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2012 Town Meeting Live Blog

Live from the Abbot School.

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Martin Luther March 25, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Please. 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.
Andrew Sylvia (Editor) March 25, 2012 at 06:03 PM
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.
Andrew Sylvia (Editor) March 25, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Dave L, 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.
Sarah March 25, 2012 at 07:05 PM
@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.
EJ March 25, 2012 at 07:21 PM
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.
Andrew Sylvia (Editor) March 25, 2012 at 07:46 PM
Sarah, 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.
Sarah March 25, 2012 at 08:18 PM
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.
Martin Luther March 25, 2012 at 08:38 PM
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.” or “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.
Martin Luther March 25, 2012 at 09:00 PM
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.
westford resident March 25, 2012 at 09:07 PM
Jesse - 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.
Martin Luther March 25, 2012 at 09:43 PM
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/
Sarah March 25, 2012 at 09:48 PM
Jesse James, 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.
Sam March 25, 2012 at 11:27 PM
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.
Martin Luther March 26, 2012 at 03:09 AM
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.
Martin Luther March 26, 2012 at 03:39 AM
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.
Andrew Sylvia (Editor) March 26, 2012 at 04:18 AM
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.
Sarah March 26, 2012 at 11:51 AM
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?
Sam March 26, 2012 at 12:27 PM
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.
Dave L March 26, 2012 at 12:45 PM
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!
Dan D. March 26, 2012 at 02:43 PM
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.
Sam March 26, 2012 at 03:45 PM
@ 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.
Sam March 26, 2012 at 03:48 PM
@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.
Dan D. March 26, 2012 at 03:56 PM
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.
Vincent DiRico March 26, 2012 at 04:25 PM
"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.
Derek March 26, 2012 at 04:57 PM
Agreed, 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. Cheers, Derek
June Mary March 26, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Dan do you expect me to sit by and let you take away my free lunch?
June Mary March 26, 2012 at 06:07 PM
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.
Dan D. March 26, 2012 at 06:12 PM
St. Thomas of Aquinas, I would never presume to take things away from such a revered saint such as yourself.
Martin Luther March 26, 2012 at 06:48 PM
Andy: You would really enjoy trying to moderate the NYTimes blog and the associated comments. Check this out http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/24/santorum-unveils-obamaville-video-scary-music-included/
Andrew Sylvia (Editor) March 26, 2012 at 07:11 PM
Oh my goodness, I hope we never get to that level here in Westford.

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