Special Town Meeting Articles: More than the golf course and safety station (Updated)

by beth on February 12, 2017

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The Town of Southborough has posted the Warrant for the upcoming Special Town Meeting. With all the attention on the Golf Course and Public Safety Building, you may be surprised by some of the Citizen Petition Articles up for vote.

Articles include creating a Technology Committee, procedures for recalling/removing officials, and allowing elected boards to hire counsel in special circumstances without going through selectmen.

The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 8 at Trottier Middle School – so save the date.

Below is a list of the articles and brief summaries. I have written much more in depth on the golf course articles in the past. For the other articles, stay tuned for future posts with more detail.

For the full language of each article, you can open the Warrant here.

Meet the Articles . . . 

Town sponsored articles:

Article 1 – Purchase & Sale of St. Mark’s Golf Course, New Public Safety Facility:

This would authorize selectmen to execute a land deal with St. Mark’s School for purchasing the golf course and releasing Town properties in exchange. It would also authorize financing the building of a combined Public Safety Complex for the Town’s Police and Fire Departments on that site.

If approved, it still requires permission to override proposition 2 1/2. That requires approval by a ballot vote. If this passes, the following question would be added to the ballot:

Shall the Town of Southborough be allowed to exempt from the provisions of proposition two and one half, so called, the amounts required to pay for the bonds to be issued in order to acquire  land and construct a new public safety complex, and for the payment of costs incidental or related thereto?

Article 2 – Petition Legislature for Special Act, allowing Purchase & Sale of St. Mark’s Golf Course (Tied to approval of Article 1):

To finalize the deal, the Town requires permission from state legislature. To petition for that, they need approval from Town Meeting voters.

Citizen Petition Articles:

Article 3  – Conservation Restriction for remainder of St Mark’s Golf Course property (Tied to approval of Articles 1 & 2):

Asks voters to place a Conservation Restriction (CR) on the golf course except for approximately 4 acres proposed for the Public Safety Facility. The CR would be to preserve the remaining land as open space, for the benefit of the Town and its residents and allow the golf course to continue in operation for as long as the Town (through Town Meeting) desires, as well as other types of outdoor recreation.

Proponents claim that it is a binding article that would require selectmen to enact the CR. Opponents claim it is non-binding, as the voters don’t have the authority to force selectmen to follow through.

Article 4 – Conservation Restriction for entirety of St Mark’s Golf Course property (Requires rejection of Articles 1 & 2):

This article is a non-binding article to advise selectmen on voters’ opinion. Approval would urge selectmen to renegotiate the purchase of the Golf Course and place it under a Conservation Restriction. If accomplished, it would allow the golf course operation to continue, to help make the purchase of the land financially feasible while providing needed recreational opportunities.

[Editor’s Note: Selectmen have publicly claimed that even if this passes the board will not attempt to renegotiate a deal with St Mark’s School. (More specifically, those statements were made by two selectmen at their February 7th meeting. They were not refuted by the other members, so I presumed their support.)]

Article 5 – Standing Committee for Technology

To replace what even the Town has referred to as an outdated Ad Hoc committee on municipal technology. It is intended to provide longer term strategies for improving and maintaining the Town’s technology. The purpose is to improve citizen services and operational efficiency.

Article 6 – Petition Legislature for Special Act, RE: Removal Bylaw for Elected Officials

This home-rule petition updates the Town’s bylaws to specify a process for recall of elected officials. It creates a process by which 10% of the registered voters of the Town can force a recall election for an elected official.

Article 7 – Removal of Appointed Board/Committee/Commission members

This petition adds to the Town’s bylaws to specify a process for removal of an appointed member of a public body. The appointing authority would hold a hearing then decides on whether or not to remove the official. That hearing would be triggered by one of the following: (1) a super-majority vote of the appointing authority; (2) a majority vote of the members of the public body; or (3) by petition of 200 or more registered voters.

Article 8 – Citizen Petition – Bylaw for Independent Counsel for Elected Boards and Officers

This petition allows elected boards/officials to engage legal counsel, without requiring Selectmen’s approval—provided that Town Counsel is conflicted. The board/official may use pro bono services or must have access to funds by budget or donations.

Updated (2/14/17 1:42 pm): I had indicated that Article 3 is non-binding. It was a claim made by proponents of Article 4 that seemed to be accepted by Selectmen and wasn’t refuted by other commenters at a recent Board of Selectmen meeting. However, one of the Article’s authors claims that it is a binding Article. So, the intent is for it to be binding. (And Town Counsel has yet to publicly weigh in on whether it is or isn’t. I will update you when I hear an answer on that.)

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Andre Fortin February 12, 2017 at 8:52 PM

“I would like to comment on Articles 3 and 4, and particularly about the pros and cons of each. Also, I would like to address the concerns previously expressed (in other news stories) about the “permanency” of protection of open space on the Golf Course.
Some comments posted above concern the permanency of protection provided to the golf course. Claims are made that permanency can only be achieved under Article 4. That’s simply not true. There is nearly as much open space protection afforded under Article 3. Details are given in the website: http://www.saveourgolfcourse.info
Most disconcerting is that Article 4, unfortunately, is based on a flawed premise (as explained below), and offers no realistic solution going forward for the town to resolve public safety requirements.
What are the problems with Article 4?
The Article suggests town meeting reject Articles 1, 2, and 3 and “requests” the BoS to renegotiate with St-Marks to purchase 100% of the land. This is unrealistic. The fact is, it took over 16 months of tough negotiating for the selectmen to reach an agreement with St-Marks. Furthermore, both the BoS and the school have publicly stated there will be no re-negotiation if Article 1 fails. Purchasing the entire Golf course and protecting it 100% is a fine idea in theory, BUT, THERE IS A HUGE PROBLEM, because it assumes that the Town will be able to outbid private developers on the open market. That is simply not realistic, and is much too risky a posture to assume with the fate of such a vital property at stake. To summarize:
1. St-Mark’s has already stated publicly that they will sell the property to the highest bidder, with no constraints, if we reject Article 1.
2. The price that builders will offer for the precious land will be far higher than what was negotiated by the selectmen.
3. The BoS have already stated that, under those circumstances, they have no intention of reentering into a futile round of renegotiation with the school.
4. Article 4 offers the Town NO viable alternative solution going forward to address existing public safety needs. Proponents of Article 4 will lose the support of all voters who want to solve the Public Service facility facility problem.
5. The town is likely to lose that one chance we have to purchase the golf course land at a reasonable and affordable price.
6. Voters will resent the fact that Article 4 proponents are directly responsible for losing the golf course.
There is another viable alternative to Article 4, which should be just as enticing to open land advocates, and that is Article 3. This is proposed by another citizen’s group, calling itself “Save our golf course”. This group contains many passionate open space advocates, incl. golfers, x-country skiers, walkers, but it is also representative of the need to show some common sense and the ability to accept compromise for the greater good, who seek a realistic, achievable, and universally acceptable solution at a reasonable cost for all residents.
In an ideal world, everyone gets everything they wish for. As we all know, that goal is never attainable. In the real world, everyone has to compromise a little in order to achieve what is best for the majority, if progress is to be acknowledged by all. To quote a famous song:
You can’t always get what you want, but when you try sometimes, you get what you need.
Article 3 proponents firmly BELIEVE that the ONLY realistic opportunity to purchase the golf course is through the present agreement under Articles 1 and 2. These allow for the land swap with St-Mark’s at a very good price because the school wants the present site now occupied by our police/fire stations, and because that site is next to their campus, allowing St-Mark’s to expand their campus and meet their needs. That is the only reason why the land swap price was negotiated so successfully, and arrived at so advantageously, to benefit both parties.
Article 3 works with Articles 1 and 2. It allows for the new PS facility on the GCourse, and provides the town with free rent for 3 years to allow time for the new facility to be built. Contrary to ongoing rumors, the proposed new facility itself is quite attractive architecturally (refer to the website or this blog), and far from a monstrosity. On the contrary, it is less than half the size of Woodward school, which has no screening at all from Rte. 85, and was also designed to blend into the school visually. It has the potential to visually enhance the area, not denigrate it.
Article 3 allows the GC to be modified and continue in operation. Why is that so important other than for golfers? Because, if the course does not continue in operation, all the land will quickly revert to scrub land. Article 3 provides a CR on ALL THE LAND south of the PS facility. That is about 93% of the land. Not 100%, but 93%. Is that so unacceptable? and doesn’t it sound like a compromise worth pursuing while we have this one chance?
Therefore, please consider how Article 3 provides for a near ideal compromise in which all facets can claim some form of ideal victory. A WIN-WIN-WIN-WIN-WIN solution— Yes, 5 WINS in a row:
1. St-Mark’s wins, with the land swap they need.
2. Public Safety wins, with an urgently needed facility, especially for our Police force, who have the worst situation of all currently.
3. Open space advocates win big, because we can finally protect from further development nearly all of this uniquely important parcel of our heritage.
4. Golfers win, because we can continue playing golf, which, by the way, is a recreational activity shared by both young and old!
5. Last but not least, residents of Latisquama Rd and surrounding streets, who are so fortunate in their proximity to such beautiful open land space, are winners because the “golf side” of the road and its views will no longer be under threat. 

Compare this apparent “down side” of voting for Articles 1, 2 and 3, i.e. giving up only 7% of the existing open space, while keeping 93%, with the overwhelming down side of Article 4, namely, the very real risk that, while it seeks to protect 100%, will likely lead to a loss of the entire property due to the lack of any demonstrated support from St-Mark’s, town officials and public safety advocates.
Sadly and ironically, Article 4 (which rejects 1, 2 and 3) would effectively be responsible for the loss of 100% of the golf course.
And remember, the GC can be modified so that it can remain in operation. We have an expert golf course designer/architect who has advised us on how it should be done, so that it can still remain as a high quality, 9 hole, municipal golf course.
Let’s all get together on this to make sure Article 3 wins.
Thank you,

Andre Fortin

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2 TomM February 13, 2017 at 11:50 AM

Well said and thought out Andre.

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3 RTZ February 13, 2017 at 10:49 AM

I don’t love the land swap deal mostly because I feel that we’re being strong armed by the selectmen and St. Mark’s into footing the bill for an incredibly expensive public safety complex in order to protect the golf course from even more radical development. However, I do agree that on the open market the town will never be able to match the bids put in by private developers for that land so it has my reluctant vote. I wish that Article 3 had some teeth to it. The “non-binding” aspect makes me nervous. I’ll vote for it because we don’t have any better options but when all the town departments come calling for THEIR brand new state-of-the-art facility (splash pad, senior center, rec center, fill in the blank…) to be located on the golf course, will the selectman and town say No? If past is prologue, I doubt it.

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4 Al Hamilton February 13, 2017 at 12:56 PM

RTZ –

While it is the Selectmen’s choice to package the land deal and PS building into a single article Town Meeting has the last word on the subject.

I believe that any Town Meeting Member could “Move to Divide the Question” This motion, properly worded could split the vote into 2 parts, The land purchase as defined in the P&S agreement and the building of a PS Building on the site.

I think it would be unlikely that this motion would be ruled out of order since if it were appealed in court it might bring the resulting vote in question but I will do a little homework.

I believe that dividing the question would require a majority vote.

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5 Andre Fortin February 13, 2017 at 2:22 PM

I hear you loud and clear, and share many of your feelings.
I’m new to this, and am not a politician by nature. I’m learning as I go along. What I’m doing is weighing all aspects of the issue and proceeding very carefully, making sure that ALL parties in this play prove their desire for compromise before I cast my vote. Right now, my own personal red line is the Conservation Restriction in perpetuity to be placed on 93% of that land. That needs to be First, and put in place, and cannot be subject to promises “down the road”. No. If there is no CR, then there is no golf course to save. Plain and simple.
Personally, I feel bad about advocating against Article 4 and their proponents as I did above, since I’m with them ideologically, but I have to be realistic about the situation and pursue what I feel is the best option for all affected parties going forward. Thus I firmly believe Article 3 is the right choice. It’s a compromise.
However, it starts with protecting the bulk of the land (93%) from development. This is where we’ll need all the help we can muster. Hopefully Article 4 proponents will realize it’s in their best interest too, even if they may not feel that way today. We need to pull together, not drift and battle apart, if we are to be successful.

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6 beth February 13, 2017 at 2:30 PM

At your presentation to selectmen, David Parry seemed to make very clear that the CR wasn’t required to be in perpetuity. He said that how long a CR would preserve land for should be up to selectmen.

I was surprised by his explanation. And now I’m confused by your comments, since the two of you represent the same group.

Did he misspeak? Did the group’s position change? Or is there lack of consensus within the group?

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7 Andre Fortin February 13, 2017 at 4:29 PM

I can assure you that we are all on the same page.
If you recall the same meeting, I also went to the microphone to remind the selectmen of the need for the rest of the property (93%) to be secured if there is to be any golf in the future. Unfortunately, there was no resolution to my question. Article 3 was not endorsed by the selectmen, and Article 4 was rejected. Only Articles 1 and 2 were endorsed. Admittedly, that’s an ongoing concern, because we need 93%, and Articles 1 and 2 only stipulate 50%, which is insufficient. Thus the need to pass all three.
That’s why we (the golf group) see the need to stay on top of the issue, and require all the assistance we can get to have Article 3 approved with the CR placed on the remaining property.
But getting back to your main question: I don’t think he misspoke. To the best of my recollection, he indicated in his response that he felt, at the time he was writing the text, that he thought “in perpetuity” was implied in a CR, because it directly comes from the MA Conservation restriction Act, which he specifically referred to as he was replying to the Selectmen. Furthermore, Mr. Parry mentioned the Act does include provisions which can be activated under unexpected circumstances to modify restrictions. However, the Act makes it difficult to do so, deliberately. And it does so because the very purpose of the Act is to make it easier to preserve open space and much more difficult to remove restrictions once established.
Thus, we are all in agreement in the golf group that a strong CR needs to be part of Article 3, however it is defined by Massachusetts law.
Please note: If there is a consensus that Article 3 isn’t written as strongly as it can be in this regard, particularly in the opinion of Article 4 supporters, who want very firm restrictions, then they can feel free to amend the Article to that effect. And we will more than likely wholeheartedly support it!
Inidentally, Mr. Parry was also asked why he delegated the responsibility to write the CR to the BoS, while requiring advice from other relevant commissions. He did so because he felt that was appropriate, but again, if residents feel strongly that some other agency should be created to word the restriction, then by all means an amendment to have that occur can be offered. And we would likely welcome that as well!
In conclusion, we (the Golf group) are all in agreement that a strong CR needs to be applied to 93% of the land. That’s the bottom line.
I hope this clarification helps. Thank you for raising the issue, and bringing this aspect more out in the open for all to review and evaluate.

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8 Al Hamilton February 13, 2017 at 2:47 PM

RTZ

Regarding “Dividing the Question”

I checked the relevant section of Town Meeting Time (the rules of order that govern Town Meeting procedures, similar to Roberts Rules).

From Section 49:

“A motion for the division of a question requires a second and a majority vote; it may be debated and amended but not reconsidered, and may not interrupt the speaker.”

The form is ” I move that the question be divided as follows:____________”

The 2 or more parts must “…make sense (grammatically and otherwise) by itself, but some leeway may be allowed for purely grammatical adjustments.”

The motion may be approved either by majority vote or by the Town Moderator if it serves some “constructive or valuable purpose”.

So, if a majority of Town Meeting members present want to have the choice of voting on the land deal and the PS building separately then there is a mechanism to do so. If someone wanted to do this I would recommend preparing the motion in advance.

The alternative is a Motion for Separate Consideration which also requires a second and majority vote.

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9 TomM February 13, 2017 at 11:21 AM

Well said and thought out.

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10 David Parry February 14, 2017 at 12:57 PM

Dear editor,

Thank you for providing this timely information on the crucial differences between Articles 3 and 4

It is important for voters to understand that Article 3 fits into a package with Articles 1 and 2. It supports the Selectmen’s Articles 1 and 2 : namely the land swap, including the purchase of the golf course, and the building of a new Public Safety facility.

How does Article 3 add to Articles 1 and 2 ? It allows the golf course to continue in operation and it protects all the open land on the modified golf course, (which is 93% of the total , existing open land), by means of Conservation Restrictions.

Article 4, on the other hand, has a group of supporters who call for rejection of Articles 1, 2 and 3. Their website states this clearly. It provides no solution for Public Safety.
It “requests” re-negotiations between the Bd of Selectmen and St Marks, to purchase the golf course alone, and then protect ithe open land with similar Conservation Restrictions called for in Article 3 …. However, the “request” in Article 4 has ALREADY been rejected, firmly, by both parties.

As a result, Article 4 is effectively (in the opinion of many voters), already dead. But nevertheless it’s objectives still remain important and achievable, through Article 3. Therefore the supporters of Article 4 need not abandon all hope. Instead they can switch to Article 3 and still meet the vast majority (93%) of their objectives for protection of open space — as well as supporting Public Safety.

There are two important common threads, or similarities in objectives, between Articles 3 and 4: Namely similarity (1) the continuation of golf (Article 3 will require minor modifications to the course, to provide space for a minimized Public Safety Facility), and similarity (2) the protection of open space through Conservation Restrictions. (Article 4 will protect 100%, while Article 3 will protect 93%.).

Let me end by quoting your first sentence, which is unintentionally misleading , and occurs before the description of both Articles. You state, for both Articles 3 and 4:

“This Article is a NON-BINDING Article to advise the Board of Selectmen on voters’ opinion”….etc.

This is not correct for Article 3. Whereas Article 4 “requests” an action (to renegotiate), which is clearly NONBINDING, contrast this with Article 3 which requires a vote to place a Conservation Restriction on the open land. If Article is approved, then it is BINDING.

So Article 3 is BINDING and Article 4 is NONBINDING.

Once again, supporters of Article 4 now have everything to gain by supporting Article 3, which comes in a package … 1, 2 and 3…. Vote for Articles 1, 2 and 3 and get almost everything you really want, and this is the ONLY way you can get it.

Thank you.

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11 beth February 14, 2017 at 1:39 PM

Article 3 isn’t worded to be nonbinding. But my understanding from the last BOS meeting was that it cannot force selectmen to follow it – which has effect of being nonbinding.

That wasn’t disputed in the meeting. Therefore, I assumed your group understood that. I didn’t realize that whether or not you could force that authority on selectmen was in dispute.

I will update the post – not to call it binding but to point out that whether or not it is, is in dispute at this point.

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12 Dick Cruciani February 14, 2017 at 4:06 PM

I am so glad to finally see these explanations of the differences between Articles 3 and 4. Voters must understand that Article 4 is dead in the water, while Article 3 is a very good compromise, which provides solutions for almost everyone.

Here is a true story of what happened in the nearby town of Lexington., which dithered over whether or not to buy a private golf course. In 1977, the owner of a private golf course in Lexingrton decided to close. The owner offered the land to the town for $2 million. Lexington considered and decided NO. So a private developer bought the land for about $5 million. That developer then proceeded to apply for planning permits, which showed a massive development, including subsidized housing. There was an uproar, and the residents of Lexington demanded the right to buy the land,on the open market, from the developer. The result was that Lexington bought the land for $10 million ! The town continues to operate it as a municipal golf course.

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13 Andre Fortin February 17, 2017 at 6:33 PM

Please note that what I’m expressing here is my own personal view, as a private citizen and 33 year resident of Southborough.
As I mentioned before, Article 3 is only as good as the CR that would be a part of it. The CR needed would have to be iron-clad, put in place in perpetuity, lawyer proofed and written specifically to cover the remainder of the golf course property, that is, 93% of the space.
Without it, there is no viable golf course.
Without it, there is no protection for the remaining open land.
This whole story is kind of like golf. Everybody talks a good game, until you have to stand on that tee, facing your playing partners and opponents, with a peg in the ground and a ball on it. After that moment, there is no hiding, and you’re exposed.
If there’s not enough time before March 8th to resolve this CR issue, then we have to consider other options to 1) secure the golf course and 2) pool our collective heads together as a town to find another solution for urgently needed public safety upgrades, especially for our Police dept.
Maybe if we are creative enough, we just might have enough funds left to actually match an offer for the golf course property, if St-Mark’s does indeed goes through with its threat to sell to the highest bidder. One would think, the school would find it shameful to treat us so, given the spirit with which the property was given to them by Mr. Gardner back in 1929. However, this is 2017, and I guess the old set of etiquette no longer applies.

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