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Brookline Town Meeting, Tuesday Night

As some of you may know, since May 2001 I have been an elected Town Meeting Member (TMM) in Brookline from my precinct. The representative Town Meeting seems to be a uniquely New England concept; the idea is to keep major bylaw and policy decisions as close to the people as possible, while acknowledging the fact that 60,000 or so town residents cannot comfortably fit into the high school auditorium. So each of Brookline's 16 precincts elects 15 TMMs, five per year for a three-year term. That leads to a Town Meeting of 240 members, plus the At Large members.

Town Meeting is usually held twice a year, the Annual Meeting in the Spring when we vote on many issues including the budget for the following fiscal year, and the Special Meeting in the Fall when we vote on other things. We just met on Tuesday and Wednesday night, and if you want to know what I found interesting on this session's warrant the first night, following the bouncing LJ cut tag.

Town Meeting always opens with a recitation of the pledge of allegiance and the singing of the national anthem (first stanza only). Tuesday night was no exception. But before the business of Town Meeting got underway, we had two tributes. TMM Bob Sperber praised Dr. Alan Balsam for getting flu vaccine to those 1600 town residents who really need it. Selectman Bobby Allen read a proclamation declaring the week of November 28th Boston Red Sox Week in Brookline.

Then we got to the articles on the warrant. A lot of articles tend to be about zoning, or housekeeping issues such as paying old bills that weren't accounted for under the budget, and I won't bore you with those.

The first article that interested me was Article 4, establishing an Information Technology Department for the town. We actually already have such a thing, and a CIO, but this makes it more official. The relevant piece for my life was that the Library Trustees, of which I am one, were concerned about the provision that the CIO approved all technology purchases, since we wanted to keep some ability to make purchases for the library on our own recognizance. But that got altered before Town Meeting, so the bylaw as presented was just fine.

Article 7 concerned establishing a bylaw to move all the utility wires underground, paying for the $150 million, 100-year-long project with a surcharge on utilities. (Keep in mind that our FY 2005 budget was $172.5 million.) Although most of us agreed that we liked the idea of burying the wires underground, the general sense of the Meeting was that the cost was prohibitive.

I actually approached the microphone to ask a question, but the motion got called before I had a chance to do so. I wanted to ask the committee if they had considered how this project would affect the Greater Boston Eruv, the boundary that exists to allow Orthodox Jews to carry objects from one location to another on shabbat. The boundary is made up of many things, such as rivers, major roads, ropes, and utility wires. Burying the wires would have destroyed the Eruv.

But thankfully, the motion failed.

Article 8 concerned establishing a town wide mandatory recycling program, even for residents whose trash is picked up by a private hauler. At the moment, the town itself recycles, but some residents have their trash picked up by a private company, usually because they rent in a building in which the management company contracted with a trash hauler. These private companies have not been required to recycle materials. However, residents have often taken matters into their own hands, by bringing recyclables to a town drop-off location, but as a consequence the bins have to be emptied very frequently.

No more. Town Meeting voted to require recycling from everyone who picks up trash in Brookline. And, to top it all off, TMM Stephen Morse proposed an amendment to remove the anti-scavenging bylaw, which passed 113-90. So if your neighbor leaves a sofa out in their trash, and you want it, as long as you don't disturb the peace, you can take it away for your own use.

Another article established the Graffam-McKay Historic District, and passed rather easily.

Finally, we had the last article of the night, which would allow for a cell phone tower in Walnut Hills Cemetery. This was extremely controversial; however, because of the controversy, the motion on the floor was to refer the idea to a Moderator's Committee. Since we started debate on the issue at 10:27 PM, and people wanted to go home to sleep, and referring to a committee is usually quite popular, we dispatched it within fifteen minutes and adjourned for the night. (I should note that the following night, one TMM pointed out that we referred quite a few things to be brought back to Town Meeting next Spring, which will make for a rather full agenda.)

For Wednesday night's session, including the outcome of the resolution on spanking, see the next rock...as soon as I have time to post it.


What, no proposal to rename the town to "Theo Epstein, MA"? :-)
Nope. Too late to get it into the warrant this time. :-)
I hadn't realized that trash-picking had been illegal in Brookline. Why would it have been? It just seems like a win-win situation, barring someone being noisy.

I'm curious to read about Wednesday.
Actually, scavenging is illegal in most communities in the area, including Boston, Cambridge and Somerville. The law is rarely enforced, however.

What Town Meeting decided was that we have enough protection with bylaws prohbiting the disturbance of peace; so we got rid of something that I believe had been on the books beforehad, simply because it would have been reincorporated into the new bylaw.
That's a good point about the wires and the eruv...
Thank you. I didn't get it to make it there, so I make it here.

And it turns out to be irrelevant in any case.


I'm glad the business with the utility wires ended up not harming you.

I think if I were a decision-maker (government, utility, whatever), I wouldn't find the eiruv argument compelling. When the wires were run in the first place supporting an eiruv wasn't one of the goals; that just worked out. In a sense, the eiruv users are piggy-backing on something that was there already. That's perfectly fine, but would you give much credence to the argument if, say, one of your neighbors came to you and told you you're not allowed to repaint your house to a different color because the current color is the perfect background for his garden photography? I suspect that the gentiles in government and the utility companies would see the eiruv argument like that.

Now if the city took the wires away and forbade the Jewish community to run something else to rebuild the eiruv, that would be a problem. But don't basic property rights compel you to get your own eiruv if the owner of the wires moves them?

I should clarify that I am not at all hostile to the observant community; quite the opposite. I'm glad this is a purely theoretical discussion.

Re: eiruv

The eiruv argument might not be a compelling one completely, but the point is that the town would need to be sensitive to the issue. Brookline has a large observant population, and the eiruv also emcompasses Newton and Allston/Brighton. If the wires were to be moved underground, the town would have to figure out how to help the Jewish community keep the eiruv in place.

It actually showed up in one of the documents passed out at Town Meeting; I just didn't realize it until afterwards.

Brookline was actually quite sensitive to the observant community recently. Our Spring Town Meeting was originally called for Shavuot. I pointed this out to the Selectmen, and although I might be the only TMM for whom this was an issue, they changed the date.

December 2016

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