Town Meeting 2016 recap: Preservationists prevail across the board; every voter mattered (Updated-again)

Above: Two voters (and meeting procedures) were the difference between holding onto the “rotting”, historic Fayville Hall (with its “cess pit”) and authorizing selectmen to “dispose of it”. (Photos left by Susan Fitzgerald and right by Beth Melo)

The prevailing mindset of Southborough Town Meeting voters appeared to be preservation of a small town with historical character.

Over two nights, voters opposed changes to Main Street, purchased a Preservation Restricion on 84 Main Street, chose “freezing out” of medical marijuana dispensaries, and (the least publicized issue) stopped the Town from “disposing of” historic Fayville Hall (and Fire Station #2 with it).

One highlight of last night was witnessing two candidates for Town Moderator competed for the chance to school the outgoing Moderator on correct procedure.

[Note: Ms. Aselbekian has objected to my original wording  “fight each other” here. She believes I’ve given the impression that they were arguing. And perhaps she’s right. What I intended by that was that simultaneously, they were fighting for the chance to correct the moderator. More on that further down.]

There was some confusion on the stage and in the audience over how to handle dicey voting and procedural issues on a dark horse of a controversial article. The vote haggled over was Article 31, “Authorization for Board of Selectmen Disposition of Municipal Properties”.

[Editor’s Note: Frankly, I had been surprised to see no prior debate at Board of Selectmen meetings or on this blog about the Town’s plans to get rid of Fayville Hall. It turns out that’s because some people weren’t aware until it came up at Town Meeting.]

The historic building has long been documented as a financial sore spot for the Town. It currently houses 2.5 Town employees and Southborough Access Media. SAM has been paying the operating costs. But that will change when the business relocates to Trottier by the fall.

Freddie Gillespie kicked off talk of saving the property, asking if selectmen had considered using it for the Buffalo Soldiers Museum or preserving in some other way. 

Donna McDaniel addressed the audience with some history of the building. She characterized the building as “rotting” and conceded that it was probably time to let it go. But she asked to give it a proper farewell by noting its significance in Town history. She spoke on how central it was to life in Fayville village, which was isolated from the rest of town before residents drove cars.

McDaniel reminded the auditorium that when the building was on the chopping block years before, several residents showed up to talk about how important it was to them. She sadly noted that those people appeared to “no longer be with us”.

Historical Commission Chair Joe Hubley said he was dismayed to just be learning about the plans. He believed that the commission should have a seat at the table to consider options.

Selectman Paul Cimino said authority to selectmen would still allow them to consider options for a third party preserving the property. Chair John Rooney defended that discussions on the plans had been publicly posted and discussed. “It is not our intention to present information for the very first time at Town Meeting.” And Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf said that owning an empty building would be a liability.

Former Advisory Committee member Al Hamilton told voters

we need to face the reality of what this building is. . . the working definition of a money pit.

He said a falling down annex was already torn down, the second floor was condemned by the building inspector, and the basement is wet because it sits 5 feet from a “cess pit, not a septic system”.

Desiree Aselbekian (also running for moderator) told residents they should trust selectmen to work on a resolution. She reminded them that Cimino and Rooney had worked tirelessly for at least 1 1/2 years to preserve the Burnett House. She pointed out that town buildings are terribly under-utilized and “the property is no longer viable for this Town. . . that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have use for someone else.”

Former selectman Bill Boland (now running for Moderator), pushed to hold off on a green light for disposing of the property. He reminded his former colleagues that the Town had worked tirelessly to try to turn the Nichols House into a Buffalo Soldiers Museum and had successfully leased the Flagg School to the Southborough Historical Society for a town museum.

He suggested that selectmen come up with a proposal for what to do with it, then bring it back at an expected special Town Meeting on the public safety building. He believed that leasing out, rather than selling it might be the best choice.

The vote first appeared to pass. Moderator David Coombs announced that it made the 2/3 cut by one vote, at 66.1%. Boland pointed out that 2/3 requires 66.6%.

Reconsulting the tallies, Coombs announce the vote failed by one vote. (Actually, it was two.)* After moving on to a new motion, Coombs readressed the crowd with news that a recount was called for. He said there were questions about people standing in the back not having been counted.**

When Coombs later tried to address the count, Boland and Aselbekian each rushed to microphones to argue against a recount. Boland stood his ground against Aselbekian (who also shouted out) as having called “Point of Order” first.

[Editor’s Note: Once again, Ms. Aselbekian objects to how the incident was described. They weren’t angry with each other. Mr. Boland was much calmer, than my words above probably suggest. Ms. Aselbekian appeared irritated, but with the officials on stage, not Mr. Boland.

Since I’m struggling to accurately describe the incident, I’ll just recommend you to witness it for yourselves. SAM producers posted the Town Meeting videos. Here’s a link to the beginning of the discussion (4:00:15 into the video).]

Boland reminded the moderator that a delayed recount isn’t allowed. An Advisory Member then moved to reconsider the motion. Boland questioned whether she was on the prevailing side. (She had voted with the majority, which was also the losing side.)

An argument commenced between Boland, Coombs and Town Clerk Jim Hegarty about whether “prevailing” meant majority or winning. Boland prevailed, stating that the rules define it as the winning vote. Coombs asked if anyone from the prevailing side wanted to reconsider the vote. None did.

At that point, there was a mass exodus, leaving a small group of voters to finish up Town business.

*The vote count was 69 vs 134. (You do the math.)

**Updated (4/13/16 2:07 pm): I asked Hegarty for an explanation of why the count was questioned. It turns out, the count was fine. Here’s what he said today:

I incorrectly instructed the tellers on the left side of the hall to count the people standing at the rear of the hall. I have verified that they did not count anyone in the rear of the hall for any vote so my incorrect instructions did not have any effect on any votes!

They did initially ask the people standing if they wanted to be counted, the people declined, and the tellers did not count them in the vote totals for either # Article 31 or 39.

Updated (4/14/16 9:30 am): Re-addressing the debate on the floor over recount/reconsideration of Article 31. Ms. Aselbekian believes that I gave an incorrect impression of the accounts. And perhaps she’s right. I struggled with words to capture the moment and probably chose the wrong ones. To clarify, they were both, simultaneously, trying to correct the moderator. Neither spoke angrily to the other. Once again, you can see for yourselves here.

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Frank Crowell
8 years ago

In summary, we can still illegally park on Main St, that same street will remain in a dilapidated state for at least another year (making sure we maintain the small town look), we’ll continue to poor money into a “historical building” in the hope that a person with deep pockets can preserve the building while turning into a B+B (a now proven business model for Southborough so long as you can obtain preservation funds) and an argument broke out on TM voting procedures. Did I miss anything?

8 years ago
Reply to  Frank Crowell

I would characterize it all in a different way, using your points. Main Street will once again be the responsibility of our Town Highway Department who can quickly do some repairs but will need to get to serious work soon. This time they must listen to the voters, who have had concerns from the beginning, and who choose to maintain the small town appearance. We are not “continuing” to pour (although “poor” may also be appropriate) money into the historic building. We have approved a one-time transfer from the Conservation funds that were set up and collected for a purpose exactly like this. A B&B has not been a proven model in the past. We have had some that failed. But I guess you imply that others will seek to influence us this way, i.e. precedent) Finally, no Town Meeting would be complete without lively discussion, aka arguments, and rules incorrectly followed. You missed a stimulating time, but we all have conflicts and thus you’re forgiven. I wish other citizens showed as much interest as you.

Frank Crowell
8 years ago
Reply to  M

Thanks M for pointing out my “poor” word choice. I was trying to be a little bit humorous – still requires using the right words – tough for me to do from an airport bar.

Since you are one of the no votes on the Main St project could you outline what would be acceptable to your side of the table. No left hand turn lane at 85 and 30 intersection. No curbed side walks. No bike lane. All the above. Leave as is and continue with illegal parking – to heck with safety. It is clear we cannot just pave – that is clear to all I think.

Yes, the B+B comment was that a precedent was set. Just call it historic and we’ll find the money somewhere – we always do. Why we have so much money that $380K can go missing for months before we find out.

Aside from my personnel beefs with the way things run I do sympathize with the people who put a lot of time into projects that go down to defeat by and an organized few as Al Hamilton’s letter makes clear.

One last thought, I think there should be more lively discussions at TM and school committee meetings. This would do the taxpayer a lot of good.

Frank Crowell
8 years ago

Making a living prevented me from being there this year.

Always enjoy your posts in particular when waiting for a plane. Can’t wait to hear more of what went on.

I hope all were in their seats when votes were made last night. Seem to remember that rule from a former moderator.

Desiree Aselbekian
8 years ago


I want to take this opportunity to correct your account of the evenings’ events regarding the “recount” of this article after another article was taken up. I wrote to you privately, however that email to the editor has not been responded to for the entire day.

You stated, “One highlight of last night was witnessing two candidates for Town Moderator fight each other for the chance to school the outgoing Moderator on correct procedure.” This could not be further from the truth!!!!

For the record, Mr. Boland and I were not “fighting” with one another. In fact, I didn’t even realize he came to the microphone because I was bolting to the microphone to call a point of order based on the events of what I thought was going to be an illegal recount. Bill was sitting on the complete opposite side of the hall as me, and I certainly was not paying attention to whether or not he was walking to the microphone.

As I stated in my email to you, “For the record, I was not arguing with Bill, as your post suggest; nor do I believe Bill was arguing with me. We both had concerns about the legitimacy of the motion for a recount and subsequently reconsideration.”

I had absolutely no problem with Bill’s Point of Order. Once I found out we were concerned about the same thing, I sat down. The fact is, the procedure/motion was out of order, and the end result was correct. I take great exception to how you mischaracterized this entire course of events. It was simply two Town Meeting members that wanted to make sure proper procedure was followed.

Thank you for the opportunity to clarify the record,
Desiree Aselbekian

Desiree Aselbekian
8 years ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

Thank you for your reexamination of your word choice and the editor’s note. Once I figured out we were both calling points of order, I think David actually made a joke (I couldn’t hear exactly what he said). I agree, it was very entertaining. That’s why people should absolutely attend!!!

8 years ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

Beth, it’s okay. Most of us understand and appeciate your work on the blog for our behalf. Those of us who attended were all tired and worn out after the two nights, yet you had to go home and report on them as well. Thank you.

Perhaps a true “fight” would encourage more attendance next year! UFC in Southborough!!

(Desiree: I am joking. You and Mr. Boland were very thorough. Good work.)

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