment to sharpen the focus of the committee. Several speakers were opposed to the article. They argued the budget was too complex for a committee of 252, and was better with a committee of 21. They argued that creating a "super-committee" was not consistent with Town Meeting's strengths. One speaker objected to any committee that sought expertise or resumes to determine membership. A speaker in favor of the article said that it had been mischaracterized and was not a super-committee, but a discussion about how the budget would be presented - what form, and context. This was a pretty bad debate in terms of quality of ideas and discussion, and I think both sides are guilty. First of all, the proponents did not provide written copies of their substitute motion. I really can't evaluate whether or not their motion was mischaracterized because I've never seen it. I heard it read twice during the debate, but I can't tell you what the verbs were in the mission statement of the committee; that information is vital to an informed decision. The people opposed weren't much better. A speaker in opposition said the committee would "transect town government." Transect? Merriam-Webster defines that as "cutting transversely; acting, lying, or being across : set crosswise." This committee is going to cut the town government crosswise? That is not clear debate. Another speaker was upset because the article's proponents had mentioned the Arlington Coalition's report as a supporting document, and he thought the Arlington Coalition's report constituted "illegal bargaining" with unions. How on earth could a nongovernmental advocacy group's discussion of budgeting possibly be illegal bargaining? The speaker was way out in left field. I voted no because I didn't really know what I was getting into. I like the idea of revisiting how budgets are written, but I need to know what I'm voting on. Debate was terminated by a 113-49 vote. The amendment failed by voice vote. The main motion failed by voice vote. Several people stood to request a counted vote, but the moderator either failed or declined to notice the dozen or so people standing. The original motion of no action passed by voice vote.

Article 49 - Post-Employment Medical Benefits Committee. Treasurer John Bilafer explained that the town will soon be required to list the retiree benefits on our balance sheet, and the amount could be as much as $220 million. We need to study this and decide a good strategy to deal with the liability. There were discussions about credit rating and how other towns will deal with the question. Debate was terminated and it passed unanimously.

Article 50 - Reserve Fund Policy Committee. Mr. Bilafer moved to table because it required more time than remained in the meeting. Tabled.

Article 51 - Trust Fund Policy Committee. Mr. Bilafer explained that we need a consistent policy to deal with requests in times of fiscal stress. Passed unanimously.

Article 52 - Tabled.

Article 53 - Postponed to Monday the 24th at 8PM so that the Minuteman Superintendent can be there.

Article 54 - Celebrations, $12,000. Passed.

Article 55 - Committee Expenses, $27,000. Passed.

Article 56 - Miscellaneous Appropriations, $49,000. Unemployment, out-of-state travel, and indemnification of medical costs. Passed.

Article 58 - Rescind Borrowing Authority. No action. Passed.

Article 59 - Hardy School. We'll do this in Special Town Meeting instead. No action. Passed.

Article 60 - Dallin School. We'll do this in Special Town Meeting instead. No action. Passed.

Article 61 - Alternatives, Elementary School Rebuilding. Mr. Bilafer asked to postpone to the 24th, after the Special Town Meeting, so he could offer a resolution.

Article 62 - Sewer, MWRA, $370,000. Passed unanimously.

Article 63 - Sewer, MWRA, $700,000. Passed unanimously.

Article 64 - Pension Adjustment, $0. Passed unanimously. I note that we spent $1.088 million in approximately 10 minutes tonight. I compare this to the 20 minutes we spent talking about a $.005 million copiers and $.005 million pickup-truck price differentials under the capital budget. I do like Town Meeting as a form of government. Just don't ever think that it is perfect.

Articles 65-73 were tabled while collective bargaining agreements are still being worked out.

A number of notices of reconsideration were given, but the noise of people leaving early made it impossible for me to hear them.

Meeting was adjourned.

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5/19/04 - Eighth Meeting and Special Town Meeting

I arrived a minute late, missing the national anthem, but I heard the prayer from a rabbi whose name I missed. There were three songs by the Middle School Chorus.

The next meeting is set for Monday 24th.

Selectman Mahon read a proclamation declaring the town in favor of safety belts.

Article 2 - Reports of Committees was taken from the table. John Cole gave the report of the Permanent Building Committee. He gave some remarks, in particular noting the financial uncertainty of the Thompson and Stratton rebuild because of the school building moratorium.

Article 2 was tabled. The Annual Town Meeting was recessed, and the Special Town Meeting was called to order. People unfamiliar with Town Meeting might be confused by the move; here's an explanation. Any action of Town Meeting can be overturned by the voters in a special ballot. The deadline for that ballot action occurs after the meeting adjourns for the year. The Dallin construction is on a tight timeline, and regular town meeting won't finish until June some time. By doing a Special Town Meeting quickly, we can make the Dallin decision final and beyond all appeal more quickly. So, we temporarily recess the regular meeting, and start the special.

The usual motion about permitting non-members who are related to town business sit on the floor was passed. The warrant was read.

The next session of the meeting was set for Wednesday the 26th (not the 24th, the next regular meeting date).

Article 1 - Reports of Committees. Mrs. Mahon gave the report of the Selectmen. Mr. Tosti gave the report of the Finance Committee. It was voted to include the motions within the reports as the main motions under each article. Article 1 was tabled.

Article 2 - Dallin School, $2,775,865. There was applause as the article was announced. Mr. Cole gave the presentation, explaining the bids that had come in and the appropriations that were needed. He noted that $880,000 of the $11.2 million was not eligible for the 63% reimbursement from the state because the plan exceeds the price per square foot permitted. Mr. Tosti spoke about the bonding options that the treasurer had. He noted that there might be enough money in the current debt exclusion to rebuild the Thompson, but definitely not the Stratton. We'll have to pay for that out of general revenues or have another debt exclusion override. Treasurer John Bilafer spoke. He described the financial uncertainty of the reimbursement program last year, and how he was much reassured this year; he was in favor of going forward. This brought another round of applause. Mr. Bilafer then hedged that if interest rates went up or the state changed direction that he would have to request a new special town meeting to appropriate new money. The role and persistance of Superintendent Donovan was praised. There were a few more speakers with questions for the school committee, comments about elevators, and comments about green building practices. The article passed unanimously, with much applause. This article brought out the largest crowd in a while. It was good to see so many happy people.

Article 3 - Hardy School, $207,558. Mr. Cole explained that the builders had failed to put the "mufflers" on the roof units at the Hardy. He had hopes that 2/3 of the cost would be recouped from the contractor and architect, but that we needed to do the work this summer, before the issue of payment was resolved. There was a lengthy discussion of why this problem has happened more than once, why the contractor didn't have payments withheld, the dangers of talking too much when there was the possibility of litigation, performance standards, bid process, and the lack of choices presented. Someone asked about the trim colors on the school. Debate was terminated. There was a single dissenting voice, but because it required a 2/3 vote, we needed a standing vote. It carried 176-3. The moderator looked like someone had kicked him in the gut when he heard that the vote was not unanimous. He was unhappy that he had to go through the time and effort of counting votes. I can't stand this attitude! People should be encouraged to vote their conscience. I hate the bullying peer-pressure that is applied: "Vote the way I tell you, because if you don't, you're just wasting all of our time." I was one of the 176 on this vote, but I've been one of the 3 in the past. I strongly defend their right to vote as they see fit, without pressure to conform to the convenience of the majority.

Article 4 - FY04 School Budget. Mr. Tosti tabled it to Wednesday. He needs a bit more time to close the $1.2 million gap.

10 minute recess.

Article 5 - 193-5 Forest Street. Mrs. Mahon explained the vote of no action. She said that at the selectmen's hearing that the article's proponents had agreed not to pursue a substitute motion. She was clearly displeased that there was a substitute after all, and apologized for the relative lack of supporting documentation. Harry McCabe presented a substitute motion. The motion would create an appeal procedure within the Article 6 (Historical) bylaw. There was an amusing moment where the moderator asked Mr. McCabe to repeat himself, who asked the moderator to repeat the question, which the moderator didn't understand and asked for clarification, which Mr. McCabe asked to be repeated . . . maybe you had to be there. I cackled. After a point of information, the moderator gave a lengthy explanation as to why he thought the motion was outside the scope of the warrant article, and ruled it out of order. Mr. Maher explained why, in his legal opinion, it was well within the law. A speaker called for the moderator to put the question to the meeting as a whole, and the request was rejected. I think that the motion was actually in order. The warrant called for making an exception or determining a method to make an exception. In my mind, creating an appeal process is well within the concept of determining a method to make an exception. A motion to table failed. A motion to postpone failed. Mr. Judd gave notice of reconsideration. Then Mr. Abbott moved for immediate reconsideration. After some debate, the motion to reconsider failed. There was quite a bit of emotion in the air on this one. People were loudly and vehemently voting this down. Mr. Abbott's motion, while legal, was not "nice." It was political hardball to kill the motion dead, once and for all. I confess that I don't understand why people were so inflamed. We never really heard anything substantive about the issue. I know there is a hole in the ground on Forest Street. I know that Diane Mahon felt that the proponents had gone back on an agreement. Those are both bad things - but they don't quite explain why people were so eager to drive a stake through the article's heart. That said, I did vote against the substitute motion. The owners of the house knew what they were getting into when they bought the land; it is black-letter law. They flouted the law, and I wasn't going to vote to get them out of it.

Article 6 - Water and Sewer Fund. Mr. Tosti explained that Gordon Jamieson and Julie Dunn had done excellent work and found that there were savings to be found. The changes would be addressed in the regular budget. I think at one point Mr. Tosti misspoke and said "Mr. Dunn." I don't want to take credit for something I didn't do - this wasn't my work.

The special town meeting adjourned and the regular meeting was called back into session.

Article 74 - Positions Reclassification. Passed without discussion.

Article 75 - Parking Appropriation. No action unanimously.

Article 76 - Weed for Spy Pond. Picked up by a state grant. No action.

Article 77 - Library Way Traffic Light. Mr. Judd asked for a postponement so that there could be a resolution on Monday. Postponed.

Article 78 - Field User Fees. Mr. Tosti said that there was no youth fee planned, but there was an adult fee planned, and the creation of a task force. He asked for it to be tabled, and it was.

Article 79 - Park Avenue Bridge. Mr. Judd asked for a postponement so that there could be a resolution on Monday. Postponed.

Articles 80-82 were tabled on the motion of Gordon Jamieson. They may be a part of the $1.2 million gap closure.

Article 83 - Permissive Legislation. There being none pending at the State House, no action unanimously.

Article 84 - Local Option Taxes. There being none pending at the State House, after a question, no action unanimously.

Article 85 - Webmaster. Mrs. Mahon explained that this was covered under the creation of the IT committee. No action.

Article 86 - Retiree Health Care Fund, $211,000. Passed unanimously.

Article 87 - Tip Fee Stabilization, $2,537,230. There were a couple of questions, one about the trend in the fund, the second a very pointed question about whether the Town Manager was sure that we had the money to pay off the remainder of the NESWC bond next year. He didn't answer the question directly the first two or three times, but finally said "Yes." Passed.

Article 88 - Cemetery Funds. Mr. Tosti said that there may be a transaction after all, and moved to table.

Article 89 - Overlay Reserve, $500,000. Passed.

Article 90 - Stabilization Fund. There were questions about whether we had transferred too much into this from the building insurance fund; the reply was that we could re-appropriate money next year if we wanted. The current balance is about $700,000. A vote of no action carried.

Article 91 - Free Cash (Unencumbered Funds). Tabled until after the budgets are done.

Article 92 - Resolution, Affordable Housing. Mr. Lyons explained some of the history and flaws of the Chapter 40B approach to affordable housing. John Belskis spoke in favor of the resolution, explaining the flaws in the current law, the experiences of other states, and that similar resolutions were being passed in other towns in Massachusetts. I spoke against the resolution. I agree that Chapter 40B is in need of a major re-writing, but I believe that the resolution goes too far. I quote the resolution: "the Legislature should amend the Chapter 40B by requiring ALL residential developments over six units to include a minimum of 15% units designated as affordable," (emphasis in original). I said that the resolution advocates a one-size-fits-all solution. What might be a good policy for Arlington is not necessarily a good policy for every other town. This is one of the issues that I'll be repeating in my campaign for State Representative. Arlington is urban, dense, highly developed, relatively well-off financially, and not much commerce or industry. Consider rural, sparsely-populated towns, or towns that are industrial and relatively poor. Should we really be telling them to follow the same zoning? Other speakers asked about the definitions of some of the terms in the resolution and spoke about the value of legal backing to our existing zoning laws. The motion passed. I would have preferred to win, but it was only a resolution. I think my point resonated with a number of town meeting members, and the vote was closer than expected.

Article 93 - Resolution on Public Education. A motion to table the motion failed. A motion to adjourn succeeded, with the same effect. I'm torn on this motion. It seems like a no-brainer at first, but look at the verbs used: "provide funding and support" and "work for additional monies" and "provide adequate monies." I'd be a lot more comfortable if it had more language about "explore alternatives" and "evaluate success" and maybe even "repeal ineffective, costly rules." In the motion's current form, it simply asks for more money without even a nod in the direction of change or reform. I know that some people will tell me that it's only state and federal money; the thing is, I know where state money comes from: residents of Arlington, among others. I'm curious to hear what the speakers will have to say.

The moderator announced that the end of Town Meeting was approaching. All tabled articles should be ready to go on Monday, with the hope that budgets will start on Monday with final budget presentations on Wednesday.

Meeting adjourned.

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5/24/04 - Ninth Meeting

We opened with the national anthem and a prayer from Richard Phelps, Town Meeting Member and chaplain of the Newton-Wellesley Hospital.

The moderator reviewed the items that remained, including budgets.

The next meeting is set for Wednesday 26th.

Selectman Mahon read a proclamation honoring Dr. Fitzgerald of the Minuteman Regional on the occasion of his retirement. He came to the podium and gave a few remarks. Mrs. Mahon also announced a meeting on June 1st on the 2nd floor of Town Hall with Senator Havern about school funding.

Article 93 - Resolution on Public Education. Mrs. Mahon talked about the importance of grass-roots actions such as this one urged for unanimous approval. School Committee Chairman Paul Schlictman spoke for several minutes about the possible effects of the recent state court ruling. He talked about the town being unable to meet minimum standards. Senator Havern spoke about the potential costs of the court decision and the taxation necessary. The motion carried by voice vote (not unanimous). I voted for this. There were definitely elements of this that I was uncomfortable with, but I approve of the main elements of the motion. I note that at least one proponent of the resolution spoke against charter schools. I think that charter schools, with careful consideration of funding mechanisms, are one of the ways to solve education problems, not a cause of them.

Article 53 - Minuteman Regional High School, $2,140,000. Stephen DeCourcey gave the FinComm recommendation. Erin Phelps, the town's representative on the Minuteman board spoke about the contribution of Dr. Fitzgerald. A questioner noted that the budget became official after 11 towns approved it, which had already happened. There were questions about why the per pupil cost was higher at Minuteman: partly transportation, partly higher fraction of Special Education students. I'm not sure if that covered the whole question. There were questions about spending on science materials, how long the current funding model has been in place, about the notations on the report, about the relative tuition in other sending towns, and state funding levels of transportation. The budget passed.

Article 61 - Alternatives, Elementary School Rebuilding. Postponed again, this time to Wednesday.

Article 50 - Reserve Fund Policy Committee. Treasurer John Bilafer explained why he proposed the committee. He has seen a number of economic cycles, and he thinks the town can prepare for them better. It needs to moderate spending more in the boom time to provide more cushion for lean times. He thinks that analysis can give insight. Finance Committee Chair Allan Tosti spoke against the committee. He thinks that the job is already being done relatively well. The real problem is that financial pinches are from loss of ongoing revenue streams, but the suggested solutions are often one-time funds. The funds don't offset the loss of revenue in the long term, but only for a year or two. There were questions about whether the committee would set priorities, whether this committee would hamper FinComm, and why the selectmen supported this question but not the one suggested in Article 48. The question was terminated. The motion lost on voice vote. There was considerable confusion about what happened next. The moderator declared the article closed and called a recess, but several people demanded a standing vote. The moderator announced that there would be a standing vote after the recess. We did recess for 10 minutes, and when we returned, the moderator opened the next article. Several people demanded a standing vote on the previous article. It was defeated 65-98. I was watching pretty carefully for people to stand and call for a counted vote. I only saw one person stand right away. It was only after the moderator looked up, looked around, and declared it closed that others stood. I think the moderator called it right; people simply weren't standing. If they wanted a counted vote, they should have stood up promptly after the moderator announced his ruling on the voice vote. That said, the moderator's ensuing statements that we'd vote, then not vote, then vote again added to the confusion. I voted against this motion. I think FinComm does a decent enough job on this already. I'd rather the intellectual horsepower of the town go into different tasks, like stricter prioritization of town needs and research into more cost-effective ways to deliver town services.

Article 40 - Community Development Block Grants, $1,558,000 (advisory). Mr. O'Brien discussed the planned CDBG grants for the year. There were questions about fund accumulations, the town gardens, Massachusetts Avenue planning, the federal fiscal year, and what salaries the funds paid for. Passed.

Article 13 - Temporary Signs. Leslie Mayer withdrew the substitute motion that she had made previously, and proposed a new substitute motion. This one limited the signs to those approved by the schools, gave all the money to the town, and required the signs be taken down after each event. Roland Chaput said that the members of the Redevelopment Board didn't have an objection to the new motion (there was initially some confusion about whether or not the board had voted as a body, which it had not). The were questions about why the Parks and Recreation committee hadn't approved the new motion yet. The Open Space Committee thought the motion was improved, but still didn't like it. There were questions about whether or not it undercut other fundraising efforts. The motion was substituted by a vote of 89-79, but the change required a 2/3 vote and failed by voice vote. I think this was a decent change, and I voted in favor of it. I think that with the right changes and assurances, it might pass in a future year. It is also clear that some Town Meeting members didn't know what they were voting on. The moderator's instructions before the vote had significant ambiguity.

Article 15 - Temporary Signs. No action - moot because of Article 13.

Article 77 - Library Way. Mr. Judd proposed a resolution to ask the town to put in a traffic light and synchronize lights. He described the heavy traffic, both auto and pedestrian. After a couple of speakers, the resolution was defeated. Mr. Judd said in his remarks that he would be "succinct and brief." The irony of this statement was not lost on the meeting.

Article 79 - Park Avenue Bridge. Mr. Judd proposed a resolution asking for the bridge to be rebuilt with two-way pedestrian access. Several speakers spoke against it, questioning the lack of study, the probable cost, and the history of the bridge. The motion failed.

Article 80 - Pay as You Throw. Articles 80-82 were taken from the table. Mrs. Mahon explained that this was not ready for a vote, but that the selectmen had created a committee to study the issue and report in the fall. No action.

Article 81 - Pay as You Throw. No action unanimously.

Article 82 - Pay as You Throw. No action.

Article 88 - Cemetery Funds. This had originally been a vote of no action, but they changed their minds to transfer from the Lots and Graves fund. After a single question, the motion passed.

There weren't any issues left that could be tackled quickly, so we adjourned a few minutes early. I think Mr. Tosti was the only notice of reconsideration, on the Finance Committee articles.

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5/26/04 - Tenth Meeting

I came in late tonight (off photocopying meeting handouts) and I missed the anthem and prayer.

Article 2 - Reports of Committees was taken from the table.

  • Andrew Fischer gave the report of the Community Based Health Insurance Committee. He made remarks about what they had learned.
  • I gave the report of the Power Company Feasability Committee and some brief remarks. There is more info than what is in the report; the report is pretty much only a summary. Send me an email if you want to learn more.
Diane Mahon gave a resolution in honor of the Robbins Library addition.

Mrs. Mahon made an announcement about Memorial Day activities, and asked the town to think of Tony "Sarge" Carmello, a town employee currently in Iraq.

Leslie Mayer announced a Res cleanup on June 5th and a beach Open House on June 22.

John Hurd announced the Feast of the East on June 5th and the 2nd Annual Fox Library fundraiser Monday June 21st to be held at, and sponsored by, Flora from 6:30 to 8:30PM.

Elsie Fiore gave an announcement about a flooding meeting - I missed the details.

Joseph Daly announced a parade at 9:30AM on Memorial Day starting at the central fire station.

The annual Town Meeting was recessed, and the Special Town Meeting was called to order.

Article 4 - FY04 School Budget, $600,000. Mr. Tosti made the motion - this is to fund the raises for the current, about-to-end FY04. School Committee Chairman Paul Schlictman thanked the negotiating team. Suzanne Owayda spoke and thanked the negotiators by name. She gave several comments about negotiating in good faith, increased health care payments by the teachers, and the situation that made negotiations so tense. Several speakers followed. Many worried about the sustainability of raises this large, especially when revenue is more constrained. Next year's deficit and the effect of the recent court Hancock decision was discussed. It was determined that the town is locked into the contract for three years, including the teachers' 15% contribution to health costs. The effect of this decision on other unions' negotiations was discussed. The motion passed. I particularly note John Deyst's comments, which I'll paraphrase: "I'm on FinComm. I've worried about insurance for a long time, and this is a good step. We voted to support it. But, there may be a time when we say don't support it, and the gallery will be full of people - please listen to us then, too." I voted in favor of this. I wish we'd gotten more in health costs, but. . . it is an improvement.

The Special Town Meeting was entirely dissolved and the annual Town Meeting was called back to order.

Article 61 - Alternatives, Elementary School Rebuilding. Treasurer John Bilafer gave a resolution calling for the aggressive planning to complete the final two schools. Ron Spangler co-signed it. He talked about the School Building Task Force, and what it had and hadn't done. After a few speakers, the resolution was approved unanimously.

All of the articles were taken from the table.

Article 78 - Field User Fees. Mr. Tosti modified his substitute motion to include three appointees from the Board of Selectmen. Paul Olson gave a lengthy presentation about the current use, costs, and fees on the fields. It is unfortunate that this presentation lacked visual aids. It was not easy to follow the speaker's detailed recitation of figures, and there was no hand out. Lisa Reale made an amendment to replace the three appointees by the selectmen with five appointees by the user groups involved. Mr. Maher pointed out that the creation of a revolving fund requires a cap to be set, which he suggested for $75,000 (later changed to $25,000). Mrs. Mahon reminded the meeting that selectmen suggested no action, but if there was an action, they proposed an amendment to have the funds under the control of the Town Manager. Mrs. Mahon went on to say that in her personal opinion that she approved of Ms. Reale's amendment. The meeting recessed for 10 minutes. When we returned, we heard from a half-dozen speakers. Most were in favor of the substitute motion, but opinions differed on Ms. Reale's motion to change the membership. Debate was terminated by a 128-38 vote. There were a series of points of order, one a question and two about whether the vote could be divided into parts, like FinComm did. The moderator chose to do it all at once. The selectmen's amendment was approved. Ms Reale's amendment failed 70-101. After several stops and starts and general confusion about what next procedure was, the amended motion was approved. We created a committee to study fees, and created some fees as well. I favored Ms. Reale's amendment. It makes sense to have all the "players" at the table (pun intended), and to have them choose their own representation. Now, the selectmen have to find people who can represent more than one group at a time. That will not be an easy task. I don't think it is a crippling flaw; I think the committee can still do good work.

Article 91 - Free Cash (Unencumbered Funds). After a couple of questions, this article was tabled. I was really glad this article was tabled. There is very little that Town Meeting controls in terms of "revenue." When you count spending savings as "revenue," then this is Town Meeting's largest point of flexibility. It made no sense to me to limit this flexibility by voting this article before we did budgets; it doesn't make sense to do this first.

Article 52 - Budgets. Mr. Tosti gave some general budget remarks. There was a general question and answer about revenue.

Budget 1 - Finance Committee, $10,000. The committee was thanked for forgoing salaries. The budget passed. There was a loud "no" to this budget, but no one spoke against it. I wonder what the opposition was.

Budget 2 - Selectmen, $347,000. There was an extended discussion about personnel services. I think the questioner simply hadn't read the details in the lines immediately below. There was discussion about the variability of election costs. The budget passed unanimously.

Budget 3 - Town Manager, $330,000. There was some discussion about the changes in the town manager's office and the salary changes that it caused. The budget passed. I was surprised at how quietly this budget went; I thought there would be more protests about raises, but they were pretty muted.

Budget 4 - Personnel/Payroll, $142,000. Passed unanimously.

Budget 5 - Comptroller, $785,000. There was a question about how well the office was coping with last year's budget cuts. There was question about longevity payments. The webmaster was transferred to the Town Manager's office. The budget passed unanimously.

Budget 6 - Treasurer, $549,000. The budget passed unanimously.

Budget 7 - Postage, $125,000. The budget passed. This is one of the budgets that I hope the technology committee can make some progress on. This budget buys us 316,000 1st class stamps!

Budget 8 - Assessors, $266,000. The budget passed.

Budget 9 - Legal, $705,000. Several questions were asked about workers' compensation rates, longevity, legal expenses, and raises. Passed unanimously.

Budget 10 - Town Clerk, $197,000. Passed unanimously.

Budget 11 - Registrars, $54,000. There was a question about how well the office was coping with last year's budget cuts. It was noted that after November, there would be fewer polling locations. Passed.

Budget 12 - Parking, $74,000. Passed unanimously.

Several notices of reconsideration were given. The meeting adjourned.

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6/2/04 - Eleventh Meeting

The meeting opened with the national anthem and prayer from Saint Athanasius.

A new Town Meeting Member was sworn in.

Precinct 6 still has not elected a chair and clerk. (This will only be an issue, really, if there is an opening before the next annual meeting and there is a special town meeting first.)

Article 2 - Reports of Committees was taken from the table. Patricia Thomas gave the report of the Tree Committee.

Diane Mahon announced that Town Meeting Member Leslie Oringer had given birth to a baby girl.

Town Manager Brian Sullivan announced that four out of six unions had finished agreements, but that two remained. We'll try to have them all done on Monday. If they aren't done, we'll dissolve Town Meeting anyway.

Article 52 - Budgets. We picked up where we left off.

Budget 14 - Redevelopment Board, $391,000. The increased budget reflected increased costs: the budget is predominantly a passthrough of costs and revenue. Passed unanimously.

Budget 15 - Zoning Board of Appeals, $21,000. Passed unanimously.

Budget 16 - Public Works, $6,194,000. More than one speaker noted that the lowering bottom line on this budget wasn't because the expenses were decreasing but because the offset from various reserve and stabilization funds were increasing. The end of the NESWC contract was noted, and a return of some of the bond money. The increase in overtime was a reflection of how the money is actually spent. It was noted that we spend more on trash than on police or fire services. A question was asked about the transfer of money from Perpetual Care fund. There was a question about the discretion granted to move money between budgets. Passed unanimously.

Budget 17 - Public Safety, $10,197,000. Freeland Abbott offered an amendment designed to encourage the fire and police departments to become less top-heavy - "more indians and fewer chiefs" as it was later described. A number of speakers echoed that goal. There was a question about moving money between holiday and overtime to reflect actual costs. I stood up and asked if the budget included anything to study the needs of our fire department - specifically how many fire station houses we need. The answer seemed to be "no." I asked that the question be carefully considered before Town Meeting votes on rebuilding the Park Circle fire station. You can read my thoughts on this from 2002 and 2003. A quick recap: In 2002, the town received a report that said we only needed two fire stations. Fire Chief Maimone, among others, pointed out a number of flaws in the report. (Michael Quinn was kind enough to scan the report. You can read it here, but beware - it's a 5MB download.) I agree that the report is flawed - I'll say it again - I agree that the report is flawed. But, that doesn't mean we should stop asking the question. How many fire stations does Arlington need? Are they in the right places? Should we sell the ones we have, and build new ones, as Belmont has? Should we try to work with other towns to regionalize? My greatest fear is that next year, Town Meeting is going to be asked to spend $2,500,000 on a new fire station at Park Circle. I will stand up and say "Do we really need this?" And the answer will be: "We asked that question in 2002, and we got a bad answer. We haven't bothered to research it any further." I hope, instead of that worst-case scenario, that we take the coming year to evaluate how to spend our capital dollars in the most beneficial way. There were questions about how much overtime police officers work: an estimated 56-64 hours/week. There were similar questions for the fire department (I didn't catch the answer). Police Chief Ryan described how increasingly senior police officers get more vacation, meaning more overtime costs. Chief Ryan also gave what I thought was the most articulate explanation yet about why the police department is more top-heavy than it used to be. He explained that through grants that the town had invested in software to review incident and crime histories to help anticipate staffing needs and locations. He explained that a trained officer was needed to do that advanced research. I can definitely see where making some of your police force "information workers" rather than beat-pounders can be more efficient in the long run. Chief Ryan described how some crimes, like identity theft, are not pursued because of resources. Chief Maimone said that the budget cuts hadn't affected service levels. There were comments about needing a commander for each apparatus that rolls to a call - someone needs to be in charge. I note that discussions about police and fire have a tendency to become adversarial very quickly. There is a perception that questions about the public safety budget are affronts, that town meeting is overstepping, that it is being rude and sticking its nose where it does not belong. I don't look at it that way. I think the questions were respectful of the vital role public safety plays. They didn't accuse anyone of mismanagement or squandering. They did ask about possible improvements, about efficiencies, and about the effects of various policy changes. These questions are necessary if Town Meeting Members are going to represent their constituents. We can't spend $10M without asking questions. I'm looking for advice here: how can we change the tone of this budget debate? How can we engage in conversation about public safety budgets without raising hackles? I'm looking for a way to ask these questions, learn, and make suggestions, but without unnecessary stress or conflict. Mr. Abbott's amendment failed, and the budget passed unanimously.

Budget 18 - Inspectional Services, $552,000. It was noted that the new lights being installed were saving electricity costs. Passed.

Budget 20 - Libraries, $1,511,000. There were two speakers supportive of the libraries. There were questions about the danger of being kicked out of the Minuteman library network, which was deemed unlikely. A third speaker asked why the budget wasn't higher - the answer was prioritization.

There was a 10 minute recess.

Budget 19 - Schools, $32,183,000. Chairman of the School Committee Paul Schlictman requested 25 minutes to give the presentation. The request was granted by an 83-32 vote. I cannot figure out why people objected to this. We're considering the biggest ticket in town - thirty-two million dollars. And some people think the presentation should take the standard 10 minutes? I think that the school committee should be required (let alone permitted!) to explain their funding priorities. Town Meeting doesn't have the power to change the school budget line items, but we can change the bottom line. I grant that we're going to pass the school budget, presentation or not. But the presentation is more than an intellectual exercise. It's the public declaration and justification of spending priorities. Town Meeting has (roughly) 1800 minutes of substantive debate and discussion. Spending 1.3% of that time to understand how we're spending 40% of our money doesn't seem like a waste of time to me. Mr. Schlictman gave remarks about the state of school funding (read them here). Superintendent Donovan followed with a presentation about this year's proposed budget. She described it as a budget that restores some items from last year's cuts. She explained some of the choices that were made in the restorations. I will make my standard complaint about bad graphs created in Microsoft Excel. If you are going to give visual data, please remove the gray background, and don't put angled, italic-font percentages that are impossible to read. Invest in a class from Edward Tufte. During her speech, the cat reappeared. I wonder whose cat it is - and do they know their cat is into politics? The presentation completed in 22 minutes, with 3 to spare. There was a question if Mr. Schlictman's numbers included Minuteman, which they did, and school building, which they did not. Speakers talked about the hardship for students when they lost teachers they liked, about the loss of the Spanish program, and the effects of the rebuilding of Pierce Field. Budget passed.

Budget 21 - Human Services, $557,000. Passed.

Budget 22 - Non-Contributory Retirement, $288,000. Passed.

Budget 23 - Contributory Retirement, $5,648,000. I asked what fraction of this was fund expenses and what fraction was actual investment. The hard number was not immediately available, but I gather that $300,000 is expenses. If that's right, that is .3% on a $90M fund. I need to look into that one more closely.

Budget 24 - Insurance, $10,735,000. Judith Phelps offered an amendment to lower the budget by $200,000. She explained that the Insurance Advisory Committee thought the rates were too high, and that the Town Manager had rejected their advice. She thought the town should not be putting unneeded money into this account, especially in tight times. Mr. Sullivan said that this was impacted by collective bargaining, and he moved to table the budget. The budget was tabled, with significant dissent.

Budget 25 - Reserve Fund, $300,000. Passed unanimously.

Water and Sewer Enterprise Fund - $14,000,000. There were a number of questions about changed numbers that were described as changes to reflect reality. The pipes are on a roughly 50-year replacement cycle. The amount that this affects the tax rate (approximately 10%) was discussed. It was pointed out that the unchanged water rate over the last 10 years was partially possible because of increases in the tax rate. Passed.

Recreation Enterprise Fund - $424,000. There were questions about the playground budget and the creation of an information assistant position from two part-time positions. The increase in medical insurance was to reflect the actual cost carried by the town. The user fees were questioned as being too high. There was a series of questions about an individual employee; the questions were not answered because it was a personnel issue. I think the Town Manager was correct in this instance, but I think he did himself no favors in the way he handled it. I agree that the question was over the line - it was about the status and history of a specific employee. Mr. Sullivan should have declined to answer the question, but then explained the recourse that is available: "The employee has this set of options: a, b, and c. Citizens who disagree have these options: talking to the selectmen, filing complaints, etc." As it was, he came across as imperious and indifferent to the concerns of Town Meeting. Unfortunately, he'll have to work hard to gain the trust of the meeting. Passed.

Veterans' Rink Enterprise Fund - $420,000. After a question about the alarm, the motion passed.

Council on Aging Enterprise Fund - $102,000. Passed unanimously.

Youth Services Enterprise Fund - $266,000. Passed unanimously.

After some notices of reconsideration, the meeting adjourned.

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6/7/04 - Twelfth Meeting

We opened with the national anthem and a prayer from Richard Phelps, Town Meeting Member and chaplain of the Newton-Wellesley Hospital.

The moderator remarked on ways to ask questions of procedure in Town Meeting, such as whether or not the Town Manager should be permitted to make motions.

Mrs. Mahon moved that if the meeting was not finished tonight that it would resume on Wednesday. Thankfully, this is a moot point.

Lee Ellis announced a Symmes's Neighbors hearing, June 17, 7-9PM in the cafeteria at Symmes.

Mrs. Mahon pointed out the picture and card for Tony "Sarge" Carmello, a town employee currently in Iraq.

Harry McCabe thanked FinComm for their work.

John Kohl announced his attention to create a Friends of McLennan Park, and asked for other interested people.

Article 65 - Local 580, $625,000. Town Manager Brian Sullivan explained the negotiation process that got this three-year contract. 3% last year, 2% at the beginning and middle of this year, 2% next year, plus an increase in the employee portion of health insurance from 10 to 15%. This union is 67 people, most of them in Public Works. The appropriation is for this year and last year. A speaker asked why the pace of increase wasn't continuous: because that was part of the give-and-take of negotiation. There was a question if any of the $2.5 million set aside for raises remained. Employees were thanked for the work that they do. Passed unanimously.

Article 66 - NAGE, $147,000. Mr. Sullivan explained the article. This covers 32 employees. There were further questions about the distribution of the $2.5 million set aside. The lateness of the numbers was questioned - one of these negotiations finished at 4PM today. Passed.

Article 67 - Library Employees, $50,000. Mr. Sullivan explained the article. 13 employees covered. After a question, passed unanimously.

Article 68 - Firefighters, $375,000. Mr. Sullivan explained the article. 77 employees. Besides the raise there were increases in cleaning allowance and Christmas holiday pay. Passed unanimously. I have a question now that didn't occur to me in the meeting. If Local 580 is 67 people, and this is 77 people, and they both have the same percentage raise, then why is the amount appropriated so different? Do DPW employees earn that much more? I need to figure that one out.

Article 69 - Patrolmen, $191,000. Mr. Sullivan explained the article. This includes similar increases in cleaning allowance and Christmas holiday pay. I failed to note the number of employees, but I estimate about 55. After a couple questions, passed unanimously.

Article 70 - Ranking Police, $146,000. Mr. Sullivan explained the article. Mrs. Mahon expressed her appreciation for the union workers, managers, and other involved. A question was asked about coalition bargaining, and Mr. Sullivan explained his plan to try it out temporarily without accepting the full statute. Mrs. Mahon rose to disagree and expand. The discussion was ruled to be not relevant, and the motion passed unanimously.

Article 71 - M Schedule, $222,000. Mr. Sullivan explained the article, and noted that this group is paying 20% of their health costs. After a question, passed.

Article 72 - Future Collective Bargaining. No action, passed unanimously.

Article 52, Budget 24 - Budgets, Insurance, $10,422,000. Mr. Sullivan offered a budget that was amended downward by $312,500 to reflect the increased cost borne by the employees. Mrs. Phelps renewed her amendment to lower the Group Health line item by $200,000. She maintained that the Insurance Advisory Committee recommended lower rates. Mr. Sullivan expressed concern that the current expenses were at a low and would rebound. He also said that the reserves were getting too high, and the town would take a "month off" and not pay the insurance reserves - this would have the effect of an 8.5% cut in the insurance premium for the town and employees. There was considerable confusion over this point, with several people expressing surprise that they hadn't heard of it before. Mrs. Mahon said that the Selectmen will consider the question of rates at their June 14th meeting, one month earlier than originally planned. Several speakers asked questions; most were in favor of sticking with the original recommendation. The annual rates per person were given. The question of unfunded liabilities was raised, but there was no answer yet. After several more questions, Mrs. Phelps withdrew her amendment. The question passed unanimously. Town Meeting was ready to adjourn, and this discussion lasted longer than it could politely be patient. Several calls to end discussion were heard, but not from the listed speakers. As far as the main confusion goes, I think a graph can help. Consider scenario 1: 12 months of $1000 premium, with the town paying 90%. Consider scenario 2, with 12 months of $1000 premium, but the town paying 85%. Finally, consider scenario 3 - only 11 months of $1000 premium, with the town paying 85%. Scenario 1 is the "old" way. Everyone thought that the new contracts took us to scenario 2. But, our costs have been lower than expected, so the bottom line for health costs is lower than expected, so we get to go to scenario 3. Scenario 3 says that both town and employees contribute less than expected. In 1, the employee pays $1200; in 2, $1800; in 3, $1650. I could have shown a scenario 4 where the bottom line is $11,000 and employee contribution stays at 90%; that scenario isn't relevant, so I ignored it.

Article 91 - Free Cash (Unencumbered Funds), $1,415,000. Passed unanimously.

Article 2 was taken from the table. Mr. Tosti recommended that people read "Municipal Yardsticks" available in the library.

Town Meeting was dissovled.

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