Town Meeting Recap: Afternoon voters debated Library preservation, Kallander Field and more

by beth on March 25, 2019

Post image for Town Meeting Recap: Afternoon voters debated Library preservation, Kallander Field and more

Above: More than an hour after Article 22 was introduced, Town Meeting voters ended debate and overwhelmingly supported a CPA Library Historic Facade Restoration and Preservation project. (image cropped from SAM video)

As you should know by now, Southborough’s Annual Town Meeting opened on Saturday.

The meeting covering 35 Articles was completed in a single day, split into an afternoon and evening session. The opening session favored Article proponents. The evening was more successful for Article opponents.

The opening session was had a much better turnout. But the bigger difference seemed to be that while the afternoon Articles were proposed by and backed by Town officials, many of the evening Articles were backed only by Citizen Petitioners. (In fact, one of the two petition Articles that passed was based on its amendment by a Town official.)

That doesn’t mean that all of the afternoon Articles were unanimously supported by Town officials. Two of the afternoon’s big debates were items that boards were at odds over.

This morning, I’ll focus on recapping the debates from the afternoon session. (I’ll try to get to the nighttime action later today or tomorrow.) [Editor’s Note: This was supposed to post early on Tuesday! There was no way I was going to post another story late Monday night!]

Library Restoration and Preservation Restriction

The longest debate on the floor was over the article to repair and restore the deteriorating roof and facade of the historic section built 1911-1912.

As I previously shared, the proposal by the Library Trustees and Community Preservation Commitee included a Preservation Restriction. That PR is to preserve the facade and windows to the historic section. It won’t prevent renovations/tear downs to the larger 1989 section of the building.

The sticking point was CPC’s refusal leading up to Town Meeting to amend the Article to remove the PR. (In prior public meetings, selectmen had considered amending the motion on the floor. Earlier in the week, they learned that they didn’t have the authority to do that.) 

Most selectmen and Advisory opposed tying the Town’s hands on how to handle the building in the future. The CPC justified that the PR was “best practice” when spending CPA funds on a restoration project. 

Some residents like, William Colleary, worried about continuing to “kick the can down the road” while the building falls into deeper disrepair. He told the hall that given community preservationists, the historic building wouldn’t be torn down in any of their lifetimes. Some, like Selectman Dan Kolenda, posited that the project might be able to wait another year though he acknowledged that came with a risk. Kolenda suggested the Town could bring back a capital buildings project or the CPC a version without the PR.

Library Trustee Nicole Debonet told the hall that the Trustees pursued the CPA project after years of capital funding requests being deferred. She pointed out that postponing the Article for funding until FY21 would mean the building continuing to “rot” for another 1 1/2 to 2 years before work could begin. Former Library Trustee Betsy Rosenbloom confirmed that the Town had been deferring necessary work for ten years.

About 40 minutes into debates, Moderator Paul Cimino informed the Hall that a future CPA Article without the PR wasn’t a viable choice. When researching the ability of officials to amend the Article, he learned from the state Dept of Revenue that the PR is a requirement for using the CPA funds. Advisory’s John Rooney asked for confirmation. Town Counsel stated that he had looked at the law and supported the DOR’s assessment. The CPA funds are meant to be used for preservation. 

In the end, selectmen voted along with well over 2/3 of the hall to support the Article. (Advisory was in the dissenting minority with a 4-2 split.)

The Library Article was the 2nd to last vote of the afternoon session. Prior to it, three other Articles/items prompted less lengthy debates.

Salary Administration Plan – Employee Stipend

As I previewed, some Town officials were at odds over a stipend related to an employee’s work overseeing the Green Commmunities grant. The stipend was $6K for the Facilities Director who had been promised money and had helped the Town receive over $300K for work to reduce the Town’s utility costs.

The stipend was supported by selectmen as a short term solution and by the majority of the Personnel Board. But Advisory voted against it and moved to remove the stipend. No one argued the employee wasn’t entitled to the money. Advisory’s issue was the mechanism used and the precedent it set. 

The debate tied up the meeting for more than 15 minutes before voters nixed the amendment and approved the SAP with the stipend.

Town Budgets – Economic Development Committee

A number of budgets were held by voters who asked a question about the reasons behind reductions or big increases in department or committee budgets from previous years. Questioners were apparently satisfied by answers provided, with none of those sparking debates.

The one budget that did spark debate (and take up more than 10 minutes) has an increase of less than $200 – the Economic Development Committee.

The resident’s issues were based on perceptions of the committee’s actions over the past year. The budget wasn’t on my list of expected controversies. But, I wasn’t surprised. The EDC has been questioned at past Town Meetings by a few residents cynical about the board’s ability to deliver on attracting business to Town.

This year, the criticism was from resident Jack Barron. He expressed upset over a large employer (Kaz, inc.) relocating to Marlborough. He shared that two members of the EDC had also worked for the Marlborough EDC at the time. In addition, he believed that the EDC should have reached out to the community for feedback before submitting a proposal to Amazon for part of its HQ2 to be based in Town. He moved to reduce $10K from the budget. (He also tried to move to have selectmen consider the dual memberships. But he was advised that wasn’t allowed under a budget Article.)

Chair Julie Connelly rebutted that Kaz had needed larger office space. She said that the EDC worked hard to try to find something in Southborough to accomodate them but couldn’t. As for the dual memberships, she said that they currently have one dual member and he recuses himself when there is a conflict. And the Amazon proposal was in response to a regional partnership request and they needed to respond quickly.

Voters overwhelmingly sided with the EDC to approve the full budget request supported by selectmen and Advisory.

Capital Items – Kallander Field

As I anticipated, the return of Kallander Field to Town Meeting raised eyebrows and ire from some residents. Some residents continued to be upset by spending to make recreational use of a field that was purportedly intended to only serve for water retention. Barron moved to remove the field from the Capital Budgets list.

But a combination of factors helped convince residents to support the expense as proposed by selectmen and Advisory.

The project costs are much lower. Recreation explained the focus is hiring a qualified engineer to study fixes that can be put in place at the bottom of the hill and on the field. (It seems to presume the Town has no authority to do anything about issues at the top of the hill, leading to the runoff.). The project is in 3 phases with Selectmen and Advisory holding the reigns on allowing it to proceed to the next step.

After 20 minutes of discussion, the motion to remove the expense failed and the Article version proposed by selectmen passed.

Updated (3/26/19 11:28 pm): Inserted a note in case my reference to posting more yesterday confused. I finished the story last night after emails went out – so tried to schedule it for first thing this morning.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Concerned Voter March 26, 2019 at 7:35 AM

It’s hard to sit through two sessions, from 1pm to 11:30pm. Many persons cannot attend one or the other or both. Many parents did not attend due to sporting events.

The most disappointing aspect of the day was the treatment of the citizen warrant presenters. They were treated with annoyance, dismissiveness and disdain. When in fact, Town Meeting is actually for the Town taxpayers, with each supposedly having an equal voice.

The Moderator’s behavior was appalling and embarrassing with regard to one of the citizen presenter’s, Mr. Barron. That leadership position is supposed to be neutral and fair — and helpful to the taxpayer / citizen / presenter. Instead the Moderator set the tone in the room by being exceedingly disrespectful, actually talking down to the presenter, and that in turn, in my opinion, led to a lesser due consideration by the audience. If the leadership (with BOS not objecting at all) does not hear out or respect the presenter, why would the audience? In my opinion, that type of manipulation of the crowd and the swaying of voters has no place in town government. The Town needs and deserves a better, less political moderator. This one is terrible and very unlike John Wilson, the previous moderator.

The Moderator also, contrary to local bylaw, has failed to fill the vacant seats, three of them. They had 60 days to do so. At a recent meeting, they explained that they would do it after the budget process. Also, at least one member has exceeded the number of absences allowed by by-law. The person has disqualified self by doing that. The citizens should watch the BOS / Advisory to see if the town’s own bylaws will be enforced. You can bet this will not be addressed, never mind discussed. They bylaws are currently being ignored. So much for the law.

The BOS and Advisory was out to “tank” the Citizen Warrant articles from the first. With no public deliberation or discussion, temporary chair, Brian Shea grouped the articles and the BOS (Chair Lisa Braccio absent due to illness) voted them down well prior to the meeting. With no public deliberation, this was done. How did they know to group and vote unanimously to tank the articles. Is this an Open Meeting Law violation? Sure seems pre-meditated.

There was no merit or good ideas in any of the evening session Citizen Warrant Articles? All of them were addressing failures. Overspending. Lack of policies, policies that are sorely lacking process and enforcement, thereby causing all kinds of problems to the town itself and the unwitting taxpayer.

Thank God for the citizen taxpayers who persisted and got Article 1 through reaffirming the ZBA quorum requirement. A four person requirement is just a bit harder to stack and corrupt. But that did not stop Town Counsel and Special Town Counsel, Jay Talerman from trying to tank it, without the public’s knowledge, and going against the actual overwhelming vote of the citizenry. Chalk one up for the taxpayers. Those two should be replaced.

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2 Kelly Roney March 26, 2019 at 2:03 PM

Two of the citizen petitions passed, article 29 and article 35. A third, article 31, got close. The other four drew very little support from the voters – and not because we were manipulated by town officials!

John Butler was right. Town Meeting is not the place to make sweeping bylaw changes.

Not sure what you mean about reaffirmation of the ZBA quorum. Could you elaborate? Article 1 was only about hearing reports, not about taking any action. Do you mean from a previous Town Meeting? I guess so…

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3 beth March 26, 2019 at 2:27 PM

Article 31 wasn’t defeated by as much of a margin as others, but I don’t think “close” is accurate. If you watch that section of the SAM video it looks to me like at least twice as many voted against it as for it.

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4 Kelly Roney March 26, 2019 at 2:31 PM

Close enough to count, anyway, but you’re right that it lost by a significant margin.

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5 Al Hamilton March 26, 2019 at 7:59 PM

Concerned:

1. Town meeting is not for the Taxpayers, it is for Registered Voters. There is substantial overlap but you can pay taxes in town and not be allowed to vote and you can vote in town and not pay taxes.

2. At Town Meeting, the BOS has no special privileges to direct the Moderator in fact, they have no special privileges at all except for the respect the hall gives them for their service.

3. The ordering of the articles in the Warrant is the responsibility of the BOS by virtue of their election they can chose to order the warrant as they see fit. If you are unhappy with their ordering your solution is at the ballot box.

4. I agree with you that the Moderator should make appointments in a more timely manner.

5. I agree with you that many of the citizens articles has some merit. But, in particular the by-laws that dealt with Advisory, Town Counsel, and Ethics were not well handled by the proponents. Asking Advisory in particular to review densely worded multi page by-laws on short notice is a tall order. If the proponents want to make progress they need to make allies who will recognize there is a problem and work with them on a solution. Telling town meeting that this is the way it is done in Wellesley or Brookline so we should do it too is counter productive.

6. If you are unhappy with the way the Moderator runs the meeting then you should either run yourself or find someone else to run who you think will do a better job.

7. There were a number of instances when attempts were made to make “Points of Order” that were in fact not points of order. A point of order is an interruption in the normal process when a specific procedural process has not been followed. To ask for a point of order when non exists is disruptive and disrespectful to the meeting.

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6 connect the dots March 27, 2019 at 10:53 AM

The fire department would be very busy putting out every brush fire you allege. I for one get tired of the antics of the town Barron and Barroness. Quite ofter they may have valid points but the drama they add makes me tune out quickly.
Moderator Cimino should be commended for his perseverance in trying to keep the meeting moving when there are so many vendettas being championed.
As for the citizens petition article not passing, suggesting “setting the tone” as the reason it failed miserably when maybe a handful voted for Ms Hanlon’s petition might be the wrong conclusion….
Which brings me to my conclusion which connects the dots, thinking maybe Ms Hanlon and Concerned Voter should run for the vacant BOS seats…..

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7 southsider March 26, 2019 at 9:19 AM

David Coombs was the previous Moderator and also did a fine job.

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8 Kelly Roney March 26, 2019 at 2:30 PM

There’s a lot of material in the warrant every year that would help the smooth running of the Town Meeting if only people would read it.

For example, on p. 8 this year:
—–
POINT OF ORDER
A point of order if a question of the Moderator about whether the speaker is entitled to be speaking, or whether the current subject under discussion (or what the speaker is saying) is irrelevant, illegal or contrary to proper procedure. No other “point of order” is proper.
—–

A point of order is not an appropriate way to shoehorn one’s last comment into the debate.

Furthermore, according to Town Meeting Time, p. 110:
—–
The proper way to raise a point of order is to rise and address the chair as follows: “Mr. Moderator, I rise to a point of order.” It is imperative then to remain silent until the moderator says, “Please state your point of order.”
—–

(Yes, I have a copy of TMT. No, I don’t want to be Moderator.)

Also, for voters who want to know how many articles remain for the meeting to consider, I would advocate counting them in the warrant, where they’re all listed in order, instead of asking the moderator to do that.

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9 Anita W Reeder March 27, 2019 at 8:21 AM

LOVED Town Meeting being held on a Saturday! It is what we were used to in other New England towns we’ve lived in. I would like to see an earlier start time, i.e. 9am so that we could finish business up before dinner, if possible. Looks like it was hard for some to return to the after dinner session, presumably for different reasons, perhaps babysitters availability, not interested in the articles coming up at night, etc.. Would love to see residents embrace the essence of a New England Town Meeting and stay for its entirety. Thank you to the Board of Selectmen, Advisory Board and all the rest of the boards and committees for their hard work in preparing for TM and the many hours they commit to running our town throughout the year. One may not always agree with decisions made by our elected and volunteer officials, but no one can deny that they put in a lot of time and effort on our behalf. See you next year on a Saturday before the end of March!

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10 Kelly Roney March 27, 2019 at 12:45 PM

Some things I liked about Town Meeting:

Applause for voters who said it was their first Town Meeting when they spoke.

Applause for a voter (Jim Colleary) who said he’d been coming to Town Meeting for 50 years. (Is that right? Maybe he said 40.)

The use of the screen to show the article under consideration, including amendments.

The Moderator’s consent article.

The ease of the amendment process.

Mr. Cimino and Mr. Hegarty ran a good pair of sessions.

The Saturday meeting was good, although it took all day, which is not great. I heard a rumor that we might streamline the early spring Annual Town Meeting so that it deals only with the budget and related articles, pushing other articles to a Special Town Meeting in the late spring or early fall. I’d be in favor of this.

Of course, with two meetings instead of one, voters might relax and let the work expand to fill (or exceed!) the time allotted. I might’ve held the (tiny) Civil Defense budget, not to oppose it but to find out what’s in it.

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