Town Meeting wrap up: Main St committee petition loses by 3 votes, Gulbankians zoning passes and residents nix moves towards Town Manager (Updated)

by beth on April 18, 2014

Post image for Town Meeting wrap up: Main St committee petition loses by 3 votes, Gulbankians zoning passes and residents nix moves towards Town Manager (Updated)

Above: Alice and Carol Gulbankian after two long nights of town meeting, culminating in overwhelming voter support for the resolution of their zoning disputes with the town.

Last night voters wrapped up 2014 Annual Town Meeting business. It’s not a surprise that emotions were running high on the night that several citizen petitions were addressed. Still, which articles sparked controversy may be a surprise to some of you.

As expected, the most controversial Warrant Article was David Parry’s proposal to form a review committee for the Main Street project. After passionate comments and a move to vote, the proposal failed by a vote of 124-121 against. (So if you think your vote doesn’t matter at Town Meeting, think again!) 

I’ll cover more on this further down, but first the other votes. . .

Residents also shot down the non-binding resolution to endorse a Split Tax Rate and two measures that would have increased the authority of the Town Administrator. 

Voters were happy to support 911 field renovations, expanded liquor licenses for Panzano’s Market and Sperry’s Market, and the rezoning for Gulbankian family property.

Articles indefinitely postponed were the Site Plan Review changes (as previewed last night) and a citizen’s petition to allow department heads to directly accept donations under $5,000.

Some highlights from the discussions:

  • The proposal to switch the Town Clerk position from appointed to elected –

    • If the article had passed, and if legislators then approved the town’s petition, the change wouldn’t have taken place until the end of Town Clerk Paul Berry’s next term, ending 2017. (He’s up for reelection this May, but uncontested.)
    • Pros outlined by town officials and advocates: The position requires extensive knowledge and education. Opening the applicant pool to non-residents would help ensure qualified candidates and also allow for succession planning. Allowing the Town Administrator to oversee the clerk and his staff would help the town consolidate staff for efficiency. And the person who oversees elections shouldn’t be elected.
    • Cons outlined by opponents: The person who oversees elections and open meeting laws should report directly to the people, not be beholden to town officials. This person should also be a town resident. The change in power structure could lead to cronyism.
    • Berry, who has held the position for 40 years, opposed the measure. He pointed out that only 70-80 of the 300+ towns in the state have appointed Town Clerks for many of the concerns residents shared.
    • Both sides of the argument lauded and applauded Berry for his excellent work and service to the town.
  • Article to appoint future Town Clerks and to shift reporting/appointing authority of Police, Fire and DPW chiefs to the Town Administrator
    • The Advisory Board explained that this was in effect already happening. John Butler likened having the chiefs report to the BOS to having vice presidents report directly to a board of directors. He claimed that the power structure will cause a problem in the long run.
    • Many residents objected to the town’s apparent efforts to strengthen the Town Administrator position especially with language giving the TA authority to appoint the chiefs, subject to BOS approval.
  • Main Street Project review committee
    • Advisory Board Member John Butler proposed an amended version of the article (supported by David Parry). Changes included shrinking the committee to 7 members, adding language about the committee’s work including “recommendations on project Right of Way acquisition and appropriation by Town Meeting”, and loosening the language on which Town Meeting the committee would report to.
    • Selectman John Rooney informed the crowd “make no mistake about it”, a vote in favor of the article would kill the state funding. He explained that the state refused to move the 25% hearing date past June. He said that the state made it clear they couldn’t push the 25% version of the plan past that date. So a committee to vote on the issues at a future town meeting would cause the state to drop the project.
    • John Butler and David Parry argued that since the state already knows that easements required by the plan would require passing at a Town Meeting, the committee to review that shouldn’t undermine the quest for state funding.
    • Rooney promised that he intended the BOS’ working group to incorporate Main Street resident concerns, including inviting outspoken Main Street project opponent Steve Phillips.
    • Several residents passionately supported the proposed committee while criticizing elements of the current plan. Some residents questioned how much the project would end up costing the town in the long run.
    • Eventually a motion to move the vote cut off discussion, leading to the 121-124 vote.
  • Gulbankian Family property zoning
    • The last item of the night, residents were eager to cut off long speeches. Apparently, they didn’t feel a real need to hear more on the issue. The sentiment was clear in both the overwhelming vote in their favor and the ensuing applause.

If you’re still concerned about the Main Street reconstruction project and wondering, “Where do we go from here?” . . .

The Board of Selectmen are looking for community members to volunteer for their Working Group.

      • The goal of this committee will be to meet with residents to hear concerns, visualize those concerns, and try to resolve issues.
      • The timeframe is to report out publicly in time to gain consensus before the June 18th state public hearing.
      • If you are interested in participating in the 7-member working group, email selectmen@southboroughma.com by April 25th. The members will be selected/appointed at the BOS’ April 29th meeting.

Did I forget any important details or your favorite moment? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Updated (4/18/ 5:46 pm): I fixed a huge typo pointed out by a reader. It was meant to say that John Butler (not Rooney) proposed the Main St article amendment. That’s what happens when I try to write a story in the middle of the night. (Not that I don’t make plenty of mistakes in the daytime.)

1 John Rooney April 18, 2014 at 8:36 AM

Beth, Thank you for your recap and for providing the town with near real-time information.

I have a bit of a different perspective on “winners” and “losers” on the Main Street debate, as noted in the email I sent to Mr. Parry and Mr. Butler last night, a copy of which I have pasted below.

John Rooney

David, Tonight had nothing to do about winning or losing. That said, I think a compelling argument could be made that the winner tonight was you, because through your efforts you raised the town consciousness to take another look at where we have been. Tonight should be seen as the beginning of a process to openly and fairly bring people together to do what is best for the town. Main Street residents will have a large role in the BOS committee and we need to systematically go over each piece of the design and see whether state money can be used or not.

I am somewhat exhausted and will continue the discourse tomorrow. I did, however, want to reach out to you this evening.

JR

2 Paul Cimino April 18, 2014 at 9:57 AM

I concur with Mr. Rooney that nothing was “won or lost” last night, but for an additional reason, which is simply this: the State funding of the Main Street reconstruction can be rejected at any time. So, while our Town has indeed asked the State for funding, and to this point the State has agreed to do so, it’s simply a fact that we can always withdraw that request. On this point, there is nothing magical about the 25% hearing on June 18th.

So, the BOS committee will have an opportunity to take a hard look at the current design, especially the Route 85 intersection, and then we can see where we are. I have said before that maybe (not necessarily likely, but maybe) we can have our cake and eat it, too. But again, if after the June 18th hearing our Town decides we don’t want this project, we have no obligation to pursue it. A simple vote of the new, 5-member Board of Selectman is all it would take. And if need be, only 200 signatures gets you a new Town Meeting within 45 days. Pretty powerful stuff.

So, to those of you, on either side, who had come to view the passage (or not) of Mr. Parry’s articles as the last chance to affect the State-funded plan, I would simply say “stay tuned.”

Paul Cimino

3 Jim Hegarty April 18, 2014 at 11:46 AM

At last night’s Town Meeting, the voters of Southborough voted overwhelmingly to support the warrant article to allow the BOS to obtain a bond to resurface the 9/11 Memorial Field. 100% of the cost of the bond and all future maintenance of the field will be paid from the fees collected from everyone who uses the field.

The Board of Selectmen, Advisory Committee and Recreation Commission all supported the plan and most importantly YOU the citizens of Southborough.

The next step moving forward is to ensure that the Selectmen you elect in the upcoming elections are willing to do more than just “support” this project but they must also be willing to really fight hard to get a proper long term lease with DCR.

Thank you for support for this article and helping the kids in Southborough!

Jim Hegarty

4 Al Hamilton April 18, 2014 at 5:30 PM

Jim

Thank You!

I think we should remember that this effort was done with a Citizens Petition lead by Jim.

This sort of effort, and the other citizens petitions (even the ones I disagreed with) reflects everything that is right about our peculiar form of self governance.

One of the charms of Open Town Meeting is that one person can make a difference. Jim has and we own him our gratitude.

5 David Williams April 18, 2014 at 5:46 PM

Jim- Thank you for putting in the effort to save 9/11. It would have been a shame to lose it, and it would have been a real hardship for many of the kids playing soccer, lacrosse, and football, and would have also affected baseball, as you accurately pointed out.
Dave

6 Joe Kacevich April 18, 2014 at 7:57 PM

Jim,

Thank you for mobilizing such overwhelming support to save an invaluable recreation resource that is also a symbol of resiliency and generosity.And Thank You to all Town Meeting attendees who voted in favor of your Citizen’s Petition.

You are correct that we need Selectmen who will strongly support the securing of a long-term lease for 9/11 Memorial Field. Given the fact that two such long-term leases of DCR property are already in place, and another one is being negotiated in Worcester, the prospects are good.

I was concerned that the Town would have to revert back to the days when baseball, soccer, softball and lacrosse players were all battling for limited field space, but the plan to pay for the replacement of the turf exclusively with user fees was very attractive to a great majority of voters.

Thank you, Jim. Great job.

Joe Kacevich

7 Ann April 18, 2014 at 11:00 PM

Because the vote was so close on the Main ST. Article, a recount should have been taken. Shades of Dade County all over again.

8 Al Hamilton April 19, 2014 at 11:35 AM

Ann

The counting procedure that is used is pretty careful.

1. The hall is divided into 4 sections, Typically the Stage, and the Right, Center, and Left sections of seats.

2. 2 “Tellers” are appointed and sworn in by the Clerk for each section. I have been a teller on a number of occasions.

3. If a vote is close the moderator asks each side to stand in turn.

4. 2 Tellers count each section. If their totals agree they report them to the Clerk. If they disagree, they go back and count again.

5. There is an option for a secret ballot but I do not recall it ever being used. Stand and be counted is the normal order of business.

6. There is an option for Reconsideration, however, only someone who voted on the prevailing side may make a motion for Reconsideration and I believe it require a 2/3+1 vote. There can only be one reconsideration vote on any article.

This system is simple, and accurate. It has stood the tests of time and worked quite well for 285 years There are no hanging chads, dead voting, double voting, or other mischief. I have sponsored things that have lost by a few votes and won by a few votes but I have never thought that the vote count was anything but accurate.

9 M April 20, 2014 at 8:17 PM

Beth,
No apologies needed for your mistake. I am so grateful for your work, and in the particular instance of Town Meeting, it was very promptly covered. I regret that I had to miss the Meeting this year, but I am so thankful for your thorough coverage.

10 Ann April 21, 2014 at 9:17 PM

Discussing the Main St Project at the Town Meeting, with greater than two hundred and fifty people, Mr Rooney denied being at an Advisory Board Meeting the week before the meeting at the Senior Center. Many people saw him there and if you look at the minutes of that meeting, you can read comments he made. He was INDEED THERE.
By his abrupt answer “I was not at that meeting” he stifled the speaker and created an ongoing impatienece for subsequent speakers. After that, the mood certainly was skewed..

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