Moderator had indicated to Main St opponents he would accept motion to combine articles

by beth on October 21, 2016

Above: A petitioner for Article 5 confirmed plans with the Moderator to combine the articles for discussion. (Video posted to YouTube by Southborough Access Media)

It appears that the Town Moderator led Main Street opponents to believe that they would be allowed to ask voters to present their case at Town Meeting before a vote on Article 4. After indicating the plan was fine on Monday, and purportedly confirming it just prior to the meeting, the Moderator pulled the rug out from under them at the critical moment.

In a public Town Meeting prep session, Moderator Stephen Morreale indicated that opponents of Main Street Reconstruction easements would be allowed to combine their opposing article for discussion before the votes.

It’s a motion that voters would have needed to approve. But they didn’t get the chance, when Morreale announced the request was “out of order” on Tuesday night.

On Tuesday, Morreale said that when he learned petitioners were going to ask to combine the articles, he researched it and decided there was no clear precedent to support it. What he didn’t reveal to voters was that he had previously given petitioners the impression it would be allowed.

On Monday night, Selectmen held their traditional run-through of Town Meeting articles with the Moderator. At that time, Morreale learned from Article 5 (Rejection of the Main St TIP project) co-sponsor Sam Stivers that sponsors would be requesting to combine it with Article 4 (Main St Reconstruction easements) for discussion purpose.

Morreale’s exact language may have left some wiggle room. But if you watch the footage, he gave appearance that he would support the request.

The Moderator said that “I’m not sure I would object to that in terms of discussion”. Then he asked for clarification that it was to combine discussion, not to change the order of Articles. He nodded along to Sam Stivers confirmation, and followed, “That’s helpful, OK, that’s helpful.” They then discussed how Stivers would submit and make his presentation.

The discussion took place in front of selectmen, including Kolenda, Town Counsel and the Town Clerk. No objection to the plan was voiced by them or others in that meeting. Minutes later, Morreale seemed to verify the plan. He got confirmation that BOS Chair Shea was “comfortable” with the two articles being presented for discussion together.

I followed up with Stivers and Morreale to find out if the Moderator had made an attempt to let petitioners know that he changed his mind before the meeting. Stivers claims the opposite occurred.

Stivers says he confirmed the plan with Morreale prior to opening of the meeting that night. [At the time of posting, I hadn’t heard back from Morreale yet. It was short notice, so if I do I will update the post.]

After public discussionon Article 4 opened, John Butler made the motion to combine articles 4 & 5 for discussion. Morreale responded that the Town Code was “silent” on the issue of combining articles. The only precedents he was aware of were based on intertwined articles presented by the same group. He followed, “So, I would rule, that is out of order.”

Soon after that ruling, before Article 5 petitioners had a chance to readjust to make their case through public comments, Morreale accepted a motion by Selectman Dan Kolenda to vote on calling an end to discussion. Kolenda’s request was made from this microphone at the selectman’s table.

According to some commenters, selectmen have no standing beyond those of other residents. Some believe Kolenda shouldn’t have been allowed to use his position to jump the line of commenters queued at the public mic.

Kolenda’s motion was supported by the majority of voters in the hall. But the hall was packed with many residents who appeared to have turned out to vote on Articles 6 & 8 and were eager to get on to that business. (The night was already running very late.)

The actions of the selectman and Moderator weren’t just objected to by Main St opponents. There are some commenters who, while supporting the project, objected to the lack of balance in allowing more than 45 minutes of presentations for one side of arguments then cutting off the other side.

1 Townie October 22, 2016 at 8:58 AM

This subject is dead, time to move on. The reality is, the ending would have been the same. It wasn’t Kolenda’s motion to move to a vote that ruined it for the opposition, it was the failed motion to suspended article 4 indefinitely that ruined it. There was an over whelming feeling in the room that residents are tired of hearing the good and bad about the project and have already made up their minds. The feeling was confirmed when the vote met the 2/3’s requirement. You can stomp your feet all you want, this was going to happen regardless.

2 Steve Phillips October 23, 2016 at 8:50 PM

I demand that our Moderator pledge to allow both sides of the Public Safety warrant article to be discussed at the next Town Meeting, that he limit all presentations to the agreed-upon time periods, and that he not allow selectmen or other town officials to jump ahead of other citizens who are waiting in the line to cut off debate. If our Moderator cannot make that commitment to the voters of Southborough — here and now — he should be removed from his post. This dereliction of duty cannot be allowed to happen twice — especially with $20 million or more of our money at stake.

3 Al Hamilton October 24, 2016 at 8:08 AM

The Moderator receives an annual review at the polls. To the best of my knowledge, we do not have the option of recalling him. If you are unhappy with his performance, then your recourse is to run a candidate in opposition.

4 Steve Phillips October 22, 2016 at 11:40 AM

Mr. Morreale, we are waiting for your explanation.

5 John Wilson October 22, 2016 at 12:30 PM

As a former town moderator (I also served on the mains street committee), I would like to make a statement concerning the issue of combining articles for the purpose of discussion at town meetings. Steve Morreale, town moderator, was correct in both comments he made relative to not allowing the motion to combine articles #4 and #5 for joint discussion this past Tuesday. First, a motion to combine articles for discussion is not addressed in Town Meeting Time, our procedural manual. Second, the motion to combine articles in special circumstances is a main motion and must be delivered with no other main motions on the floor. The motion made to combine these articles on Tuesday was made DURING the delivery of the information in support of article #4 therefore making it “out-of-order.” In addition to following the rules of Town Meeting Time, the town meeting is subject any town by-laws that address certain motions or situations. The by-law is mute on this topic. Town meeting is also subject to traditions that have been established during prior town meetings. In the case of combining articles, in the past, the town has allowed (on few occasions) this motion to come to the floor and be voted on. However, the tradition is to combine articles that complement each other and serve the purpose to make the matter of each article clearer and perhaps more efficient.. For example, let’s say that the Selectmen submit an article to buy land and a subsequent article to build a building on the land. It may make sense and save time to allow these topics to be discussed in combination with each other and then, of course, voted on separately. The assemblage knows the town wants to buy land to build something. To combine articles submitted by the proponent and an opposing article submitted by the opponent is counter-productive and inefficient. The discussion to combine the articles should be clear. In this case, just the discussion alone about the combination could have taken up much valuable time. I think that the selectmen would have argued vigorously against this attempt.

Keep in mind, that in the case of main street or any other article, the opposition has at its disposable ample other avenues to state their case. First, the moderator must allow an opposing member of a committee to make a formal presentation after the proponents have stated their case. This is called a minority report. Although the individual that served on the main street working group was out of town on Tuesday, he could have had a substitute fulfill the opposition role and give a minority report during the open debate immediately following the proponent presentation. Third, the assembled registered voters should be allowed ample time to state their cases pro and con (I know this is disputable in this case). That’s the crux of the issue.

6 Steve October 23, 2016 at 4:31 PM

Mr. Wilson, I have two questions for you:

1. At exactly what point in time did you communicate your interpretation of the rules to Mr. Morreale? The sponsors of Article 5 did not pursue other options because we were assured by Mr. Morreale, both in the public meeting on Monday, with the consent of selectmen including Dan Kolenda and Brian Shea, and again on Tuesday night just before Town Meeting, that articles 4 and 5 could be combined for discussion purposes. Monday night’s empty promises are right there on the tape where you can all see it.

2. Speaking of precedents, when is the last time you can recall a selectman moving the vote from his private microphone? And when is the last time a selectman personally moved to reconsider an article?

I guess the remaining members of the Working Group (I submitted my resignation shortly after Town Meeting) can sit back with smiles on your faces, sip your champagne, and laugh about the loophole you used to silence the opponents of Article 4. You couldn’t beat us in a fair fight so you found a way to censor our voices. I didn’t realize that as citizens we needed a PhD in Roberts’ Rules just to exercise our basic right to have our voices heard. Mr. Wilson, I certainly hope that you played no part in this sleazy effort to deceive the voters of Southborough.

I am an abutter whose property rights will be taken against my will for this project. Despite the reassuring words of the article summary (it supposedly “allows the selectmen to accept as gifts, or to negotiate … easements”) this article actually allows my property rights to be taken forcibly from me by eminent domain. Well file the paperwork for 26 Main Street now, because that’s the only way you’re taking my property rights away — by eminent domain. I won’t be surprised if fire hydrants, guy wires and power lines start popping up on my property now, as happened to the Morris family when they dared to question the absolute judgement of the Main Street Design Working Group.

What’s going to happen next Spring when the town asks us to spend $6000 per household on a new Public Safety complex? Are we going to hear 45 minutes of sales pitch followed by an immediate call for a vote before the other side can be heard? Start setting your rainy-day money aside, folks, because you are about to get fleeced…

7 Steve Phillips October 30, 2016 at 12:05 PM

Well, time to bury the hatchet. I don’t have any animosity towards anyone and I’m just disappointed in the way this was handled.

8 Frank Crowell October 23, 2016 at 7:04 PM

Mr Willson – I was hoping you would comment on this, and I hope everyone who was at TM reads it.

Thank you for posting your opinion, your service to the town and service to our country.

9 David Parry October 22, 2016 at 12:33 PM

Thank you. Editor, for this revealing story.

Many of us witnessed , and we’re puzzled by, the procedures at Town Meeting. Few knew of the prior agreements on procedure, which were sensible and fair, but not followed.

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