Town surveying parents of kids in spring sports on interest in attending Annual Town Meeting

A quick survey launched this week is targeted at learning more about how youth sports this spring might conflict with voter participation in Annual Town Meeting.

As I posted earlier this month, the Town is preparing to delay Annual Town Meeting. Selectmen discussed the desire to find a date that allows holding the meeting outdoors to give voters comfort that they can safely participate. But they also wanted to find a date that doesn’t discourage participation for voters due to conflicts with their children’s spring sports.

In 2018, voters passed a bylaw to schedule Town Meeting to open on a Saturday in March to encourage participation of parents with young children.* Selectmen and the Town Moderator wanted to honor the spirit of the bylaw and its concerns, while still addressing safety concerns.

This week, the Town launched a survey to get feedback from the community. Based on the questions it appears they are looking to find out how much sports schedule conflicts really do factor into parents’ participation. Rather than asking for schedule feedback, they are researching the voter group’s decision process.

The survey announcement reads:

Due to continued COVID-19 precautions, The Town of Southborough is weighing its options of holding Spring Town Meeting 2022 outdoors. The meeting would be held on a weekend (Saturday with a Sunday rain date), potentially interrupting spring sport practices/games.

The purpose of this survey is to gauge interest of Spring Town Meeting for parents of youth sports participants so the least conflicting decision can be made. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and feedback.

Please take the survey here: https://bit.ly/3qj9o56

The survey asks questions of parents to find out if they were planning to attend Annual Town Meeting, and whether sports conflicts would impact the decision. They also ask if free childcare services was on site would make a difference.

In addition, the survey seeks to find out which Articles those voters are interested in:

Thinking about Spring Town Meeting – which article(s) are you most concern about?

  • Public School Budget or School Related Articles
  • Town Budget
  • Noise Bylaw
  • All of the Above
  • None of the above
  • Other (please specify)

The sixth and final question is just a chance for participants to share any thoughts on the matter.

*In 2019, the bylaw was modified to allow that while the first day would be a Saturday in March, any needed subsequent days could run into April. That was to avoid a repeat of requiring that the meeting open as early as that year – March 23rd- to ensure that the Warrant was completed before the end of the month.

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Julie Connelly
1 year ago

As someone who supported the switch to Saturday TM, I strongly encourage that if TM will be moved to later in the Spring, that it be held on a weeknight. Last Spring’s TM had incredibly low attendance (for reference, we had at least double the attendees at the weeknight Fall TM, even with Covid beginning to surge at that time). One of the reasons the Saturday TM was feasible was because it was “in between” seasons of the major children’s sports. If we move TM to April/May/June, it will become increasingly challenging for families with children to attend. Cancelling town sports for the day becomes complicated because, except for our youngest athletes, our kids play against other towns, and some of our teams are combined with Northborough, so we would be burdening our neighbor with our schedule as well. Additionally, many kids play on club or regional teams, or have activities outside of the bounds of town sports. With all fingers and toes crossed, we will be in a much better place with Covid later this Spring, and many postponed events, celebrations, and visits will start filling our weekend calendars, further inhibiting participation in a Saturday TM. I know weeknights are not perfect, but I think this is the best option right now (and let’s bring back the babysitting too please!)

Mike
1 year ago

It seems ironic that one of the lowest attended Special Town Meetings (Nov. 1, 2020) had the most highly pushed, most impactful warrant articles in the history of the town. With the pandemic raging since 2019 and few to no meetings where the public attended, the Downtown Zoning Initiative passed after numerous changes and confusing verbal presentations by ex-chair of the EDC, Julie Connolly and Marty Healey, whose inappropriate, smarty side comments offended voters. There were no slide presentations at all to assist voters navigate the changes and their meanings.

Not only had Article 10 changed from the original green Warrant booklet, but the revised blue handout given to voters proved moot as well, after many changes altering its previous meaning, from EDCs joint meeting with the Planning Board. The EDC (developers P.A. system for self enrichment) had its favorites in the town meeting audience who popped up with last minute changes from the floor, making even the voters blue copy handout moot. The EDC got what it wanted in the end by confusing presentations and last minute changes. Importantly, virtually the entire Planning Board, whom the EDC previously claimed to work with, voted against the significantly altered warrant. Add to this mix, moderator Paul Cimino ignoring numerous citizens calls to indefinitely postpone Article 10, in violation of the town meeting rules printed in the front of the very own Warrant Article booklet.

The time and date of any town meeting should be to maximize attendance of all voters, including seniors. Seniors did not show in previous numbers due to the bad weather Monday night schedule during Covid pandemic. Furthermore, no one should be advocating for one group of voters over another. Town meeting is for all. Lastly, there should be at least a couple in person meetings at BOS where the voters can express opinions in person, even if outdoors, like the last spring meeting. If there are going to be Town Meetings in person, there should be opportunities for the voters to weigh in on matters in person prior to town meeting.

Kelly Roney
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike

The STM was held Nov. 1, 2021, of course, and what Julie said above was that that STM had higher attendance than the 2021 spring Annual Town Meeting.

Moderator Cimino exercised well-precedented power to continue debate when it was valid, rather than conceding to the frankly ridiculous attempts made from the floor to squelch debate. I remember John Wilson and David Coombs both exercising the same discretion.

Last, if you can’t get over the passage of this weak zoning change, bring a repeal effort. Otherwise, you’re just whining about the past.

Julie Connelly
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike

Mike:

I wrote a comment to express an opinion about the weekend vs. weekday Town Meeting. Since you took the opportunity to perpetuate false information about the Fall TM and the zoning article, completely irrelevant to the subject of the blog post or my comment, I will respond to correct the information.

– Fall Town Meeting (on a weeknight) had significantly higher attendance than the Spring Town Meeting (Saturday).
– No slides were permitted at this TM, otherwise as a presenter I would have used them. Handouts were provided.
– There were many, many public hearings and meetings hosted by the Planning Board and by the BOS over the course of more than a year leading up to TM where the public were invited, and did, participate and raise issues, many of which were used to modify the bylaw during the drafting and negotiating process.
– The process of modifying the article on TM floor is not only 100% by the book, but is regularly and frequently used, as anyone who attends TM has experienced.
– The proponent of the amendment was unknown to anyone working on the bylaw prior to TM. Anonymously suggesting that this was a plant is irresponsible, mean-spirited, and wrong.
– Anonymous posters continue to make false accusations about self-enrichment against their neighbors who volunteer their time to try to improve the town in ways supported by the vast majority of residents. I promise you that I nor any member of the EDC has made a single dollar from the zoning bylaw. Unless you have some actual evidence to the contrary, please stop making baseless, unkind accusations.
– I agree that TM should try to maximize attendance for all voters. My point was that we had higher attendance at the most recent weeknight TM than we did at the most recent Saturday TM.

Lastly, it is disheartening that a public official and recent BOS candidate who intimately knows the TM process and was involved with the zoning bylaw negotiation has stepped forward to agree with and give credence to an objectively false statement.

Naive Nelly
1 year ago
Reply to  Julie Connelly

Clearly there are readers who disagree with your sweeping declarations of “false” statements and opinions. Just because you declare it so, doesn’t actually make it so in fact. People can disagree in their opinions and in fact. That’s what happens in a democracy. Having witnessed this entire sham EDC driven bus, I agree fully with Mike and Mr. Weishan’s comments. Furthermore, while I may not agree at all times with Mr. Weishan’s views on everything, I think he courageously calls out crazily wrong situations and he has my total support as a result. You do not have my support. Also, there should have been presentations on those crazy and confusing changes on Article 10. You are naive if you think the amendments from the floor were not well planned out. As for attendance, it has been low since Covid epidemic, understandably. Lower than before the epidemic. However, if everyone masks up, attendance can improve and anyone who can attend should be able to at a time that works for all.

Kelly Roney
1 year ago
Reply to  Naive Nelly

Paul Carter and I offered amendments from the floor. His two-part amendment passed. My first amendment failed, so I didn’t offer my second amendment. I don’t remember any others.

Here’s the extent to which we coordinated our amendments: not at all. We’re neighbors. We chat when we’re out walking at the same time and I get a chance to scratch his dogs’ ears. Neither of us has ever mentioned this zoning bylaw, although I think we’ve touched on downtown mixed use in general.

Mr. Carter’s amendments didn’t look planned to me. They looked off-the-cuff but rational, which I thought was possible for him due to his professional experience.

On the other hand, yes, I planned my amendments. I used materials published on the town’s web site in my preparation, and I didn’t coordinate with anyone else, either. I wrote the amendments in a day, all by myself, and printed them out in duplicate on my own printer. Craig Nicholson, whom I had never previously spoken to, did me the solid of seconding my amendment, and I thank him for that. If I’d been better prepared, I’d have had a second lined up.

Unfortunately, I did a terrible job of presenting my amendment, so in hindsight I should have taken another day to clean up my points in favor! The bylaw that we passed would have been much stronger with my language. C’est la vie. Oh, BTW, the EDC opposed my amendments. I interpreted their opposition as an attempt to preserve the delicate compromises that the Planning Board had inflicted on the article.

As long as we’re tripping down memory lane, I wish the EDC had completely reworked its offered article after the Mass. Legislature passed and Gov. Baker signed new zoning law that would have permitted a simple majority to pass a mixed use change that was much less restrictive than the one we passed. My point of order, to which Town Counsel responded, was getting at this. It failed, too. Some coordination that was!

(Please note that I can disagree with Planning Board members without impugning their service to the town. They aren’t bad people. We just disagree. The same goes for the EDC, with its well-intentioned but weak bylaw.)

Michael Weishan
1 year ago
Reply to  Naive Nelly

Julie, to dismiss what Mike was saying out of hand is to fail to understand why so many people in town think the EDC is out-of-touch and heavy-handed. The fact is that there were dozens of last-minute highly technical changes that totally altered the scope of what was agreed between Planning, BOS and the EDC. These changes were impossible to follow, even for folks like me who work in the design field. And while the gentleman who made all those last-minute changes from the floor certainly wasn’t a plant by the EDC, he DID however turn out to be a former neighbor and business associate of Peter Bemis, whose Main Street and Newton property benefited directly from the altered parameters. Coincidence? I’ll leave that up to you. Mike’s comments about Mr Healey, who was repeatedly caught on the open mike making disparaging comments about members of the hall, or the total lack of Planning Board support for the final measure are all also totally true. Further, it didn’t help the measure’s credibility when you took to Facebook and flooded the town site with pleas to attend town meeting in order to get pie-in-the-sky improvements downtown, NONE of which, as you and your fellow members of the EDC well know, are possible without a $4M sewage system—a fact you repeatedly decided to ignore as “not being part of our narrative.” My position on this has been consistent throughout my previous campaign and during all our in-person meetings together: it is an inappropriate use of Town resources to change zoning for a single individual, when all this time the EDC could have been turning its energies into creating mixed-use development and affordable housing along RT 9. Now the taxpayers will have to bear the cost of this shortsightedness, and THAT is the REAL disheartening thing here.

Julie Connelly
1 year ago

Mike’s comment had several factually incorrect points – about attendance, TM procedure, opportunity for public input prior to TM, and my failure to use slides – which you, a respected public figure in our Town, gave credibility to wholesale by stating that you “couldn’t agree more”.

There were multiple amendments proposed, but only 2 changes made on TM floor. I voiced my opposition to proposals I felt were out of spirit with the hard work of compromising that the EDC, Select Board, and Planning Board engaged in out of respect for that work. The two changes that were ultimately added were (1) a change to the maximum depth of a building, and (2) a change to the allowable floor area ratio – the ratio of the square footage of a building to the area of land it sits on. I trust our neighbors are capable of understanding these concepts (or if they didn’t that they wouldn’t have overwhelmingly voted for them).

I had not ever spoken to the proponent of the amendments, but as someone who had expertise in this area I appreciated his input. I guess it’s not surprising that he is a “former business associate” (whatever that means) of Mr. Bemis, as they both worked in the same field in the same small town. It is irrelevant unless he was on a board or committee and personally profiting from the zoning change. He is a citizen who happened to have expertise in the area, and apparently residents viewed him as credible.

Mr. Bemis’ failed proposal proves that a sewer system is not necessary for development in the Downtown, as his plans ran on septic, as do all the other existing buildings. Continuing to accuse EDC with sticking it to the taxpayers is just incorrect. The study, paid for by grant money, was to determine what it would take to put one in. No one has proposed one, and it would have to be approved by TM if anyone did.

I appreciate and share in your concern about Rte. 9, which is what EDC is currently focusing its attention on.

Another Point of View
1 year ago

Julie, in your comments above and below, you seem to be unable to recognize key points that others are making. You make broad accusations using loaded negative terms (“factually incorrect”) that doesn’t make it so, just because you say so. As for attendance, the pandemic has resulted in lower attendance, including the last Special Town Meeting last November. Why are you on the attack about something like attendance? There’s a pandemic. Attendance is lower than before the pandemic started. There should be a consensus on the best time and date that can work best for all voters, not just one group of voters. It is also not “factually incorrect” that the voters would have benefited from a presentation. None of the voter handouts matched the many changes. The lack of presentations, for whatever reasons, and the too many changes from the floor was concerning and confusing. Your comment below that you “trust that neighbors are capable of understanding these concepts” is a high handed and inappropriately patronizing statement. Some residents may well not understand those concepts. it is interesting though, that these long winded rationalizations on amendments show up today, using some common language. As Resident below notes, the majority may be wrong and it wasn’t much of a majority anyway. This brings the matter full circle. There should be agreement on a meeting time and date that works for all voters.

John B
1 year ago

We are further reminded that EDC doesn’t tolerate feedback unless you want to offer up praise and accolades. The EDC spent four years (2017-2021) working on a proposal that ultimately benefits one parcel downtown. But, after that prep course in zoning, the EDC is going to lead the charge on Rt 9? What’s wrong with this picture? Where is the evidence that they can handle the complexity of Rt 9 and deliver in a timely way? The current EDC revolves around getting another grant and making sure “something” is passed regardless of real value. How is Rt 9 going to move forward if members of EDC are seemingly incapable of building consensus and collaborating with other committees? The “collaboration” on Downtown happened at the ninth hour and with the EDC “kicking and screaming” to the finish line. Recall the EDC letter to BOS demanding elements of Article 10 be reverted to EDC preferences or else EDC threatened to pull their support of the article entirely (regardless of unanimous votes by elected boards of BOS and Planning)? Sounds more like bullying and less like collaboration. It would help if the BOS carefully appointed experts where expertise is required on committees like EDC. For now, our taxes are going up and other towns are surpassing Southborough with commercial prosperity. Westborough gets another Amazon facility and we get another One Stop Grant submission. The disparities are real and it impacts our wallets and the future of the Town.

Michael Weishan
1 year ago

Amen. I couldn’t agree more with Mike.

Amendments
1 year ago

IMO we need to stop with the 1800s version of town meeting. Only the older generation understands the rules and it’s out of date and sync with reality. It provides an unfair advantage for the people in seats like advisory and the boards to play town meeting like a game and make no mistake it is set up like a game well beforehand. For example, the final documents (blue book) was not handed out to citizens until the night of. Members of advisory like Craig whatever his name is that has caused this town issues on zba and now advisory has inside knowledge to the point that he has amendments written and prepared well ahead of time. Nobody understands the process and in a lot of cases what they are a actually voting on. The EDC is not here to benefit the taxpayers. Don’t make that assumption because you might know someone. They are a function of private developers there is no question about that. Change the meeting structure, make it transparent, eliminate on the fly major changes and put the power back into the peoples hands. Less talking by the edc and Bos and more time for the citizens.

John B
1 year ago

Mike, you are 100% right! Amen and hallelujah! At least Planning Board and two members of Advisory were smart and clever enough to sort thru the confusion and vote NO for Downtown Initiative article on Town Meeting floor. DEFUND THE EDC and eliminate the self-promoting, self-righteous charades put forth as “volunteering” for the Town. We are not quite as ignorant as EDC likes to suggest in their posts. We don’t need these types of volunteers.

Feel free to run
1 year ago

It sounds like a lot of people need to volunteer their time and work on these initiatives first hand. Lots of complaints on a blog post vs actually getting involved. The vocal minority are in fact not representing the vast majority and that was proven at town meeting with how the voters made their opinion known. It’ll be great to see all you keyboard warriors run for the open positions coming up.

Town meeting seemed out of place on a weeknight but if that is what it takes to put butts in seats, then we should hold the meeting whatever day of the week or time for that matter that is most convenient for everyone. Also cancelling sports or school activities that night is even more fitting so a Tuesday might be the easiest to make that happen.

Anita Reader
1 year ago

Don’t you just love it when the response to calling out bad and objected to items is “feel free to run?” In other words, do it yourself. Sorry, the town expects more out of the volunteers who took it upon themselves to jump into the seat in the first instance. Residents are working very hard through the pandemic just putting food on the table, keeping their families warm and children in school. So it is insulting to read comments like the above, from Feel Free to Run. Residents just want the current volunteers to do better and recognize the importance of representing others without manipulation of voters. Also agree strongly with the commenter named Amendments, that there is an unfair advantage by those sitting on boards and committees and town meeting is played like a game. There must be a way to stop manipulating the voters. In years past, before Cimino’s terrible moderating of town meeting, the floor used to just get the information, a balance of pros and cons, and voters could make up their own mind. Ms. Connolly should have given a clear presentation. She also should stop complaining and confusing voters over huge factors like the need for sewer. At $4m cost for sewers to taxpayers, and then to say it is mutually exclusive from the zoning changes just put before voters is a straight up misleading falsehood. The two go hand in hand. Her and Mr. Healey’s attempt to separate the matters so was nothing less than a strategic move to get the zoning through at any cost, and then later present the actual expensive $4m sewer costs to taxpayers later. This stinks. Ratepayers, reject this bullying. Say no to the manipulation, the covered up expenses, and the disingenuous crocodile tears, including Ms. Connolly’s own ironic “unkind” attack on Mr. Weishan for calling out objectionable and obvious factors.

There’s a pandemic, inflation on food, meat, gas, heating fuel. Are these volunteers tone deaf? No to these costs and no to ever increasing taxes. Vote no for this absurd pocket park when the town roads are in such disrepair and there are other priorities. Pay attention to our seniors who cannot afford this craziness. Saw an elderly resident in the grocery store yesterday. Was checking out with very little in the cart. It was heartbreaking. Groceries are double the cost usually paid. A full tank of gas is double cost now. Town volunteers wake up. This is not a game. No more taxes and hidden expenses.

Resident
1 year ago

Cancelling sports and school activities is not a simple task and is why the very popular Southborough Unscheduled Night has been unable to continue.

As far as being vocal, every resident has a right to vocalize his/her thoughts and point of view. It doesn’t matter if that point of view is considered, by some, to be currently popular or the correct way of thinking. It is possible that the majority’s way of thinking is wrong.
It wasn’t all that great of a majority anyway.

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