Town seeking all residents “at large” members for St. Mark’s Street Park Working Group

Above: The Town is seeking volunteers to recommend what should be in the center of the “pocket park” being built next to the Southborough Library. (image cropped from November 10th memo from DPW)

Last night, the Board of Selectmen approved the charge for a committee to recommend how to use the empty space in the center of the planned, controversial “pocket park” next to the Southborough Library. They are seeking residents (who can also be serving on other committees) to volunteer to be part of the group.

The park design shows a the circular walk around an empty stone dust circle. (Initially it was intended to include a playground, but that was cancelled by selectmen.)

The purposeless center was one of the many objections from the public voiced during the November 16th BOS meeting.

That night, Board members agreed to have a Working Group created to work on enhancements to the park design. The stated goal was to work with the Board of Library Trustees, the Historical Commission, and other interested parties. Last week, the Board shifted its approach to form a group of all “at large” members. (Scroll down for more on that decision.) That revised charge was approved last night. 

Selectmen have stated that they plan to encourage members of the interested committees to apply, along with residents not serving on any boards.

Town Administrator Mark Purple said he hopes to receive applications in time for interviews and possible appointments on January 4th. The group is expected to aim for making recommendations to the Board by April 15th.

Last week, Chair Lisa Braccio Braccio suggested that the Board reach out to the Community Preservation Committee about the potential of having a “placeholder” Article for a Town Meeting Warrant. That would require a much tighter timeframe if pursued for the next ATM, which is slated to open March 26th.

Public Works Superintendent Karen Galligan had told the Board that some changes to the design could wait for the spring. Last week, Selectman Andrew Dennington said in conversations since, she pushed for information in early March. He indicated that timeline was too aggressive. To avoid any issue that would impact the park’s winding walkways and the planned planting placements, he restricted the charge to improving the empty center.

Braccio agreed, explaining that the park’s ADA accessibility the sidewalks provide is an important aspect. She noted that it would allow the Library to hold public programs that some residents can’t currently access, like story times on the lawn.

Earlier this fall, the Board and Public Works came under fire following the clearing of trees from the lot. Residents and members of the Historical Commission have publicly questioned the transparency, propriety, and/or legality of the process. Some continue to question the authority of the Town to move forward with a project on land privately owned by St. Mark’s School before getting any easements approved by Town Meeting voters.

Selectmen have defended that Town Council has assured they do have the authority to proceed with both the park and the linked road project. You can read more about that and other voiced concerns here.

Questions have also been raised about building a park in a location documented as the likely area of an old burial ground for indigenous people. (Braccio has stated that all extensive ground disturbance for the area has already been completed.) In November, the Board discussed looking into including a monument or marker to recognize Native American history. The Committee Charge reflects that.

Last week, Library Trustee Chair Marguerite Landry asked if the charge would specify that the group consult the Nipmuc people. Dennington responded that he expects that to naturally come up in one of the first meetings of the group.

Below is the full committee charge as approved last night:

St. Mark’s Street Park Working Group Charge The Board of Selectmen would like to assemble a working group of citizens and interested parties to generate a recommendation to the Board of Selectmen regarding what should fill the circular space in the center of the park that will be constructed between the library and the re-constructed intersection of St. Mark’s Street and Route 85. The Board of Selectmen is particularly interested in placing a monument or marker in this space that would recognize and honor Native American history in Southborough. The Board of Selectmen also would like the working group to consider formulating a new name for this space.

The working group will consist of 7 at large members who are Southborough residents Members will be appointed by the Board of Selectmen at a duly posted public meeting following the advertisement for interest in serving on the working group. The working group shall elect its own Chair, Vice Chair, and Secretary.

The Board of Selectmen encourages the working group to invite a representative of the St. Mark’s School and a representative of the Department of Public Works to participate as non-voting members.

The working group shall operate in accordance with the state conflict of interest laws. Members shall serve without financial compensation. All records of the working group shall be filed with the Board of Selectmen, and all agendas, minutes, and records of appointments shall be filed with the Town Clerk. These documents shall be open to public inspection in accordance with applicable Open Meeting Law and public record statutes.

The working group should hold at least three (3) meetings in a public forum, either in person or by remote participation (i.e. Zoom, etc.), at which public comment is solicited and encouraged. The Town shall publicize the dates and times of working group meetings, and encourage public participation. The working group shall aim to deliver a recommendation to the Board of Selectmen by April 15, 2022.

To apply for a seat, click here to complete the Citizen’s Volunteer Form. The group isn’t listed yet, but you can specify your intent in the “Narrative” field.

Discussion of Committee Composition

Dennington’s initial charge draft defined members as representing five specific boards along with two at large members. Members would have included a representative from the BOS, Library, Historical, Southborough Cultural Arts Council, and either the Planning Board or Community Preservation Commission.

Braccio agreed with that approach. But the majority favored an all at large approach suggested by Selectman Marty Healey. 

Healey argued that successes of the in-progress Noise Bylaw Committee and the past Public Safety Building Committee and Main Street Working Group (which he was a member of) show that it’s an ideal model for this kind of group. He noted that members of any committees can apply to serve. (He referred to the ARPA Commitee as an exception due to the financial nature of the committee.)

Vice Chair Chelsea Malinowski approved of Healey’s approach. She opined that in specifying committees, they would be excluding participation by other interested committees. One example was the ADA Committee, in order to ensure that changes don’t trip something to make the project no longer ADA compliant.

Selectman Sam Stivers started in the middle of the two positions. He suggested specifying representatives for the Library and Historical, and making the rest at large. In the end, he sided with Healey and Malinowski rather than including a selectman as an official member of the group. Braccio and Dennington said they would go with the flow.

Healey and Malinowski both expressed the hope of that the Library and Historical would be represented. Neither explained their reasoning as to why they would desire that but not specify those representatives. So, it’s worth explaining the process difference.

Traditionally, boards and committees vote on who will be their representative, then put that name forward for the Board of Selectmen to approve. (I believe they could object to the choice, but that would create another potential controversy.) By encouraging members to apply, the power shifts to selectmen to choose which volunteers they prefer for the group.

Landry asked selectmen if St. Mark’s School representatives would be involved. Dennington noted that the Charge calls for inviting representatives from the private school and the DPW. Healey said he was inspired by the question. He planned to encourage the school to find out if a member of its History Department would be interested in applying to serve on the group.

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2 years ago

Who owns the land? There is no legal description of the land attached to the draft License Agreement approved by the BOS on November 16. Beth, can you please post a link to the legal agreement and the legal description of the land? Beth, the above graphic has no citation or date? Who drew it and when? Don’t you find all of this irregular?

Also, it is strange timing of the two Karen Galligan work explanation memos November 2 and 10, after the excavation and razing the forested area and installation of drainage pipes. There should be other memos. Where are they?

Lastly, it is inexcusable that the BOS chair proclaimed “all extensive ground disturbance has been completed,” like that makes the decimation and destruction of this formerly forested area and likely Native American burial ground all ok. What a wrong and distracting statement. In early November, just prior to a Sunday delivery of more heavy excavation equipment to double down on rapidly digging on Monday, the Chair had viewed Fences of Stone with the Nipmuc graphic on the previous Friday. The desecration of the majestic trees happened very quickly (don’t you need trees for a park?) and the uprooted stumps and dug up matter (!) hauled away after the Chair knew about the possible desecration. Appalling. Equally appalling is the fact that there was no legal agreement in place at that time. However, on the November 3rd BOS minutes, the Chair states that a legal agreement was signed. Fast forward to the November 16 BOS minutes, where all five BOS members approve a DRAFT license agreement: Dennington, Braccio, Stivers, Malinowski, and last but not least, Marty Healey, the so-called “liaison” with St. Marks.

Back to the important questions: who owns the land? Make those legal agreements public, including the legal description of the site. You can’t “charge” a committee without an understanding and accurate accounting of the basics. What is the “trade?” Apparently there is a trade of “uses” involving town land. What’s the deal? Where is the agreement? Where did the money come from? And what was it SUPPOSED to be used for? Importantly, WHY WOULD ANYONE VOLUNTEER to buy the BOS farm and hop on the SHIP OF FOOLS when all of these legal questions are a mess. It could give the appearance of making legitimate a process that has been far from it. Answers by BOS and accountability first. Lastly, it is an abomination to consult the Nipmucs after knowingly desecrating their likely burial ground. What an insult. What happened to the trees and dug up matter? The trees were likely growing out of composted graves, according to the map in the town history book.

Town Counsel instead of Park Planners
2 years ago

Why would any citizen in Southborough volunteer to participate under these circumstances? Why is the BOS soliciting volunteers until the fundamental questions are answered? It is like putting out a call/charge for volunteers to help design flower gardens at Park Central. The Town doesn’t own that land either and quite frankly there are some legal questions and problems to sort out. BOS, can the Town Counsel team assist you in holding a public forum to answer tax payers questions about how this happened and why tax dollars are being used to improve St. Marks property without any vote at Town Meeting. The voters deserve these answers before we are asked to move on to pollinator gardens and plaques.
2 years ago

Who does own the land??? Now that the land has been desecrated, you want to form a “Working Group”, after the damage is done. Perhaps a little thought and investigation should have been done at the outset, before you took the chainsaw to the trees. Just a thought. Are there any other trees and land you Select folk and Ms. Galligan would like to destroy. Fed up.

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