Town Meeting - May 13, 2019

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Seventh night of town meeting.


Article 37: Remove Police Chief from Civil Service. The previous meeting ended with debate on Article 37, and that's where we pick up.

(Christopher Moore) Mr. Moore asks how recruiting would work if we keep the police chief in civil service.

Adam Chapdelaine says that recruiting would be limited to current employees; captain and lieutenants within the department.

Mr. Moore asks how recruiting would work, without civil service.

Mr. Chapdelaine says the town would perform an assessment, similar to what would be done under civil service. But the town would be able to view the proceedings, and would have a larger applicant pool to draw from.

Mr. Moore thinks it makes sense to broaden the pool.

(Bill Hayner) Mr. Hayner opposes the article. He says that without civil service, he'd be able to apply for a police chief position. He thinks the civil service exam requires a fair and systematic evaluation of candidates.

(John Deist) Move the question.

Motion to terminate debate fails, 109--90 (requires a 2/3's vote).

(Charlie Foskett) Mr. Foskett opposes the article. He's curious as to why this only affects the police chief. He says that civil service began in 1881, under Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt wanted to get the best employees to work in the government. Mr. Foskett says that Shay's Rebellion is an example of people taking matters into their own hands, and notes that the US fought a civil war in 1861. He states that Select Board member Dan Dunn lamented the town's inability to fire the police chief.

(Joe Tully) Mr. Tully states that Mr. Dunn's earlier comments were questionable. He states the civil service is a way to protect workers, and to keep them free from political influence.

(Betty Stone) Ms. Stone supports the article. She thinks that removing the position from civil service will assure an open and competitive process. This doesn't preclude the town from hiring within the department. We want the best fit for our community, and don't want the position to go to the best test taker. She says she's been fooled by snazzy interview candidates, and doesn't want that to happen here. She notes that neighboring towns have their police chief outside civil service.

(John Leonard) Mr. Leonard opposes the article. In April 2002, we had a similar article before town meeting, to put the police chief into civil service. That article passed 154--6, but we had to file home rule legislation in order to do it. Mr. Leonard asks if we'll need to file home rule legislation for this article.

Doug Heim states that in 2002, our home rule legislation was an act clarifying a civil service position. That position was not strictly a police chief position, as defined under civil service law, and we needed the home rule legislation for clarity.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson favors the article, and found Mr. Dunn's statements compelling. He wouldn't favor taking rank and file officers out of civil service, but favors a broader applicant pool for the chief's position. Mr. Jamieson says he's worked for a number of medical centers. At a medical center, the search for a new chairperson almost always starts outside the organization. Different institutions have different cultures, and there's benefit to looking outside. He doesn't want to see the police department become a mono-culture.

(Peter Gast) Mr. Gast thinks the difference is in the hiring side vs. the firing side. He asks Ms. Mahon to reiterate her argument.

Ms. Mahon says the town took the police chief's position out of civil service in 1999. We put the position back into civil service in 2002, because our police chief said he needed civil service protections in order to grow the department.

(Steve DeCourcey) Mr. DeCourcey stands in opposition to the article. In 2015, Chief Ryan announced that he was leaving the town of Arlington for the MBTA. The town manager brought a similar article to town meeting, but Chief Ryan stayed. This created an expectation that the next appointment would come from civil service. We're hiring the next chief from within the department, and that's another reason to keep the position in civil service. We will have a just cause standard for termination, regardless of whether the chief is in civil service. Earlier this year, Lexington took their police chief out of civil service, by a vote of 140--2, and their police chief was in favor of this. He thinks that Arlington has a different situation, and that the new chief should be part of the discussion. He notes that we're not taking the fire chief's position out of Civil Service. Mr. DeCourcey asks fire chief Bob Jefferson for his opinion.

Mr. Jefferson opposes the article, as a fire chief. He feels that civil service allows him to make strong equitable decisions. He says we have a good town manager now, but that wasn't always the case.

(Jordan Weinstein) Mr. Weinstein supports the article. He asks if the police chief has a personal service agreement.

Chief Ryan did. The acting chief does not.

Mr. Weinstein asks what benefits are given by a personal service agreement.

Adam Chapdelaine says that a personal service agreement requires just cause for termination. He thinks town deserves a reasonable degree of control over department heads, and the police chief should not be exempt from that. Mr. Chapdelaine says the fire chief is different; the fire chief cannot arrest someone and put them in jail. There's a lot of concern about policing in this country. He notes that a sergeant in our police department wrote an inflammatory article with racist views. Rather than suspending the officer, we used a restorative justice process. He believes the town has a right to control what the police force does.

(Annie LaCourt) Ms. LaCourt notes that two former captains of the Arlington police department went on to become police chiefs in other municipalities. She asks if they were hired into civil service positions.

Adam Chapdelaine says no.

Ms. LaCourt asks: under civil service, if our preferred candidate did not have the top test score, who would decide if an alternate choice is okay.

Mr. Chapdelaine says we'd have to appeal to the state Civil Service Commission.

Ms. LaCourt asks if the town could dismiss a police chief that wanted to cooperate with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, if the police chief was a civil service position.

Mr. Chapdelaine says we could try, but the chief would likely appeal (through the civil service commission).

Ms. LaCourt asks how this would play out, if the chief were not in civil service.

Mr. Chapdelaine says the chief could appeal in court.

Doug Heim states that these cases are different, and that a number of laws apply. Appeal under civil service is not automatic.

Ms. LaCourt asks: without civil service, do we depend on the town manager and police chief to negotiate appropriate just cause termination conditions.

Yes.

Ms. LaCourt doesn't believe there's anything magical about the police chief's position. She thinks we should be able to hire outside the department, and negotiate just cause termination conditions.

(Mark McCabe) Mr. McCabe says that we're in for a surprise. And indeed we are. (Mr. McCabe usually gets up to terminate debate; this time, he's going to speak on the article).

Mr. McCabe is totally against the article. He thinks that people deserve the right to work their way up the ladder to success. Officers take civil service exams to move up in rank. He thinks we should leave the position as-is. He thinks that people outside don't know the pulse of the town.

(Bob Radocia) Mr. Radocia opposes the article. He believes the police chief should come up through the ranks, because that's what matters. The fire and police departments are the most important departments in town. He states that police chief is not a political job.

(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar thanks the previous speakers, and he thinks this is a tricky article. He asks if the town manager can tell us why he inserted this article.

Adam Chapdelaine said he wanted more flexibility in the hiring process, and more accountability. He says we haven't hired from civil service in three decades; we hired Chief Ryan outside of civil service, and that was one of the best decisions we've ever made.

Mr. Yontar says he'll vote yes.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak asks which town positions are hired from civil service.

Adam Chapdelaine says that all police department and fire department personnel are hired from civil service. That includes all of the rank and file officers.

(Samantha Dutra) Ms. Dutra is opposed to the article. She says she studies organizational change, and when morale changes, it's an issue. She thinks that too much change is not good for a community.

(Eric Hellmuth) Moves the question.

Motion to terminate approved on a voice vote.

Article passes, 126--81.


Article 34 Reconsideration. Paul Schlictman moves reconsideration on Article 34. He thinks that town meeting didn't realize what the uplighting amendment did.

Motion for reconsideration fails, 85--93.


Article 38: Senior Tax Deferral Limit. Adam Chapdelaine introduces the article. Last year, we filed home rule legislation, to increase tax deferral limits. This article would set the deferral limit at $88,000, the highest amount allowed by the state.

(Sophie Migliazzo) Ms. Migliazzo notes that only 12 taxpayers are taking advantage of the deferral program. She asks how many would benefit under this change, and how the town would cope with the loss of revenue.

Sandy Pooler says the short term loss comes out of the overlay fund. The amount is repaid when the house is sold, plus 3.5% interest. Twelve residents are currently using this program. Mr. Pooler doesn't know how many would under the new limit. He suggests the number may double.

(Christoper Moore) Mr. Moore asks what happens if a senior wants to take advantage of this program, but has a mortgage.

Paul Tierney says the bank would have to sign off.

Mr. Moore asks if this would disqualify someone with a mortgage.

Doug Heim says he doesn't have an answer to this question.

Mr. Moore supports the article.

(Michael Quinn) Mr. Quinn says there are a number of programs available to seniors. We don't know how many will use the program under the proposed change. He favors the article.

(John Worden) Mr. Worden supports the idea. In his law practice, he had a client with a limited income and a nice house. He was able to work out a tax deferral with the town, and the homeowner was able to remain in their home. He thinks this is a good program.

Article passes, 207--2.


Article 39: Authorization to Deaccession Town Property - Library Prints. Andrea Nicolay presents. The library has approximately 150,000 prints in the Winfreid Robbins Collection. These were donated to the town in the 1890's along with a trust to maintain them. The value of this collection has been dropping over time, and is challenging the library's mission to stay relevant to current needs.

Ms. Nicolay summarizes the history of maintaining the collection. A curator expressed concern about the collection in 1925. In 1946 a curator opined that the collection was not worth fully cataloging. The collection was appraised in the 1950s, and some prints were loaned to the Smithsonian in the 1960s. A 1977 article in the Arlington Advocate described the collection as an attempt to protect the print format (Winfreid Robbins was concerned about photography causing the demise of the print format).

The library eliminated the collection curator role in 1978. In 1986, the Boston Public Library's keeper of prints said our efforts to maintain the collection were of questionable value, and the Arlington Historical commission said the collection should be sold.

We had the collection appraised again in 1990, and the appraiser felt it would be difficult to sell.

These 150,000 prints occupy a large number of square feet in the library, and that space could be put to better use.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson asks if we have any Rembrandts in the attic.

Ms. Nicolay says no.

Mr. Jamieson asks what will happen to the prints in the Smithsonian.

Ms. Nicolay says the library will arrange a transfer of ownership.

Article passes, 186--7.


Article 40: Robbins Library Parking Costs. The select board voted no action on this article. Andrew Fischer, the resident proponent, is bringing it back via substitute motion. Mr. Fischer presents.

The substitute motion is asking town meeting to vote on a non-binding resolution to reduce parking costs at the library. The Library Board of Trustees felt this request was timely. The library lot used to have a time limit, but there was no charge for parking. Street meters provide an option to get 15 minutes of parking for free, but that option isn't available in the library lot. Mr. Fischer believes the parking costs constitute unequal treatment. He notes that the American Library Association's website says that charging for services is a barrier, and searching for less expensive parking is an issue. The library lot charges $1/hour for parking. The goal of this article is to state the sentiment of town meeting.

(Michele Durocher) Ms. Durocher asks if the library director would like to comment on this article.

Andrea Nicolay says that parking turnover is higher with the meters, and patrons have an easier time finding parking.

Ms. Durocher asks if there are options we can consider.

Ms. Nicolay is concerned that lowering the cost in the library lot make it the "cheap lot" in town. People would attempt to park there first.

(Jim O'Connor) Mr. O'Connor said he asked Ms. Nicolay if there could be a parking voucher program for library patrons, and that Ms. Nicolay said this would create a privacy issue. Mr. O'Connor believes we need to sponsor diversity and inclusion. He notes that the library may have equipment that people do not have in their homes. He asks how we can include everyone, and challenges the Board of Directors to find a way to make this happen.

(Rod Holland) Mr. Holland supports the article. He says that people are bothered by parking meters at the Library.

(Mustafa Varoglu) Mr. Varoglu supports the article. He asks if we could find parking machines that supported a validated parking option.

(Paul Schlictman) Motions to terminate debate.

Fischer substitution passes 121--61.

Article passes, 125--52.


Article 41: Redevelopment Board Membership and Terms. Recommended vote of no action passes by voice vote.


Article 43: Means-Tested Senior Tax Relief. Adam Chapdelaine presents the article. Mr. Chapdelaine says this is another form of tax relief, which is modeled after a program used in Sudbury and Concord. It would reduce the tax burden on qualified seniors, and redistribute the tax burden to other residents. Arlington has approximately 968 seniors that would qualify for this program. If all 968 took advantage of the program, the average tax bill would increase by approximately $68/year.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak has a question about section 2(a) of the main motion. The program limits are $58,000 for a household of one, and $88,000 for a household of two. In terms of area median incomes, $58,000 for a household of one is approximately 70% AMI; $88,000 for a household of two is approximately 93% AMI, which is rather generous. Mr. Revilak asks why there's such a difference between the income limits for one- and two-person households.

Mr. Chapdelaine says the limits are a function of state law.

Mr. Revilak has a question about section 2(d) of the main motion. The section appears to put a limit on the assessed value that will be eligible for the credit, and comments on page 31 of the Select Board's report indicate that the limit will be based on the "median assessed value in Arlington". Mr. Revilak asks what kinds of properties will be considered in that median calculation.

Mr. Chapdelaine says the median value calculations will be based upon the type of home.

Mr. Revilak states that per 2018 property assessments, the median assessed value of a single-family home was around $619k, and the median assessed value of a condominium was around $395k. He asks if the limits will be along those lines.

Mr. Chapdelaine says they will.

(John Deist) Mr. Deist likes the desire to help people, but he doesn't understand why we put such an emphasis on helping older people who are doing well, and placing an extra burden on younger residents.

Mr. Chapdelaine says this a ramification of proposition 2.5. We depend on property tax, which is a regressive tax. He doesn't believe the legislature would allow us to revise proposition 2.5.

Mr. Deist urges the Select Board to find a way to help younger people.

(Sophie Migliazzo) Ms. Migliazzo asks a question about page 31 of the Select Board's report: would someone have to qualify for the state circuit breaker program first?

Adam Chapdelaine says that 12 people currently utilize this program, but 968 would qualify under the provisions of this article. He doesn't know how many of the 968 would use the program.

Ms. Migliazzo asks if a resident could use other deferrals and exemptions, in addition to this program.

Mr. Chapdelaine says they could.

(Charles Hartshorne) Mr. Hartshorne asks if the circuit breaker program considers any measures of wealth. For example, what if an applicant had $10M in the bank?

Doug Heim says that the circuit breaker program's application would account for wealth.

Mr. Chapdelaine states that the proposed home rule legislation could deny benefits to someone with excessive assets.

(Michael Quinn) Mr. Quinn helps seniors with tax preparation. He says that most seniors have no assets other than their houses. They don't get income from 1099s -- just social security and maybe a small pension. He says that lots of seniors are cash poor, and encourages town meeting to support this article. He says the state circuit breaker program doesn't have asset limits, because they're hard to monitor.

(John Worden) Mr. Worden says that he gets social security and medicare. If all you have is social security, then you'll have a tough time affording property taxes in Arlington. Mr. Worden says he manages a fund that was set up in 1912, to help indigent and elderly couples. He urges support of the article.

(Gordon Jamieson) Mr. Jamieson notes that 968 is the number who would qualify for this program, and twelve is the number who use property tax deferments. He says that the circuit breaker program has more qualifications, and provides an example of how it works.

(James O'Connor) Mr. O'Connor says he's a tax consultant. Seniors are limited to $750k houses. The criteria includes pension income and social security. The max circuit breaker credit is $1,100/household, and many don't get anywhere near that.

(Ann Fitzgerald) Ms. Fitzgerald is a single tax payer and a senior. The idea behind fixed income is that when you retire, your income drops considerably. Fixed is fixed. Because we voted for a new high school, we need to support seniors. She says she's paid taxes for 32 years, and needs the ability to stay here. More senior means fewer students to worry about.

(Paul Schlictman) Motion to terminate debate.

Article passes, 188--5.


Article 44: CPA Surcharge Exemption for Senior Homeowners. No action passes by voice vote.


Article 45: Extending Local Voting Rights to All Legal Permanent Arlington Residents. Paul Schlictman introduces Ben Rudick, who presents the article.

Mr. Rudick says this article is a request for home rule legislation that would allow all legal residents (i.e., green card holders) to vote in local elections. Mr. Rudick has several neighbors who've lived here for years, own houses, pay taxes, but can't vote because they're not citizens. In an earlier time, non-citizen voting was common. Non-citizens lost their voting rights in 1926. So, they had the right to vote, lost it, and then never got it back. This was the result of anti-immigrant sentiment after world war one.

Because of Massachusetts law, the state would have to approve our request for legal resident voting rights. A number of cities are filing similar legislation, and every successful home rule petition moves us closer to changing laws at the state level.

(Rieko Tanaka) Ms. Tanaka came to the US from Japan in 1989, on a student visa. She's made the transition from student visa to green card holder to US citizen. She says it took many years for her to become a citizen; the process was challenging and expensive. Her home country, Japan, does not allow dual citizenship, and that made the decision harder. She says that many green card holders aren't able to make the same decision she did, and urges a yes vote on the article.

(?) This town meeting member supports the motivations for this article. He'd like like to extend local election voting rights to 16 and 17 year olds as well. He has reservations about the article, though. A lawyer friend told him this could be a trap. When applying for citizenship, applicants are asked if they've ever voted. He thinks this issue deserves more review, and suggests that the voting rights commission could explore it. He doesn't want to harm residents who might want to go on and become citizens.

(Michael Ruderman) Mr. Ruderman says the proponent presents a scholarly argument, and the core of the proponent's argument is that these folks deserve the right to vote. Mr. Ruderman says there's no way we can measure their engagement. We can't decide who's deserving and who's not. He states that we're not leaving legal residents bereft; they can apply for citizenship if they want the right to vote. He says we can't gauge who's worthy of the right to vote, based on common characteristics. He intends to vote no on this article.

(Timur Yontar) Mr. Yontar thinks this is a great idea in theory. He asks town counsel if it's legal.

Doug Heim says that Chapter 51 section 1 sets forth voter qualifications. He can't speak to citizenship applications, but thinks this should be possible for local elections.

Mr. Yontar asks if passing this article would be a purely symbolic measure.

Doug Heim thinks the state is unlikely to pass the home rule legislation, but he can't say for sure.

(Patty Muldoon) Ms. Muldoon says that Massachusetts has disenfranchised felons from voting. She thinks it's amazing for Arlington to take on a task like this. Many communities will need to pass similar legislation in order to convince the state to act. She says we've reduced the number of people who can vote all across the country. Enfranchisement is an important step to take.

Ms. Muldoon asks what the legislation would accomplish.

Mr. Rudick says the state needs to do something in order for this article to take effect. If Massachusetts allowed permanent residents to vote, we'd be the first state to do this in 100 years.

(?) A town meeting member asks how this article would affect voter registration and polls.

Diane Mahon says we wouldn't need separate ballots for local elections.

Adam Chapdelaine says that the state would have to change their voter registration system. They'd need a way to code legal residents who are not citizens.

(Sophie Migliazzo) Ms. Migliazzo states that she's a naturalized citizen, who didn't speak English when she came to this country. She says that citizenship is about voting and military service. She asks for a no vote.

(John Worden) Mr. Worden says that some people here may own houses down on the Cape. You pay taxes there, but you don't get to vote there. Mr. Worden says his wife came from a foreign country, and several of his kids married people from foreign countries. He thinks that people should become citizens if they want to engage in local elections.

(Christopher Moore) Moves the question.

Article passes, 131--51.

Meeting adjourns for the evening.