Community Editor Danielle Masterson email@example.com
Live from the Abbot School.
2:13 pm on Saturday, March 24, 2012
More of the same here today. Make no cuts and kick the can down the road.
12:05 pm on Sunday, March 25, 2012
Would you have the Fire Department or Town Hall lose their $1,000 bottle water appropriation and have to drink municipal water?
Or reduce the staffing of the WPS to the level that is called out by school committee guidelines which calls for an average of 22.5 pupils/teacher?
Or cease to provide free education for teacher's children who do not reside in Westford, do not qualify for school choice reimbursement, or live in NH?
Or eliminate the town owned cars provided to special employees for their use in support of the 24x7 availability?
Or eliminate the dues and association memberships paid by the town on behalf of emplyees?
Or etc, etc, etc...?
You must be a cruel person picking on "the most vulnerable" so you can pay lower property taxes.
2:03 pm on Sunday, March 25, 2012
For readers on Jesse's comment on the bottled water, each line item of the now passed FY13 budget is available on the town website (http://westfordma.gov/pages/government/westfordma_townmeeting/documents/2012atm/FY13TownManagerRecommendedBudget.pdf)
The Town Hall bottled water is on Page 29 -- (it's $1,000 for FY12, $750 for FY13) the Fire Department bottled water is on Page 32 -- ($1,000 for FY13, not a line item in FY12)
Also a note, those are estimates. We'll have the final figures of how much was spent from those line items with the town reports for those fiscal years come out.
2:37 pm on Saturday, March 24, 2012
Too bad folks to showed up to support settlement of teacher contract were railroaded into silence. More of the same from the sinking Westford ship!! SOS! SOS!
11:21 pm on Saturday, March 24, 2012
All that had to be done is to increase the school budget for FY2013 by $ 6 million which would have placed the money into school committee budget.
The good news is that you can make a motion to reconsider Art 10 on Monday night. If the motion to reconsider is passed then the school committee budget could be increased $6 million. So bring your friends and relatives to the adjourned session to Westford's 2012 ATM on Monday 26 March 2012.
4:14 pm on Saturday, March 24, 2012
I am sure the pro-parking lot residents of this town would not appreciate a parking lot being built next to their own lovely homes! We built our home and have lived in in this town for 27 years, our property abuts the rail trail. The lot next to our home is under consideration for a parking lot. We deserve a safe home and privacy as much as the pro-parking residents. Please consider the happiness and right to privacy of others and stop being so selfish! We have observed since the inception of the path that people who wish to use it do so; a parking lot is not a necessity. This past Sunday people were using the path from 7:30 a.m. until dusk -- a constant stream of bikers and walkers who somehow found a way to get to the trail!
10:35 am on Sunday, March 25, 2012
Isnt it incredibly selfish of a relative handful of trail users to insist that they have convenient access to a leisure pastime at the expense of life quality and safety of others? These are not quality people!
11:45 am on Monday, March 26, 2012
@ Parker Village Resident: That is all wll and good but they have already disregarded these zoning laws in the center of town. They could just as easily choose to eliminate parking lots and simply add parking spots on all the surrounding streets.
11:48 am on Monday, March 26, 2012
@Parker Village Resident: You are correct in your zoning law assumptions. Unfortunately the Town has already thrown those out the window in the center of town, and this was not for a state owned parcel but for a private business. They may choose to eliminate the new parking lots and add striped spots along each of the neighboring streets to establish parking.
10:46 pm on Saturday, March 24, 2012
One error here, it was Article 16 and 17 that were the same not 17 and 18. My apologies.
7:56 am on Sunday, March 25, 2012
I listened in horror as the mother of a small child recounted how she had come upon a man trying to coax her five year old daughter from the safety of their back yard out onto the trail. Vote NO for parking lots within Residentially zoned areas!
8:41 am on Sunday, March 25, 2012
Just a heads up to everyone -- the Bruce Freeman related articles are done. There's no parking related articles on Monday. Two impact wetlands, one would make it easier for developers to make minor changes to site plans and special permits and another impacts the Earth Removal bylaw. That's about as close as it gets.
7:27 pm on Sunday, March 25, 2012
Each article passed in favor of parking lots by roughly 153-135 ish. The rail trail parking opposition folks couldn't mobilize voters like the Friends (not to its neighbors) of the BFT could. For people who were not affected by the parking directly, they voted yes because it doesn't affect them. Why not have parking! Of course until it happens to them. Unless they can afford an attorney they will lose on the residential zoning. In the center of town, they are allowing two private businesses to run on residential lots and have created municipal parking on a residential street to accomodate these business and their lack of parking. The precedent has been set. Fight things like this and you are called killer of arts and sometimes worse.
8:23 am on Sunday, March 25, 2012
Vote NO on giving pedophiles and WA drug dealers / users having a place to gather in these poorly patrolled lots in residential neighborhoods. When many moved to Westford it was a great place to live and raise a family; Now there are cookie cutter Market Basket shopping centers all over the place, residential no longer means residential, the schools have major funding issues and our best teachers are looking for jobs elsewhere because we cant offer them a competitive contract, drug use and crime is up, more traffic and the list goes on and on.
9:34 am on Sunday, March 25, 2012
I'm curious -- there are parking lots on every other trail in town, generally very small and unpaved. Do you believe this things are happening in those neighborhoods as well?
9:50 am on Sunday, March 25, 2012
Come on Andrew... the trails in other parts of Westford attract at most Westford residents and very few at that. The presentation Emily made at Stoney brook had only her car in the pictures and in Bills presentation at town meeting it was the same thing. The BFRT is a regional attraction and the lots wont be empty. It also wont be residents parking in the lots. Westford residents will still probably have to go to Hart Pond as the spots will be filled by those from Carlisle, Acton, etc.
I'd be willing to bet if you added up the users of all the other trails combined and the users of the rail trail, it wouldn't even compare.
10:26 am on Sunday, March 25, 2012
Thanks for the follow up there, westford resident
That's a good thing to check on, I'll see if I can get stats from the BFRT and the WCT on trail usage if possible.
3:21 pm on Sunday, March 25, 2012
I confess to being perplexed by the strong push for parking as proposed. As a Westford resident and a rider of other Rail Trails in other towns I would like to point out most lots of other Rail Trails are in industrial or commercial areas. My understanding is that of the current 6.8 miles of completed trail, only 1.8 miles runs through Westford, while it runs 5.2 miles in Chelmsford and 4.6 miles proposed for Acton. It is a minimal section of trail with many breaks crossing residential roads. And unlike those other towns, the Westford section is not in a commercial area, and on the very busy Rte.27 with visibility issues - not an ideal spot for stopped traffic or children trying to cross. For Westford residents we are talking a mere 2 miles from the current (not final) trail start for folks to travel to an established lot. Does such a small distance really impose a hardship? I believe town folk are being short sighted when a long range focus is needed here. I hope the money spent on a "study" will include conversations with other towns possessing a rail trail in addition to an impact study to Westford residential areas.
9:54 am on Sunday, March 25, 2012
Andrew, could you explain what happened and why the citizen petition #18 didn't get the presentation time that #15 got.
Also, any ability to analyze the town meeting attendees and see if the demographic matched that of the town. Seemed like a lot of the older generations had plenty of time to get to town meeting early and occupy the main seating while the rest of us sat on the periphery. I think Emily actually thought we were visitors.
You were able to poll those who watched live on your website. Can you post your results and the number that voted for all to see instead of buried in the blog? I'm guessing those that answered weren't able to attend due to children, jobs, etc. It would be nice to give it some prominence and send a message to the BOS that just because the vote at town meeting was one thing, it is not indicative of what the town really wants as it excludes many of us... most of us actually. 300 people voted out of what... 11,000 households.
10:04 am on Sunday, March 25, 2012
I am confused by your comment. The whole point of the town meeting is for the town to vote on the articles on the docket. There was a warrant sent out with plenty of notice. If residents didn't show up to vote then they missed their opportunity. As far as seating. There was plenty and all registered voters were counted when it came to votes. I got there early and sat in the side bleachers. I did not feel left out.
10:34 am on Sunday, March 25, 2012
I can't give you a definitive breakdown of the demographics there at this moment. In order to enter, you need to check in as a voter, so we could see who was there, but I don't know if it would be cost effective in terms of time for me to release that, the information there will be available at town hall.
The poll is posted at the 2:53 p.m. mark on the live blog, I'll see if there's a way if I can publish it on its own somehow.
I did see a few kids running around, but other than that there was a mix between elderly and middle aged people, and there was a large contingent of folks from streets near the BFRT.
And it's not appropriate for me to have an opinion on your final comment, but I would assume that this occurred on Saturday due to working folks not being able to get out during the week, and it was open to the public.
Also, there's been numerous meetings on the BFRT, as we've documented on the site. There will probably be more, and those are also likely going to be open to the public.
10:37 am on Sunday, March 25, 2012
and on #15 versus #18, there seemed to be a sense that there would be a study arising from #15, so it would be premature to prohibit development until that study was done, which I think they believed would show that parking wouldn't be feasible.
I'll see if I can follow up with some of the Article #18 folks on Monday to confirm that was their sense of things.
10:36 am on Sunday, March 25, 2012
It is not easy to take a whole day to attend a town meeting so that you get your opportunity to vote. Do you have young children? If so, do you get a sitter for the day? How much does that cost you? Perhaps you leave a spouse at home to watch the kids and that person doesn't get to vote. Do you dare try to entertain a 4 yo for 6 or 7 hours at the meeting? Do you know anyone that is trying to make ends meet and has picked up time working at Market Basket or McDonalds? Maybe your neighbor is a policeman or a nurse. Not everyone in town has a Monday thru Friday job or is able to take the day off. I guess those people don't get their vote counted even though they had amble notice. Anyone you know sick that had wanted to attend? Oops... their vote doesn't get cast either. To bad for all you residents that have to work Sat, stay home with the kids or are under the weather or for any other reason were not able to spend the day at the Abbott school gym - you've missed your opportunity.
Suppose 10% of the voters turned out. Do you think the gym at Abbott would hold us all? What is the max capacity for the gym under the fire dept regulation?
IMO, town meetings are antiquated and exclusive. It is not hard to add an online component or absentee ballot to the live vote.
Just because the warrant was sent out doesn't mean you can attend the meeting.
11:19 am on Sunday, March 25, 2012
I have a 19 month old child. My wife stayed home so I could attend the meeting. Which means of course that she wasn't able to vote. I appreciate that many could not make it due to conflicts. But I doubt that the 10,000 plus that didn't make it couldn't make it but rather didn't care enough to bother. I don't believe the town meeting process is perfect but it is the current process we have. I am not sure what it would take but perhaps you could look into how the process could be changed. Probably takes a vote at town meeting...
2:06 pm on Sunday, March 25, 2012
A few years ago, Westford was looking into a representative Town Meeting form of government, but that failed.
I'll try to write something up on the different forms of municipal government available in Massachusetts, but it'll take time. The Secretary of State's website has some good information, but I know it's not comprehensive.
11:39 pm on Sunday, March 25, 2012
Once upon a time up to ~ 2001, there was child care available at Saturday town meetings at the Abbot school cafeteria. I believe the fees ran $10 to $20 depending on the # of children. There were restrictions on the minimum and maximum age the children.
It was discontinued because of lack of use and I believe state regulations on training required for child care providers.
Maybe the Girl Scouts could run such a service.
IMHO The pricing would need to be increased and issues with insurance and other factors would need to be resolved.
Please note that the 7 hour length of ATMs and uncomfortable seating cause many senior citizens to forego attending.
Moving all town meetings to WA or one of the middle schools and having town meetings at night would increase attendance. There are 14,000+ voters so open town meeting cannot accommodate such a crowd unless we build a climate controlled covered sport arena with an 8,000 parking space garage. A $10 parking fee/car plus concessions and Keno games have the potential to bring in over $100,000/meeting.
The use of electronic voting causes a major security risk. I and others can give a friend my security keys and he/she can vote for me and others.
The absentee ballot is sort of impossible to apply to a dynamic forum like a town meeting. If you review the video of the 24 March 2012 meeting at WCAT, you will have a hard time keeping up with the discussion, motions, opinions, etc.
Town Meeting is last bastion of Democracy.
11:56 am on Monday, March 26, 2012
Online and absentee ballots don't quite work for TM. Frequently, articles are amended and new resolutions are added at the meeting. That's the beauty of TM, the citizens get to directly change things, if they bother to attend.
12:25 pm on Monday, March 26, 2012
"if they bother to attend" -> that is on par with the "blow-ins" comments we so frequently endure. If the elite took a serious look at what they have produced and were honest they would have to come to the conclusion that it is not working. Further if an issue is deemed "ready for a vote" and requires further "modifications" I don't see "beauty" I see another potential waste of $. Ideally any issue that requires over ### $s expenditure would be covered in public sessions and only be voted on once fully understood (no need for amendments) and the vote would be ALL taxpayers.
3:05 pm on Sunday, March 25, 2012
@Jesse James and Andrew,
Where can you see the 50 autos that are provided free of cost to town employees? is there a specific line item in each department?
and where can you see what is spent on educating non-Westford teachers' children?
It was my understanding that at Town Meeting you can't vote line item by line item on these departmental budgets; you can only vote to accept the budget or not. When and where in Westford's government can we oppose the individual line items? I know we can attend each of the departmental open meetings, but if several people show up to each of these meetings to complain, it's not going to make a difference. The line item (of bottled water for example) will still make it into their budget(s). Is it possible to vote to reconsider the Article which was the Town Budget?
I also found that the tone from the Town Moderator, if she didn't like the question being asked, or the point being made, to be very sarcastic and condescending at times. Very disappointing.
3:46 pm on Sunday, March 25, 2012
All the line items are in that link I provided. It's also available on the town website.
How it worked yesterday is that the Moderator announced each department, and if anyone in the audience had a problem, they yelled "Hold!" and they go back to that section later.
When the Town Meeting goes back, amendments can be made, or questions can be asked. Once all the holds are completed one way or another, the final number is voted upon.
Generally, the moderator (both here in Westford and in any New England town) is going to cut in when speakers are going off the topic or not adding anything new to the proceedings.
4:38 pm on Sunday, March 25, 2012
Ms Marchand, the former Budget Director, told me that there were 27 autos assigned to town employees. The cost of these autos are spread out throughout the departments’ budgets.
The cost of educating non-Westford teachers’ children is known only to members of the School Committee and the Supt. The school committee meetings in which the topic was discussed only the numbers of teachers’ children (22?), that the town was not reimbursed by the sending school system because it was a part of the teachers contract and the number of NH teachers’ children attending WPS.
Only the school budgets and enterprise funds (?) are limited to bottom line consideration. All other budget allocations can be amended either by
“I move to divide the question for expenses of the Westford Fire Dept.”
“I move to reduce/increase the subcategory xxxxx-yyyyy of the expense line for the Westford Fire Department to $YYYY.
Old timers forget and newcomers are not aware that the Power of Town Meeting is absolute . Town meeting is the last remaining bastion of democracy. Only the Supreme Judicial Court or the US Supreme Court, in some cases, can overrule a town meeting action.
According to Town Meeting Time, the procedures authority for Westford Town Meetings”
The rulings of the Moderator can always be put to a vote requiring a majority vote.
A motion to suspend the rules is another way to restrict the power of the moderator, this requires a 2/3 majority vote.
5:07 pm on Sunday, March 25, 2012
You say the power of town meeting is absolute. I'm under the impression only the financial articles voted on are binding and not any of the others. I honestly dont know the answer and i've heard different things. Andrew, perhaps you could shed some light on the topic.
4:18 pm on Sunday, March 25, 2012
Thanks Andrew. I am not seeing a line item for 'auto' or 'auto insurance' (in one of Jesse James other posts there was mention of 50ish autos, including the employees insurance premium) or anything along those lines in any of the budgets. I do see 'travel'... so am not sure where I can find 'the town owned cars that can be used 24x7? any help finding this would be appreciated.
5:00 pm on Sunday, March 25, 2012
Sarah, please provide me with date/time of My specific post that claimed 50ish autos in use by town employees. The town manager claims to have reduced the number of cars under this category but an updated number has not been published. The last number was 27 according to Ms Marchand, the retired Finance Director circa ~2009.
5:43 pm on Sunday, March 25, 2012
Westford Resident"Jesse You say the power of town meeting is absolute"
It actually comes from the US, State Constitution and the Federalists papers.
The farmers and merchants of the post American Revolution time (1783 to1800) were very concerned about the power of the federal and state governments. For instance the US Constitution was ratified only when the Bill of Rights was agreed to be incorporated.
Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg address spoke these prophetic words, “a government of the people, by the people, for the people."
Through out the years all branches and levels of government keep forgetting that the words of Lincoln expresses the relationship of government to the people governed.
The town of Westford is directly governed by Bylaws and Town Charter which can be changed by Town Meeting. The state of Massachusetts imposes many restrictions that can be changed by collective action of the citizens of Massachusetts.
For example Prop 2 1/2 stripped the absolute taxing power of school committees, forced all towns to go to 100% assessed valuation, limited the amount of year to year real estate tax increases, reduced auto excise taxes and prohibited unfunded state mandates. You can thank, Ms Barbara Anderson, Director of Citizens for Limited Taxation for that major overhaul of tax laws. Barbara and the original CLT foot soldiers are getting old and need new blood.
Visit CLT at http://cltg.org/
5:48 pm on Sunday, March 25, 2012
I may not be remembering the number exactly; I'll look tonight. I just remember that it was a big number and I don't see any line items, anywhere in these departmental budgets, that say "Auto expense", or "town owned cars", or anything. So I was trying to determine how/where to look for this items in the various budgets. I apologize if I got the number wrong.
My point being though, without your comment, and looking at these budgets, I would have NO IDEA that we (Westford taxpayers) provide autos for full-time use to ANY Westford town employees. They certainly don't make it obvious to us.
11:09 pm on Sunday, March 25, 2012
Once upon a time before town manager form of government with a population of ~16,000, the Finance Committee book was very detailed. The Westford Eagle and the Lowell Sun covered town government in great detail.
Circa 1990, the town manager form was adopted and very quickly information became very hard to obtain. In fact, I could get a e-copy of the Secretary of Defense's daily appointment log easier than the salaries of town employees. Up until 1993, the total compensation of all town employees, which is a public record, was posted at the JV Fletcher library. After 1993, the compensation data was no longer posted. When I inquired about the compensation data, I was told by the TM circa 1994 "If you want it, sue me." Inquiries to the BoS yielded no support. More recently ~2006, the Lowell Sun did sue and got a court order for the release of the salaries of the top twenty wage earners for 2006. The Deputy Chief of Police was #1 with a salary in excess of $175,000. Prior to 1993, the posting of salaries revealed that several offsprings of high ranked town officials were on the payroll during college breaks.
Currently there are no media outlets that do independent coverage of town government in Westford. The blog WestfordForum.com has started deleting posts that are critical of government officials. The defunct Westford.com blog went silent when the webmaster started censoring posts that were critical of any public officials.
12:18 am on Monday, March 26, 2012
define "independent" Jesse. I think you're treated the way you are because you're not looking for answers, you're just looking to stir the pot, like you've been doing here.
Hell, as long as you're polite, I encourage you to stir the pot. It is possible to hold people accountable without being rude.
If you want me to ban you, I can do that too, but as I've said before, I'd prefer not to; you're a valuable source of information (just look at all the knowledge you've given here) and you sell yourself short with the crass attitude interspersed with that knowledge.
12:57 pm on Monday, March 26, 2012
Jesse, I appreciate all the information you put out for all to gain from; but the delivery sometimes makes it difficult to continue following your notes. I appreciate some sarcasm here and there, but too much acid sours the whole meal.
Please keep posting all your great information....and please don't give Andrew cause to ban you.
7:51 am on Monday, March 26, 2012
I think that 'stirring the pot' is called for in these economic times! We've all become complacent. We should be able to have confidence in our elected officials, and I am sure that is why some people feel that they can attend town meeting and 'rubberstamp' the budgets. Without someone ‘stirring the pot’, how we would know about some of these ‘hidden’ items; things that don’t show up on the budget; that only the ‘insiders’ seem to know about (ex. the town owned cars). I would love our local reporters to ask our official about these ‘hidden’ items. To get some real answers and not just a vague answer.
I voted ‘yes’ when Diane Weir proposed a .5% cut across the whole operating budget. If that had passed, each of these departments would have to make cuts; perhaps then bottled water, or the town owned car, or “fill in the blank” would be stricken from their budgets. This is what families do in ‘real life’.
I voted yes when a voter (perhaps Diane Weir again) made a motion for the the town to prepare a contingency plan for the next several years to deal with the expected shortfall. What is wrong with asking the town for a little planning? The majority of the people in attendance treated this motion with contempt! And voted it down overwhelmingly. Don’t you and your family plan if you find out the financial situation is changing, or if you see some big expenses coming that you don’t know how you’ll pay for?
2:07 pm on Monday, March 26, 2012
You should ask Vinny for a copy of the FSF expenditures in Westford. The Dee bus company got a sum in excess of $200,000 Was this money to cover school buses covered under the school committee budget thereby releasing funds to hire more people.
Check the approved SC FY2013 and ask yourself the contributions that an Athletic Director does for the academics of the students at a salary of $90,000 plus. A salary which is higher than any teacher.
8:27 am on Monday, March 26, 2012
Diane was right on and her proposals were laughed at. After the school budget line item passed to huge applause, that should have provided everyone with a good taste of who was attending this meeting.
8:45 am on Monday, March 26, 2012
I also voted for Diane's resolution to cut .5% across the board as well as the resolution for the contingency planning (I think that was Rob). As a couple of wise individuals stated at Town Meeting, it is time to stop kicking the can down the road!
10:43 am on Monday, March 26, 2012
The die hard proponents of more spending seem to be able to organize a lot of attendance at these meetings. Maybe it is time for a loose organization of those of a more fiscally responsible ilk to organize, without a political party association. TM is all about who can drag the most people to the meeting. Most people have lots of other ways to spend their Saturdays, leaving, for the most part, spending advocates to attend. A group focused on eliminating non-critical spending may be able to get more attendance if an issue can be made exciting and important enough. If someone wants to form such a group, I'll help with it.
1:54 pm on Monday, March 26, 2012
Dan do you expect me to sit by and let you take away my free lunch?
2:12 pm on Monday, March 26, 2012
St. Thomas of Aquinas, I would never presume to take things away from such a revered saint such as yourself.
2:48 pm on Monday, March 26, 2012
Andy: You would really enjoy trying to moderate the NYTimes blog and the associated comments.
Check this out
3:11 pm on Monday, March 26, 2012
Oh my goodness, I hope we never get to that level here in Westford.
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