Special Town Meeting Recap

A quick summary of the votes at Thursday night's meeting.

Above: Planning Board’s attempt to pass a Tree Protection bylaw was just one of the Articles that Special Town Meeting didn’t support tonight (photo by Beth Melo)

Tonight’s Special Town Meeting was a late one. For now, I’m giving a quick recap of the results. I’ll save coverage for the long debates for after I get some sleep!

Voters decided on most of 13 Articles with a few postponements. (You can view the full Warrant here and my summary of what the Articles were about here.)

I . Amend Town Code – Trees — failed

2. Amend Town Code – Scenic Roads — Indefinitely postponed at Planning Board’s request

3. Appropriation – Public Shade Trees — revised motion passed (to authorize $100k transfer from Overlay funds for the expense)

4. Collective Bargaining Agreement — passed

5. Insurance Deductible Account — passed

6. Easements for EV Charging Stations — passed

7. Amend Town Code – Deadline for Warrant Article Submissions — passed

8. Amend Town Code – Voting Procedures — passed

9. General Government Capital Items — indefinitely postponed at Select Board’s request

I0. Transfer of Funds for Assessors’ Real Estate Software — passed

11. Transfer of Funds for Professional Appraisal Services — passed

12. Citizen Petition – Restrict Placement of Flags In Old Burial Ground — failed

13. Citizen Petition – St. Mark’s Triangle Land Acquisition — indefinitely postponed at petitioner’s request

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Kelly Roney
1 month ago

I’d like to note what unites us in the impassioned Article 12 debate:

  • No one attacked veterans.
  • No one defended the use by white supremacists and insurrectionists of the Gadsden flag.

You’ll have to judge for yourself the sincerity of various proponents and opponents, but we all recognized what’s not acceptable to the vast majority of people in Southborough.
In a strange way, that means that the Special Town Meeting is on the record as pro-veteran, anti-insurrection, and anti-white-supremacy. Maybe that wasn’t a bad day’s work.

John Butler
1 month ago
Reply to  Kelly Roney

I agree. The topic could have gotten ugly, and it was a credit to the community that it did not. Kudos to all who participated.
However, we don’t want every person who becomes disappointed by a decision of the Select Board, or another board or committee, to threaten that Board with “We’ll take it to Town Meeting,” when Town Meeting isn’t empowered to decide the question. Town Meeting is long enough, and tedious enough, dealing just with its own business, without adding hours of fraught debate about topics that must be decided elsewhere and that have been decided in their proper venue. There’s an endless supply of topics we could argue about for hours but can’t do anything about.
This particular topic was heavily debated in open meeting before the Select Board. Those disappointed in that decision, or its decision making at large, could choose to run for that office, and one such person, Michael Weishan, did so at one point. That’s great. That’s where it belongs and that’s the response that is appropriate. Consider that if the Town Meeting vote had gone the other way, requesting that Select Board reverse its earlier decision, and then Select Board did not do so, we’d be back to exactly where we were before it came to Town Meeting.
You have a right to bring almost any topic before Town Meeting. About topics that, by law, must be decided elsewhere, it would often be virtuous to exercise restraint.

Michael Weishan
1 month ago
Reply to  John Butler

John, I think many of us thought the topic did get ugly, from the dismissive and misogynist comments from one of the the presenters “You’re a pharmacist aren’t you, and I am sure you are a good one!” to the absolutely extraordinary claim by another flag proponent that some veterans deserve more consideration than the rest of us, which is right out of a fascist L. Ron Hubbard sci-fi novel. (Tell that to the nurses in the COVID ward!) The only thing that prevented a debacle was the extraordinary courage and rationality of the presenters in the face of an incredible set of untruths. The fact of the matter is this: a formal request to fly alternative flags starting this Monday has already been made and will be reinforced, legally if necessary, until the BOS mans up and commits to a flag policy for all that prevents these private displays. And yes, I agree, this vote should be foremost in voters minds next May, especially if you don’t want to live in a town flying the flags of a militant political minority. I will also add that this is the second special town meeting that has been high-jacked by special interests promoting their agenda with last minute publicity bursts to stack the hall, complete with Marty Healy reappearing to remind us once again that “he was a lawyer” and the rest of us were irrational peons. Given the meager attendance, I don’t think these special town meetings can accurately reflect the will of the general voter population, and I will be opposing them in the future.

Last edited 1 month ago by Michael Weishan
Al Hamilton
1 month ago

Mr. Weishan is correct that the attendees of any town meeting are not usually a broad cross section of our community. Those that choose to attend are typically older than average and probably have lived in town longer than average. They tend to be less likely to have young children. That is exactly why these sort of “advisory articles” should not carry much weight with the targets of the “advice”.
However, we should also not place excessive credence on the number of signatures gained to place an article before Town Meeting. I have signed a number of petitions to give a proponent or candidate access to the requested forum while making it clear I would oppose the matter or candidate. When I have gathered signatures, I have had people say the same to me. Signing a petition to put something before Town Meeting is not the same as supporting that matter.
It was clear to me that decent people can very reasonably disagree about this issue. This was an interesting debate that ultimately settled nothing. The only good news was that in the finest traditions of Town Meeting the debate, for the most part, was carried out with dignity and restraint.
Town Meeting has important work to do. Advisory Articles are a very low priority, in my opinion. Perhaps either the Moderator or by by-law we should limit the time of debate on Advisory Articles.

Rebecca Deans-Rowe
1 month ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

There seems to be some confusion about the petition referenced at the meeting. The comments about “over 300 signatures” referred to the online change.org petition from last year initiated by Claire Deans-Rowe.

Regarding the importance of advisory articles, it is a cold, hard fact that politicians are motivated largely by public pressure. If a problem cannot be addressed legislatively, but is nevertheless worthy of public discussion, what are the options for town citizens? Speaking at Select Board meetings clearly does not yield sufficient discourse and consideration, as evidenced by the dismissal of the flag issue last year. Promises to follow up and engage in further discussion with the presenters never materialized.

Sometimes a large public forum is required to shine a light on serious issues. The flags flown at the Old Burial Ground are a serious issue for a several reasons, but two are particularly important. We have a Christian flag on town property, and we have two flags that represent anti-government extremism and white supremacy to a significant number of people. People driving through our town will see a statement of support for these extremists – a statement endorsed by town government on behalf of all citizens. I don’t think it is necessary for me to explain why this is a wrong.

Al Hamilton
1 month ago

I would like to correct one minor misconception that was offered during the budget phase of the Special Town Meeting.
It was suggested that transfers from the Overlay Reserve would not impact our property taxes. The proper suggestion is that transfers from the Overlay Reserve will not impact our taxes this year.
Forgive me while I delve into the arcane world of public sector accounting. The Overlay Reserve is the towns reserve account that in the private sector would be called “Allowance for Doubtful Accounts”. It is used to make up for any shortfalls in property tax receipts. This could be due to an abatement or failure to pay.
This account is funded by a very modest “surcharge” on our tax bill. This surcharge is authorized by the Board of Assessors and is not voted on by town meeting.
It is not unusual for monies from the Overlay Reserve to be released by the Board of Assessors if they believe they have sufficient reserves but we should recognize that we may be called on to replenish these sums in the future if the Board of Assessors deems it prudent. That replenishment will require a small increase in our property taxes.
I don’t think this is a big deal but we should always be careful when we make representations about the impact on our taxes.

Kathy Cook
1 month ago

My response is to Mr. Hamilton’s comment on the impact of releasing some of the overlay reserve to fund most of the money articles from last night’s special town meeting.
Each year Mr. Cibelli requests an increase to the overlay reserve that is usually about $400k per year. Each year he also releases an amount from the overlay reserve based on what abatement cases have closed, statute of limitations expired, etc. For the past two years Mr. Cibelli’s requested increase to the overlay reserve has been extraordinarily high due to his concern over a couple of unusual situations. Those situations have mostly been resolved favorably so Mr. Cibelli released a portion of the extra overlay that he had been accumulating for those unusual situations. Bottom line is that the additional overlay released for the STM articles is not expected to need to be replenished anytime soon. We should be back to the normal debit and credit each year.

Kathy Cook

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