Published in the October 21, 2015 edition
By MAUREEN DOHERTY
LYNNFIELD — By a margin of 318 to 109, a citizens’ petition seeking to expand the Board of Selectmen from three members to five was defeated at Town Meeting Monday night.
The vote was taken following a lively debate on the merits of the amended version of the petition offered on the floor of Town Meeting by its chief sponsor, Selectman Tom Terranova. A simple majority was required for passage. Town Moderator Arthur Bourque chose to have a hand count rather than a voice vote.
After Article 4 was voted down, Ellen Crawford immediately requested a vote to reconsider the question, which was also voted down. Since a request to reconsider an article can only be done once, this parliamentary procedure ensured that reconsideration of the question could not be requested later in the meeting after many of those present for this issue had left.
If Article 4 had passed as amended, implementation of the Town Charter change would have been delayed by one year. So rather than taking effect in the upcoming April 2016 election, the voters would have been presented a ballot question seeking their approval of the expansion of the board.
Had either scenario come to pass it would have also included a stop at the State House, where both chambers would have been required to vote on the home rule petition request to change the Town’s Charter in time for the April 2017 election.
“I am amending my petition because this is one of the issues my fellow selectmen requested. The basic issue I heard was ‘bring it forward to the people,’ and there’s quite a few people here, so there must be many issues of interest,” Terranova said of the nearly packed auditorium at LMS. “I am changing my petition to modify it to refer it to a full town vote. This way everybody who chooses to come out to vote can make their recommendation for or against it,” he said.
At their Oct. 5 meeting, the selectmen voted 2-1 not to recommend passage of Article 4, with Selectmen Chairman Phil Crawford and Selectman Chris Barrett opposed to it. After Terranova made his amendment, Crawford and Barrett changed their recommendation to an “indefinite postponement” of Article 4.
The board’s prior discussions at meetings objecting to Article 4 cited the need for a Charter Review Committee to study it for several months and include the public in those discussions and hearings. If it was deemed a change in the board’s structure was needed, the next step would be to present that option to the voters at Town Meeting and then to a town-wide ballot before making any changes to the number of selectmen.
Finance Committee Chairman Jack Dahlstedt said his board had voted not to recommend passage of the original Article 4. The main reason cited during their discussion “was because of the lack of request to come back to the town for a vote,” Dahlstedt said. They did not have a chance to vote on Terranova’s amendment, he said.
Dan Tommaro, 465 Lowell St., asked Terranova for an explanation of the benefit to the townspeople for an expanded board.
“Most towns of our size have five selectmen and in talking with members of these other boards, that’s five different perspectives coming to the table, researching and discussing a particular issue, and it’s all for the benefit of the town. That’s always been my main motivation through all of my actions, is to support the betterment of this great town. There is no other motive,” Terranova said. “There’s no haste involved. This was something that I was asked to bring forward. I have hundreds of people who signed to support this. At this point it just seemed prudent to bring it to a full town vote.”
Tommaro said the town is known for making changes thoughtfully. Using the fields project as an example, he said it took the town “five years to get there and they’re beautiful and it worked out wonderfully.”
“We sit. We think. We plan. We have reasons. We understand, but this, in one month’s time, seems like an attempted coup,” Tommaro said. “If this was a good thing for the town they’d be a vote for the people, not just the 500 people in attendance here. It would be reviewed, we’d be given information, there would be six months before a vote and the people would have time to review it, absorb it and discuss it,” he said.
Retired Town Administrator Joe Maney, 8 Carol Ann Rd., supported an indefinite postponement. “It seems to me that this is simply trying to get a majority Board of Selectmen that would end up being a 3-2 vote compared to the 2-1 vote that we have now. I personally will not support a five-member Board of Selectmen. I think a three-member board is much more efficient.”
Maney added the fact that the petitioners proposed an amendment for a town-wide vote was an improvement “but the better way to make a change of this magnitude in our government structure is through a Charter Revision Committee. Among other things there may be other parts of the government that need to be changed,” he said, adding that he had served on the original commission that created the current Town Charter.
“I really think that three members is much more efficient than five. One might be more efficient than three, but we don’t have a mayor,” Maney added, which garnered a round of applause.
Patricia Campbell, 7 Patrice Ln., said she was one of the original people who asked to have this petition come before the Town Meeting. She said more than 300 signatures were collected even though only 10 signatures were required to get the petition on the warrant. She requested Terranova give the presentation he had originally planned to give but chose not to present.
Kathy Randele of 55 Carter Rd., who is the planning and land use assistant to the Planning Board, wanted to dispel a misconception that she and her colleagues at Town Hall cannot do their jobs adequately or answer the public’s questions without a selectman taking their constituent by the hand on every issue. She encouraged residents to simply pick up the phone and talk to them first.
“You don’t have to go to the selectmen. They don’t know everything. They don’t the rules, they don’t know the zoning, they don’t know about conservation,” Randele said, adding, “You can go to the Town Hall and ask questions. Somebody’s there to help you out.” This statement drew one of four rounds of applause from the audience during her comments.
“Over the last several years I’ve seen a lot of changes in our town. A lot of them I’m happy about and a lot I am not,” Randele said, adding that she is not happy with the “divisive things” that have been going on that no one speaks out about.
“This is not what Lynnfield is about. Groups have not gotten along in the past, but there hasn’t been this animosity that you see in the last couple of years. We have a great school system. We do the best that we can with the money that we have,” Randele said.
Randele said she felt the explanation Terranova gave at a past selectmen’s meeting about his reasoning for this charter change was “not truthful.” This is why she believes any proposed change to the petition should go before the entire town for a vote, but only after it is reviewed by a Charter Review Committee.
“I am going to vote against it. I think it has to go before a whole group of people to review the charter before it goes anywhere else,” Randele said.
Former Selectman Bob Whalen also drew several rounds of applause as he recounted his term on the board 15 years ago. He recalled that he and his fellow board members “disagreed from time to time but… were not disagreeable.”
“As a selectman you’re required to make decisions and vote on a wide variety of issues that impact everyone in town. Each of us understood that if we wanted a positive vote on an item we were in favor of we needed to persuade at least one and preferably both of our colleagues to agree with our point of view,” Whalen said, adding that he didn’t always succeed.
“You can become quite frustrated when you aren’t able to garner support for agenda items that you think are important, but that goes with the job,” he said. Whalen said he believes the true reason behind this proposal is that one member is “obviously frustrated with his inability to win support for his ideas.”
Changing the makeup of the board is “nothing more than a shabby proposal by him and his cohorts to change a model that has worked very well for decades so that his ideas might get a more favorable reception with a new membership,” he said.
Whalen said the “better remedy” to this amendment when the electorate is unhappy with the way the town is managing its business remains the town’s annual election. He likened the proposal to FDR’s attempt in the 1930s to “pack the Supreme Court by expanding it to 15 members to allegedly make it more efficient” when the president’s true motivation had been to “get some of his legislation that was struck down by the existing court a more favorable reception.”
John Gioioso, 24 Longbow Circle, said, “I think this is an embarrassment for Lynnfield. Lynnfield has had three selectmen for many years. I’d like to direct my statement to the three selectmen. Just try to get along. I see value in five but just to put five on to stop all the politics. I think you guys need to look at yourselves and try to work together for the voters and serve this community like it has been in the past.”
Katy Shea, 7 Daventry Court, said the idea of expanding the board has been “kicked around” for awhile but it “started to get some legs” due to the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline, which she said residents of surrounding towns knew about 14 months before Lynnfield residents did.
“A number of people said if we could get five people to get better communication,” Shea said, “because the town is changing and we have more issues and we can have more selectmen addressing the needs of the town. It was not divisive; it was not a small group. One of our selectmen, he is doing the best he can, he did tell someone about the pipeline 14 months ago. It was through word of month.”
Shea said her research has indicated towns with five selectmen “allows two selectmen to work on a project together” without violating the Open Meeting Law. She added that the chairmen she had spoken to often put selectmen with the two most opposing ideas on the same project “so they get to know one another and respect one another and understand the differences they might have…and (they) find better collaboration across the board.”
Selectmen Chairman Phil Crawford said he wanted to address the “misconception” that there is a “problem” with the Board of Selectmen.
“That’s a myth that they’re spreading to create a misconception that there’s a problem,” Crawford said. He added, “Ninety percent of our votes are unanimous. The occasional vote that is 2-1 could be 2-1 in any fashion. From my viewpoint, the town of Lynnfield is a great town to live in. Every board for the last 30 to 40 years has had 2-1 votes every year and what did we get done?” Crawford asked.
“In the last decade we got a brand new school project that is the envy of many people in many towns. We got 63% reimbursement. If you lived in North Reading they would have loved to have had that. It took them 12 years to get their school project approved. They’re paying over $120 million dollars for the schools and they were on the list for years to get reimbursement. The reason they didn’t get it? They had a dysfunctional five-member Board of Selectmen,” Crawford said.
Crawford added to the list of accomplishments with a 2-1 board: A fields project that is the envy of the North Shore; purchase of Centre Farm to protect the town center and two bond rating increases in the last seven years, to its current AA+, because the town is managed “very well.”
“Our prior town administrator and our current town administrator are two of the best managers you could have had. We were worried we couldn’t replace Bill Gustus. Jim Boudreau is the best person you could have gotten for this job. He runs the day-to-day operations here and we have a very well-trained highly educated staff that runs this town,” Crawford said.
Crawford said even though the board does not agree on everything Lynnfield remains “one of the best towns in the North Shore to live in” and any Realtor would confirm that the town’s property values are going up due to these amenities as well as MarketStreet and ongoing projects such as the road improvement plan currently underway.
“The town of Lynnfield is going in the right direction,” Crawford said.
Editor’s note: Due to formula changes in the state reimbursement rate for school projects, the town of North Reading received over $49M toward its $123M secondary schools project for its high school and middle school.
Also, after the meeting, Crawford told the Villager that he wanted to clarify a statement made during the meeting that abutters to the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline did not know about the project. He said it was abutters who had been approached by land surveyors seeking access to their property who had contacted him for assistance in dealing with their situation.