Published in the October 8, 2015 edition
By BOB TUROSZ
NORTH READING — Town Meeting voted Monday night to leave North Reading’s sex offender residency bylaw on the books even though the law cannot be enforced under a recent decision by the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court.
As the Transcript has previously reported, a decision in August from the SJC invalidated a City of Lynn ordinance that put restrictions on where registered sex offenders can live. The Lynn law was very similar to a North Reading bylaw regulating where Level 3 registered sex offenders can live, particularly in regard to school bus stops, churches, schools, parks, elderly housing and daycare facilities. Also ruled invalid were laws in 48 other cities and towns in the state.
At the suggestion of Town Counsel, an article was placed in the October Town Meeting warrant to rescind North Reading’s bylaw since it cannot be enforced due to the SJC decision. But the Board of Selectmen subsequently decided, 3–2, to ask Town Meeting to pass over the article, thereby leaving it on the books.
This set up a philosophical discussion between Selectmen with two opposing points of view. Michael Prisco asked voters to leave the bylaw on the books and give the Legislature time to hash out a solution. Stephen O’Leary said the law should be rescinded because leaving it on the books is a bad idea and gives a false sense of confidence that something can be done.
After a relatively short debate, the meeting voted 40 to 28 to pass over and thereby leave the bylaw on the books, even though it can’t be enforced. It was the only hand count of the night at Town Meeting, which had only 90 voters in attendance.
“Let’s give it a year and give the Legislature a year to hash this one out because something has to be done,” Prisco urged. In the meantime, North Reading’s law will not be enforced, he admitted. “Let’s see what the Legislature can do.”
O’Leary agreed leaving it on the books would be just a statement by the town in view of the SJC’s decision. “But we have been advised by Town Counsel and the Police Chief that our bylaw is in violation and should be rescinded. It’s not a good practice for the town to knowingly have a bylaw on the books we know can’t be enforced. We should remove it.”
In response to a question a voter, Town Counsel Darren Klein said it’s “hard to say” whether leaving the bylaw on the books exposes the town to increased liability. Prisco said it’s “a risk worth taking to leave it on the books” until the Legislature can take a look at it.
All other articles were approved on voice votes. Many were approved unanimously:
• Article 1, hear town reports. Routine.
• Article 2, pay a bill submitted after June 30. Cost: $224.50. Passed.
• Article 3, Transfer $336,000 to the Capital Improvement Stabilization Fund, increasing the balance to $1.1 million. Passed.
• Article 4, appropriate money to the town’s Stabilization Fund. The fund currently has a balance of $2 million. Passed over.
• Article 5, appropriate money to the OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits) Fund. The fund currently has a balance of $293,016. Passed over.
• Article 6, appropriate another $200,000 for special counsel legal fees to pursue damages against the architect and the project manager for cost overruns on the high school and middle school construction project. The town has expended $198,852 on this case already and another $100,000 has been appropriated but not spent. Passed.
• Article 7, amendments to the fiscal 2016 town operating budget transferring $274,772 to be added to the salary pool supplement. Passed.
• Article 8, appropriate $80,000 for the triennial (every three years) revaluation of all town property. Passed.
• Article 9, appropriate funds for permits and technical support for an MWRA water connection. Passed over.
• Article 10, transfer $200,000 for preliminary design, engineering and other studies for an MWRA water connection. Passed.
• Article 11, appropriate funds for the repair/replacement of the Little School roof. Postponed until Oct. 8.
• Article 12, $50,000 for miscellaneous town repairs for town buildings, including the library, town hall and the DPW garage. Passed.
• Article 13, supplemental funds for the JT Berry property. Passed over.
• Article 14, Authorize the Selectmen to convey a small portion of town land on Magnolia Rd. to abutters who needs to repair/replace their septic system. Passed.
• Article 15, grant an easement over a portion of town owned land to the owner of land abutting Carpenter Drive. Passed.
• Article 16, an easier method of approving editorial revisions in town bylaws by automatically renumbering sections when they are amended or replaced. Passed.
• Article 17, seeking regulations for visual presentations (for instance, PowerPoint) at Town Meetings and use of town equipment. Passed over.
• Article 18, changes to the DPW’s rules for funerals and interments in town cemeteries. This allows the DPW more flexibility in scheduling because extenuating circumstances, such as extreme weather. Passed.
• Article 19, the latest in a long line of attempts to arrive at a workable bylaw requiring businesses to clear snow from public sidewalks in front of their property starting 24 hours after a storm ends. This latest version will allow the town fine the business owner, remove the snow from sidewalks when businesses refuse, and send a bill to the business owner. Passed.
• Article 20, to rescind the sex offender residency bylaw. Passed over.
• Article 21, to update the town’s zoning map to reflect previous amendments. Passed.
• Article 22, to accept a portion of Swan Pond Rd. as a public way. Passed.
• Article 23, to accept a portion of Rahnden Terrace as a public way. Passed.