Last night was another long and rough night for Town Meeting participants. As with any Town Meeting, passionate debate on viewpoints held up votes. But beyond that, it was process issues that have really added to dragging out this meeting.
Two administrative articles that seemed like easy business to pass turned into long debates, disputes, and confusion.
A perceived lack of vetting on the Personnel Salary Administrative Plan wasted close to an hour of Town Meeting time over two nights. And in the end it was indefinitely postponed.
And lack of communication between Town Counsel/the Town Administrator’s office with the Community Preservation Commission led to confusion that took over 30 minutes to move past.
Last night, CPC Chair Freddie Gillespie told voters she needed to amend Articles 13-20. Her proposed amendment was to strike “the Director of Finance and” from:
Said funds to be expended under the direction of the Director of Finance and Community Preservation Committee
Gillespie said that CPC was never notified of the unauthorized change to their articles. She worried that Articles that weren’t verbatim approved by the commission wouldn’t be valid.
The Chair explained that state regulations are strict. Town Meeting voters can amend their motions to reduce awarded amounts. But purportedly no one is allowed to amend language that was voted on by the CPC.
Town Counsel disputed that and told voters that the additional language is needed to protect the Town from liability. Gillespie argued that articles had not included those words for the past twelve years. She asked to pass amended versions this year and work with the Town on next year’s. She also claimed the language wasn’t necessary since the CPC can’t expend funds without help from the Treasurer (Director of Finance).
Arguments, questions, comments and a vote close enough to require a head count resulted in the pro-forma article taking over 30 minutes to resolve. In the end, the amendment failed.
The previous night, about 40 minutes were wasted on Article 5 the Personnel Salary Administration Plan.
With many changes inserted in bold, but no strikeouts for language removed, the Personnel Board couldn’t specify what text was taken out. Former longtime Advisory member John Butler asked Advisory and Selectmen at the front of the room if any of them had looked at that. It appeared not.
Most voters may have overlooked Butler’s concerns if Town Clerk Jim Hegarty hadn’t made a motion to amend.
Hegarty’s motion was to reinsert text removed that he notice would have stripped elected officials of the right to go to the Personnel Board over issues with starting salaries if he didn’t agree with the decision of the Assistant Town Administrator. (Many changes to the SAP were written in to formalize the Asst. TA’s role as an HR Manager.)
That prompted Butler to wonder what else significant was missing. Meanwhile, Desiree Aselbekian questioned wage charts and the Town’s compliance with minimum wage requirements. She referred to questions raised three years ago and again last year that seemed to still be unresolved.
A back and forth with confused motions and votes finally ended with voters tabling the article to the next day. The Personnel Board Chair said that a redlined version of their document existed and he could share it with people.
I tried unsuccessfully to get ahold of one yesterday to share with readers. When I checked in last night, no mention was made of a new handout. Late last night when the Article was readdressed, voters learned that a handout was in the hall. A few interested voters rushed to get copies. At that point, Hegarty motioned for more amendments based on other struck text.
Concerned that there were too many changes to figure out that night, Aselbekian moved to indefinitely postpone. And Beth (Betsy) Rosenbloom pointed out that the wage questions still weren’t answered.
In a passionate speech, Rosenblum said she didn’t want to get personal, but if she couldn’t get answers she couldn’t know how to vote. She summed up by saying that she couldn’t trust the people that came up with that document. Voters overwhelmingly agreed.
That entire Wednesday night exchange took another 15 minutes.
Let’s hope the next 18 articles run more smoothly!
Updated (4/28/17 8:14 am): I fixed Beth (Betsy) Rosenbloom’s name. As she pointed out we have another person in town government who goes by the name as I originally spelled it.