Town Meeting - Jun 2nd, 2021

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Eleventh night of Arlington's annual town meeting, held via remote participation. Materials were available from

218 present for the check-in vote.

Article 3 - Reports of Committees

(Susan Stamps, Tree Committee) Ms. Stamps says the tree committee has evolved into a committee that works to plant trees and mitigate the effects of climate change. The town has a very good tree warden. The tree committee meets once per month. The town purchased a (natural) gas detector and has been testing for gas in tree pits. The tree warden led several claims against National Grid over gas leaks. The tree committee has an awesome website. The town is starting to install permeable surfaces around street trees. Several trees have been planted at Chestnut manor. Arlington is considered a leader in tree protection and renovation.

(John Maher, Symmes Memorial Fund) Mr. Maher says the Symmes memorial fund is soliciting grants for non-profit agencies doing health work. The fund was formed from the dissolution of the Symmes hospital. July 8th is the deadline for application, and there will be more information in next week's Advocate. The committee expects to have several vacancies in the not too distant future; please send a resume to the Town Manager's office if you're interested in serving.

Article 22 - Provision of Town Email Addresses for Town Meeting Members

The Select Board recommended no action on Article 22. Anna Henkin has a substitute motion.

(Anna Henkin) Ms. Henkin says the article seeks to establish town email addresses for Town Meeting members. Under her substitute motion, the town would set up email aliases for Town Meeting members that request them. The mail wouldn't be stored on a town server and the IT department wouldn't serve as a help desk. Alias providers typically charge a few dollars per user per month. If there isn't funding available for such services, it will wait until an appropriation is made. Town addresses will protect the privacy of town meeting members.

(Annie LaCourt) Ms. LaCourt asks how much effort is involved in setting up an email alias. Also, how can we assure that town staff won't need to provide technical support.

(Len Diggins) Mr. Diggins can't say for sure, but he doesn't believe it takes much effort to create an email alias. He says the article gives the IT department license not to provide support.

(Adam Chapdelaine, Town Manager) Mr. Chapdelaine says the IT department hasn't provided aliases recently, so they weren't able to estimate effort. He thinks the goal is not to provide regular help desk support. However, it's unlikely that IT would turn away a town meeting member that was having difficulties.

(Annie LaCourt) Mr. LaCourt says there are more than 170 town meeting members whose contact information lists a Gmail address. She thinks these TMMs have the wherewithal to set up a separate Gmail account for town meeting business, if they wish to do so. Others have their own domains for email, and could easily set up aliases. There are only a few people who'd need this. In addition to creating aliases, someone has to keep track of Town Meeting member terms and retire the aliases when they're no longer needed.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson recalls a similar proposal coming before town meeting several years ago, and it was voted down. He asks why we're considering this now?

(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine says this article was submitted by ten registered voters.

(John Leone, Moderator) Mr. Leone notes the select board recommended no action on Article 22.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson says town meeting members aren't employees of the town, and are not subject to conflict of interest laws.

(Doug Heim, Town Counsel) Mr. Heim says that town meeting members are representative voters. Conflict of interest laws don't apply, nor do public records laws. Email addresses used in conjunction with a town committee can be subject to public records requests.

(Sanjay Vakil) Mr. Vakil supports the substitute motion. He thinks it's common to have different email addresses for different personas.

(Daniel Jalkut) Mr. Jalkut sees merit in giving constituents confidence that they're communicating with the right person. Passwords shouldn't be an issue here because aliases only forward mail; the town wouldn't be providing a mailbox. He'd use this if it were available, and thinks it could diminish risk. He thinks things should be predictable. Some take pause at the incremental cost, but creating an forwarding alias seems simple to do. He wonders if this might be better done by a good samaritan. But it could also be more trouble than it's worth.

(Caroline Murray) Ms. Murray motions to terminate debate.

Motion to terminate passes, 190--33--0.

Vote on the substitute motion fails, 107--114--5.

Vote on the recommendation of no action passes, 177--48--5.

Article 62 - Appropriations for Committees and Commissions

Article 62 was originally on the consent agenda, but someone pulled it. No one wants to speak about it now.

Article passes, 227--1--0.

Article 67 - Community Preservation Act Funds

Article 67 asks town meeting to approve expenditures of CPA funds, as recommended by the CPA Committee.

(Clarissa Rowe, Interim Chair of the CPA Committee) Ms. Rowe says the CPA committee needs three members, and she encourages people to apply.

(Eric Helmuth, Select Board, former CPA Committee Chair) Mr. Helmuth outlines the ten projects that the CPA Committee has recommended. These include: funding the Housing Corporation of Arlington's Homelessness prevention program, exterior renovations at Drake Village, funding to assist the Somerville Homeless Coalition's leasing differential program, improvements to the north beach ramp at Spy Pond Park, Hurd Field renovations, equipment replacement at Spy Pond playground, a public land management plan, preservation work at the Old Schwamb Mill and Jason Russel House, and a study involving the Foot of Menotomy Rocks Memorial.

(Beth Melofchik) Ms. Melofchik wants to know how many people visit the Jason Russel house each year. Also, how many historic New England homes have geothermal heat?

(Clarissa Rowe) Ms. Rowe says the Jason Russel house has one person living in it. She doesn't know the number of visitors per year, but believes that a heating system will allow more visitors. She says Concord has historic buildings with geothermal heat.

(George Parsons, Arlington Historical Society) Pre-pandemic, Mr. Parsons believes there were 6000 visitors to the Jason Russel house each year. Due to the lack of climate control, the house doesn't take visitors around Thanksgiving and Christmas, which are generally good times for tourism. Orchard house in Concord has geothermal heat, and the Concord Historical Society wrote a letter of support for the use of geothermal heat in the Jason Russel house.

(Beth Melofchik) Ms. Melofchik asks about the scope of work for the Foot of Menotomy Rocks memorial.

(Clarissa) Mr. Rowe says intersection improvements are not within the scope of work.

(Beth Melofchik) Ms. Melofchik wants to ensure that CPA funds aren't being used for traffic improvements.

(Al Tosti) Mr. Tosti says there are traffic improvement projects going on in the general area, and one can get a better picture by looking at the area as a whole. He hopes to expand tourist opportunities for the foot of the rocks monument, because it marks a major battle in the revolutionary war.

(Nancy Bloom) Ms. Bloom asks what the $30k study of public land planning will entail.

(Clarissa Rowe) Ms. Rowe says it will be part of the open space and recreation plan.

(Nancy Bloom) Ms. Bloom can't imagine would could be done at the foot of the rocks site, because it's so small.

(Clarissa Rowe) Ms. Rowe says it would be a study on how to highlight an unknown resource. If the ideas don't pan out, then we don't go to the next phase. Mass Ave was just named an All American Road, and it will be a place people want to visit during the country's 250th anniversary.

(Nancy Bloom) Ms. Bloom says tour buses stop in Lexington only briefly, and she can't imagine them stopping in Arlington more often than that. The idea of geothermal heat for the Jason Russel house is interesting.

(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar motions to terminate debate.

Motion to terminate debate passes, 202--25--1.

Article passes, 223--3--1.

Article 69 - School Committee Member Stipends

Article 69 proposes $3,000 stipends for members of the School Committee. These positions are currently uncompensated.

(Steve DeCourcey, Select Board Chair) Mr. DeCourcey says the Select Board voted in favor of the $3000 dollar stipends. They will take effect in FY2023. This vote creates the stipend; actual appropriations will be made next year.

(Christa Kelleher, Proponent) Ms. Kelleher had two aims when submitting this article: to establish pay equity with other elected positions, and to provide more access to these leadership positions. The School Committee provides a valuable public service. This article proposes the same stipend as the Select Board receives. Even a small stipend can make a different to someone who's considering running. $3,000 can help with childcare costs, or to balance time missed from work.

(John Leonard) Mr. Leonard looked for the word "stipend" in town reports, and found 14 places where "stipend" appears in department and board budgets. These stipends were created without warrant articles. The town budget has appropriations for these 14 town departments. He asks why we're using this article, instead of the school budget. He urges a no vote, and thinks any School Committee compensation should come from the school budget. This doesn't have to be done right away; it can be done at some point in the future. Mr. Leonard points out that there are seven members of the school committee, so the total amount will be $21,000.

(Adam Chapdelaine) Mr. Chapdelaine thinks the idea is to establish some form of compensation for School Committee members. The word "stipend" isn't critical to the article -- it's just a term to describe compensation. With respect to the term "stipend" in departmental budgets, that's usually part of collective bargaining agreements. For example, to cover the cost of uniforms. Compensation for elected officials is very different than compensation for town employees.

(Patty Muldoon) Ms. Muldoon asks why we're proposing stipends for School Committee, but not for our representatives on the Minuteman Regional School Committee. She says there's can't be equity in this situation. She questions this particular article in terms of equity, because this article does not create it. She believes that the Finance Committee is not compensated, and questions the validity of this article.

(Paul Schlictman, Point of order) Mr. Schlictman says that stipends for regional school committees have to come from the regional school district.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson echoes Ms. Kelleher's comments about equity. Members of several boards are paid, but that payment isn't nearly worth the effort involved. The moderator gets $500 and the board of assessors gets $4,900. He supports the article. He'd prefer a town-wide look at compensation for elected officials. He assures Mr. Leonard that these amounts will appear in future finance committee reports. Mr. Jamieson asks if elected officials are eligible for health care.

(Sandy Pooler, Deputy Town Manager) Mr. Pooler says that elected officials were eligible in the past, but the law changed and they're not eligible now. There may be some grandfathered elected officials in town.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson thinks this is small money, which addresses an issue of fairness. He looks forward to further review in the future.

(Frank Ciano, Point of order) Mr. Ciano says the Select Board doesn't get a stipend, they get a wage.

(Leba Heigham) Ms. Heigham moves the question.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson notes that Select Board does get a stipend, or whatever you want to call it. It's $3,000 for each board member and $3,500 for the chair.

Motion to terminate debate passes, 194--27--1.

Article passes, 193--22--10.

Article 70 - Town Clerk Study

Article 70 seeks an appropriation of $10,000 to study the options for converting the Town Clerk from an elected to a hired position.

(Timur Yontar, Point of order) Mr. Yontar asks about the substitute motion that was filed. It was only distributed earlier today, and it seems substantive. He asks the moderator if this is in order.

(John Leone) Mr. Leone acknowledges that the amendment wasn't submitted according to the 48-hour rule. But this is an important article, and the only other option would be to postpone to a date certain. Although the amendment came late, Mr. Leone thinks it's important.

(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar would like to appeal the moderator's decision.

(John Leone) Mr. Leone says town meeting can vote on his decision, or on the motion itself. Either way, it's a vote.

(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar withdraws his appeal.

(Juli Brazile, Town Clerk) Ms. Brazile says the appropriation would be used to study the conversion of the Town Clerk from an elected position to an appointed one. She's been clerk for a year and has been thinking about how to improve the office. Things like meeting state standards for record keeping and accountability. She's asking for a study to examine the pros and cons of converting the clerk to an employee. She says it's hard to measure performance when many of the Clerk's functions are not directly visible to residents of the town. There's a risk if the Clerk's office has a deficiency, and the Clerk can't or isn't willing to address it.

Elections are an area that will increase in complexity, and they're a critical part of democracy. She'd like to understand the qualities that would be useful for the position. The study would look at similar communities and see what they've done.

Ms. Brazile thinks that Ms. Preston's substitute motion is vague. She thinks the study group should report to the Select Board, rather than Town Meeting. She also campaigned on studying the effects of converting the Clerk to an appointed position.

(Joann Preston) Ms. Preston has a substitute motion. She thinks it's an improvement over the original article which will avoid a perceived conflict of interest. She wants the moderator to appoint the study committee, and doesn't want the Clerk to be a formal member. She says the committee should not work with a pre-conceived notion of the outcome. Her substitute motion doesn't set any other parameters on the committee. She just talking about a perceived conflict of interest.

(Elizabeth Dray) Ms. Dray is against the article, and says we already understand that this isn't a good idea. She thinks the Clerk should be elected, because they're in charge of elections. We need to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. We can improve the office without turning it into an appointed position. The Town Manager should not have this much power. There's a conflict of interest because the Clerk supports converting the position to an appointed one.

(Adam Auster) Mr. Auster isn't convinced that the position should be changed, but voting for a study is just voting for a study. He thinks the Clerk's idea for a study committee makes sense.

(Janice Weber) Ms. Weber opposes the article. There's always a friend of a friend, and they same think happened with the town treasurer. We shouldn't change to an appointed Clerk just because someone got sick. Changing to an appointed position just means that someone's friend will get the job.

(Michelle Durocher) Ms. Durocher asks how the $10,000 will be used.

(Juli Brazile) Ms. Brazile explains that the money will be used to hire a consultant to facilitate the process, with an unbiased eye.

(Michelle Durocher) Ms. Durocher thinks that paid consultants often want to please their employers, and she's worried about bias. She asks how the committee would compensate against bias.

(Juli Brazile) Ms. Brazile says it that keeping the position elected would be in her interest. Lots of towns have appointed clerks; for example, Lexington's clerk has been appointed for years. She notes that different towns have different practices, and it can be difficult to comprehend why other towns do thinks differently. For example, Lexington elects their town moderator every year. Her goal is to perform a thorough review of the options.

(Michelle Durocher) Ms. Durocher would like the study to be done without a paid consultant.

(John Worden) Mr. Worden says he has a bias, which is in favor of democracy, and that includes electing important officials. The Clerk interacts with the public and should be chosen by the community. Every one of Arlington's Clerks has had their own talents and style. The Clerk's office has the same staff they've always had. There's been a tremendous upsurge in the amount of work required for elections. He says it's important to elect, and he doesn't care what other people to. We had a revolution because we didn't like one-man rule. If the clerk were appointed, who would do the appointing? We could end up with someone we don't know. Anyone. He's against the article.

(Annie LaCourt) Ms. LaCourt notes that several speakers have alluded to Ms. Brazile campaigning on this issue. She asks for clarification.

(Juli Brazile) During her campaign, Ms. Brazile said that her position was to study the option of converting the Clerk from an elected to an appointed position. She hasn't made up her mind on the issue; she'd rather do the work and figure out what seems best.

(Annie LaCourt) Ms. LaCourt says the town had a professional study done when we were considering a switch from an elected treasurer to an appointed one. She supports the main motions and objects to the Preston motion. She'd like the study to involve someone outside the town, for objectivity. It's incumbent to tell the consultant that you want them to provide an honest, unbiased opinion. Although the Clerk is elected, there's currently little oversight for the position. She thinks the clerk should be appointed.

(David Good) Mr. Good asks if the current organizational structure contributes to inefficiencies in the Clerk's office.

(Juli Brazile) Ms. Brazile is more concerned about performance and accountability; the study was not motivated by a desire to improve efficiency.

(David Good) Mr. Good asks if Ms. Brazile thinks she could do a better job if the Clerk's position was appointed.

(Juli Brazile) Ms. Brazile says she'd like to do the work of finding out what the pros and cons are; that's what the study is for. She'd also like to see the Clerk's office to a better job of coordinating with other departments.

(Silvia Dominguez) Ms. Dominguez has a lot of concerns about this article. She used to live in an undemocratic society. An appointed Clerk will increase the opportunity for doubt in our elections. Democracies are transparent. We should not give this up and become more unaccountable. There's no reason for us to get further away from democracy.

(Charles Blandy) Mr. Blandy moves the question.

Motion to terminate debate passes, 185--37--0.

Preston motion fails, 72--149--4.

Article passes, 133--93--0.

Article 77 - Use of Free Cash

Free cash is money appropriated, but not used during the previous fiscal year. Article 77 returns that money to the general fund, so that it can be used to determine the next tax rate.

(Charlie Foskett, Finance Committee Chair) Mr. Foskett says that free cash is whatever money is unspent at the end of the year. He thinks the town needs to find new sources of revenue, or we need to spend less. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue certifies the amount of free cash that each municipality has at the end of each year. The town's practice has been to put half back into the treasury and half into the override stabilization fund.

There are no comments on Article 77.

Article passes, 218--0--0.

Article 76 - Long Term Stabilization Fund

(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett says that Arlington spends money faster than proposition 2.5 allows. When we pass an override, that money goes into the override stabilization fund. This year, we're taking $6.2M out of the fund in order to balance the budget. We'll have $7M uncovered in FY 2024. He understands we may be getting some federal aid funds, which could delay that shortfall. Still, the town needs to constrain its budget and increase revenue.

(Timur Yontar, Capital Planning Committee Chair) Mr. Yontar supports the article. The override stabilization fund will be exhausted in FY 2024. He asks Mr. Foskett what actions town meeting can take.

(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett says that Arlington's structural deficit won't disappear, and it's not sustainable. He suggests that town meeting members attend meetings and try to influence fiscal policies. Adopt fiscally conservative policies. Personnel expenses drive town costs. He thinks the town should institute a hiring freeze and start decreasing salaries. He wants more business and less residential density.

(Beth Ann Friedman) Ms. Friedman asks if federal grant money would go into free cash.

(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett says it would depend on the mechanics of the grants.

(Beth Ann Friedman) Ms. Friedman asks where excess money goes.

(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett says excess funds go into the general fund.

It's getting close to 11:00, and there are four more articles left on the warrant. They're all resolutions. The moderator conducts a Zoom poll, to see if town meeting members want to finish the remaining articles tonight or come back on Wednesday. About three quarters would like to finish tonight, so we'll keep going.

(Zarina Memon, Point of order) Ms. Memon thinks it's really late, and the poll should have been done earlier in the evening.

(Karen Kelleher) Ms. Kelleher wishes to say a few words about federal recovery act funding. The pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on low income individuals. She asks if there are plans to use federal funds to address this.

(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett says that future funds won't affect this year's budget. There are several categories where federal funds can be used, such as mitigating the impact to small businesses, residential relief, and water and sewer. This is all specified in regulations. He expects funds to be applied to the neediest communities first.

(Christine Deshler) Ms. Deshler motions to terminate debate.

Motion to terminate passes, 182--15--2.

Article passes, 202--2--0.

The next four articles are resolutions (i.e., the decisions Town Meeting makes are not binding). The moderator intends to give four minutes to proponents, and four minutes to opponents.

Article 78 - Tree Canopy as a Public Health Resource

The Select Board recommended no action on this resolution; Beth Melofchik has a substitute motion.

(Beth Melofchik, Proponent) Ms. Melofchik believes that preserving access to the tree canopy begins with affirming trees as a public health resource. We will not reach net zero with new zoning laws alone. We should achieve 60% canopy coverage over sidewalks. Arlington's tree preservation bylaw is good but it needs to go further. Development brings tree loss. We need more preservation and tree plans.

(Susan Stamps) Ms. Stamps says the proponent brought this resolution to the tree committee, and the tree committee declined to support it. The town is doing a huge number of things related to trees. The things this resolution is saying are already in the preamble to the tree bylaw. The tree committee feels that support for this resolution is a statement that the town is not doing anything, and this isn't the case.

Substitute motion fails, 67--120--8.

Vote on the Select Board's recommendation of no action passes, 157--35.

Article 81 - Broadway Corridor Design Competition

(Barbara Thornton, Proponent) Ms. Thornton doesn't see this as a planning study. Rather, it's a way to expand our vocabulary for the built environment. The resolution asks for a design competition in East Arlington, where designers and planners give ideas of what the area should look like in 20 years. The key attributes would be economic opportunities, high quality walkable streets, open space, sustainability, storm water management, and resilience. Put less attention on cars, and more on people. Make East Arlington an innovation district.

(Michael Ruderman) Mr. Ruderman thinks this resolution is more like someone's class project. The 2019 Broadway corridor study wasn't done by MIT's Planning Department; it was done by a group of students in MIT's planning program as a class project. When you offer nothing in a competition, the entries you get are commensurate. Who'd spend time to work on this? He thinks such a study is fully within the competency of the planning department, and any designs need to be accountable.

Resolution passes, 137--48.

Article 90 - Program to Install Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

(Silvia Dominguez, Proponent) Ms. Dominguez says that electric vehicle sales were up 30% in the last year. She's driven an electric vehicle for the last eight years. It's hard to charge EVs in East Arlington homes, due to the lack of space. People with electric vehicles only go where there are charges, so chargers can bring economic activity to an area. She thinks it's not okay to have to walk 25 minutes to a charging station.

(Janice Weber) Ms. Weber says that not everyone can afford an EV. The town doesn't pay for gasoline, and it shouldn't pay for electricity to charge people's cars. She opposes the resolution.

Resolution passes, 163--17--10.

Article 91 - Declaration of Climate Emergency

(Parke Wilde, Proponent) Mr. Wilde says that numerous communities made declarations of climate emergency in 2020. He'd like Arlington to do this too.

Resolution passes, 172--13--5.

There are no more articles, and town meeting is dissolved.