Published in the November 13, 2018 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD – Local voters managed to complete the fall Regular Town Meeting in two nights, finishing up the 39-article warrant in a nearly four-hour session last Thursday night at Veterans Memorial Auditorium at the Galvin Middle School.
One of the more hotly debated articles on night 2 of Town Meeting was Article 29, a Charter Review Committee article that sought to change the three-member Board of Assessors from an elected board to one appointed by the Town Council.
Town Councilor Ann Santos said that the Board of Assessors had approached the Town Council several months ago because they were having trouble getting people to run for the board. It was also noted that being an assessor requires a level of expertise and an appointment process might be more likely to yield qualified candidates.
But several speakers saw Article 29 as another effort to diminish voter choices. Robert Mitchell of Spaulding Street was one.
“Why does Town Hall want to limit the number of positions we can vote for,” Mitchell asked, adding that he opposed the article.
But current Assessor Walter Schofield said that he supported Article 29, noting that it takes a specialized background to understand everything involved with assessing. He said that he ran a write-in campaign when no other candidate came forward and that it had taken him some time to get up to speed.
Michael McLane of Fairmount Avenue said that he was torn on Article 29. The former member of the Board of Assessors said that he would probably vote against making it an appointed board.
Bronwyn Della-Volpe of Cyrus Street opposed making the assessors an appointed board, calling it a “power grab.”
Water Street’s Robert McLaughlin said that the town needs checks and balances and that he preferred not losing the right to vote for the Board of Assessors.
Current chair of the Board of Assessors, Jane D’Addario, said that she has been on the board since 2009 and she was the last member to face an opponent. Since then, all members have run unopposed, she said.
“There’s an apparent lack of interest in running for this board,” she said. “So, I would vote in favor of making it appointed.”
Fred Rich LaRiccia of Franklin Street called Article 29 “a slippery slope. The next thing you know, they’ll want to appoint the Town Clerk, the Treasurer and the Tax Collector.”
In the end, the vote on Article 29 was 81 in favor and 56 against, meaning that it failed to attain the two-thirds majority required for Charter changes. So, the Board of Assessors will remain an elected board.
In other business, Thursday’s session picked up where Monday’s left off, handling Articles 22 through 39 to finish off the warrant.
Article 22 was a Bylaw Review Article that sought to update the language in the General Bylaws related to news racks (the metal or plastic boxes used for dispensing newspapers). The article had been taken up but tabled at Monday’s session out of concern that a reference to “town business days” might conflict with a later Charter Review Committee article. The Bylaw Review Committee met just before Thursday’s session and made a slight revision to the article to remove any possible conflict. Article 22 passed with no discussion from the floor.
Bylaw Review Committee Chairman Daniel Lieber made the motion under Article 23, explaining that the DPW-suggested article would make language changes to the bylaw related to sewers. Article 23 also clarified some rights and responsibilities of homeowners with respect to the sewer system. Article 23 passed with no discussion from the floor.
Lieber explained that Article 24 was another DPW requested bylaw change to bring the town’s General Bylaws into compliance with state and federal law with respect to storm drain systems and stormwater management. Article 24 carried with no discussion from the floor.
Similarly, Lieber said that Article 25 was a DPW-requested article to clean up language and make the town’s bylaws with respect to its water system compliant with state and federal law. Article 25 passed with no discussion.
Article 26 sought Town Meeting’s authorization to petition the State Legislature for Special Legislation related to how retired police officers are compensated for medical bills if they are injured while working details. Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio said that a case a few years ago in Wakefield illustrated how expensive the current system can be for a municipality. The requested legislation, if passed, would address that, he said. Article 26 was approved by Town Meeting.
Article 27 was the first of several Charter Review Committee articles presented by Chairman John Carney and Vice Chair Allyson Houghton. Article 27 sought to nail down the dates of the spring Town Election and the Spring Annual Town Meeting. Under Article 27, the Town Election would be held annually on the second Tuesday in April, as opposed to the fourth Tuesday as is currently the case. The Annual Town Meeting would be on the second Monday in May, as opposed to the first.
Eric Reid of Crescent Street proposed an amendment that, regardless of any future date changes, the Town Election will always come before Annual Town Meeting. He explained that that this would avoid candidates for election using Town Meeting as a soapbox from which to campaign.
Reid’s amendment carried, but Article 27 failed to get the needed two-thirds majority, with the final vote 87-64 in favor.
Article 30 sought to modify the Charter to change the elected term of the Town Moderator from one year to three years. After a brief discussion, Article 30 passed by the needed two-thirds majority 81-9.
Under Article 31, the Charter Review Committee recommended changes to the composition of the committee that fills vacancies of the Finance Committee, including removing the “past chairman of the FinCom” in favor of the current chairman. After a brief discussion, Article 31 passed unanimously.
Article 32 sought to change the Charter to incorporate current practices allowing email to be used in town notifications in addition to paper. Article 32 carried with an amendment allowing other forms of electronic communication to be used as well as email.
Under Article 33, changes were proposed to the Charter section related to the Board of Health to bring the Charter in line with current practices of the town. After a brief discussion, Article 33 passed 73-1.
Article 34 sought to change language the Charter to bring in into line with state law with respect to the Housing Authority. Article 34 passed unanimously with no discussion.
Article 35 proposed changing Charter language to reflect the lack of clerical staff at the library. Article 35 passed unanimously with no discussion.
Article 36 proposed language changes to the Charter to reflect the fact that the Recreation Director does not report to the Department of Public Works. The article passed unanimously.
Under Article 37 sought to change the time between the adoption of the School Department preliminary budget and its submission to the Town Administrator from 90 days to 60 days. Article 37 passed unanimously.
Carney explained that the purpose of Article 38 was to make minor editorial changes throughout the charter that would not substantially affect meaning. The article passed unanimously.
Article 39 sought to raise and appropriate a sum of money for the purpose of settling a claim asserted by The Woods, LLC with respect to environmental contamination allegedly caused by the Town on certain real property abutting Butler Avenue. Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio moved for indefinite postponement of Article 39. The motion carried.
Town Council Chairman Peter May moved at 10:55 p.m. to dissolve the 2018 Regular Town Meeting. That motion carried.
According to Town Clerk Betsy Sheeran, 195 voters attended Thursday’s session of Town Meeting.