Former selectwoman encourages public forum on Swap Shop, submits Town Meeting article

At last night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, former Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf encouraged the board to hold a public forum on the Swap Shop, saying it’s important to give residents an opportunity to “vent,” as well as to share ideas and come up with solutions.

“The Swap Shop plays in important part in our community,” Phaneuf told the board. “We need to as a community come up with a solution.”

The board is next scheduled to discuss the Swap Shop at its regular meeting on January 3, and the popular shop is slated to close for good on January 7. Phaneuf suggested a public forum be held before the January meeting.

Town Administrator Jean Kitchen said Rev. Jon Wortmann, minister of Pilgrim Church, offered to host a community discussion on the Swap Shop.

Earlier this week, Phaneuf submitted a petition to get an article about the Swap Shop on the warrant for Town Meeting in April. By law a petition for a warrant article requires the signatures of ten registered voters, but Phaneuf said she collected more than 100.

The article would require the town to provide space for a “Swap Shop Area” at the Transfer Station, to be available whenever the Transfer Station is open.

While the petition ensures the Swap Shop will be on the warrant at Town Meeting, Phaneuf said she hopes a resolution can be reached before then.

“I consider it an essential part of our recycling effort,” Phaneuf said. “I’m hoping they can come to a rational conclusion.”

The town’s Green Technology and Recycling Committee is scheduled to discuss the Swap Shop at their meeting on Thursday. The meeting starts at 7:30 pm in the Southborough Library’s lower level meeting room. It is open to the public.

Update 12/08: To clarify, and to give credit where credit is due, I recently learned that it was Town Administrator Jean Kitchen who took the first step and last week approached Rev. Wortmann with the idea of a public forum.

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John Rogers
10 years ago

I’m glad to see the current selectmen have at least taken some steps to step away from a horrible decision to close the swap shop. What the heck were they thinking?

A part of me hopes this was just an attempt by DPW manager Galligan to get this issue some serious attention. If so, she succeeded.

I wonder how many times she has brought these issues to the attention of the previous selectmen? I mention this because I asked a town employee about the spitting incident and learned it happened some time ago and the police department was notified so I assume the previous selectmen were notified as well. I hope the person who spat was banned. What a despicable act.

In any case, isn’t it wonderful to see democracy in action where the decision of our elected officials are made in PUBLIC meetings and the PEOPLE make their objections heard and the elected officials bend to the will of the people. Thousands of people have died this year in Arab countries trying to get this wonderful gift of democracy.

I do find it quite ironic to see the frequent posts on this blog by a former selectman who took the exact opposite approach during the past year. Free speech is free speech, but it just feels a bit odd to read the postings of a former selectman who is on a soapbox criticizing the current selectmen when she resigned before the voters could ask her to explain her actions in executive sessions at last year’s town meeting. All elected officials should be held accountable for their actions, decisions and even their mistakes. Held accountable-not pilloried. We all make mistakes with the best of intentions and sometimes based on incomplete or wrong information.

Somehow it just doesn’t seem fair for a former selectman to have ducked the issue of one’s own accountability and now come out swinging at the current selectmen’s decisions made in public.

Free speech isn’t perfect but it is a wonderful thing to be defended!

Long Live the SWAP SHOP!

Mark Ford
10 years ago
Reply to  John Rogers

What?

I don’t even know where to begin with this, but please don’t lambaste a private citizen without even naming them…of whom do you speak?

BTW, I do agree with one of your propositions…it does seem as though holding elected office in this town causes one to “hand in their keyboard…” I thought John Rooney was a notable exception to this rule, but he’s been pretty silent on the SwapGate issue.

What We Value
10 years ago
Reply to  Mark Ford

Respecfully, Mr. Ford, now I don’t know where to start.

Your snark is way off base regarding Mr. Rooney. He has commented on this blog many, many, many times, including a long comment on the subject of the Swap Shop in another post. Now he’s to be criticized for not doing it more? Maybe he’s said all he wants to say in this forum (no offense Susan!). Is there now a “minimum blog comment requirement” that I wasn’t aware of? How many comments do you think he owes you? How many blog comments have the other Selectmen made? Talk about petty.

I have seen Mr. Rooney in action at Selectmen’s meetings many times, and he couldn’t be more thoughtful about issues, or more courteous or attentive to anybody in attendance. Did he and the BOS made a mistake endorsing Ms. Galligan’s recommendation without more public input? – clearly a political mistake if nothing else (and they have admitted as much). And Mr. Rooney would be the first to say that no one is above legitimate criticism and he is happy to hear it. But your point is just silly.

So why do I care? Because we are a small town with big issues, right now and for the forseeable future (much bigger issues than the Swap Shop, by the way), and truly capable leaders in Town are few and far between. When we are lucky enough to have people like Mr. Rooney willing to serve day in and day out, week in and week out, I’d rather not have them wondering why they bother.

Mark Ford
10 years ago
Reply to  What We Value

FYI, I heartily support Mr. Rooney–campaigned for him and will do so again, if he wants me to. In rereading my post, I was indeed off base with my comment. You’re right, he does post here, and his posts are thoughtful and informative, even if I don’t agree with all of them.

I also agree that we’ve got big and potentially divisive issues ahead of us–so let’s keep the swap shop open and move on.

What We Value
10 years ago
Reply to  Mark Ford

Mr. Ford, I credit you for this response, and agree with your suggestion that we’ve got to move on to more important things. A civil debate seems so hard to come by these days (alas), so thank you.

Frank Crowell
10 years ago
Reply to  John Rogers

I know exactly what you are talking about with respect to a former selectman and I was wondering how many people were drawing the same conclusion.

John Boiardi
10 years ago
Reply to  John Rogers

Mr Rogers ,

I can!t believe your comments about our former selectman. She has served on the school committee, the advisory committee, and as selectman. She has dedicated much time and effort to town government. I don’t think you will find anyone more dedicated who has served the town as much and as well as she has.

Neil Rossen
10 years ago

The attention being showered on the swap shop defies rational explanation. Oh, a public forum? Why not a forum on the out of control expenditure on the schools? But I guess the petty stuff will serve to distract us from ever increasing taxes. As a ruse, it is brilliant!

Steve Phillips
10 years ago
Reply to  Neil Rossen

Mr. Rossen, our swap shop is currently returning between 25% and 50% of our total transfer station expenditures back to our taxpayers, in the form of salvageable goods reclaimed from the swap shop. I don’t understand how an annual return of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in savings to our taxpayers can be described as either petty or irrational. We are talking about real money here…

John Boiardi
10 years ago
Reply to  Steve Phillips

Steve,

Please explain how the swap shop returned a percentage of the cost of the transfer station to the town?

Thank you

Steve Phillips
10 years ago
Reply to  John Boiardi

John, I should use the term “residents” instead of taxpayers, as this benefit also goes to anyone who is eligible for a sticker, including residents of town who do not pay taxes (at least not directly). The financial benefits of the swap shop go to our residents rather than into the town’s general fund, but this doesn’t make these benefits any less real.

Dick Chase
10 years ago
Reply to  Steve Phillips

Steve – Not to pick at nits, but while the swap shop certainly offsets the cost of running the transfer station (by reducing the what goes into the hopper) to some extent, it doesn’t really return anything to the taxpayers *or* residents – it generates no money in and of itself. Of course, anything that offsets our costs is obviously a good thing and deserves to be preserved. However, “hundreds of thousands of dollars a year” sounds a bit over the top. What do you base that estimate on?

djd66
10 years ago

Neil –

While I agree with a lot of what you have had to say in the past, I think you really need to look at this issue from a different point of view.

I am a conservative, (maybe even more conservative than you) and by nature I want to conserve things. It is a complete waste for me to throw something out that is perfectly good for someone else to use and I enjoy giving stuff to the swap shop because of that. On the other side, I personally have economically benefitted from the swap shop – as once in a while, I find something that is useful to me.

Most importantly – closing the swap shop will cost the town more in disposal fees – because all that stuff I would have left in the swap shop – will now end up in the hopper.

People being angry about the swap shop closing is perfectly rational – as they are directly affected. Closing something that so many people in town use and does not cost the town anything is not rational.

Neil Rossen
10 years ago

OK, OK, I haven’t thought enough about the swap shop. If what you say is true then it is worth saving. My point though is that the dollars that are being drained off by the schools and the unions makes that a more important topic for discussion. But again, if there is an economic benefit to keeping the swap shop open, then fine. I get more excited knowing that our taxes are going up, and will keep going up until we get a handle on the schools.

Confused
10 years ago

Mr. Rogers, I am confused about what you are alluding to in your post. What issues of accountability did Mrs. Phaneuf leave unanswered when she resigned last year? .

As for the swap shop issue having been handled “in public,” it actually was technically NOT handled in public. All issues to be brought up before the BOS, deliberated upon and voted upon, must, by law, be clearly listed as a topic for discussion on a formal agenda, which must be posted at least 48 hours before the hearing. This was not done, so the issue was not handled in accordance with Open Meeting Law.

Karen
10 years ago
Reply to  Confused

I’m a bit confused, too!

A vote was not taken by the selectmen. If I understand correctly, Ms. Galligan had the authority to make the decision on her own, and the selectman simply supported her decision.

I would be curious to know if or how the open meeting law would pertain to this issue. It would be helpful if the selectman and Ms. Galligan could address this concern to the residents of town.

Confused
10 years ago
Reply to  Karen

For the record, I am confused about how and why Ms. Galligan has the authority to close the swap shop as well.

John Butler
10 years ago
Reply to  Confused

I think that your reading of the open meeting law is slightly incorrect. I believe that in cases that have come before the State for administrative rulings the holding has been that topics that a Chair anticipates to be discussed, or reasonably should anticipate, must be listed on an agenda in advance. This does not amount to a prohibition on discussing topics that merely arise, unanticipated by the Chair. This would be for any committee or board. It is unclear to me whether the Ms. Galligan notified the Board of her intention to tell them about this. Also, apparently there was no vote.

As for her authority, unless the Selectmen have specifically circumscribed her authority in some way, she can run the department pretty much as she sees fit. I doubt that they ever did so with respect to the Swap Shop, although they may now, ever so delicately, do so.

Confused
10 years ago
Reply to  John Butler

I contacted the Attorney General’s office last week and discussed this issue with an attorney in the department of Open Government. First of all, we are not alone with this issue of items being discussed and/or voted on without being clearly listed on a meeting agenda. He stated that the chairman may entertain discussion on topics which are brought up at the meeting and not on the agenda, however, the AG strongly encourage municipalities to not conclude the issue but to defer any final ruling until the topic can be placed on an upcoming agenda and properly advertised. (The only exception being for emergency situations that involve public safety) He stated that most communities are very cooperative about doing this on the AG’s urging. However, he also said that a town can add this requirement to their bylaws, especially if the community feels that this sort of occurrence is too frequent or is being used to circumvent Open Meeting Law.

I feel we should pursue this. Anyone interested?

By the way, I’m still confused about the comments implying Mrs. Phaneuf has been reacting in a contradictory way on this issue. Frank, John, what are you getting at? Please elaborate.

Frank Crowell
10 years ago
Reply to  John Butler

Confused – Please refer to this discussion thread and review comment 106.



https://mysouthborough.com/2011/11/22/breaking-news-southboroughs-swap-shop-to-close-for-good-on-december-1/


Now harken back to “Uno-gate” and put together your own conclusions. My conclusion may be different then others, but I was looking for the opportunity to cast a no vote for Mrs. Phaneuf’s reelection.


Confused
10 years ago
Reply to  John Butler

I think you are confusing comments concerning topics discussed in an open meeting to topics discussed in executive session. There was the issue of releasing executive session minutes, but I don’t see how that has anything to do with the swap shop closure. Maybe you are referring to her not posting comments on this blog related to the Pizzeria Unos situation while she was a member of the BOS? That makes perfect sense to me. As a member of the BOS she was compelled to maintain the confidentiality of executive session. On the swap shop issue she is a private citizen, so she may comment as she likes.

I think you are just generally annoyed about her criticizing the BOS for not acting openly when you are of the opinion that aspects of the Unos affair was not handled openly, and I agree with you there. That is fair I suppose, but the Unos affair dealt with much more complex issues like the professional conduct of employees, the undisclosed and improper involvement of a member of the BOS, executive session protocol and other potentially dangerous legal risks for the town.

If revisiting “Unogate” is what you want, the “no” vote to eagerly anticipate will present itself this coming May. I am looking forward to it too.

Karen
10 years ago

I have been trying to see a replay of the Board of Selectman meeting from November 22, when the Swap Shop issue was discussed. At the Southborough Cable Access TV web site, I can find recordings of the meetings from November 1 and December 6, but the November 22 meeting does not appear to be available. Perhaps I am just missing it. Has anyone viewed it online, or seen it on the Government channel?

Confused
10 years ago
Reply to  Karen

This is really aggravating. Where is the video on demand for the November 22 meeting? The BOS has some explaining to do.

Steve Phillips
10 years ago

Dick, I’ve done this unscientifically, but I tried to estimate the weekly traffic through the swap shop and the value of the items each resident brings home with them. If 100 people retrieve items averaging $20 in value in a typical week, this would be an outflow of $2000 worth of goods per week, or $104,000 per year. Of course, we also save on compactor costs, but these costs are dwarfed by the value of the items themselves.

The $20 per-item value might seem a bit high, but I think it’s realistic due to the smaller number of high-value items which flow through the swap shop and bring up the average. For example, on one five-minute Saturday trip last month, I picked up three small pieces of electronic test equipment worth over $4600 in current value.

When you consider the amount of furniture, tools, antiques, books, sporting goods, toys, bikes, cookware, medical aids, car parts, construction supplies, etc. which flow through the swap shop on a weekly basis, I believe that a value of $2000 per week in reused goods is, if anything, grossly underestimated. Please note that if we were able to bring this number up to $5000 per week by properly managing our swap shop, the value of objects retained in our community through the swap shop would match the transfer station’s operating deficit of $250K per year. These estimates might seem farfetched, but all of those small items add up a lot more quickly than you might think.

I would welcome a more scientific method to refine these estimates, whether it involves taking head-counts at the swap shop to analyze usage patterns, or even sending out another transfer station survey to our residents. I think that the answer to this question will surprise a lot of people…

John Boiardi
10 years ago

Swap shop savings:

People bring things to the swap shop because the utility of the item is ZERO for them. People pick things up from tthe swap shop because it costs ZERO. The items may be usable or used for a while but eventually end up where they started ( worth ZERO). If you feel strongly that an item is worth something DONATE IT to an organization that see to it that people less fortunate than Southboroughites (considered by the state to be a wealthy community). It may not be as convenient to go to the transfer station to dump trash and drop off at the swap shop but you will be benefiting others by donating to the Salvation Army or St Vincent Depaul.
.

John Butler
10 years ago

This isn’t really the right way to arrive at an economic value of a marketplace provider, so I wouldn’t recommend trying to refine these numbers. To take an extreme example, the value of the NY Stock Exchange is not the sum of the values of the trades, nor is the value of eBay the value of the sales. The value of each is closer to the sum of the fees they charge. To evaluate the economic value of the swap shop one would need to imagine a revenue maximizing fee system and ask how much it could receive in total for its services, given the alternatives, such as Craigslist, ebay, consignment shops, garage sales, etc. Imagine that it charged $.50 for each item dropped off and $3 for each collected. Suppose it then doubled these fees, successively, until it found the revenue maximizing fees. The sum of such maximized fees collected is the economic value of the swap shop. (Hopper avoidance also isn’t much of a factor since most items stay in Town, eventually to find their way to the hopper. If a heavy item passes through the swap shop five times before the sixth collector’s spouse frowns it into the hopper, the Town’s savings is zero, not 5x its weight.)
Don’t get me wrong. I think it should be preserved, with the addition of some signs and simple rules. 99 posts aside, a three word case suffices. Taxpayers buy it.

Carl Guyer
10 years ago
Reply to  John Butler

As they say, accountants know the cost of very thing, but the value of nothing. I saved myself at least a $200.00 when I found a surround sound system sitting at the Swap Shop. I didn’t go to the Swap Shop looking for this item, but simply giving reuse an opportunity by looking at what was available made this opportunity happen. I would be hard pressed to say I’m not $200.00 richer as a result of the reuse of this item.

Steve Phillips
10 years ago
Reply to  Carl Guyer

John, I sort of understand your argument but I don’t think it applies here. First of all, we’re not talking about the “value” of the swap shop itself, but about the net benefit it brings to our residents. An item thrown in the hopper is worth nothing (in fact, less than nothing since we have to pay to get rid of it), so the value of any item brought home from the swap shop is a pure gain to one of our residents. Secondly, if a bicycle rotates through three families for two years each, this is two less bicycles which didn’t have to get bought at Walmart, and two fewer bikes in the hopper. I’m no economist, but this doesn’t seem all that complicated to me…

Neil Rossen
10 years ago

Good grief. All the research and time and energy spent on the swap shop. Worth while as that may be, one can only wish that a fraction of that energy would be spent on determining why we are being drained by the expenditure on our schools and how this has translated into better results or simply into increased teacher welfare. Yes there are those that say that is not the topic under discussion. But shouldn’t it be?

Confused
10 years ago
Reply to  Neil Rossen

I agree with you Neil. However, it is going to take a lot of time, a lot of hard work, a lot of convincing, a lot of everything to win that uphill battle. On top of it all, someone needs to be willing to stand up and lead that fight in such a way that others will follow. While there has been much loud complaining about the issue in recent years, I have yet to actually see anyone put forth their name to bring about positive change.

Perhaps the swap shop is getting so much attention because people feel that it is a battle that can be won.

Karen Muggeridge
10 years ago
Reply to  Neil Rossen

Neil,
Do you go to the School Committee meetings? There is a Regional and a K-8 meeting this Tues and Wed, 12/13 & 12/ 14, respectively, both of which list budget discussions on their agendas.

All departments are actually working on their 2012 budgets.

While this is certainly an invaluable blog, where the information actually is, and decisions made, is possibly where listening and discussion may be most fruitful. Maybe you could make one of the meetings.

While not always the schools, I do agree, that there can be a disproportionate level of discussion on topics that would seem to have a bigger effect on ones pocket, than others. Money is not always the motivator in a situation though.

Neil Rossen
10 years ago

Karen, it’s simple. Live within the means that those in the private sector have to. In other words give people more for their money by Accepting lower pay and head count -most everyone else has had to. I hear the School Committe at Town Meeting. Their loyalty to the teachers and their unions is commendable. Pity that their commitment to taxpayers is
not reflected in decisions made about the schools. They may think they are so committed. Let’s see that in lower costs. My attendance will not at all secure that.

I understand that quite a number of iPads were distributed at a school. Perhaps that’s a malicious rumor. If so, I apologize for repeating it.

Carl
10 years ago
Reply to  Neil Rossen

Neil
They are iPods, and we’re purchased with a grant.

Neil Rossen
10 years ago
Reply to  Carl

If so, my apologies.

Confused
10 years ago
Reply to  Carl

Carl, can you explain the educational benefit of an iPod? I am only familiar with their use for entertainmnet,

jim
10 years ago
Reply to  Carl

Susan,

You do all the citizens of Southborough a great service when you get the facts and publish them.

Thank you!!!

Jim

Carl
10 years ago

iPods are great for educational apps that reinforce the what the children are learning. I’m sure the building principals could give you a more thorough explanation though.

Confused
10 years ago
Reply to  Carl

Thanks for the information Carl and susan!

John Boiardi
10 years ago
Reply to  Carl

Re iPads .
A Modest Proposal.
I think they are great (I’m on mine now). Rather than give second graders iPads , why don’t we replace teachers with iPads ? Each student would have an iPad on their desk, then they can hear and see the teacher cover the lesson. They can back up or repeat what the teacher says. We can replace teachers with lower paid monitors to help the children with their iPads . Replace one teacher (at $65,000) with 130 iPads @ $499 each, less bulk discount. When you consider that in this day and age (not 1984) children sit in front of a TV for hours, type 100 words a minute with their thumbs, and instruct their parents on how to navigate the iPhone, why not take the next step. Perhaps then we may be able to reduce the school budget by 1%.

Confused
10 years ago
Reply to  John Boiardi

This is a joke, right? I’d hate to think this was a serious suggestion by a member of our Avisory Committee. Either way, not very helpful or funny for that matter.

And they were iPod Touches not iPads.

Neil Rossen
10 years ago
Reply to  Confused

Confused, I think that John’s comment is slightly tongue in cheek. However, what proposal have we had from the School Committe (or for that matter, heaven forbid, Gobron)? None, other than requests, endless requests for more money.

John Boiardi
10 years ago
Reply to  Neil Rossen

Thaks Neil

You got it.

John Boiardi
10 years ago
Reply to  Confused

I’m confused. It it your last name or first name. Aaparently you’ve never read John athan Swift. I thought I was pretty clear referring to iPads .
I’m sorry you don’t appreciate the irony of the suggestion.

Since I did not use Advisory Committe letterhead , nor did I blog as a representative of the committe, or reflect the views off the committee, I resent you annonymus comment.

John Boiardi
10 years ago

I’ve read many estimates of the cost, the value, the savings, the benefits, the reusability, etc. of items recovered, swapped, eventually disposed of at the swap shop. Some estimate hundreds or thousands of dollars involved with the swap shop. If you take every thing out of the swap shop, put it through the James Bond crusher, how much would it weigh? From what I’ve seen it would not be tons. At $70 a ton that the town pays for disposal how many tons (i.e. cost) would it be for the year? Ten tons $700, 100 tons $7000? I doubt it. Ten or one hundred tons of crushed plastic or metal! Regarding reusable bicycles , look at the metal disposal area and see how many bikes there are. The disposed of bikes, fridges, et. al. Generate revenue for the town.

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