Dan Dunn


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2005 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.

4/25 - 4/27 - 5/2 - 5/4 - 5/9 - 5/11 - 5/16 - 5/18 - 5/23 - 6/13 - 6/15 - 6/20 - top

4/25/05 - First Meeting

The State of the Town was at 7PM; I missed it. I hope to get the remarks electronically for posting..

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.

A priest from St. Camillus gave a blessing.

Moderator John Worden called the 199th Town Meeting of "Arlington formerly West Cambridge" to order. He gave a few remarks about the history and merits of Town Meeting. He commented on the contents and cover of Real Democracy, a book about Vermont town meetings.

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 27th.

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

  • Board of Selectmen's report was submitted by Jack Hurd. He introduced the town's department heads and some of the elected officials.
  • Frank Hurd gave the report of the the Trust Fund Policies Committee.
  • The Redevelopment Board's report was submitted by Ed Tsoi.
  • James McGough gave the report of the Cyrus Dallin Art Museum trustees. He listed several current and future initiatives and invited the public to the new installation of Chief Washakie on May 1.
  • John Bilafer reported on the activities of the Post Employment Medical Benefits Committee. The group will have a substantive report at the 2006 Town Meeting.
  • Chris Loretti gave the report of the Zoning Bylaw Review Committee. He highlighted some important goals of the group.
  • The Affordable Housing Task Force report was given by Patricia Worden. She spoke for several minutes on various policies and actions of town groups. I didn't follow most of these remarks; they didn't appear to match the written report.
  • Terry Dash gave the report of the Symmes Neighborhood Advisory Committee.
  • The Pleasant Street Historic District Expansion report was received.
The article was tabled.

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

Article 4 - Election of Assistant Moderator. The moderator announced that the ballots would be handed out on Wednesday, and then opened the floor to nominations.
  • John Leone
  • Rich Carreiro
I expect that I will be voting for Rich on Wednesday. He is very organized and efficient. His knowledge of procedure is excellent. He has been active in Town Meeting debate with an excellent attendance record. He would keep the meeting moving well.

Article 5 - Affordable Housing Bylaw. Ed Tsoi first announced that the public hearing on the Symmes-related Special Town Meeting articles would be tomorrow, Tuesday, at 8PM in the Senior Center. He then discussed the current article. The intent of the article was to make it more difficult for developers to skirt the 15% dedication to affordable housing. The article makes the law apply to situations where the developer subdivides the land and sells individual one- and two-family homes, like what is being done at the intersection of Mill and Mass Ave. The restriction would apply for two years, as measured by the date of issuance of a special permit. Several speakers were in favor. The most interesting question was about what happens when a developer subdivides land, and then sells it to different developers/home owners: Ed Tsoi said that this would still apply. The implication is that the 6th person out of 6 who is building is obligated to build affordable housing, and their recourse is to sue the seller of the land. There was a set of speakers with no relevance to the article - they just wanted to complain about the development at Mill St. They did not contribute to the debate, and I wish they had been shut down. The amendment passed unanimously. Jacqueline Harrington gave notice of reconsideration.I'm uncomfortable with my vote. I think the text is too broad and will stifle development, not to mention cause property owners endless headaches. I tossed and turned on it, and in the end didn't say "NO." I would have lost, for sure, but I might have felt better. We'll see what I think tomorrow morning.

Article 6 - Parking Requirements. Ed Tsoi explained that we want to permit the reduction in number of required spaces because it gives more flexibility to single-room occupancy buildings. The new law would say that if you are building single-room occupancy for lower income people then the redevelopment board has the option of cutting the number of required parking spaces by up to 50%. He explained that we could do it because the town's overnight parking prohibition will serve as enforcement. Freeland Abbott explained why he had proposed this article last year: single-occupancy is the cheapest way to deliver housing, and parking is too expensive. Several speakers went, for and against, asking about impact on Germaine Lawrence parking concerns, why the 50% was chosen, enforcement, and the effect of mixed affordable/regular housing. The motion passed 135-21. I'm happy to support this, making development incrementally eaiser.

Article 7 - Hospital Zone. Ed Tsoi explained that last year we hadn't totally removed the Hospital zone from the bylaws. Passed by a vote of 148-4.

Article 8 - Stormwater Management. Ed Tsoi spoke in favor of the article. This amendment will be an improvement on the original directive to just pipe the water away; land owners should attempt to keep and treat the water themselves. John Belskis made an amendment to require developers to bond their storm systems in perpetuity. Town Counsel John Maher was clearly agitated that he was not consulted about the amendment, and asked for a chance to review any changes. The article was tabled.

Article 9 - Summer Street. Barry Faulker explained that the ARB voted no action. Furthermore, the developer received relief from the zoning appeals board, so there was no substitute.

Article 10 - Broadway. Barry Faulkner explained that the ARB had chosed to recommend no action, but the ARB did not see a "fatal flaw" in the proposed amendment. Town Meeting gets to decide. A substitue motion to change the lot from R1 to R3 was entered, and the property owner gave a short speech. Several speakers were against the motion. They suggested that the new building would stick out like a sore thumb, that it was simply a money grab by the property owner, that the adjacent land owners were opposed, that it was a safety issue because of a new driveway too close to Broadway, and that the proposed plan was too dense. The substitute motion failed. I voted against this. Chris Loretti made two arguments that convinced me. The first was that there is a difference between zoned use and actual use. When I visited the site, I looked at the adjacent buildings and said to myself "another one of those is OK." But, I hadn't realized that the existing buildings "under-use" their zoning. The proposed building would be bigger than the exisiting adjacent ones - this is a departure from what exists now. Secondly, he made the point that the R1 abutter couldn't have reasonably anticipated such a change by Town Meeting. We'd be suddenly permitting a large building, right next to him. We can't do that arbitrarily. Fred Bernadin gave notice of reconsideration.

Article 11 - Inclusionary Zoning. Barry Faulkner explained that the written report distributed last week was incorrect. The ARB had voted against this change, but the draft language had been printed in the report. He explained that the no action was because the ARB was concerned that if "clusters" of affordable housing were permitted, that clusters would be the only proposal the board would ever see. Lee Ellis asked for a postponement because he hadn't had any time to prepare a substitute motion. The article was postponed to Monday, May 2. The error has to be the ARB's worst nightmare - the report is 100% out of phase with what they wanted to do. I strongly suspect I'll be voting in favor of this. I like providing the option of flexibility. I can't stand the rigid, no-exception approach to zoning. Particularly when the town is imposing such an onerous burden, we should be open to creativity.

The meeting was adjourned a few minutes early.

4/25 - 4/27 - 5/2 - 5/4 - 5/9 - 5/11 - 5/16 - 5/18 - 5/23 - 6/13 - 6/15 - 6/20 - top

4/27/05 - Second Meeting

The meeting sang the national anthem to the accompaniment of Jane Howard on the piano.

The pastor of the Covenant church gave a blessing.

Special Town Meeting

The Special Town Meeting was called to order. The usual meeting opening items were done: the rules of the meeting were adopted, the warrant was read, and the date of the next meeting was set.

Announcements were given. Mr. Hurd announced an upcoming Shun Yamaguchi art show for the support of the Fox Library. David Coletta announced the Town Meeting Member listserv. Lyman Judd announced the Lions Eyemobile on Friday from 8AM to 2PM at Town Hall. The moderator announced that we should have done our precinct elections. I missed these again - I get the mail weeks before and forget to put it in my calendar. I'm going to try to make sure we do Precinct 11 on Monday night in the intermission.

Article 1 - Reports of Committees. Town Meeting accepted one report: Board of Selectmen's report was submitted by Jack Hurd.

Article 2 - Symmes. Ed Tsoi moved to recess the Special Town Meeting until May 9th. He explained that the ARB had only had their public hearing the day before, and they hadn't had time to put the report together. This appeared to catch the moderator by surprise. Additionally, the moderator was prepared to do the other articles on the warrant. Mr. Tsoi explained that he thought that other article proponents had been told that they would be delayed too. After some debate, the meeting was recessed. This was bad on two different levels. First of all, why is the moderator not informed of this beforehand? If you plan on recessing the meeting, shouldn't you let the person running the meeting beforehand? The confusion led to much wasted time. My second complaint is for the people who weren't ready to go on the other articles - I'll rant about that more later.

Article 2 - Reports of Committees. The Annual Town Meeting returned to session and accepted several reports:

Allan Tosti corrected a number of errors in the budgets. He explained that the budget discussion would be delayed to June 13 when the result of the override is known. This is to avoid wasting time debating budgets that will never actually be used.

Article 12 - Affordable Housing Bylaw. Barry Faulkner explained that the ARB had chosen to recommend no action because they didn't want to give preference to government agencies. They believe that it will not contribute to solving the affordable housing problem and will have the effect of reducing supply of affordable housing. Freeland Abbott offered a substitute motion (not in writing!) that would require the ARB to publish a plan on the distribution of the houses and require the plan to include certain elements including sale to government entities. He said that if it isn't passed the Arlington Housing Authority would have to use its power of eminent domain to take houses from the ARB. Patricia Worden spoke in favor of the substitute motion. She said that the method the ARB uses for distribution doesn't cover a wide enough set of people. She referred to encouragement from the Affordable Housing Task Force. She said that the AHA had $75,000 from Community Development Block Grants and would use the money for this purpose "no matter what." Barry Faulker spoke, explaining how the current inclusionary zoning works. He said that "It's subsidized housing, but a subsidy that the town isn't paying for." I have a quibble with this sentence. It may not appear on the tax rolls, but the town is paying for this, one way or another. The proponents were asked how they envisioned preference should be given; there was no answer except that there would at least be a plan. It was asked if this was legal, and John Maher said it was. There were a series of questions about what the article would do. There were further objections that the motion had not been provided in writing, and the article was postponed on a standing vote. I vigorously oppose this substitute motion. I have real concerns with the inclusionary zoning bylaw, but I am quite certain that this would only make the bylaw worse. The bylaw is not designed to force developers to build housing that is then turned over to the AHA. The AHA has sources of funding that no other town agency does: it should be building or buying its own. The inclusionary zoning law stands by itself, not as a vehicle for the AHA. Furthermore, I deplore the tactics of the proponents of the substitute motions. They repeatedly insinuated that the ARB has no process and distributes the affordable units in secret. This is simply not true: the lottery is done in public, administered by town employees, at public meetings. Such smear tactics are inappropriate and harmful. Also, the proponents gave misleading information on more than one occasion. For example, Patricia Worden repeatedly brought up the "$75,000 CDBG grant that Town Meeting approved," as if Town Meeting had already reviewed AHA's planned purchase. Town Meeting approved the grants as a bundle and did not review the usage of each one. It certainly did not endorse this specific use. More misleading information was given later, when questions were asked on the floor. The Moderator Worden permitted the proponents to give answers that weren't complete, but didn't permit the ARB to add the rest of the information. I saved the worst tactic for last: the threat of eminent domain. How has this gotten so far that the AHA would threaten such an outrageous activity? And consider the effects it has: there is already a deal with the developer, and there is a lottery winner of the housing unit in question. This hasn't come out on the Town Meeting floor yet, but the hopeful future owner of that home is a kindergarten teacher at Thompson. She is a poster child for what the inclusionary zoning bylaw is supposed to do, and the AHA wants to take it away. This poor woman is simply a pawn in what I perceive as a power grab and petty turf war between the AHA and the ARB. I will be voting against the substitute motion.

Article 4 - Assistant Moderator. The first speech was from Rich Carreiro who cited his knowledge of procedure, communication skills, and attention to meeting and detail. The second was from John Leone who described his attendance record, his knowledge of town officials through his law practice, his chairmanship of the Zoning Bylaw Review Committee, and his current tenure in the position. John Leone won 121-62 in secret ballot.

Article 13 - Religious District. This article was to create a new zoning district specifically for religious buildings. Barry Faulkner explained that the ARB had voted no action firstly because they did not think the article achieved its goal: to remove enough land from Arlington's defined "buildable area" that it would qualify as having more than 1.5% affordable housing. Secondly, they did not think the change would be legal. Freeland Abbott offered a substitute motion (again, not in writing) to create the district. The moderator ruled it out of order, and the motion was restated as a resolution to instruct the planning department to prepare the change for next year. Abbott agreed that it didn't solve the affordable housing legislation problem, but it would help. There was a discussion about whether it would be legal, and Barry Faulker explained that it was not because there was not a use "by right" that was economically viable to the land owner. The substitute motion failed by voice vote.

Article 14 - Municipal District. This is similar to the previous article in intent, and got the same treatment from the ARB. Voted no action.

Article 15 - Cemetery District. This is similar to the previous article in intent, and got the same treatment from the ARB. Mr. Belskis pointed out that this was different from the previous two because it is probably economically viable. He did not have a motion prepared. The moderator lectured him (and the whole hall) that the warrant had been closed for three months - there are few excuses to not have arguments prepared. The moderator was dead right on this one. So many substitute motions made on the fly tonight, when an ounce of preparation would have given a better debate about issues, not confusion about topic.

Article 16 - Zoning Districts. Mr. Faulkner noted that this was illegal by state law. Voted no action.

Article 17 - Outside Lighting. Postponed to May 4.

Article 18 - Noise Abatement. Voted no action.

Article 19 - Construction Noise. John Fitzmaurice explained that understanding decibels was very difficult to do. They have a planned demonstration so that Town Meeting can be informed. Postponed to May 2.

Article 20 - Notice of Demolition. Jack Hurd explained that this amendment would require that nearby homes be informed of demolition beforehand. There were questions about whether the fine was high enough and could be raised (no), whether it applied to the the town too (yes), and what the definition of a building was. The change was approved.

Article 21 - Handicapped Parking. Jack Hurd explained that this change will enable the town to ticket people parked in handicapped spaces on private property. The intent is for stores, supermarkets, etc. The first question was why the fine was different for private and public parking, and it is because state law dictates that. There were questions about enforcement and towing. There was a question about whether town money should be spent on town needs, not private needs. Chief Ryan explained that it would be perfect for cases where the complainant was in the supermarket shopping lot; currently the police are powerless. Passed unanimously. I heard one person say no, but they didn't do it with any vigor. Stand up for your convictions, I say (my vote last night on article 5 notwithstanding, of course).

Article 22 - Newsracks. John Maher explained that this is to create a pilot program where the town can test newspaper racks with news "condos." The article was postponed to May 2 because the report was only available tonight. I will oppose this one strongly. The effect of this is to limit the choices available - and the nature of the choice is speech. Space in these condos will be coveted real estate. How will we determine priority? What about the smaller players that get squeezed out? Do we really want to homogenize our choices in media further than we already have? Isn't the Globe already ubiquitous enough? What about new publications? How will we ever find competition if we put up such huge barriers to entry? John Maher says there are "constitutional issues." I think he's right, but I don't need a Supreme Court ruling to tell me right from wrong. We should encourage speech and a variety of ideas, not limit ourselves to the few, popular voices.

Article 23 - Pleasant Street Historic District. Postponed to May 2.

Article 24 - Finance Committee Membership. Allan Tosti explained that he has trouble filling some spots. This would let him fill them with "at-large" members. Rich Carreiro offered an amendment to limit the at-large term to 1 year and to require the position remain vacant for a period of time first. There were speakers for and against. The biggest fear was that this would remove the pressure to fill the slots. There were questions about the membership historically, how it is chosen, and what the qualifications were. The amendment was approved, and the amended motion was approved 96-31.

Lyman Judd gave notice on 13, 14, 15, and 16 and the meeting was adjourned.

4/25 - 4/27 - 5/2 - 5/4 - 5/9 - 5/11 - 5/16 - 5/18 - 5/23 - 6/13 - 6/15 - 6/20 - top

5/2/05 - Third Meeting

The meeting sang the national anthem to the accompaniment of Gwenyth Hooper on the piano.

A rabbi gave the blessing, but I'm afraid that I didn't catch his name or the temple.

The moderator reminded everyone to turn their cell phones off or to silent. This speech was delivered with excellent humor and props.

Article 2 - There were no reports of Committees.

Article 22 - Newsracks. John Maher revised the original motion to put the change in a different section of the bylaw (subsection g). He explained again that he was looking to create a pilot program of three newsrack condos. (I can't be certain, but I think this is the type of thing the committee has in mind.) The committee would use the pilot to evaluate if the the condos were a viable way to "make a more pleasing street scene." I asked about the concerns I made last week and I was assured that this would not limit any newspapers from being put out. This answer resolved my concern, and at that point I didn't much care one way or the other which way the vote went. There were a series of questions about the costs of the installations and if they were economically feasible. John Maher pointed out that if Town Meeting voted this down that it was OK, but the newsrack committee would be pointless and would disband. The bylaw amendment failed, 84-89.I voted against because it cost too much and could lead to future restriction. I really think an all-or-nothing approach here is best. Either ban newsracks entirely, or let them do what they want. It's the only way to avoid preferential speech issues.

Article 19 - Noise. John FitzMaurice repeated that his group was looking to add decibel levels to the bylaw, but that there had been concerns raised about the proposal. The motion was tabled. Ron Spangler demonstrated a 85 dB noise by playing a recording of a rock crusher.

Article 23 - Pleasant Street Historical District. Stephen Makowka, chair of the Historical District, explained that this was an extension of the current district to include adjacent streets with significance. He noted that no negative feedback from owners had been received. Two speakers were in favor. Passed unanimously. All I need to know for these things is that everyone is on board. I would never vote for this if someone was being forced into it.

Article 12 - Affordable Housing Bylaw. The discussion continued from the previous night, about plan and government preference for the distribution of affordable housing. The first speaker was John Griffin of the Arlington Housing Authority. He emphatically stated that the discussion of the 264 Mass Ave development was over, and this article had nothing to do with it. He said that it was not debatable. John Griffin would like us to think that it is over, but it certainly is not. The eminent domain has not yet happened. I like to think that the AHA can be persuaded that such a course of action would be very wrong-headed. Furthermore, if this isn't about 264 Mass Ave, then why do the proponents keep referring to it in their arguments? I then spoke against the substitute motion, using similar arguments to the ones I made last week. I'm afraid my remarks will be remembered as the ones about "the turf war." I may regret making that point; I probably should have stuck with the other points and just stopped. I don't want my weakest argument to be the one that is remembered. Several speakers for and against followed. It was argued that this was shuffling affordable housing around, not creating new. It was asked why the AHA doesn't buy a market rate house. John Griffin said that the state forbade it, but he was at least partially contradicted by later statements. Patricia Worden made a "point of order" that was in no way a point of order - she was just shoehorning her argument in. The moderator let her get away with murder in this debate. He also refused, for a while, to recognize Nora Mann, because she isn't a Town Meeting member. The Town Clerk certainly thinks she's a member! It was frustrating to see the uneven treatment given the two sides in this debate. Other speakers asked about perpetuity and which income brackets of people were affected. The final speaker talked about the how the ARB was enabling people to buy homes, while the AHA was encouraging rentals. Debate was terminated. Freeland Abbott's substitute motion failed on voice vote.

Article 11 - Inclusionary Zoning. Lee Ellis proposed a substitute motion. His motion would permit the ARB to make exceptions to the inclusionary zoning law and permit "clusters" of affordable housing for special needs. The permission could only be granted when it was to the benefit of the town and the residents. He brought up as an example the Symmes redevelopment. If clusters were permitted, then the developer could have had adult foster care. That worked well with the medical use, and it got $2 million in subsidies. Because that wasn't a permitted use, therefore the subsidies had to be forgone, resulting in much higher densities on the site. More houses had to be built, and at a higher price point, to make up the $2 million. Nora Mann of the ARB spoke next, against the substitute motion. She argued that there was no need for the adult foster care, that it couldn't be applied retroactively to Symmes, and that it is a "foot in the door" that will "undermine" the inclusionary zoning bylaw. Other neighbors spoke in favor of the substitute motion. They urged Town Meeting to, in this case, make sure the needs of the neighbors were heard. Speakers against the substitute motion charged that it would undo years of negotiation, that it would not create the family housing that the original bylaw intended, and that it would violate the intent of inclusionary zoning that every house be like the neighbor, regardless of whether or not it was affordable. During the debate, Patricia Worden made allegations that the ARB was breaking the law and other inflammatory statements. She also made another point of order that wasn't actually a point of order. I'm glad the ARB isn't responding in kind. When someone is making such outrageous accusations, I think it is better to tell the truth and let the facts speak for themselves, like the ARB did by publishing the lottery methods for their affordable housing. It's better to simply refute the accusations, quietly, with the truth, than to engage them in public vitriol. A speaker in favor pointed out that the rule was at ARB's option, so it couldn't be abused by developers. A speaker against pointed out that the Symmes developer knew from the start about the bylaw. I wonder what would happen if this vote were occurring without Symmes in the background. I think that it would garner more support. There are people who are very studiously avoiding anything that might upset the Symmes apple cart, and some of them would ordinarily support this motion. I think it is going to fail. I wonder if we try it again in 5 years what the vote will look like, without the shadow of Symmes on the debate. Personally, I'm voting in favor. I think that flexibility is a good thing. I want there to be the ability to create exceptions, just as I did in last year's vote on the wetlands bylaw. The ARB has failed to make a compelling argument that this flexibility would keep them from doing their job. This is their option; they can still, always, just say "no." The meeting was adjourned with 15 or 20 on the list. We adjourned 9 minutes early. I would have preferred to keep on going. We're moving slowly, and can use our time more efficiently.

Jacqueline Harrington gave notice of reconsideration on articles 22 and 23.

4/25 - 4/27 - 5/2 - 5/4 - 5/9 - 5/11 - 5/16 - 5/18 - 5/23 - 6/13 - 6/15 - 6/20 - top

5/4/05 - Fourth Meeting

I'm afraid to say that I missed tonight's meeting. I had work travel to DC and was scheduled to be back in time. At noon, things were fantastic - I was 95% done and thinking about catching an early plane. Then the bottom fell out, and I spent the next 8 hours frantically trying to get the customer's server back up. Caught the last shuttle and didn't get to Arlington until the meeting was already over. Thus ends a perfect attendance record.

I'll be reading Rich Carreiro's notes to see what I missed.

4/25 - 4/27 - 5/2 - 5/4 - 5/9 - 5/11 - 5/16 - 5/18 - 5/23 - 6/13 - 6/15 - 6/20 - top

5/9/05 - Fifth Meeting and Special Town Meeting 2nd Session

The meeting sang the national anthem to the accompaniment of Jane Howard on the piano.

Reverend Snyder of the Countryside Bible Chapel gave the blessing. There were people in the gallery who held signs during his (lengthy) blessing that said "Stay an' Pray." I have no idea what this means.

The moderator reported that Precinct 6 hadn't yet voted a chair, and also had a vacancy.

Jane Howard announced that the Vision 2020 report was available. Also, she announced the Spy Pond Trails Weekend on May 14th and 15th. Lyman Judd announced the 5k walk for the Association of Retarded Citizens on Sunday the 15th.

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

Article 1 - Reports of Committees. Town Meeting accepted one report: Arlington Redevelopment Board's report was submitted by Ed Tsoi.

Article 2 - Symmes Zoning Change. Ed Tsoi requested an hour to speak, and received it. Lots of people voted against the time extension. I was in favor of it. I knew there was a lot of material to cover. He explained that the ARB was asking to undo the amendment that was voted by Town Meeting last year, the amendment that required a medical use component. He said that last year that ARB had agreed to the amendment because they thought it captured what had already been agreed to. Now, they want to reverse their endorsement. He brought up the analogy of a homeowner who builds an addition without permission and builds it too close to the property line. When the owner tries to sell the property, the buyer's bank looks at the zoning. The buyer's bank will refuse the mortgage because the house doesn't comply with zoning. Similarly, with Symmes, the buyer of the medical building is unable to get finances because the bank is worried that it is impossible to meet the zoning requirement of medical use as it is written. John Maher spoke, saying "I blew it." He regretted the fact that he didn't foresee this problem in the hours before the vote last year. He also questioned whether it was a legal zoning law because it mandated a use; that may actually not be legal. He urged support. Part of Maher's plea was to "please trust me." I think, given his track record on the issue, that asking people to trust him is perhaps a bit much. If nothing else, from a tactical perspective, he should have left that plea to someone else with more credibility on the issue. Kevin O'Brien related how the CEO of Mt. Auburn had expressed concern with the zoning in November of '04 and provided a copy of Mt. Auburn's concerns. He explained how the town had written a legal opinion on the zoning and shared it with the lender's counsel and how it had still been rejected by the lender. He said that the bottom line was that it was impossible to get financing with the current zoning. Ed Tsoi explained that the town has three protections to ensure medical use at Symmes, including the current land disposition agreement, the agreement being strengthened by removing the developers "buy-in" of more residential, and the promise of the ARB to come to Town Meeting before doing any non-medical use. He explained that if Town Meeting doesn't do this then we have to sit on the land while planning other options. Treasurer John Bilafer explained the bond anticipation notes (BANs) come due next year and will begin to impact the tax rate. Jack Hurd spoke and stated that the Selectmen had "not wavered a bit" on their commitment to bring medical use to Symmes. The presentation completed, 46 minutes elapsed. Andrew Fischer spoke against the motion, listing a series of medical news stories that he felt were relevant. He was unhappy with the price the town was getting. He suggested that there wasn't financial pressure; he compared selling Symmes to selling Menotomy Rocks, and noted that there was no pressure to sell the park. I thought this argument was just silly. For one thing, we don't have a $11.5 million loan outstanding on the park! A Symmes abutter spoke against because of planned density and lack of information about negotiations with Lahey. Fischer moved to recess the meeting until June 13. Jacqueline Harrington called last year a "breach of trust" by the ARB and asked the meeting to reject the change. The meeting recessed and returned. Ed Tsoi rose to a point of personal privilege (which Harry McCabe objected to because it wasn't one) and recharacterized Jacqueline Harrington's description of the ARB meeting in September. Several speakers expressed that they felt backed into a corner and were worried that the agreement would change in the future again. Speakers in favor said that we had the guarantee that we needed, and the zoning wasn't necessary to get what we want. The compromises written by the Symmes Advisory Committee were discussed. There were complaints about the density, and complaints that the town shouldn't be a developer. By a vote of 116-49, debate was terminated. By 58-110 the vote to recess failed. The zoning change carried by a vote of 115-57. A handful of people wanted a roll-call vote, but not enough to require the vote. Carried by a single vote! I wonder if anyone was crazy enough to vote on the "wrong side" so that they could give notice of reconsideration if they needed to. If so, they are regretting it now. I was in favor of this motion. As always, I'm in favor of anything that gets this off the town books as quickly as possible. In fact, I think of today's vote as a very convincing argument that it was a bad idea from the beginning. If a single person reversed their vote, the town would be stuck with $11.5 million of debt and a piece of land that is impossible to sell at market value. The risks are too high, and the rewards are too low. Tonight's brush with disaster should be a warning sign.

Article 3 - Right of Way at Symmes. John Maher explained that the town had a right-of-way that it wasn't using, and this would help clean up the deed. Passed 138-7.

Article 4 - Symmes Special Account. John Maher explained that town meeting had voted in September to create a special fund to collect revenues and pay down the debt for Symmes, but that the state legislature wanted a re-vote because last year's vote was at a special town meeting. Now, we're in a special meeting again. This vote is better than the one last year? Seems silly to me. There were questions about why this fund is created, and it was explained that without it there will be impact on the tax rolls from year to year because the revenue and expenses aren't aligned. This is the vehicle to smooth those out. There were questions about when the fund will be terminated: when the debt is retired. There were questions about what to do with surpluses.

Lee Ellis and John Deyst gave notice of reconsideration on Article 2. Both meetings were adjourned.

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5/11/05 - Sixth Meeting and Special Town Meeting 3rd Session

The meeting sang the national anthem to the accompaniment of Jane Howard on the piano.

The invocation was given by someone from the Salvation Army. His invocation included a plea for members to "clear their mind" during deliberation. At the same time, there was a huge ruckus out in the hall that had heads turning to look outside. Ironic.

The moderator reminded the meeting that it requires a 2/3 majority to reconsider an article. He also doesn't enforce that reconsideration require new information as some moderators do. He reminded the meeting that any member can move to terminate debate. He said that there had been some concern about people standing in the back that weren't voting members; as a result, he instructed tellers to only count votes of people standing in front of a chair. This clearly irritated people who sit in the back of the room. I don't really understand why they do it, myself. The result, of course, was that chairs were moved to the back wall for people to stand in front of. He also announced that no signs or flags were permitted in the hall (except the official flags). This sounds untenable to me from a legal standpoint. Signs in the gallery don't disrupt the meeting. I don't think that we can or should limit political speech when it doesn't interfere with the proceedings.

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

  • Board of Selectmen's second supplemental report was submitted by Jack Hurd.
  • Paul Olson gave the report of the Field Maintenance and User Fee Committee. He gave several remarks about the report.
  • Jane Howard requested 15 minutes for the Vision 2020 report. She and Gordon Jamieson reviewed the report handout.
Allan Tosti announced that on Monday that there would be an hour to present and discuss the budgets. He restated the intent to delay the vote on the budgets until after the override is decided. The intent of Monday's presentation is to allow town meeting (and the public) to see the effect of the override.

Fred Bernadin announced that the text of the substitute motion for Article 58 was available. I voted against this in Finance Committee, and I expect I will vote against it again. The proponents don't have a clear enough explanation for what they'd do with the money. From what I've been able to tell, the things they want to know are things that the planning department is equipped to tell them.

Annie LaCourt announced that the Town Manager will, for Monday, produce the goals, accomplishments, and organization charts cited by departments that are found in the "budget book." These are things that generally aren't in the hands of Town Meeting members.

The Special Town Meeting was called to order.

Article 4 - Symmes Special Account. Debate continued from Monday's meeting. Jacqueline Harrington asked for 22 minutes to speak and received it. She proposed a substitute motion that used much of the text of the Selectmen's vote, but had several substantive changes. She explained that her motion made it so that less money went into the special account, and took away most of the discretion from the Board of Selectmen and the Treasurer. It limited what the money could be spent on. It also included a reporting requirement. She said that the power of the purse was with Town Meeting and it should not relinquish that. She said that this was the only way that Town Meeting could control the way the debt is repaid over the next several (ten, probably) years. She said that her plan may involve a few hundred dollars on the tax bills over the next few years, but that was within the promise of the debt exclusion override. The next speaker asked questions of the Manager who said the bonds were likely for 10 years and that it was important to dedicate revenue to cover the Symmes expenses in order to fulfill the promise made to the voters. At this point, Lyman Judd complained that there were people wearing pro-override buttons and those counted as signs. This is just so silly. I feel like I should show up at the next meeting wearing a button: "This is an example of free speech. It is a political statement." A motion to terminate debate failed. I voted against terminating debate. I wanted to hear more about the effects of the substitute motion. Brian Rehrig spoke in favor of the selectmen's motion. He said it was about ensuring the flow of money to pay costs. He proposed an amendment to the selectmen's motion, including Harrington's reporting requirement. Annie LaCourt asked Charlie Foskett what the differences were between the two plans. Charlie said that the substitute motion takes the project out of the urban renewal plan, removes the ability to maintain a reserve fund, and removes required financial flexibility in the face of unexpected problems. Annie endorsed the selectmen's plan as more fiscally conservative. A speaker pointed out that even if both plans were voted down that the Selectmen and Treasurer get to structure debt, and Town Meeting still has control of the tax rate. Another said that they wanted Special Town Meetings to be called if necessary, but that it should be their decision. Speakers asked about when the fund ended (when the debt was repayed), spoke in favor of a more robust reserve fund, and in favor of letting Finance Committee, not the Selectmen, set spending. In response to a question, the Town Manager explained that the reason to vote against the substitute motion was that it motion limited spending to only debt service. He wants to be able to pay for other things, like legal cost, construction monitoring, and emergencies. He noted that revenues were limited to $1.5 million per year. It is restricted in time frame. He said that this budget was not a huge blank check. He said "It's not like you're giving $30 million to the schools and telling them to do what they want." I'm paraphrasing, but you get the idea. This crack about the school department and their financial controls was totally unexpected and really made me laugh. Some town officials (Kay Donovan) looked startled, while others (Allan Tosti) laughed out loud. I was quite amused. Humor aside, I found this to be a very compelling argument. I'm willing to give up a limited amount of the purse power in order to save money in the long run. The flexibility is important to saving money. I'd been wavering, but at this point I was sure I was supporting the selectmen. Elsie Fiori stood up for one of her two points of order that were actually questions. I don't understand why the moderator lets the same people just jump the speaker's line, over and over again. John Maher made two changes to the selectmen's motion to narrow the scope (so that it read "directly related" for instance). There were questions about what happened to surpluses under the two plans. In the discussion, Maher said that the substitute motion was flawed because it obsoleted the urban renewal plan. Jackie Harrington was furious. She had run the language past town counsel, and accused him of "sandbagging" her proposal. I wonder if we'll ever know the whole story here. Miscommunication? Sandbagging? I assume the truth lies between the two, but where? At the suggestion of the moderator, Lee Ellis moved to table, but it was defeated. Jackie Harrington modified her motion with language provided by the town counsel that protected the urban renewal plan. Steve Gilligan moved to terminate debate, and it was terminated, by a vote of 121-32. There was a several minute pause while Steve Gilligan waited at the podium for Harrington and Maher to hash out the text of the amendment. I agree that the issue had "baked" and was ready for a vote. The substitute motion (with the urban plan amendment) was inserted 86-68. The main motion (now the Harrington substitute) passed 146-2. Charlie Foskett gave notice of reconsideration.

Article 5 - Transfer of Funds. Voted no action unanimously.

The meeting was adjourned.

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5/16/05 - Seventh Meeting and Special Town Meeting 4th Session

At the request of a regular reader, I'm including time stamps to mark the progress of the meeting. The hope is that it will encourage people to consider where we spend our time and lead to greater efficiency. I think I'll put them in brackets, like [8:00] for now. Let me know what you think.

[8:06] The meeting was called to order. The national anthem was sung by the Madrigal Singers from Arlington High. The blessing was given by someone from St. Eulalia's. [8:09] The Madrigal Singers performed 4 songs for the meeting.

[8:20] The moderator announced the plan to have an hour for presentation of and questions about the budgets.

Jack Hurd announced that the Red Sox World Series trophy would be on display in Arlington tomorrow.

Allan Tosti moved to table Articles 17 and 29-41. The motion carried and the moderator declared Town Meeting to be in recess. Allan asked for 35 minutes for presentation and 35 for questions, a bit longer than originally requested. [8:25]The Town Manager started his presentation. Unfortunately, the display was set up such that you could see the entire projection in the front row, but from the second row on back, the top of the projection was cut off by the stage curtain. He started with a series of statistics comparing Arlington to 19 other towns on spending in specific categories and specific metrics of taxation. He compared current spending to historical levels. He introduced department heads to review impact in their areas. The library director explained that the number of hours open would slip from 67 to 60, there would be fewer DVD and tapes for loan, slower shelving, longer lines for computers, and possible loss of state certification. [8:36] The human services impact depends on if the selectmen or Finance Committee recommendation is followed. The selectmen would end the youth services, ending services to suicidal adolescents and domestic violence victims, while the Finance Committee protects most of that budget. The board of health will have reduced office hours. The Council on Aging's nurse will be cut from 32 to 24 hours per week. [8:39] The director of the DPW spoke. His cuts included not marking fields, watering the grass less and cutting it less, and reducing trash collection in parks. The Finance Committee would cut his budget further, reducing cutting to every 4-6 weeks and additional impacts for emergency responses. [8:43] The fire chief explained that with the proposed cuts that he would be unable to maintain 15-man minimum manning. This would result in an engine being out of service part of the time, and the part-time closure of the Park Circle station. One of the slides the chief showed was the housing per square mile compared to the other 19 towns. Arlington was twice as dense as the 20-town average, and almost three times as dense as the median of the 20 towns. I need to look closer at why those 19 other towns were chosen; they certainly appear to be different from Arlington. [8:47] The police chief said that the cuts would make him more reactive and less proactive. He said that there was a slippery slope between encouraging crime and discouraging it. The police chief's towns that he used for comparison were a different set than the ones everyone else used. I wonder what we get when we use the same set. [8:53] The manager covered a few other departments and the impact of their cuts. [8:55] Superintendent of Schools Kay Donovan noted that the school budget cuts were $2.5 million, in addition to the $3 million two years ago. She described the use of SPED circuit breaker funds, lower support of athletics, smaller contingency fund, and fewer textbooks. She detailed 38 fewer people in teaching and administration. [9:09] The presentations ended, and questions began. There were two very pointed questions about town employees with cars paid for by the town. I asked about why there appeared to be more cuts in teaching than in administration. I didn't ask my question with enough clarity, and I got the unclear answer that I deserved. I need to go back and do my homework on this one. My impression from FY2004 and continued to FY2006 is that the teachers' salaries and headcounts are suffering larger hits than the administrative expenses are. There were questions about how the compared towns were chosen, about high school teacher changes, and the library certification. [9:33] Recessed. [9:45] Returned with questions about fixed costs within the schools, the choice of towns in the police presentation, the effect of school redistricting, the permanence of the tax cut for seniors, and what the budget will look like in years 2-5 of the 5-year plan.

The recess of Town Meeting was ended. Articles 42 and 47 were postponed to June 13, and articles 17 and 29-41 were taken from the table.

There was an amusing interlude while the moderator forgot that the special town meeting had to be completed. He was reminded, and the special town meeting was called to order.

Article 6 - Naming. [10:05] Rich Carreiro presented a substitute motion that essentially encouraged town bodies to follow the existing bylaw. He explained that the two names that had generated the recent controversy had been referred to the review committee, so the original motion was no longer necessary. After a single speaker about the School Committee's recent actions, the substitute was approved.

Article 1 was taken from the table and the meeting was dissolved. Legally, this has significance. At this point, the clock starts ticking. If the Symmes decision is to be overturned, signatures have to be collected quickly.

The regular meeting was called to order.

Article 17 - Outdoor lighting. [10:09] Mr. Gilligan removed his previous substitute motion, and submitted a new one. (The original motion was made in the fourth meeting, which I had unfortunately missed). He introduced Cynthia Tollen. She explained that the intent of the by law is to keep people harassing neighbors with lights. Speakers in favor thought that it was a thoughtful compromise between neighbor's competing rights, that it was a good parallel to the similar commercial rules, and that it wasn't intrusive because it was complaint-based. Speakers opposed thought it would inhibit porch lights, lighting the street, reduce public safety, waste the time of the building inspector, and give a new vehicle for people to harass each other. Other remedies were discussed, including talking to the neighbor "over the fence" or pulling the shades. I asked why the rule would prohibit lighting the street. I was told it was because that is the same language as the commercial rules. Debate was terminated, the motion was substituted 80-74 and approved 80-73. I voted against this. It is really quite nuts. Here is the full text of the new bylaw. Let me quote section 2, removing the superfluous words: "In all residential neighborhoods, all outdoor lighting . . . shall be . . installed in a manner that shall prevent direct light from shining onto or upon any street. . ." On my 1.2 mile bicycle ride home tonight, I counted no less than 19 houses that had outdoor lights that lit the street for my ride home. Each of those 19 is now violating town regulations! The proponents will tell me not to worry: no one is going to complain, so those 19 lights are still OK. They completely miss the point: we have just made illegal private actions that help the public. It is silly to make a bad rule but say "It's OK, we won't enforce it anyway." Bad rules are bad rules, and they should not be made. Ms. Tollen said during the debate that "dozens of people" had talked to her about problems they had with lights. I can't help but wonder what neighborhood spat Town Meeting got itself involved in. I almost hope the building inspector gets dragged into counter-complaints, and then asks us to repeal this rule next year.

Article 29 - Civil Service. [10:47] Mr. Roselli moved we adjourn, and it was defeated. He moved to postpone the article for a week (even though it had already been discussed and postponed on May 5). Kay Donovan spoke that it should not be postponed. Mr. Daley asked for "courtesy" while information was requested. This was quite rude on the parts of Mr. Daley and Mr. Roselli. This has been on the agenda since December. If they aren't ready twice, it is their tough luck. Furthermore, Mr. Daley looked quite foolish demanding "courtesy" from town meeting, while engaging in what was clearly a delaying tactic. He had 150 people hostage, and was repeating himself over and over, just to kill time. This wasn't courtesy. It was arrogant and rude. The question of postponement was called, and by a vote of 65-68 it was not postponed. Roselli's substitute motion was ruled out of order because it was outside of the scope of the warrant. Kay Donovan presented a letter signed by all but three of the affected people endorsing the change. The change would take the secretarial group out of Civil Service. She noted that the Civil Service test hadn't been administered for 7 years, and the list was empty. She reminded the meeting that this change was a negotiated deal agreed to by all parties. The question was moved, but debate was not terminated by a vote of 84-56 (required 2/3, short by 18 votes). This was nearly railroaded through. The moderator and many members (me included) were quite angry at how Mr. Roselli and Mr. Daley were attempting to abuse the process and waste the time of the members. The members' vindictive streak began to show as the train got up to speed. Only the 2/3 vote hurdle kept the question alive until Wednesday. I intend to vote to end the Civil Service for these positions. I think that John O'Leary, chairman of the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission, says it best: "As far as most government agencies are concerned, testing is gone -- and for good reason. Testing for such a wide range of jobs is incredibly complex and costly. There would need to be separate tests for psychologists, budget analysts, and Web designers, to name just a few. It's not too much to say that the Civil Service test-based hiring system has been abandoned because it has become unworkable and too costly to administer."

Meeting adjourned. [11:02]

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5/18/05 - Eighth Meeting

[8:04] The meeting sang the national anthem to the accompaniment of Jane Howard on the piano.

The invocation was given by a woman from St. Eulalia's.

The moderator noted that at the current pace, Town Meeting would conclude on June 22. He admonished people to be ready and to reject requests for postponement. Ron Spangler announced that new text for the sound bylaw was available. [8:11]

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

  • Permanent Town Building Committee report was given by John Cole. He said that Brackett was done and closed out, Hardy is in mediation/litigation, and Pierce was almost closed out. Pierce is looking for a waiver for it's very slightly curved wheelchair ramp. Dallin is a few weeks behind schedule, but in very good shape financially. He noted that the state just realized it owes $5.5 billion on schools, not the $4.2 billion it thought it did, and the moratorium would extend through at least 2007.
  • Nancy Galkowski gave the report of the Information Technology Advisory Committee. The first report of this committee that I helped found and am a member of. Writing the report was, I think, good introspection for the group. Personally, I wish we'd moved faster in the last few months, while others on the committee were surprised we'd gotten as much done as we had. It's all about expectations, I guess. There is plenty of work to do, and I look forward to more progress in the coming year.
Article 29 - Civil Service. [18:30] I spoke against this, paraphrasing the quote from John O'Leary I wrote about on Monday. I had the printout with me, but left it at my seat. I had a (prepared) short speech, and instead gave an unprepared ad-lib. Hopefully I didn't sound like a rambling idiot. A former member of the union spoke in favor, saying they were well informed. Martin Thrope spoke for the School Committee, calling it a contract negotiated in good faith. Mr. Roselli inserted himself again with a point of order that wasn't really a point of order. Thankfully, he was brief. The original motion to remove the group from Civil Service was approved 142-13. [8:36] At this point, the moderator made an unusual move and permitted Mr. Roselli to submit a second motion under the original article. Mr. Roselli moved that the Civil Service change not be recommended until a "neutral party" had been appointed. The neutral party would "determine if the affected secretaries understand. . . the consequences of the removal of their positions" from Civil Service. Proponents of this motion claimed it wasn't insulting. I'm quite sure I would be insulted. "Dan, we're not letting you take this job until we've appointed someone to review the contract for you and make sure you understand it. We don't trust you to determine your own compensation and job security." I'd be furious. And then I'd walk out. [8:49] The motion was defeated by voice vote. Mr. Roselli gave notice of reconsideration. Mr. Deyst moved reconsideration, right away. The motion to reconsider fail, and Mr. Roselli's motion was killed. Mr. Roselli made a tactical error here. By giving notice of reconsideration, he reminded everyone that they could kill his motion dead, and quickly. He should have slipped in his reconsideration late at the end of the meeting. As it was, I think he inspired the immediate reconsideration. Then again, consider the huge flaw in his motion: the way it was phrased, it only required the appointment of the neutral party, and didn't require a hearing or a positive outcome from the hearing. Even if he'd won his motion, he'd have lost the war.

Article 30 - Authorization of Revolving Funds. It was noted that there is a new fund for supporting health inspections. Lawrence McKinney questioned why there was an Uncle Sam fund when it hadn't acted in two years. After some back-and-forth, he made an amendment to remove that fund from the list. There were a series of questions and comments about the Uncle Sam fund and school funds mixed together. The Uncle Sam debate talked about cleaning the Uncle Sam statue, the activities (or lack thereof) of the Uncle Sam Committee, and the DPW. During the debate, Mr. Daley spoke in favor of keeping the funds. He took the opportunity and the microphone to make some thinly-veiled personal attacks on Mr. McKinney. The moderator permitted it. Predictably, Mr. McKinney retaliated with his own words. This was not an interchange Town Meeting should be proud of. The questions about the school funds started with questions about usages and revenue/expenditure/balance questions. This discussion is hindered by the data that is presented. The Selectmen need to give more information than a snapshot of fund balances on December 31. They need to show flows and trends. There were questions about Hardy after school programming profits, kindergarten costs, and tuition. The questions led to the realization that some of the authorization limits were too low, and three were increased. Mr. McKinney's amendment failed unanimously (even he voted against it) and the funds passed unanimously. I gave notice of reconsideration. I think that we didn't authorize enough spending. Some of the funds can't be spent down to zero, and the Superintendent clearly said she may need to do that. I need to look at that closer. I'm a bit ashamed I didn't pick this up beforehand. I skimmed this article, and I should have verified the numbers earlier. [9:28]

Article 31 - Parking Program Fund. Voted no action. [9:29]

Recess. Returned. [9:41]

Article 32 - Conservation Fund. Voted no action.

Article 33 - Community Development Block Grant. Approved by voice vote. I voted against this (perhaps the only nay). Part of the grant is $25,000 for the Arlington Housing Authority. This is money that they will turn around and use in their eminent domain action against the town. I couldn't endorse that. I don't want Patricia Worden claiming that Town Meeting unanimously endorsed such a move, as she did earlier this month. I considered speaking against it, but it would have been pointless. Town Meeting can't change the recommendation; we can only endorse or not endorse. The meeting has been moving slowly enough. I voted no and made my point, and that is enough.

Article 34 - Apply for Grants. Approved by voice vote.

Article 35 - Private Ways. [9:50] There are two votes in this article. One is to modify the bylaws to change the way abutters can pay for improvements to the road, including tightening the borrowing/repayment process and providing for a 5-year payment plan paid with taxes. The other vote is to approve a $300,000 bond for abutters to borrow from. There were questions about who determines what work is done (the head of DPW), how much it might cost (perhaps $50/foot for a road, and an additional $100/foot for drainage), how votes of abutters are counted, and how the cost is apportioned. There were questions if this changed the way abutters were and were not compelled to pay; that element of the bylaw was not changed. The rule change passed. Then the bond passed unanimously. I like the bylaw changes, but have some misgivings on the bond. I hope that the bond is repaid as we anticipate. Rich Carreiro gave notice of reconsideration.

Article 36 - Town Fiscal Organization. A series of questions were asked. Kevin Greeley explained that this will likely be created by the Selectmen on Monday. There was a motion to postpone until after that vote, but it was defeated, and the no action was carried. I look forward to this committee's creation and investigation. I think we would probably benefit from having a CFO, and I'd like to see if more research bears that out or shows it to be a bad idea.

Article 37 - Symmes Neighborhood Committee. This vote creates a committee to assess the impact of the development and work on mitigation. Steve O'Riordan offered an amendment that closed the committee 5 years after the last occupancy permit is issued. The amendment and article were approved by voice vote.

Article 38 - Fire Station Postponement. The intent is to cover this in the Capital Budget. There was a motion to table that failed. Voted no action. I voted to postpone because I wanted to maintain as much leverage as I could in the discussion. However, I'm confident I'll get to say what I want to about Park Circle on June 13.

Article 39 - Fire Station Renovation. Voted no action.

Article 40 - Trash Fee. The Finance Committee had voted against a trash collection fee. Gordon Jameison made a motion to postpone it until after the override to keep options open, but the override leadership wanted the article dead. They did not want it to cloud the override debate. [10:27] The motion to postpone failed, and no action carried. Lyman Judd gave notice of reconsideration.

Article 41 - Trash Fee Plan. The Selectmen voted against creating a plan. Gordon Jameison made a motion on different grounds (that this was only a plan), but it failed for the same reasons. He gave notice of reconsideration. (Lyman Judd tried to, but I don't think the moderator recognized that).

Article 43 - Minuteman. Postponed to May 23 so the Superintendant can speak.

Article 44 - Town Celebrations Appropriation. Approved unanimously.

Article 45 - Committees and Commissions Appropriation. Approved unanimously.

Article 46 - Appropriation, Miscellaneous. Approved.

Article 48 - Rescind Authority to Borrow. No action.

Article 49 - Sewer Reconstruction. This is a no-interest loan from the state. Voted unanimously.

Article 50 - Water/Sewer Reconstruction. This is spending the money. Approved unanimously.

[10:44] We had been moving fairly quickly. Elsie Fiorie gave notice of reconsideration on 48 and 49, then moved reconsideration of 49 so that she could ask a question about how we charge developers for their impact on server. The motion to reconsider failed, and Article 49 is really done.

Article 51 - Pension adjustment. Approved unanimously.

Article 52 - Position reclassification. It was determined that this motion appropriated a few thousand dollars to cover the salary changes. Approved.

Article 53 - 200th Anniversary Committee. Approved unanimously. The moderator announced he is looking for volunteers.

Article 54 - Pierce School. This is $70,000 for soils testing (a late bill) and post-occupancy costs (architect was needed longer than expected). Part of the money is from the Brackett account, and there was discussion about whether the money should be spent on Brackett landscaping. Motion was approved.

[11:02] Jacqueline Harrington gave notice of reconsideration on 30, 33, 35, and 52. Rich Carreiro gave notice reconsideration on 40 and 41. Charlie Foskett gave notice of reconsideration on all of the Finance Committee articles. Meeting was adjourned.

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5/23/05 - Ninth Meeting and Special Town Meeting

[8:01] The meeting sang the national anthem to the accompaniment of Charles Gallagher on the piano.

The invocation was given by a woman from the Church of our Savior. The prayer was a nicely secular one about the weather and also Memorial Day. Her microphone wasn't turned on yet, but I think everyone could hear her clearly. The room really has decent acoustics. When you speak to be heard, and the hall is quiet, voices carry well.

[8:05]The moderator noted that Town Meeting had picked up the pace. He remarked on the prevalence of the town meeting form of government in Massachusetts and gave some statistics. [8:09]

Article 2 - Reports of Committees. Town Meeting accepted the report of the Human Rights Commission from William Shea. He gave several comments of events and actions the group had done over the year, and gave some philosophical exposition on the concept of tolerance.

Article 43 - Minuteman. [8:14] Laura Morrisette requested and was granted 15 minutes for the presentation. She is the town's designee to the Minuteman Vocational District. She gave rave reviews to the quality of education and the thoughtfulness of the school's leadership. She introduced Superintendent Callahan, completing his first year as super. He talked about his 28 years with Minuteman and how his perspective on spending and funding changes in his new position. [8:25] Assistant Superintendent Thomas Markham gave an overview of the budget, explaining how the school's budget was up only 2.3% but the town's assessment was up 20%. This was driven by lower state funding, funding formula changes, and drops in other school revenue sources. The moderator brought the presentation to a close [8:31]. A question was asked about whether the budget was approved already; it was, because enough towns have already approved it. Other questions asked about tuition for non-district towns, the funding formula, and details of budget carry-over. The budget was passed. [8:42]

The Special Town Meeting was called to order. This is a second special meeting, different from the one that opened on 4/27 and closed on 5/16. It was called by the Selectmen at the request of the AHA.

Article 1 - Reports of Committees. Town Meeting accepted two reports: Board of Selectmen's report was submitted by Jack Hurd and the report of the Arlington Redevelopment Board was submitted by Ed Tsoi.

Article 2 - Rezoning. Ed Tsoi gave the support of the ARB. They see this as a good change to enable the town to take advantage of state funding. By increasing the density, the town can add handicapped-accessible housing, meet state requirements, and renovate the 176 units of Menotomy Manor. Nicholas Mitropoulos, chair of the AHA, endorsed it as well and introduced the consultant, David Pollard. He gave a visual presentation showing the changes that were planned. One part of the area in the north-east corner of Arlington is already R5, and part is R2. By changing R2 to R5, the town can renovate some 2-family units into 3-family units, 2 of which are handicap accessible. It was a good presentation - good, descriptive pictures and graphics. Too much reading from the slides, but still good. There were questions about spot zoning, variances, and an endorsement from a resident. Passed unanimously. [9:10] I believe that increased density is one of the only ways to lower housing costs (lower taxes being the other, of course). I voted in favor. I'm a bit distressed that we're packing all of our density into East Arlington. I will have to worry about this at a different time.

Article 3 - Retirement Health Fund. This is a vehicle for the town to save money against the health care liability for retirees. This liability is approximately $70 million. We need to have a plan in place by 2007 to avoid financial repercussions. Freeland Abbott made an amendment to require the report in the article be made "to Town Meeting." The amendment was passed unanimously, and the motion carried 180-0.

The Special Town Meeting was dissolved. Regular Town Meeting was called to order.

Article 55 - Transportation Advisory Committee. This is to extend a previous appropriation that would ordinarily have expired. I voted in favor of this. I'm convinced this committee is doing great work and spending the money judiciously. At the Finance Committee, their presentation on how the money had been spent so far was quite compelling. Read more on the TAC website.

Article 56 - Treasurer's Technical Systems. No action.

Article 57 - Weed Treatment, Spy Pond. FinComm approved this money out of reserves for Fiscal '05, so this is no longer needed for '06. No action.

Article 58 - Zoning Consultant. Christopher Loretti offered a substitute motion asked for 15 minutes to speak, and it was granted. We went to recess [9:26] and returned [9:38]. He asked for $16,000 for a consultant. He described several hundred lots that can be subdivided. Our zoning changes are often too late. He said the scope needs to be defined, but gave a general description. He said the ARB supported the concept. He said the ARB was sometimes wrong, and needed help. He talked about floor area ratios. [9:50] The first speaker pointed out that consensus in the town on density was impossible, but research was good. I rose and spoke against this. I said that FinComm is "conservative" and only spends money when the need is compelling and the case is clear. Here, it wasn't clear that this couldn't be done in the Planning department. Furthermore, I thought the scope was undefined. There was no articulation of the specific questions were to be answered or the deliverables in terms of analysis. If those two items are determined, only then would it be appropriate to spend money. A series of speakers for and against spoke. The importance of the issue to the town was discussed, as was the relative importance of the question to other tasks in the building department. The use of volunteers was suggested, like TAC and ITAC. The Town Manager said that he was committed to adding an assistant planner next year regardless of the override. Substitute motion failed 46-93, and no action carried.[10:32]

Article 59 - Retirement law change. Voted no action.

Article 60 - Local Option Taxes. Voted no action.

Article 61 - Retiree Health Care. This almost passed without discussion, but there were a flurry of questions. It was explained that this is to start the funding of the liability described in Article 3 of the Special Town Meeting, as we had been for the last years. Passed, with some objection.

Article 62 - Tip-fee Stabilization Fund. [10:39] Postponed to June 13th.

Article 63 - Transfer of Cemetery Funds. Passed unanimously.

Article 64 - Overlay Reserve. Passed unanimously.

Article 65 - Stabilization Fund Appropriation. Postponed to June 13th.

Article 66 - Unencumbered Funds (free cash). Postponed to June 13th.

[10:44] The moderator pointed out that we only have 4 left, and we have a real chance to finish tonight.

Article 67 - Health Care Data Aggregation. Andrew Fisher presented a substitute motion that modified the resolution endorsed by the Board of Selectmen. He spoke at length about self-insurance, a culture of wellness, return on investment, and what an epidemic was. After speaking for 8 minutes, he said that he would then give "comments on each clause" of the resolution. The moderator interrupted him twice to tell him his time was up. [10:56] I am a big fan of the town meeting form of government. I like the fact that there is a low hurdle to putting topics on the agenda, and an even lower hurdle to give you thoughts on the topics. This has a price, however, and we paid that price tonight. There are 150+ people left in the room who want nothing more than to finish, go home, and have a free Wednesday night for the first time in a month. Instead, they listened to a meandering lecture about health care - in support of a resolution that doesn't actually take any action. After a single speaker, debate was terminated. The motion was substituted and passed by voice vote. I voted no. I don't want the government to aggregate health data. I don't trust the government to respect privacy, and I'm not willing to risk that for what I perceive to by a very limited advancement of what is an otherwise worthy goal of improved public health. [10:59]

Article 68 - Stabilization Fund Transfer. We spent $1.5 million without a single comment. Read previous note. Enough said.

Article 69 - Override Resolution. A motion to postpone failed, and no action was voted.

Article 70 - National Guard and War in Iraq. There was a substitute motion in the wings; Jack Hurd moved to postpone to June 13th. Motion carried. When this comes to a vote, I'm going to abstain. I don't want to encourage articles like this. Town Meeting can't affect this policy. Town Meeting can't effectively debate this topic; it is too complex, time is too short, and we aren't equipped to educate ourselves like we are on topics like budgets and zoning. The end result is an acrimonious exchange of partisan politics that ends in a meaningless split vote. I'm hoping there is a parliamentary maneuver in the wings where we can just dump the whole question and ignore it.

Al Tosti gave notice of reconsideration on 55-64 and 68. Cindy Friedman gave notice on 58. Elsie Fiori gave notice on 64. Meeting was adjourned to June 13th.

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6/13/05 - Tenth Meeting

I missed the beginning of tonight's meeting. The Finance Committee meeting ran long - we didn't get out until 8:30. I missed the national anthem, the invocation, opening remarks, and the first several budgets. From the meeting room on the 2nd floor, I could hear a couple of rounds of applause, but nothing else.

FinComm ran late because we were reviewing new data related to the Park Circle Fire Station. I'm really torn about this, on many levels. First, I'm happy that there is some research finally being done. On the other hand, I'm very disappointed that the data is coming in at the 11th hour. We had public hearings on this issue in March, and were quite explicit in our requests for data. Why is it coming the night we start the capital budget? Third, I'm interested that the data hints at the need for a third fire station. On the other hand, I've only had the data for 12 hours, and I was at work or in meetings for 10 of those hours. It hasn't been scrutinized by a wide enough audience or enough experts. Here is the presentation (2.6MP PDF); here is the data in 1.6 MB zipped Excel sheets.

I'm also still concerned with how narrow the data is. We're building all of our fire stations, but without a discussion about the mission of our fire department. We're ignoring the changes in medical and fire calls. We're not talking about regionalization. We're not considering alternate sites for the fire stations. We're not considering the impact of NFPA 1710 which will eventually require us to have 4 personnel on each piece of equipment. Even if the data holds up, and three fire stations make sense - have we really looked at the big picture?

Finance Committee voted 9-8 against reconsidering their original recommendation against the Park Circle fire station (meaning Park is still not recommended). Some members don't think the research goes far enough, and others don't think there is enough time to evaluate the research. I voted against reconsideration for both reasons. It's in Town Meeting's hands now.

Budget 17 - Community Safety. I arrived as Freeland Abbott was making an amendment to increase the budget for parking enforcement as a revenue-neutral move. Gordon Jamieson made a similar amendment for a smaller amount (1 part-time person). After a series of questions, the smaller amendment passed, and the police budget passed. Fire and support services were approved.

Budget 18 - Inspectional Services and Street Lighting. Questions about repair of lights. Budget passed.

Budget 19 - Schools. Passed without discussion. $34.4 million, and not a single question or comment. Later, we'll spend 20 minutes discussing $14K. Sometimes, I boggle.

Budget 20 - Libraries. Passed unanimously.

Budget 21 - Human Services, Veterans', Health, and Aging. Budgets passed (Veterans' and Aging were unanimous).

Budget 22 - Non-contributory Retirement. Passed unanimously.

Budget 23 - Contributory Retirement. Passed unanimously.

Budget 24 - Insurance. There were several questions about how this can be held to 7% in the 5-year plan. There was a lot of dancing on these answers. I think this is the blunt answer: if the unions don't agree to pick up more of the health costs, then there will be less money salaries - meaning fewer employees. There is no doubt it will be interesting to see how this plays out over the coming years.. There were questions about the bidding process and the amount paid. Passed unanimously.

Enterprise Funds - Water and Sewer. Passed unanimously.

Enterprise Funds - Recreation. There were questions about increased fees and budgets. Part of the budget is being moved from revolving funds to enterprise funds, for part of the increase. My understanding is that there was a significant fee increase this year, too. I'm not sure the Town Manager was completely candid. Passed.

Enterprise Funds - Veterans' Memorial Rink. There were a large number of questions and discussions about leases, capital costs, budget changes, salaries, and concessions. Budget passed.

Enterprise Funds - Council on Aging. Passed.

Enterprise Funds - Youth Services. Passed.

Article 2 - Reports. Charlie Foskett gave the Capital Planning Committee vote.

Article 47 - Capital Plan. Charlie Foskett explained that there is a substitute motion to the Finance Committee, one that recommends building the Park Circle fire station. He said there were two extended presentations, one on Pierce Field, the other on Park. John Maher and Kay Donovan gave the Pierce Field update. They discussed the history of the site, the history of the negotiation, and the current growing cost of the work - $6 million over the original proposal. John Maher said that it was very unlikely that the town would be liable for the additional money. There were a number of people who had very pointed questions about exposure to toxins, the potential liability, the project management, and the future impact of the plan. Two consultants fielded some of the questions. This generated more of a stir than I would have thought. We already knew that the costs were far beyond plan from past meetings. The new number is higher, but not much higher. I'm trying to figure out why people were upset about it this time, but not during past discussions. Debate on this topic was terminated.

Al Tosti and Jacqueline Harrington gave notice of reconsideration on the budgets.

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6/15/05 - Eleventh Meeting

[8:01] The meeting sang the national anthem to the accompaniment of Jane Howard on the piano.

The invocation was given by a rabbi.

[8:06] The moderator noted that there were only 7 articles left. He said that there would be 4 speakers on the Park Circle station, then a list. Charlie Foskett with the Capital Planning Committee; Chris Loreti with an amendment; Al Tosti with FinComm; and the Fire Chief.

[8:10] The moderator invited announcements and resolutions. Freeland Abbot read a resolution, that I did not receive in writing, that supported Common Cause's "Fair Districts" proposal. Several members objected to the proposal. The practice is that controversial items require a warrant article, and the moderator did not call a vote. [8:17] We started the meeting on a bad note. People wanted this to be the last meeting, and we wasted 7 minutes on a very poorly prepared presentation. (1) It wasn't in writing. (2) It wasn't on the warrant. It was on the ballot in November; there was plenty of time to get it on the warrant, let alone get it to Town Meeting before June 15. (3) How can anyone think that this is "uncontroversial" when almost 5000 people voted against it in November? 7 minutes down, never to return. I voted yes in November; I would not endorse it as a Town Meeting resolution.

Article 2 - Reports. The Town Manager submitted the recently required report on fees. He said he "thinks they are all in there."

Article 47 - Capital Budget. Charlie Foskett gave a 20-minute presentation (see Monday's notes to download the not-quite-final version). He said that the current station was in bad condition, that several town leaders had wanted the station for a while, that the capital committee agreed, and presented some recently developed data that supported his position. The moderator told him that he was running out of time, and he wrapped up. The projector being used had a green tint - this was obviously a recent failure. The funny thing was that all of the color-coded maps were no longer color-coded - the green messed it all up. I had to chuckle to myself. For me, it was an allegory about the whole situation: the data is unclear. Loreti got extra time for presentation. As soon as Charlie Foskett's presentation ended, I raised my hand to speak. I got on the list, as did about a dozen others. The moderator closed the list at this point for a while. He proposed that the money be spent not on Park, but on Highland and HQ. He pointed out some specific flaws about the data presented. Particularly, he pointed that much of the response data used was on non-urgent calls, and that the ambulance data was excluded, reducing the relevance of the medical calls.[8:58] Allan Tosti got extra time, but by a close voice vote. He presented the Finance Committee's view that Park should not be rebuilt. He relied on the 2002 MMA report, plus made additional points about location of stations, regionalization, police as medical response, and other "out-of-the-box" ideas. Chief Allan McEwen spoke for a few minutes. He said that the town was best served, the best deployment, was with three fire stations. [9:17] Brian Sullivan spoke in favor of rebuilding Park Cirlce, because of density and topography. I was very disappointed in the manager in his speech, just as I was disappointed at Finance Committee's public hearing in March. My notes from tonight quote him saying that three stations were "obvious" and "a given." I'm an engineer by training. When I hear things like that, my bullshit detectors go off. People who don't know how to defend their arguments use language like "obvious" and "a given." I am very disappointed that, after all the questions the Finance Committee asked him, the best that he could muster as a justification for spending $2.5 million was that it is "obvious." He dug himself deeper when he tried scare tactics, saying, "it could be you with a a heart attack waiting for the fire department." Of all people, he has to recognize that public safety has a cost. You can't provide everything in public safety. You have to choose what to provide. His lack of rigor, his language of "I think" and "I guess," and his willingness to resort to crass emotionalism do not meet my expectations for the town's highest ranking professional. At this point, Mr. Rosselli tried to make a point of order. As usual, it was just a ploy to jump in line on the debate. The moderator, correctly, told him to sit down. The moderator re-opened the list around this time. [9:24] One speaker was in favor of Park, with sympathies for the firefighters and the long history of the rebuild effort. [9:30] We had a break. [9:43] There was a speaker against the rebuild, talking about topography, density, and horses. He pointed out that everyone wanted public safety, but there was disagreement about how to get there. Most of the way through his speech, he made a joke about how many people believe the cost would actually be $2.5 million, inviting a show of hands. Brian Lavalle jumped to his feet and shrieked at the moderator. This behavior was totally inappropriate. The debate was 90 minutes old, and levity in argument is quite appropriate, especially when the humor isn't at the expense of a particular individual or group. The shouted response was both inappropriate and completely disproportionate to statement being made. A speaker was in favor of the rebuild, saying that this proposal was fair to firefighters and to citizens. [9:56] I spoke against, using much of the language you can read at the top. I did strike a few sentences, and added a few others in; it wasn't the website verbatim. Eight speakers followed, 2 in favor of Park, 3 opposed, and 3 without a strong position in either direction. They discussed density of people and streets, environmental problems at the fire stations, topology, lack of repair, ambulance needs, NFPA 1710, weather conditions, fire fighting in the early 80's, and the lack of justification that had been presented. One of the speakers was Mr. Roselli. He made some good points, though I disagreed with some of them. Why he feels the need to waste our time with points of order, I do not understand; he can get on the speakers list, and speak better than most, when he wants. Gordon Jameison and Marvin Lewiton asked for an extra 5 minutes. They were given the time by a vote of 115-21. They presented some (lime-green) slides about their review of the data. They wanted to rebuild Park, didn't think it needed two bays, and thought this data should be used by the fire department for future work. Marvin and Gordon were two people who had been skeptics, but had been converted, like Charlie Foskett. I was not converted as they were. I think there is a big picture here: changing demographics, changing role of the fire department (more medical), NFPA 1710, changing population centers, changing traffic patterns, changing technology, and changing building construction, for starters. We need to look at all of this and make a broader plan. We've been asking for hard data and analysis for years. The Town Manager used an intern for a few hours over a few weeks, and provided the proverbial tip of the data iceberg, and some people converted. I agree that the data starts to make the case for three fire stations. But, it absolutely does not make the argument that the fire department should do the same thing it always has, in the same place, with the same equipment. We had a unique opportunity, when faced with rebuilding all of our fire infrastructure, to shape a new, more efficient future. Instead, we took a Powerpoint presentation that was written on a Sunday, Excel sheets that appeared on a Monday, accepted them as sufficient, and spent $2.3 million on Wednesday. It was not our best decision. Rich Carreiro moved to terminate debate. Loreti's amendment failed on voice vote. The capital planning motion to add Park was substituted, 106-53. There were a few quick comments on the rest of the capital budget. I think there are a few capital items that got off easy because of the amount of time spent talking about Park. The capital budget was approved. The bonding portion was approved, 127-30.

Al Tosti gave notice of reconsideration of Article 47.

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6/20/05 - Twelfth Meeting

The meeting sang the national anthem to the accompaniment of Charles Gallagher on the piano.

Rather than have an invocation, the moderator asked for a moment of "private reflection." This was great! Quite secular! I hope it's a trend for the future!

The moderator read the rules of decorum, and made some pointed comments about the behavior of certain people in the back of the room on Wednesday's meeting.

Article 8 - Stormwater Management. Timewarp back to April. John Belskis offered his amendment to add enforcement and financial support for enforcement. The ARB endorsed the amendment, and it passed unanimously.

Article 19 - Noise. Ron Spangler was back for round 4 of this article. He had a version endorsed by the Selectmen. It added a specific decibel limit and outlined procedures for when the limit was exceeded. Speakers for and against followed, talking about the costs of the change, the problems at Scituate Street earlier in the year, measurement questions, and other towns' rules. The amendment to the motion was adopted 104-47, and the main motion passed 106-45. I voted against this. It is, as a speaker said, "a busybody law." Having banned light earlier this year, we have now banned sound. I look forward to next year's Foul Odor Bylaw, which I can only imagine will be followed by the Bad Tasting Food Bylaw and the Bad Taste in Clothing Amendment. Humor aside: this rule will have unintended consequences.

Article 62 - Tip-fee Stabilization Fund. Jackie Harrington reminded the meeting that we can appropriate from this with a 2/3 vote, but agreed with the $400,000 withdrawal being proposed. Passed unanimously.

Article 65 - Stabilization Fund Appropriation. Passed unanimously.

Article 66 - Unencumbered Funds (free cash). Passed unanimously.

Article 70 - National Guard and War in Iraq. A substitute motion was offered by Christopher Nauman. He had signatures from 1000 residents in support. He talked about the financial and human cost of the war in Iraq to Arlington. Annie LaCourt explained that 2 selectmen voted no action because they didn't think it was appropriate for Town Meeting to consider, and 1 because of the message it might send to military families. Mr. Daley suggested an amendment to change "Arlington Citizens" to "Town Meeting". Two speakers opposed the motion. We had our break, and the question was called. Mr. Daley's amendment was adopted. The subsitute motion failed, 72-72 (a tie isn't enough to substitute). The vote of no action carried. There was some consternation as people in favor of the motion wanted the moderator to break the tie. He said he couldn't. I think he could, and Town Meeting Time appears to support that he can. The point is moot; the moderator said that if he voted, he would vote against. Personally, I thought this was pretty funny. So much time, so much energy, and the end result: we learn, again, that Iraq is a divisive and controversial issue. For the record, I abstained. I don't think we should be fighting a war in Iraq, but I don't think we should be arguing the matter at Town Meeting, either. Andrew Sullivan had a great quote last week: "[We] have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. [We] have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiqués are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows... Our unfortunate troops,... under hard conditions of climate and supply, are policing an immense area, paying dearly every day in lives for the willfully wrong policy of the civil administration in Baghdad." - T.E. Lawrence, Sunday Times of London, August 22, 1920.

The meeting was dissolved.

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