Town Meeting: Voters rejected petitioner Articles on Recreation Partnerships and tracking elected officials’ attendance

by beth on March 28, 2019

Post image for Town Meeting: Voters rejected petitioner Articles on Recreation Partnerships and tracking elected officials’ attendance

Above: Far fewer voted Aye than Nay on an effort to publicly post elected officials’ meeting attendance records. Of all the failed Article votes, this was the closest to success. (images cropped from SAM video)

Seven Citizen Petition Articles were presented at Annual Town Meeting on Saturday night. As I previously shared, two compromised versions passed. They bookended a group of five that failed.

The petitioners started off in a challenging position. There were 1/3 fewer voters in attendance than earlier in the day. And both the Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee came in with opposing positions.

Presenters faced arguments from current and well-known former officials that Articles were redundant, burdensome, causing problems, aimed at problems that don’t exist, and/or are too wide sweeping. There were also multiple accusations and counter-accusations of politically motivated actions.

There’s no way of knowing how many voters were dead set against the Articles versus just wary of making a mistake. Either way, the majority of the hall voted them down.

I was going to recap the highlights for all five Articles in one post. But it was taking me forever and turning into a tome.

So, here are the first two. I’ll try to follow up with the remaining Articles in a separate post tomorrow.

Article 30 to create a Committee to form Recreation Partnerships

[Editor’s Note: Petitioner Jack Barron had paid to advertise the Article on the blog.]

The non-binding resolution asked selectmen to appoint a special committee focused on Rec partnerships. Jack Barron’s concept was to find alternative ways to provide fields and facilities for Town youth without investing in costly field projects in Town. Barron said that his proposal would save money while offering residents even more opportunities.

Barron cited ForeKicks as an example, claiming that they have plenty of space available for age groups Rec has said pose a challenge to field. He also believed we could work with other Towns.

Rec Commission’s Donald Dumont presented a list of 21 organizations they partner with. He argued that pursuing partnerships is the Rec Director’s job and continually done.

Renting from facilities like Forekicks was said to be costly and require reserving field times before youth sports registration periods end. The couple of comments from the floor included that the Town has previously collaborated with other Towns and schools to field youth soccer and that the league is already co-op with half of games away.

Advisory Chair Kathy Cook said the committee liked the spirit of his idea, but that the Town has too many committees already hard to fill. She said this was the purview of the “extremely competent” Rec Commission’s and they were doing a great job. No one from the floor rose to argue for the Article.

Leading up to the vote, Barron butted heads with Moderator Paul Cimino over procedures. He was aggravated at having to give up his podium to allow a counter-presentation by Recreation. He argued that they should speak from the floor. Barron claimed never to have seen that before. [Editor’s Note: It is something that I have seen in the past. The difference here seemed to be that the presenter wasn’t aware in advance.]

In the midst of comments Barron asked to say more. Cimino put him off to allow debate on the floor, saying, “I’ll recognize you after everybody’s had a chance.” But when, John Butler asked to move the question, Cimino cut off Barron’s attempt to further speak until voters could decide. It was a decision that Barron objected to and said he “appealed”.

The choice to cut off debate was made by well over 2/3 of voters. But it is worth noting that during the Library Article, after a call to move the vote (which I believe was seconded by Barron), Cimino allowed one final comment from the floor and a “quick” answer from the stage. Ironically, when the Moderator was dealing with amendment motions on Article 29, Barron appeared impatient as he tried to move several votes at once.

Article 31 to track Elected Officials Attendance Records

Proponent Michael Weishan told voters he was seeking greater transparency in government. He shared that prior to last year’s election, he sought the meeting attendance records for incumbents running for Town committees. He was told that he would have to go through all of the minutes to find the information himself. 

Weishan’s Article proposed having the records kept up to date and made readily available for residents throughout the year. It also required posting the record in the Annual Report each year. He amended the original to have the Town Clerk act as record keeper rather than the Town Administrator. Town Clerk Jim Hegarty assured the hall that he could do it easily enough if that was the will of voters, but said he wasn’t for or against the Article.

One logistical sticking point for some was the tracking of which meetings officials were “eligible” to attend but didn’t. Hegarty answered that officials would be eligible unless legally required to recuse themselves. School Committee members worried about what that meant in terms of subcommittee meetings. Each member of the School Committee is able to attend all subcommittee meetings. But only specific members are expected to attend certain subcommittee meetings.

Some commenters objected to putting extra work on Town staff and the schools’ central office. BOS Chair Lisa Braccio said she would support publishing the record in the annual report. But she opposed the ongoing upkeep would be a waste of Town resources.

Meanwhile, Advisory member John Rooney didn’t object to tracking the information for residents who asks for it at Town Hall. But he followed that he was upset by the annual publishing out there “forever”. He said that on occasion members can’t make it “or more tragically” become ill and are unable to make meetings despite efforts.

Weishan rebutted “we’re all able to judge when illness or other issues have been the cause.” Weishan said that for the Town to track the information in a spreadsheet is simple and it shouldn’t be so difficult for voters to find out incumbents’ records when they are running for re-election.

Arguments were made that the minutes make the information publicly available to any voters that cares enough to look. Dorianne Jasinski said, “This is coming across to me as almost a witch hunt.” The vote appeared to have about 1/2 as many for as against the Article.

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