mabfan (Michael A. Burstein) (mabfan) wrote,
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)

Brookline Town Meeting: Thursday, May 25, 2006 (Third Night)

The Town Moderator, Sandy Gadsby, declared a quorum and called us to order at 7:15 PM. Before we got onto tonight's business, he gave us a report on the health of Town Meeting. A little background might be in order.

Brookline Town Meeting consists of 240 representatives, fifteen from each of sixteen precincts, who are elected five at a time in staggered three-year terms. There's also a few at-large members, including the five selectmen, the Town Moderator, the Town Clerk, and any state representative who both lives in and represents Brookline. In other words, we have a total of 248 members.

Sandy reported that at the CPA roll call vote the previous night, he recorded 231 Town Meeting Members present out of 248, a 93% attendance rate. Say what you will about Town Meeting (and many people have), but in general, those of us elected to represent our precincts take our job very seriously.

And now, to the business of the night...

Article 13. Every now and then, an article is filed and events between the filing of the article and Town Meeting itself render the article moot. In this case, Article 13 concerned legislation authorizing the town to join the Group Insurance Commission. The idea here is to make health insurance for our town employees even less expensive by joining with a statewide pool of municipal employees. However, a state committee is currently voting on whether there is a better way to do this than simply by a home rule petition, which might require town employees to change their health insurance company. Since this state committee is now discussing the issue, the Selectmen and Advisory Committee both recommended No Action on the article. So we voted no action, which carried unanimously.

Article 14 was filed by a town meeting member in response to the burgeoning development happening in the town. The article would have changed the town bylaws to reimburse a prevailing party-plantiff's legal fees in an appeal of a Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) decision. In other words, if you had to sue the ZBA to fight unwanted development, and you won, the town would be required to pay you back the cost of your attorney's fees. The idea behind the article was to make it easier for homeowners to appeal and then possibly sue. However, a few people pointed out issues with the article, such as the possibility that the law would apply to developers as well as homeowners. In the end, the article was defeated.

Article 15 is for Patriots fans. Brookline Town Meeting voted to name the new athletic facility at Harry Downes Field for the Kraft Family. The reasons were numerous, and there was much praise for Bob Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, philanthropist, and Brookline resident.

We deferred Article 16 until later, because the principal petitioner, who is not a Town Meeting Member, was not present and would not be present until after 9 PM.

Article 17 resulted in the referral to the Selectmen's Committee on Green Technology a possible bylaw change. The said change would require the Building Commission to do an analysis on all future projects to see how to reduce their environmental impact. In other words, the analyses would look into using "green technology" to make future buildings sustainable.

Article 18, a petition from a Town Meeting Member, would require mandatory education for all elected and appointed officials about things such as the Open Meeting Law and Conflict of Interest Law. In general, people thought this was a good government measure, although there was some debate over whether the language should read that officials are required to "attend" or "participate in" such training sessions. (I proposed including both phrases but Sandy did not accept my suggested amendment.) There was also concern that efforts might be duplicated; for example, new members of the School Committee already attend state-mandated training sessions, so there was no need to include them on this bylaw. In the end, the motion passed with the original language of "attend."

Article 19, brought by the same petitioner who brought Article 18, would have required all town committees to hold at least half their meetings in the evenings, when it would be easier for the general public to attend. The question of meeting accessibility has been a significant one in Brookline over the past few years, and this article generated a lot of debate. In the past, we had voted a resolution urging town committees and boards to hold more accessible meetings, but some TMMs feel that this hasn't done enough. In the end, this article was defeated by a standing vote of 106-87.

It was now 9 PM, and we returned to Article 16, which would prohibit the Board of Selectman from bringing a defeated zoning article back to Town Meeting for a period of two years. My guess is that the petitioner's impetus was the vote on the 2 Brookline Place development which took place last year; one town meeting defeated the proposal, and the following town meeting approved it. However, I had to agree with the Selectmen and the Advisory Committee that this article would be unfair. As the Selectmen said in their report, "Neither the current Board nor future Boards should be summarily restricted in this fashion. If it were proposed to make it illegal for any Town Meeting Member to file a warrant article, for example, on abolition of the refuse fee, corporal punishment, or matters involving transportation policy for a two-year period, there would be understandable opposition to such a proposal." The motion failed 204-3.

Article 20 had been filed by TMM Stanley Wayne, whom I mentioned previously as the TMM who wishes to eliminate the refuse fee. Stanley says he's had trouble finding the annual audit report when he's gone looking for it, and filed an article requiring it to be bound with the annual report in the town library and posted to the town website. The fact is that the audit report is already posted to the website, for which reason the Selectmen and Advisory Committee felt that it would be redundant to require this in the bylaws. Personally, I saw it as a good idea nevertheless, and supported the inclusion of the town website in this bylaw. In the end, however, the motion carried without the website language or even the binding language. Instead, the motion simply states that the audit report will be made available in the library.

(If you've read this far, let me know and I'll send you a virtual cookie.)

Article 21 concerns a perceived conflict of interest that some people in the town have worried about recently. At times, a former municipal employee or former town official will serve as an attorney or agent for a client who needs representation before the town. Article 21 would prevent a person from serving in this capacity for three years after leaving town service. Current state law sets this at one year. There were some very interesting arguments that went back and forth on this article. While many people were in favor, some felt that the law would make it harder to attract qualified people to serve on town committees and boards. In the end, town meeting voted to postpone a vote on this article indefinitely.

Article 22, extending tenant protection in condominium conversions, passed unanimously.

Article 23, eliminating the sunset provision on the dog off-leash program, also passed.

It was now 10:09 PM, and a few Town Meeting Members shouted out a motion to adjourn. Usually, Sandy refuses to accept such a motion until 10:30 PM; however, he acknowledged that the next article would probably involve a lot of debate, and so was willing to accept the motion. I suggested that we postpone that article until next Tuesday and vote on a few of the less controversial articles, feeling that we could dispatch them quickly, but Sandy felt otherwise. So Town Meeting adjourned the earliest I can ever recall, at 10:11 PM.

I expect that tonight we will finish the warrant, and I'll do my best to file a full report tomorrow.
Tags: boston, brookline, personal, politics, town-meeting

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