Town Meeting - May 8th, 2024

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Night 5 of Arlington Town Meeting. Materials were available from

(Greg Christiana, Town Moderator) Mr. Christiana outlines the decorum expectations for tonight's meeting, especially for article 5. He says the process is in Town Meeting's hands, and we must let Town Meeting do its work.

Special Town Meeting

And this point, the body votes to suspend annual town meeting, and convene a Special Town Meeting (STM). Special town meetings can be called whenever towns desire to call them, and Arlington typically holds a special town meeting in the middle of the annual one. As a town, all of our bylaw changes have to be approved by the Attorney General's Municipal Law Unit; once town meeting concludes, it typically takes the AG a few months to render their decision. Special Town Meetings are a way to expedite the review of certain bylaw changes, since those can be submitted when the special town meeting ends. Special town meetings are also a way to address matters that arise after the annual town meeting warrant closes (e.g., STM article 3).


(Elizabeth Dray, Precinct 10) Ms. Dray introduces Stephanie Kuntz, to speak about a sister city project she's involved with.

(Stephanie Kuntz) In the spring of 2015, Ms. Kuntz's son learned about Teosinte, which is a village in El Salvador. They've been our sister city since 1988. This agreement is based on solidarity, as each community has much to give and receive. Students learn about each other's city as part of their curriculum. There's a market where Teosinte's crafts are sold here, and the proceeds go back to the village. Ms. Kuntz encourages people to get involved with the project any way that they can.

(Joseph Solomon, Precinct 16) Mr. Solomon introduces Leah Lyman-Waldron, to speak about traffic safety on Park Ave.

(Leah Lyman-Waldron) Ms. Lyman-Waldron is a pastor at the Park Ave Congregational Church. Two pedestrians have been hit while crossing Park Ave, and safety along Park Ave is a concern to residents. She and Mr. Solomon created a petition to improve safety along Park Ave, and over 1000 people have signed it. Ms. Lyman-Waldron appreciates the town's quick response. Next years budget has money to fund design improvements, and the development of a town-wide traffic calming guide. She hopes this model can be extended to other problem areas in town.

(Alan Jones, Precinct 14) Mr. Jones says there's a free concert being held in Town Hall on June 9, starting at 3pm. It's a tribute to an Arlington composer.

STM Article 1 - Reports of Committees

Town meeting receives reports from the Select Board and Redevelopment Board.

We have a test vote: Was Massachusetts the ninth state to ratify the constitution? Vote was 62--111--39. The answer is no; Massachusetts was the sixth state to ratify the constitution and New Hampshire was the ninth.

(Matt Miller, Precinct 11, Point of Order) Mr. Miller has a question about the timing of the voting period. He says his vote was counted, but he didn't submit his vote until after the green light went off.

STM Article 2 - Amend the Poet Laureate Screening Committee Membership

(Steve DeCourcey, Select Board Chair) Mr. DeCourcey says the Poet Laureate Screening Committee requested this article, and the Select Board voted 5--0 for favorable action.

(Diane Mahon, Precinct 14) Ms. Mahon proposes an amendment to the main motion. It's a small change to the wording.

(Jon Gersh, Precinct 18) Mr. Gersh motions that articles 2--4 be laid on the table, so Town Meeting can take up Article 5.

Motion fails by voice vote.

(Gordon Jamieson, Precinct 12) Mr. Jamieson asks if the screening committee members will be confirmed by the Select Board.

(Steve DeCourcey) Mr. DeCourcey says it won't change the process; it will only change the composition of the screening committee.

(Beth Melofchik, Precinct 9) Ms. Melofchik questions the appointing authority of the Town Manager and Town Moderator. She asks how many people, across all boards and committees, are appointed by the Town Manager or Town Moderator. She thinks the appointing authority of the Town Moderator is diminished.

(Chris Loreti, Precinct 7, Point of Order) Mr. Loreti asks how Barbara Thornton's name appeared on the speakers list. Mr. Loreti thought she resigned.

(Juli Brazile, Town Clerk) Ms. Brazile says that Marvin Lewiton was selected as Ms. Thornton's replacement. Tonight, Mr. Lewiton will be voting with Ms. Thornton's device, as the name assigned to that device hasn't been updated yet.

There are no more speakers for article 2.

Mahon amendment passes, 197--9--9.

Article 2 passes, 197--7--5.

STM Article 3 - Amendment of Zoning Map Adopting the Multi-Family Housing Overlay Districts and Amendment of Zoning Bylaw

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery say that after a year of public engagement and compromise, Arlington passed updated zoning for compliance with the MBTA Communities act, with an 84% yes vote from Town Meeting. This zoning contained the Mass Ave/Broadway Multifamily district and the Neighborhood Multifamily district. The state's Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities reviewed the text of our bylaw, and found no issues with it. Ms. Zsembery says the intent of the law is for communities to designate areas where multi-family housing is allowed by right. The only matter before town meeting tonight is a procedural re-vote on the map, which is identical to the map presented to Special Town Meeting in October 2023. This article will also add the overlay districts to the list of districts in Section 4.1.2.

(Mike Cunningham, Town Counsel) Mr. Cunningham says this the same as the map approved by last fall's special town meeting. The Attorney General's office suggested a re-vote on the map, because the warrant article language wasn't specific enough about the map changes. The are no changes to the district regulations. Mr. Cunningham says the Attorney General was notified of a failure to post a printed notice in town hall, for the September 11, 2023 ARB hearing. He says this is potentially the last action required by for compliance with MBTA Communities.

(Greg Christiana, Town Moderator) Mr. Christiana agrees that the map is the only thing in scope. He says we won't re-litigate what we debated last October.

(Sanjay Newton, Precinct 10) Mr. Newton says he's sorry that we're taking up time to re-vote the map, but it's important to have the Is dotted and the Ts crossed. He thanks town meeting for their support. Other communities have struggled to adopt multi-family districts, but we passed ours overwhelmingly. Mr. Newton says we're one of three communities whose zoning has been approved.

(Wynelle Evans, Precinct 14) Ms. Evans says that the legal notice published by the Attorney General's office says they can waive defects if no one files a claim against them, but someone filed a claim against this article. She asks if we can re-vote on the map, given that the article hasn't been approved by the Attorney General.

(Mike Cunningham) Mr. Cunningham says yes, we can vote. If the Attorney General determines that the claimant was subject to prejudicial treatment, then there's a chance we may have to re-vote the entire thing. He says the Attorney General can also waive the defect, after investigating the complaint.

(Aram Hollman, Precinct 6) Mr. Hollman asks what notification was sent, and if others have had the chance to complain.

(Mike Cunningham) Mr. Cunningham says the issue was a procedural defect in the way one of the ARB's hearings was noticed.

(Andy Greenspon, Precinct 5) Mr. Greenspon moves the question.

Motion to terminate debate passes, 170--48--1.

Article 3 passes, 180--36--7.

STM Article 4 - Disposition of Real Estate/Acton Street

(Steve DeCourcey, Select Board) Mr. DeCourcey says this initiates the process of a possible property sale. The Select Board voted 4--0--1 in support of Article 4.

(Sarah Suarez, Assistant Planning Director) Ms. Suarez says the town extended Acton Street in 1963, resulting in an orphaned strip of land. In 1970, the church requested permission to pass over the strip of land, for access to their buildings. A 1971 memo from the town engineer said the possibilities were to grant access or sell the land; it appears that access was granted. Ms. Suarez says the church is in the process of selling their rear parcel, which makes this a good time to proceed with a disposition. The parcel contains approximately 5000 square feet, in an unusual shape. It's not buildable by itself.

(Mike Cunningham, Town Counsel) Mr. Cunningham says the land is under custody of the school department. The next steps would be for the School Committee to decide to move forward with disposition, and then the land could be put out to bid. This would be one step in the process of a potential disposition.

(Edward Miracco, Precinct 11) Mr. Miracco suggests not putting the land up for sale. He thinks that could lead to a loss of trees, which would be undesirable.

(John Griffin, Precinct 19) Mr. Griffin is the parent of an Ottoson student. He says the area is congested, and he can't image there being room for anything else there.

(Annie LaCourt, Precinct 13) Ms. LaCourt asks what we'd do with the proceeds from the sale.

(Alex McGee, Assistant Town Manager, Finance) Mr. McGee says that money from the sale of real property does not go into the general fund. The money would go into a separate fund, and be used for a purpose decided by a future Town Meeting.

(Marina Popova, Precinct 13) Ms. Popova talks about issues with combined sewage overflows into the Alewife Brook, and Arlington Land Realty's efforts to develop the Mugar parcels in East Arlington. She says that people want to preserve trees so they can absorb water. The town owns this land, so we don't need to do anything to preserve the trees that are currently there. She asks if the schools can use the space, or if there are ways the community could benefit.

(Steven Moore, Precinct 18) Mr. Moore thinks we shouldn't sell land unnecessarily. He asks what the value of the land is.

(Jim Feeney, Town Manager) He says the property has not been appraised. It's value would be determined by the bids received.

(Steve Moore) Mr. Moore thinks land value is greater when it's left as-is.

(Elizabeth Dray, Precinct 10) Ms. Dray asks why Mr. Hurd recused himself from the Select Board vote.

(John Hurd, Select Board) Mr. Hurd says he has a law practice that represents one of the parties involved.

(James DiTulio, Precinct 12, Point of Order) Mr. DiTulio says that Mr. Hurd recused himself, and should not have to participate in this debate.

(Elizabeth Dray) Ms. Dray says that trees have value.

(Christian Klein, Precinct 10) Mr. Klein says it's unfortunate that we don't have an assessment. He asks if the right of passage will transfer with the sale.

(?) Someone answers in the negative.

(Christian Klein) Mr. Klein asks if the town has considered purchasing the adjacent land from the church.

(Greg Christiana, Town Moderator) Mr. Christiana thinks that question is out of scope for Article 4.

(Ben Rudick, Precinct 5) Mr. Rudick works in commercial real estate and he has questions about how to maximize the value of the sale. He asks who will run the disposition process.

(Mike Cunningham) Mr. Cunningham says the School Committee would have to declare the parcel as surplus land. Then, it would go out to bid. He says the sale of the church property is ongoing.

(Ben Rudick) Mr. Rudick says this property would have value to whoever purchases the church parcel; it would be worth nothing to anyone else. He asks if there's a process for engaging in the strategy of the sale.

(Mike Cunningham) Mr. Cunningham says the property has to be disposed of in a way that complies with state law.

(Michael Ruderman, Precinct 9) Mr. Ruderman asks if this has been discussed with the school committee.

There are calls of "scope".

(Michael Ruderman) Mr. Ruderman thinks we'd only get one bid from an open bid process. He asks if we'd get the property appraised before putting it out to bid.

(Jim Feeney, Town Manager) Mr. Feeney says we would pursue a professional appraisal. There's nothing that would lock the town into accepting a bad bid.

(Chris Rowell, Precinct 21) Mr. Rowell asks if the land could be given to the Conservation Commission.

(Paul Schlichtman, Precinct 9, Point of Order) Mr. Schlichtman says the School Committee controls the land, and Town Meeting cannot dispose of it by themselves.

(Al Tosti, Precinct 17) Mr. Tosti moves the question.

Motion to terminate debate passes by voice vote.

Article 4 fails, 79--137--5.

STM Article 5 - Resolution for a Ceasefire Proclamation

(Greg Christiana, Town Moderator) Mr. Christiana says the Select Board declined to report on Article 5, so we're starting with no recommended action.

(Sarah McKinnon, Precinct 20) Ms. McKinnon moves to have her motion taken as the main motion to Article 5. She says this resolution began with people meeting together, speaking with our congressional representatives, and advocating for a cease-fire. Our representatives said that nothing would affect their opinion on the matter. Getting nothing from our representatives, we turned to the Arlington Human Rights Commission (AHRC). With the Human Rights Commission, hundreds of impacted people spoke at four listening sessions and the AHRC endorsed the resolution. Next, we went to the Select Board; there were two hearings and the Board voted "no report". The Select Board said that Town Meeting was the most appropriate place to take up a resolution. Residents are asking for collective support, and the end of a humanitarian crisis. If Town Meeting is not the appropriate body to go to, then who is? Town Meeting is the only place we have left. Complex global problems are also complex local ones. Ms. McKinnon says these conversations have centered on human dignity, and she asks Town Meeting for their support.

Ms. McKinnon introduces Chadi Solomon (?), and Arlington resident who wishes to address Town Meeting.

(Chadi Solomon (?)) Mr. Solomon asks "why is this appropriate for town meeting" and responds with "what would you hope a small town in Gaza would to for you, if your children were buried under a sea of rubble?". He asks "what do we owe each other?". We are asking for help and advocating against violence. Mr. Solomon is perplexed why people think this is divisive. Ignoring the problem is not the right path forward. Mr. Solomon disagrees that resolutions are meaningless; he thinks this is similar to last year's resolution asking for a change to the state flag. He asks Town Meeting to consider what the last seven months of silence have felt like for some residents. He understands the no-action amendment. Tonight is our twelfth meeting with town government about a cease-fire resolution. He asks Town Meeting to please allow us the dignity of a vote. He thinks they've created a document that seeks to bring people together.

(Rajeev Soneja, Precinct 2) Mr. Soneja moves an amendment that would add one "whereas" clause to the resolution. Mr. Soneja is a member of the Human Rights Commission who held four meetings and four listening sessions about the situation in Gaza. Some of the comments he's heard lead towards marginalization. Each of us has been an outsider at some point. Being seen and heard enables a sense of belonging. Mr. Soneja wants to see impacted individuals heard as individuals.

Mr. Soneja introduces David Fleig, an Arlington resident who wishes to address town meeting.

(David Fleig) Mr. Fleig is part of the team that drafted this resolution. They looked at resolutions passed by other cities. Cities outside the United States sent resolutions to our federal government. He supports Mr. Soneja's amendment. The founder of Genocide Watch defined ten stages of Genocide; these include building sentiments of "us vs them", dehumanization, and equating all members of a group with the values of their leaders. He hopes people are judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

(Nora Mann, Precinct 20) Ms. Mann moves a substitute motion of no action. She says that the main motion asks Town Meeting to take a position on a war on the other side of the world. Residents may have friends and family there. She thinks that being forced to take a yes or no vote will exacerbate divisions within our community, and she offers a no action vote as an alternative to abstention. She says that any position will deepen the pain of people. A vote of no action reflects the nuance of foreign conflict. She agrees with the merits of the resolution but feels that foreign policy debates have no impact on what happens in town. She says this isn't a substitute for personal discussion, and that no action means not being forced to take a position. She requests that we afford our colleagues the understanding that they've voted in good conscious.

(Greg Christiana, Town Moderator) Mr. Christiana asks if any of our town officials would be compelled to send copies to parties named in the resolution.

(Juli Brazile, Town Clerk) Ms. Brazile says she would send copies, if the proponents provided her with a list of names and addresses.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana says the decision to allow a substitute motion was his, as there was no time to convene a meeting of the Town Meeting Procedures Committee. He says that resolutions are an expression of the will of town meeting, which makes them different from other types of articles. He says there's a difference between taking a position, and not taking one. The substitute motion can avoid the situation where so many abstain that there's not a quorum of votes.

(Andy Greenspon, Precinct 5, Point of order) Mr. Greenspon asks about the voting order.

(Greg Christiana) Mr. Christiana says we'll vote on the Soneja amendment first, and then the Mann substitute.

Soneja amendment passes, 152--32--26.

Mann substitute passes, 122--88--5.

Motion of no action adopted by voice vote.

Annual Town Meeting

With article 5 done, the special town meeting is dissolved, and we return to the annual town meeting. We had previously agreed to take up Article 22 immediately after the special town meeting.

Article 22 - Lowering the Voting Age to 16 in Local Elections

(Steve DeCourcey, Select Board Chair) Mr. DeCourcey says the Select Board voted 4--0--1 in support of this article, to file Home Rule legislation that would lower the voting age in local elections to 16. He says that Representative Garballey filed state legislation that would lower the voting to 16 in local elections.

(Sophie Shen) Ms. Shen filed Article 22; she's also a student at Arlington High School. She says this article would grant 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote in local elections. Their names would be kept on a separate voting list. Ms. Shen believes this would improve civic education. She says that voting is a habit, and lowering the voting age would allow that habit to be formed earlier. Voting absentee at age 18 is often hard for young people. This would strengthen civic education. A study from Tufts University found that black and latinx youth were least likely to be educated about voting, and least likely to be encouraged to vote. She says this empowers young people. Sixteen and seventeen year olds are good at making political decisions; they're also allowed to work, drive, and pay taxes. Ms. Shen says that lots of students participate in political clubs. Lots of protest movements have been youth-led, because they're interested and engaged. Austria allows sixteen year olds to vote, and they do. She says that children are equally likely to vote the same as, or differently than their parents. Several countries already allow sixteen year olds to vote.

(Lynette Culverhouse, Precinct 11) Ms. Culverhouse is a strong supporter. She has a teaching career that's lasted for four decades. She says that students have a sense of fairness, justice, and clarity. She thinks youth should be included in decision making.

(Joanne Cullinane, Precinct 21) Ms. Cullinane is opposed to allowing minors to vote in elections. She has a sixteen year old and a nineteen year old, and says two years make a big difference at that age. She says that Arlington Public School students take a year of civics in eighth grade, and that we should petition the high school to teach civics classes. Ms. Cullinane is opposed because she feels that the brains of sixteen year olds are still maturing, they have less life experience, and families with children would be given undue weight in local elections. At sixteen, most teenagers haven't emerged from their egocentric world views, and their decision making is often emotional. That doesn't make for independent voters. Sixteen year olds lack experience with budgeting and money. She doesn't think this article is equitable, and it will amplify the voices of households with children. She encourages civics education instead.

(Michael Stern, Precinct 14) Mr. Stern asks how many 16--17 year olds there are in town.

(Sophie Shen) Ms. Shen says there are 1500 15--19 year olds living in Arlington, according to the US Census, so there should be around 800 16--17 year olds. She notes that Arlington has around 32,000 registered voters.

(Elaine Crowder, Precinct 19) Ms. Crowder asks if this would change any of the requirements for running for office.

(Mike Cunningham, Town Counsel) Mr. Cunningham answers in the negative. This article would create a separate class of voters, and they would not be able to run for office.

(Joseph Barr, Precinct 5) Mr. Barr supports the article. If we consider sixteen year olds able to operate two-thousand pound vehicles, then they should be able to vote.

(Paul Schlichtman, Precinct 9) Mr. Schlichtman thinks that the Arlington Public Schools do a good job with civics education. Students ask a wide range of questions, and they're very engaged. This would only apply to town elections. Arlington's local elections typically have a 10% turnout; maybe 30% if there's a big issue on the ballot, like an override. He believes that 16--17 year olds will act the same way that adults do, and vote at the same rate. Some will want to engage, and others won't. We want well-trained responsible voters. He can't see 800 kids overpowering the adults. If the kids vote at a higher rate, that will say more about the adults than the kids.

(Mark Kaepplein, Precinct 7) Mr. Kaepplein asks how a minor would establish proof of residency.

(Mike Cunningham) Mr. Cunningham says it would be the same way as they'd establish proof of residency for the purpose of getting a drivers license.

(Mark Kaepplein) Mr. Kaepplein asks if they'd be kept on a separate voters list.

(Mike Cunningham) Mr. Cunningham answers in the affirmative.

(Mark Kaepplein) Mr. Kaepplein asks if that list would be a public record.

(Mike Cunningham) Mr. Cunningham answers in the affirmative.

(Mark Kaepplein) Mr. Kaepplein asks if their participation in local elections would be recorded.

(Juli Brazile, Town Clerk) Ms. Brazile answers "probably".

(Mark Kaepplein) Mr. Kaepplein says he's concerned about privacy. He's also concerned about the kids who are camping out on college campuses.

(Daniel Jalkut, Precinct 6) Mr. Jalkut says he's been voting for around 30 years. Hearing people denigrate 16--17 year olds offends him. He's also offended by the blanket dismissals. At age 16, Mr. Jalkut wanted to vote and run for public office; at age 19, he ran for City Council in Santa Cruz. He believes that 16--17 year olds are comparable to 18--19 year olds in terms of their knowledge and willingness to participate. When you want to expand liberties, you're probably doing the right thing.

(Matt Miller, Precinct 11) Mr. Miller says he's talked to parents, and they'd trust their kids to vote. Sixteen year olds can't drink or join the military. Mr. Miller expects them to be disappointed when they learn they can't vote in federal elections.

(Pi Fisher, Precinct 6) Mr. Fisher moves the question.

Motion to terminate debate passes, 174--35--3.

Article 22 passes, 161--49--4.

There's a motion to adjourn, which passes on a voice vote. We are adjourned until Monday.