Town Warrant: Limiting political signs, revamping employee pay grades, restoring tennis courts and much more

by beth on March 27, 2015

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Southborough posted the official Town Warrant for the Annual Town Meeting. To go with it, they also posted the Annual Town Report.

As usual, the warrant is a looong read. So, I’ve summarized the articles below to help. Bypassing the usual administrative business and budgets*, I’m focusing on what I consider “new business” voters will need to decide.

One that hasn’t gotten attention on the blog yet – but is bound to – would limit placement and timing for political signs. (Article 24)

For the full list and details on any given article, see the Warrant here.

“New business” through articles proposed by Town boards/committees:

5-6: Salary Reclassification – This year, you can expect the Personnel Board to make a presentation in support of major changes to the new salary classification and pay grades they recommend adopting and funding.

Proposed by Personnel Board; BOS and Advisory to provide recommendations at Town Meeting

19: Tennis Court Restoration – Authorize using $62,000 from Community Preservation Act funds to restore town tennis courts located near Finn and Neary schools.

Proposed by Community Preservation Committee; Supported by BOS and Advisory

23: Code on boards, committees, and commissions – Amend town code to regulate member requirements. Would restrict voting membership to residents.

Proposed by Town Clerk; Supported by BOS; Advisory to provide recommendation at Town Meeting

24: Political Sign regulation – Limits temporary political signs to 2 signs per property, no earlier than 45 day prior to election, and removal within 72 hours of election. Also limits size and prohibits placement on town property and telephone poles.

Proposed by Town Clerk; Opposed by BOS; Advisory to provide recommendation at Town Meeting

25: 9-11 Field home rule petition – To ask the state for a long-term lease on 9-11 field (necessary to finance returfing with repayment through user fees)

Proposed by BOS and supported by Advisory

26: Solar Bylaw – Provides a permitting process and standards for commercial solar energy systems 250 kW or greater.

Proposed by Planning Board; Supported by BOS; Advisory to provide recommendation at Town Meeting

27-28: Street Acceptances – Metcalf Lane (27) and Thayer Lane (28)

Both proposed by BOS; Advisory to provide recommendations at Town Meeting

29: Demolition Delay Bylaw – To allow an up to 9 month delay for demolition of historic structures built before 1925

Proposed by Historical Commission; BOS and Advisory to provide recommendations at Town Meeting

30: Choate Field lights – To raise/borrow/appropriate funds to replace lights at the town’s recreational area in front of Woodward School.

Proposed by Recreation Commission; BOS and Advisory to provide recommendations at Town Meeting

The following articles are by Citizen’s Petition:

31: Clifford Street drainage – To raise/borrow/appropriate funds to fix drainage problems between 28 and 18 Clifford Street.

Petition led by Marnie L. Hoolahan; BOS and Advisory to provide recommendations at Town Meeting

32: Recycling sticker – Asks for a special 25 per year sticker Transfer Station for access only to recycling & swap shop.

[Note: Town Administrator Mark Purple told BOS that town counsel said the vote can only act as advisory to BOS.]

Petition led by Jack Barron; Opposed by Advisory Committee; BOS to provider recommendation at Town Meeting

33: Stony Brook Market Alcohol license – Asks the State House to provide the town with another alcohol license.

Petition led by Konstantinos E. & Christo A. Baltas; Supported by BOS and Advisory

34: Posting of board and committee communications – To require all public boards and committees to share online all materials and communications that fall under Open Meeting Laws within 7 days.

Petition led John B. Butler, Jr.; Opposed by BOS; Advisory to provide recommendation at Town Meeting

*Note: Annual business that I skipped are articles that represent the basic business of running a town.

These include annual administrative measures (e.g., Accept PILOT payments, allow short-term borrowing, allow the town to enter multi-year contracts, allow hiring of consultants, authorize/reauthorize account funds and transfers, authorize required payments and clean-up of unused funds.)

They also include the town budgets (article 9) and capital expenses (10-11).

1 Donna McDaniel March 27, 2015 at 9:36 PM

Since I’ve been editing the Annual Town Report for at least 15 years now, I want to say a few words about its very useful contents.
But first the bad news is that about four years or so ago the Selectmen decided that printing, say a thousand, reports was a waste of money since in their view, most of them “end up in the transfer station.” The days of having the report and warrant delivered to every doorstep are over.
Only about 100 are printed now… most to be used by the officials involved.
HOWEVER… the good news is you can access it all on the town’s website.
The report includes some basic demographic info about the town… including taxes, population, etc., the names of our state and national legislators.
Here’s the blow-by-blow record of last year’s Town Meeting… articles and the votes… are there, as are the election results.
Then every single town department (maybe some you’ve never heard of) has a report in this document so you can find out what the ZBA has been up to, how many calls the Fire Department had, conservation commission hearings, the good works of the Youth Commission, etc. etc.The schools also have a large section with messages from the key officials and some statistics.
Always kinda wondered what some of those officials and department are up to? It’s all . here in the Annual Town Report. Also: more than one year can be had on the web..

Especially if you’re not thorough immersed in the doings of your town government, here’s the place for information… even enough for a good Soutbborough trivia quiz (though it is NOT trivial stuff).
Donna

2 Alan March 30, 2015 at 10:54 AM

Donna, I am disappointed the BOS decided to not print the Annual town report and the annual warrant. I do get mine at the transfer station every year and now I understand why (this year it was wrinkly with water damage). This year I waited and waited for it to come and just received a copy this past Saturday. I understand the concern about the expense but I can guarantee it would cost the town less than it would for me to print it out on my little home printer. Again here we are, taxes going up and getting less services. Do we all start bring our lap tops to the town meeting. Will there be wi fi at the meeting? What if my lap top freezes up at the town meeting, will they stop the meeting until I can see the annual warrant on my pc again.

3 beth March 30, 2015 at 12:06 PM

Bringing your laptop would be so 2010. You should be bringing a tablet.

4 Karen April 11, 2015 at 7:31 PM

Per the 2015 Massachusetts Secretary of State Website right now:

“The selectmen or appointed budget committee MUST PRINT AND DISTRIBUTE INFORMATION regarding appropriations at or before the annual Town Meeting. ”

That doesn’t mean posting it online. That means PRINT AND DISTRIBUTE. That’s the LAW.

5 Donna McDaniel March 27, 2015 at 9:39 PM

Small point but:
I’ve been told that the petition regarding Clifford Road has been withdrawn because a plan to correct the problem has been agreed upon with the DPW.

6 beth March 27, 2015 at 10:41 PM

I did believe I heard something to that effect said at the BOS meeting this week. But I didn’t want to write that until I confirmed. As I’m sure you know, it hasn’t actually been withdrawn from the warrant. As a citizen’s petition it was required to go forward. You know procedure better than me. I believe the petitioner would move to withdraw it on the floor.

7 Desiree Aselbekian March 28, 2015 at 3:31 PM

Beth,
My understanding is you are correct. The citizen who petitions to have the article included on the Town Warrant is the only one who can move on Town Meeting floor to “Indefinitely Postpone” the article. It was discussed at a recent BOS meeting that the petitioner intended to do that for the reasons Donna indicated.
Desiree Aselbekian

8 Al Hamilton March 29, 2015 at 12:17 PM

I hope the Political Yard Sign by law is withdrawn. The Supreme Court and numerous federal courts have ruled on this matter in favor of the person displaying a sign on their lawn.

http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/political-yard-signs

This article cites the overturn of an ordinance almost identical to the one being proposed. If by some unlikely chance this passes we can be certain that we will find ourselves on the losing end of a court case. Haven’t we done that enough?

9 beth March 29, 2015 at 12:28 PM

I know many will be concerned about freedom of speech. And I know some hate seeing the signs everywhere.

I’ve wondered if someone will propose to limit it just to the sections that prohibit posting signs on telephone poles and public property, and require permission of property owner to post on private property.

10 John Kendall March 29, 2015 at 5:22 PM

I understand the need for campaign signs, and I don’t have a problem with them being put around town. I just hate seeing some of them hang around after the elections. Win, lose, or draw…..72 hours after elections to retrieve signs seems fair.

11 Al Hamilton March 29, 2015 at 5:49 PM

I suspect that the permission of a private property owner is already required or at a bear minimum, the property owner can throw an offending sign out with the trash.

As for posting on public property today, this is the rule not the exception. If you post a sign in front of your house a few feet from the road there is a good chance you are posting on public property. The town typically owns about 25 ft from the center line of the road which includes roughly 10-15 ft of what many people assume is their front lawn.

12 Kelly Roney April 2, 2015 at 6:48 PM

There’s already a political sign bylaw. If memory serves, it limits signs to 30 days before and 3 days after an election.

It’s unconstitutional, but we Democrats obey it anyway because that’s polite. We’re not in the business of offending people if we can help it.

The new restriction on number of signs is also unconstitutional, and I can’t pledge to obey it, should it pass.

No one should ever place a sign on any property without permission. Sometimes mistakes happen. I’ve made a few and always try to make amends when I do.

There is no legal way to get permission to place a political sign on public property or on a utility pole. When you see a candidate placing lots of signs where they don’t belong, you can conclude that candidate can’t get legitimate locations. If they’re clearly on public property, I would hope that the DPW would take them down immediately.

By the way, if you ever need to point out a Democrat’s signage error, let me know, and I’ll resolve it.

13 beth April 3, 2015 at 8:15 AM

Actually, the town doesn’t have one. That came up through complaints about “early” placement last spring.

At that time, the Building Inspector informed me that no town bylaw covered placement of political signs. I assume that is why former Town Clerk Paul Berry moved to create a bylaw this year.

And it looks like we won’t have one anytime soon. I just got confirmation from the interim Town Clerk. The article will be “indefinitely postponed” on Town Meeting floor, based on a advice of counsel.

14 Kelly Roney April 3, 2015 at 11:44 PM

Interesting. Was it amended? Because I’ve read it, though it was a while ago.

15 beth April 4, 2015 at 9:02 AM

A comment last year points to the bylaw you must be referring to. It is a general bylaw about temporary signs:
http://www.mysouthborough.com/2014/03/28/main-street-project-boards-split-potential-amendment-and-reminder-dpw-meeting-wed/#comment-180599

But last year when some objected to the “early” placement of signs by Selectman Dan Kolenda, the Town took the stance that the temporary sign bylaw didn’t necessarily apply to political signs.

So there was an effort to write something specific that did. But that got into a 1st amendment area that officials were worried about. In a Board of Selectmen meeting, there was discussion of past court rulings overturning other town’s efforts to regulate political signs. So, they asked for town counsel to review it.

Based on the advice he provided, the town clerk’s office decided to “indefinitely postpone” the article.

16 Resident March 29, 2015 at 6:36 PM

Mr. Hamilton, I believe the 1st amendment issue was raised by at the selectman meeting and they voted to oppose this article unanimously. They also were unanimous in opposing the demo delay bylaw.

17 beth March 29, 2015 at 7:05 PM

True – but town voters don’t always follow the recommendations of Selectman and the Advisory Committee. For most articles (including these) the board’s opinion is only advisory.

18 Al Hamilton March 30, 2015 at 8:12 AM

The Selectmens recommendations to town meeting are always advisory just as are the recommendations of Advisory or any other board or committee.

I am not sure what would happen if this article were to pass. I believe that the courts have pretty much spoken on the issue and that it is unconstitutional. Enforcement would be the responsibility of the BOS. Could they decline to enforce this law?

In the unlikely event that this passes, I know one cranky old man that will festoon his property with political signs and dare the town to cite him.

19 Alan March 30, 2015 at 10:38 AM

Al, as you previously mentioned, as a property owner the sign placed on my property will need my permission. I do in fact know where my property line is and advise the person on where they may place there sign. I do in fact get signs placed in my property all the time without my permission and those signs are immediately taken down and discarded. I encourage all residents to do the same. Being the land owner I will reserve the right to put up as many signs as I see fit and will probably some day be the one that challenges the issue.

20 Donna McDaniel April 12, 2015 at 7:47 PM

So many topics here, not sure where to post but…
Re signs and withdrawing articles:
I’m glad to see that some also agree that the town/selectmen are/should be required to provide budgets, etc., to all citizens.
Signs — not clear if the Town Counsel did or didn’t review.. in my experience, he’/she looks at the warrant to catch anything before it is finalized and goes to print..
AND if that’s not enough for those looking for legality–namely the sign by-law–or what ever ‘s passed by Town Meeting DOES NOT GO INTO EFFECT until the State Attorney General has reviewed and accepted. Most things doesn’t go into effect till the nest fiscal year. This question of legality shouldn’t be floating around without some ruling.
Finally… the several withdrawals. It’s too bad that some of the most interesting items on the warrant will not be acted on because of doubts being raised. Isn’t that what debate does? Bring out a good mixture of points of view for voters to make up their minds? I do applaud withdrawal of the not-yet-ready-for-prime time demolition bylaw but sorry to see some other things inhibited by people fretting over differing opinions. Isn’t that the point?

21 Donna McDaniel April 12, 2015 at 7:58 PM

One more relevant item regarding printing and distributing town warrant to all:
Just to clarify it was not our current selectmen who made the initial decision not to deliver the warrant to every household in town-=that was in the late ’70s (over my objections as a selectman). I believe the reduction to 100 copies has been the case for four or five years ago..maybe a couple before that..

22 Frank Crowell April 13, 2015 at 10:03 AM

Ms McDaniel,

As one of the editors, maybe you can start a new Town Warrant tradition: Include PILOT contributions from the largest five education non-profits from prior year so the good people of Southborough can see in black and white without having to ask who pays what in town.

Just a thought.

Thank you for your service to the town.

23 beth April 13, 2015 at 10:14 AM

To clarify – I believe you mean the Town Report.

24 Frank Crowell April 13, 2015 at 11:24 AM

No, I meant the warrant – right under Article 2. Prior year contributions – top five for all who care to see.

25 beth April 13, 2015 at 11:36 AM

Then, to clarify, Ms. McDaniel didn’t say that she edits the Warrant. She edits the Town Report.

(Donna, correct me if I’m wrong!)

26 Donna McDaniel April 13, 2015 at 11:43 AM

I like that idea, While the selectmen will read the amounts when this comes up at TM and the amount will be included in the Town Meeting section of the next year’s Annual Report, seems like a simple enough thing. I think I’ve heard the amounts or maybe that was last year..
The Town Report only covers the prior year and isn’t prepared until at the close of that year.
I also suggest you call/write the Selectmen and Advisory Committee. Not sure if the selectmen look at the blog faithfully, if at all.,
I cam’t think of a single reason that would justify a “no.”
Donna.

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