Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Town Council Meeting - June Part Two Play-by-Play
This meeting is the continuation of the June 11 meeting. But that doesn't mean it consists of boring left-overs.
It seems that the Council grouped the hottest topics together for their second meeting of the month. Going in to the meeting it feels like this will be the title bout after some warm-up matches.
It's 7 pm and here we go...
18b/18c: YMCA Property
Confirming one of many rumors we had heard, the Land Trust requested that this topic be continued to the July Town Council meeting. This passed unanimously. We anxiously await seeing how this will evolve.
Gregg Avedisian requested that an additional agenda item be added to the July meeting, to place an item on the fall election ballot for expenditure from the reserve fund for the YMCA conservation easement cost if purchasing it is approved.
18d: Gate House Lease
This is regarding the lease for Bill Clarkin to live in the gatehouse near the main entrance to Ninigret Park. Lisa DiBello asked whether some duties were associated with the lease. Jay Primiano explained that Mr. Clarkin makes security rounds on his bicycle and in his car. Primiano described several instances where Clarkin has called in the police because of issues.
DiBello challenged Primiano about additional duties that were in the previous lease and whether Primiano could remove them, saying that the additional duties were specified by the Town, not the Parks & Rec Director. After that testy interchange, the lease was approved 4-1 with DiBello voting against.
3: Public Comment
Mary Taylor spoke to thank Alan Arsenault about communication regarding re-sealing Town Dock Road.
4: Council Comments
Lisa DiBello spoke to say how she ran for Town Council because she "loves the town". She went on to say that "a select few people do not care about the town" and "do not care about the truth or what is right". "The actions of some have been despicable.. by spreading outright lies." She referred to the "hate blog" known as Progressive Charlestown. She announced that she is seeking re-election this fall.
I was not able to keep up, typing, with her talk live. So I'm not leaving parts out to censor anything. We will give you a link to her talk when the video recording is available. And we will likely comment on the attempts we made we clarify issues about Councilmember DiBello's activities in town, without success because of her lack of cooperation.
6a: Acting Town Administrator Comments
Pat Anderson announced that 50 applications have been received for the Police Chief position.
9a: Ordinance #349
To me, this item proves that we can't just trust proper public notice of new ordinances to ensure that people will become knowledgeable about Town Council decisions. I've spent considerable time trying to understand this one and I'm baffled. One person I have learned to trust tells me that it's just cleaning up stuff that's already in law in one place or another and I just shouldn't worry about it. Another person I equally trust tells me that it's power-grab, Planning illegally assuming the role of the unappointed Historic Commission and that the near-identical ordinance was voted down by a previous Council, for good reason.
I've tried to read parts to understand it myself and decided that it would take weeks of full-time work. Perhaps that's what the people pushing for this ordinance hope - that people won't understand and will just let it go through. And, of course, like so many of these we're told "don't worry, it doesn't affect residential property anyway so just let us do this."
The hearing was preceded with Council President Gentz giving his overview of the changes and asking the consultant hired by Planning to explain the benefits of the changes. Of course the consultant was glowing in his praise of the benefits of this ordinance, and he also explained how Planning is engaging him for a lot of future work.
Evelyn Smith was the only "public" person to speak. She explained that she sees some potential conflicts with state laws. She submitted comments on potential legal issues at the previous Town Council meeting and then she expanded on those comments at this hearing.
Smith explained that the State zoning ordinance talks about Development Plan Review, stating that it is done by the Planning Commission as an advisory to the Zoning Board. This ordinance does not seem to provide that pathway. She noted a couple areas in State law that require the Town ordinance to have specific and objective guidelines in the ordinance, guidelines that seem absent in our ordinance.
Smith went on to explain that the second half of the ordinance is about the Historic Village District is taken from State ordinance that the State law says is the responsibility of the Historic District Commission, not the Planning Commission. She explained that State Law gives powers to the Historic District Commission that are not given to the Planning Commission, giving several examples.
Smith's recommendation was to quickly to establish a true Historic District Commission and give the correct powers to the Commission to protect the resources of the town, under State law.
The consultant responded that he has heard the same arguments as Evelyn raised. He argued that the line between Planning and Zoning is not a hard line and communities divide the responsibilities between the two differently. He chose to defer to Peter Ruggiero about the Historic District sections. Peter said that he can't comment on that. With regard to Development Plan Review, Ruggerio stated that the responsibilities of Planning versus Zoning are clear by State law so we must operate within that. Peter stated that more powers have been given to the Planner for administrative decisions. Peter explained that many people look at Historic District Commission negatively as another layer of regulation and said that some communities are considering dismantling their Historic District Commissions.
Council President Gentz read a surprisingly long motion proposing approval of the new ordinance including statement about the agreement of this ordinance with the Comprehensive Plan. This led to a discussion of whether an Historic District Commission should be created. In the end the ordinance was approved 4 to 1 with Gregg Avedisian voting no.
9b: Charter Amendment Questions
This item can be considered minor, because it isn't making actual changes in the charter but only deciding whether to put them on the ballot. But we know that most voters will assume that there is good reason to put these things on the ballot so will vote in favor. That makes this a key step. At the first review of the Charter Questions there were some serious, and logical, objections. Some changes were made and we like at least a couple of the proposals but we're not happy with the majority.
At the meeting each charter question was discussed separately. After writing so much on the previous topic I realized this article is getting unwieldy so I will be more brief here.
Question 1, more tightly limiting the amount the town can spend without a vote, caused much more discussion than I expected around the ability of a Town Council to spend surplus account funds. I see now that this is because of the overhead cost of issuing bonds when other funds are available. Ruth Platner (wisely) suggested that an amendment be made to have this exempt "spending authorizations" rather than "bond authorizations" so that voters can, in the future, can approve specific spending without requiring issuing bonds. Dan Slattery attempted a motion to approve the original wording but it died for lack of a second so this question will not appear on the ballot.
Question 2, limiting Town Council agreements to "partnerships" and "contracts", generated predictable discussion. Lisa DiBello asked how a partnership would be defined, wondering if every agreement would be subject to this (echoing the concern we have stated here). Peter Ruggerio seemed to feel that sponsorships and promotional activities would not be viewed as "partnerships." This question was tweaked to explicitly refer to Council agreements and the question was approved to go to the voters.
Question 3 would set lower purchasing limits for getting three written quotes. (This was presented as agreeing with State law and we have claimed that this is unnecessary if it only matches the State law.) It is evidently not just duplicating State law because Town Acting Administrator stated her objection to the change as increasing cost and paperwork.The Council modified this question to match state law and agreed that the result will be reviewed at the July Town Council meeting.
Question 4 would determine "dibs" for Council President and Vice President based on number of votes in the election rather than a vote within the Council. This was approved (Avedisian voting against) to go to the voters with no discussion.
Question 5 establishing a 5-year capital improvement plan. This was explained as agreeing with state law. Slattery pointed out that the Town already does the capital improvement plan because State law requires. He saw putting it in the Charter lets us "take credit for it." The Council decided to send this to the voters unanimously.
Question 6 would add an announcement period for Commission re-appointments so that other citizens could apply for that re-appointment position. This question failed to be approved to go to the voters (vote 2-3).
Question 7 would create an ordinance review committee. After some discussion this question failed for lack of a motion.
15a: Voter ID
The State voter ID law does not apply to local elections and referenda. This proposal extends that to other elections in Charlestown. This was approved unanimously.
17a: Town Administrator's Search Committee
There was some discussion about the size of the committee. They decided on nine members, down from last time's 15. There was informal agreement that the Town employee would not be eligible. The Council agreed to each send nine names to Amy and leading vote-getters will be chosen. Amy will present those names to the Council for approval at the July meeting.
18e: Fiscal resolutions
The Council approved the new tax rate requires for the approved town budget.
That's it for tonight; the meeting ended at 10:25. We will bring you more reporting in the coming days, including links to the online video.