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Brookline Town Meeting: Wednesday, May 24, 2006 (Second Night)

The second session of Brookline Town Meeting began at around 7 PM last night. The Town Moderator, Sandy Gadsby, declared a quorum and called us to order at 7:12 PM.

And if you think the budget process takes a long time, you haven't seen the Community Preservation Act....


Before we got to the CPA, though, we had to dispense with Article 8, TMM Stanley Wayne's frequent attempt to get Town Meeting to eliminate the town refuse fee. (I did promise everyone yesterday a "Stanley Vs. Stanley" situation....)

I wasn't a Brookline resident when the refuse fee was first passed, so I may have my facts wrong, as I'm relying on other folks and their biased views. But the essential idea is that almost twenty years ago, Brookline established a fee to help the town pay for the cost of picking up the garbage. The fee is roughly $165 a year, and it only affects half the households in Brookline. My understanding is that any resident who wishes can opt out of town service and hire a private hauler to pick up their garbage instead.

TMM Wayne has been opposed to the refuse fee for a long time, stating that it was always meant to be a temporary measure, and for many years he has tried to get it eliminated. Now, I like Stanley a lot. He's a nice guy, and I worked closely with him when we were on the Board of the Town Meeting Members Association together. But sometimes his concern with the refuse fee borders on the monomaniacal. I'm reminded of how John Adams was so adamant about independence that even when the time was right, no one in Congress would accept the resolution unless someone else proposed it. (Those of you who have seen the musical 1776 know what I mean.) So even if Stanley has a good point, his constant harping on the issue has probably alienated many other Members. (Hey, Stanley, if you're reading this, I don't think I'm saying anything you don't already know.)

So every time he brings up the issue, the Selectman and the Advisory Committee point out that eliminating the refuse fee would remove $2.1 million dollars in revenue that goes towards the $3.4 million it costs for trash removal. And they point out that if Stanley's motion passed, we would either have to cut $2.1 million dollars in services, call for a Proposition 2 1/2 override, or stop picking up trash. Most of us don't want to rename the Town of Brookline the Brookline Dump, so after we heard from Stanley Wayne, Selectman Gil Hoy, and Stanley Spiegel, we voted resoundingly against the proposal.

It was now 7:27 PM and time to discuss Articles 9 and 10, regarding the Community Preservation Act, henceforth referred to as the CPA. The CPA is somewhat complicated to explain, but the gist of it is that ever since 2000, Massachusetts communities who impose a surcharge of up to 3% of the real estate tax on real property for the purposes of open space, historic preservation, and low-income housing can receive matching funds from the state. Any community that wishes to take advantage of the CPA must pass it by ballot referendum. (If you want to read more about it, see Massachusetts EOEA - CPI: Community Preservation Act.) A few years ago, Brookline Town Meeting tried to send a CPA referendum to the voters, but it was defeated.

Back in November, we set up a committee to study the issue, and the committee came back with a recommendation in favor of funding the CPA at the maximum 3%. So Town Meeting had two articles to vote on. Article 9 would send the referendum to the voters this November, and article 10 would set up a Community Preservation Committee, as required by the CPA law. Sandy quite sensibly said we would debate the two articles together. After all, if Article 9 failed, then there would be no need to vote on Article 10; and if Article 9 passed, then presumably the same majority that voted in favor of Article 9 would also vote in favor of Article 10.

There were also quite a few amendments to vote on. Sandy said that at the end of the debate, we would take them in the following order:

1. A motion to postpone the vote indefinitely (proposed as postponement to the fall, but technically Town Meeting cannot bind a future Town Meeting);

2. A motion to add exemptions for commercial and industrial property;

3. A motion to delete the $100,000 exemption;

4. A motion to reduce the 3% surcharge to 1.5%;

5. A motion to reduce the 3% surcharge to 2%.

The order seemed quite reasonable to me.

So, for the next two and a half hours or so, we heard about the CPA. I will not detail the entire debate here; those who want to sit through it again can catch it when it is rebroadcast on Brookline Access Television. I will note that emotions ran high for two speakers. TMM Richard Nangle was obviously angry as he warned about the propaganda campaign to voters that would follow if we passed the CPA. Linda Hamlin of the Planning Board fought back tears as she noted all the work she had done to get the CPA approved.

We had the long list of original proponents and opponents who spoke, and then a Q&A session, during which Jay Gonzalez, a former TMM, a CPA proponent, and an expert on the CPA, answered questions quite fairly as to the consequences of the vote. Finally, as we got to the end of the Q&A, TMM Peter Ames suggested the we call the question. Although Sandy read the list of the 25 TMMs signed up to speak, by that point all of us had already made up our minds. The question was called at 9:49 PM.

We dispensed with the five motions within a minute via hand vote; they all failed. So it was time to vote on the intact main motion, to send the CPA referendum to the voters at a 3% surcharge. A roll call vote had been asked for, and more than 50 TMMs stood in favor, so that's what we did.

Sandy went through the names of the TMMs in alphabetical order. Each of us called out "Yes" or "No." While the roll call was being taken, my friend TMM Geoff Cohen and I both kept a running tally so we would know the result before Sandy announced it. It turned out our tallying was correct. At 10:11 PM Sandy declared that the CPA had passed by a vote of 128-101.

He then jumped to Articles 11 and 12 before remembering that we still had to vote on Article 10. By a simple voice vote, we created the CPA Committee.

Articles 11 and 12 concerned fixing an inequity in the retirement benefits for veterans. After a few minutes of presentation and questions, we passed them both by a hand vote.



It was now 10:34 PM, and before Sandy could go onto the next article I called for an adjournment. A few people around me protested, but I was within my rights and the rules and Sandy called for a vote. A loud minority wanted to stick around, probably convinced that if we kept going we could dispense with the warrant by tomorrow night. But as far as I could tell, even if we took another article or two we would still have to return next Tuesday. And the majority of Town Meeting agreed with me, as we adjourned until tonight.

By the way, in these reports I've forgotten to mention some of the more humorous things that happened in Town Meeting. For example, tonight a cell phone went off in the middle of the CPA Q&A, even though Sandy warns us sternly to turn off our cell phones. It turned out to be the cell phone of Pat Ward, our Town Clerk, who sheepishly left the stage to turn off his phone.

(And for something funny that happened last night, see the latest post on the Brookline Blog at http://www.townonline.com/blogs/brookline/?p=65.)

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