IT'S OVER! IT'S FINALLY OVER! Yes, nine was the lucky number for the 100 town meeting members who came to the Annual Town Meeting on June 13. After nine sessions, the (finally) ended.
I believe the most important thing accomplished by the 2012 Annual Town Meeting was the more than THREE MILLION DOLLARS that was added to the Town's Stabilization fund, in the middle of a deep recession.
The town added a number of positions in the school and municipal sides, had no layoffs, and banked over $3 million. Now, THAT'S an accomplishment!
Outgoing Finance Committee Chair Holly Boykin said the $3,007,528 added to the fund ($2,421,463 from free cash and $586,065 from the tax levy) brings it up to a grand total of $4,649,292.
This large amount of emergency cash will improve the town's bond rating and gives the town a cushion if there is an further economic decline.
Adds Boykin, "When Town Accountant Bill Rowe started in 2002, there was $1,200 in the fund. Town Meeting members should be proud of themselves for overcoming very difficult financial times and putting these funds away."
Boykin, and the Finance Committee, deserve a lot of the credit.
Town Meeting overwhelmingly supported a by-law change to require the Board of Selectmen to provide a 15-minute period of public comment. Selectmen usually have a period set aside for this on the agenda, but it had been removed from the agenda for a couple of meetings in the winter as the Board sought opinion of Town Counsel if an open comment period was in line with the new open meeting laws. It has since returned.
Still, the article's petitioner, Dr. Roberta Camacho wanted to protect the public comment period from being removed in the future.
"I don't think the right to speak to selectmen in a public forum in a respectful matter should be lost," she said.
She brought along a large copy of the "Freedom of Speech" painting by Norman Rockwell, with Rick Hill acting as Vanna White, showing off the painting to Town Meeting members.
In other Town Meeting happenings:
Members quickly passed articles to replace a school department vehicle ($40,000), install wireless fire alarm master box systems at seven school buildings ($50,000), and replace the two-way radio system for the Stoughton Public Schools (to comply with new federal bandwith requirements from the FCC). $70,000 was allocated for it.
The school system, fire department and department of public works will be bidding together (through Procurement Officer Lindsay Pope) for these new two-way radios. Articles for a Freeman Street fire station study ($100,000), a National Guard Armory Feasibility Study, and adopting a Stress Energy Code, were dismissed on motions by Selectmen Vice Chair Cynthia Walsh.
A request, originally made by former Town Manager Francis T. Crimmins, Jr. in December of 2011, to amend the Town by-laws regarding capitol outlay purchases, went down to defeat.
The current language stated "All departmental capital outlay purchases in excess of 1/2 of 1% of the department's annual operating budget or $4,000 must be approved by a vote of Town Meeting before such purchases can be made or authorized." The article sought to increase the amount from $4,000 to $20,000.
Town meeting member Ed Defelice said "if we do this we're going to give up a lot of control as to how money is spent in Stoughton."
This was part of the huge procurement battle Crimmins and Pope raged against Superintendent of School Dr. Marguerite Rizzi and the School Committee. Under Interim Town Manager Joseph D. Feaster, Jr., everyone is getting along and working together on procurement. The vote to defeat reflected that peace. In turn, the school department moved to dismiss their own Charter change, which would have exempted all school department purchases, (and library book purchases by the Stoughton Public Library) from the town's procurement process. Walsh moved to dismiss Charter and Zoning by-law re-codifications.
Then, it was the yearly motions to accept funds and enter into contract for the construction, reconstruction, and improvements to town roads (Chapter 90A), as well as the routine motion to accept any and all State and Federal funding.
Night Nine of Annual Town Meeting started as many of the other ones did. It was called for 7:30 p.m., and by 7:40 the natives were getting restless. Town Meeting member Dori Frankel urged Moderator Howard Hansen to get the show on the road. At about 7:45 p.m., the ATM got started.
Frankel says that if you add up all the 15 minutes lost each night, it adds up to another night of Town Meeting. Asked by About Town if she'd consider running for Moderator, she replied, "No, but I hope someone does."
Interim Town Manager Feaster told me that he's going to take a good look at Town Meeting in Stoughton. "I don't think it needs to last more than three or four nights. We should look at how the articles are put on the warrant, and see if there's a way to trim it back." The past two years, the town has had 88 articles on the Warrant. It seems that there are a few obvious ways to shorten it up.
First, let's start Town Meeting 7:30 p.m. Let's NOT have a review every night of the previous night's activities. Members should know what went on.
Let's limit the debate on each question to a few individuals from each side of the argument. When 20 people drone on, and re-iterate what each other has said, it does no good at helping members decide. It only bores people and puts everyone to sleep. Everyone deserves to speak. But, when one or two people speak on every other article, it's counter-productive, and reduces time for others involvement.
Town Meeting collectively needs to put our foot on the gas. We were stuck in neutral for way too long. And, we should limit the warrant to 50 or 60 articles. So many end up being dismissed, anyway.
Stoughton Patch editor Jeffrey Pickette contributed reporting.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Mark Nickerson, who works at Bob's Famous Food Mart, and is better known as one of the Civil War Re-Creators that can be seen at all of Stoughton's parades (as Sgt. Nickerson of the 12th Massachusetts Regiment.); And to Ann Goulston MacNaughton, Stoughton native, and Town Accountant for West Bridgewater.