Town Meeting 2018: Articles to improve the meeting; Accepting land and roads; Establishing funds (Updated)

by Beth Melo on April 5, 2018

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Above: The Annual Town Meeting on Monday includes Articles intended to improve Town Meetings for voters. (image from Town website)

Continuing my coverage of Town Meeting, it’s time to highlight the last few noteworthy Articles that I’ve yet to really cover. A few relate to Town Meeting itself. Two are acceptances of land and road. And two more relate to formalizing funds.

While I’m updating you – I should also share that I got more official word on the Special Town Meeting for this spring. With signatures on the Citizen’s Petition verified, the Town is compelled to hold a meeting by May 19th. I’ll let you know when the actual date is set.

[Editor’s Note: Since I wrote this post –  Residents behind the Citizen’s Petition Article who thought a Special Town Meeting would be compelled were notified that if they want the meeting they will need to submit a new petition with different wording. To learn more about that, click here to see the related Letter to the Editor.]

Now back to Annual Town Meeting Articles. . .

Town Meeting procedures

In more than one recent Town meeting, discussion around who is allowed to reconsider a motion has slowed things down. And time is often wasted as voters seek to “secure” Articles from reconsideration at a later time. (And voters unfamiliar with the process need to be reassured about what’s happening.)

Articles 33 & 34 seek to give voters options on how to handle this going forward.

Town Clerk Jim Hegarty proposed Article 34 to clarify the process. Hegarty told selectmen that Town Meeting has been following a process based on past practice and “Town Meeting Time”, but not specified in code. The Article wouldn’t necessarily make the process smoother. But, by clarifying it, it should help avoid debates about the rules on the floor.

The code would state that reconsidering an Article requires a motion by someone on prevailing side and a 2/3 vote. Plus, at least one new article needs to be considered in between.

In a discussion with selectmen, Chair Dan Kolenda wondered if the Article should be amended to simply remove the reconsideration option. He viewed the option as being used for the purpose of “trickery”.

Kolenda recapped the main fear that voters have voiced in the past. A group of voters may show up based on their concern about the outcome of an Article. Then after they leave, the losing side could call for reconsideration.

Hegarty recalled an instance when he thought the option was used sincerely. He referred a Town Meeting when voters cut Police budget funding for the Quinn Bill. The following night, Roger Challen asked voters to reconsider the motion. He argued that he and others looked at the arguments and data and had new information to support the funding.

[Editor’s Note: Hegarty appeared to recall the outcome incorrectly, indicating Challen was successful. According to Susan’s coverage on My Southborough, reconsideration failed by a wide margin. (I’d love to hear if any readers have an example of reconsideration being used successfully for seemingly just purposes.)]

Selectman Brian Shifrin suggested keeping Hegarty’s Article, but offering an alternative option before it that would remove reconsideration of votes. Fellow selectmen and the Moderator were in favor of letting voters decide which tact they want to take. That is where Article 33 comes from.

As I touched on yesterday, Article 35 would allow creating a “Consent Agenda”. It would enable the moderator to suggest a bundle of articles – perceived to have no objection – to be passed by a single vote. Voters would have the ability to call out articles to be removed from the bundle for separate consideration. It’s similar to how the budget is handled.

0 Kimberly Lane from GIS MapsAcceptances

Article 21 would accept approx 3.3 acres of undeveloped land referred to as 0 Kimberly Lane. This isn’t a purchase. It’s accepting a payment of sorts – in lieu of tax foreclosure. You can see the parcel as identified on the Town’s GIS map right.

Coslin and Washington from GISArticle 31 is to accept the roadways Coslin Way and Washington Street. Both were constructed by EMC. Planning and the Dept. of Public Works are in agreement that the road has met the conditions for acceptance.

Those of you worried about the costs of taking on new roads will be happy about some mitigation. The DPW has an agreement with Dell EMC that the company will be responsible for plowing, plus installing and maintaining light poles on the street. (Conduits for the poles were already installed.)

You can see the roads in the thumbnail above right.

Articles to establish funds

One Article that seems to spawn nine new revolving funds doesn’t actually create anything new. Article 19 just amends the Town Code to comply with the state’s Municipal Modernization Act. All the funds listed as being established already exist.

But there is a new fund being established under Article 36 – a Regional School Stabilization Fund. The Warrant explains that this would be used for the school’s future capital needs. It is based on recommendations by bond rating agencies. The Town hopes it will lead to a higher rating for the Town’s bond (or help keep the rating up). That ultimately lowers the cost of issuing a bond.

Updated (4/8/18 2:00 pm): I updated with an Editor’s note after receiving a Letter to the Editor that the situation around the Special Town Meeting has changed. Residents behind the Citizen’s Petition Article were notified that if they want the meeting they will need to submit a new petition with different wording. To learn more about that, click here.

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