WVN #244: Contentious end to Town Meeting
- Dear Wayland Voter,
The third and last Town Meeting session ended like the first,
divisively. On April 10, 14 and 16 the selectmen and Finance
Committee prevailed in every contested article, though
opponents debated at length and tried to overturn the
controversial Article 5 vote to create a Department of Public
Works and a powerful town executive.
The first session ended with the DPW decision, leaving
opponents unhappy. They had introduced considerable evidence
casting doubt on relatively vague assurances that the new
department would save money some years from now and serve
residents better than the current three departments overseeing
roads, water, parks and recreation. Park And Rec
commissioners were annoyed at predictions that a DPW would
somehow provide better playing fields. In fact, commissioners
said, the Finance Committee had shot down Commission
Toward the end of the April 16 session, opponents took
advantage of a parliamentary procedure to ask for
"reconsideration" of Article 5. Such a motion, which would force
a new vote on the article, requires a two-thirds majority and must
be based on significant new information not available when the
article was passed. By this time, the crowd had shrunk greatly
from the 700 who had voted on the article the previous Thursday.
When a Park and Rec commissioner was in position to move for
reconsideration, Selectmen Michael Tichnor walked to a group
in the bleachers and spoke with Cynthia Lavenson of the activist
group SOSWayland. Craig Foreman of the Wayland Boosters
and Kim Reichelt of WaylandeNews, subsequently spoke with
the group as well. Several people immediately took out
cellphones, presumably to summon reinforcements to vote
against the motion. Some selectmen were seen using
hand-held electronic devices.
After a half-hour of debate that ended Town Meeting on a
discordant note, the motion failed. Opponents produced no
information that wasn't available to voters on April 10, though
they drew fresh arguments from the selectmen's handout at that
session. This gave opponents the chance to renew allegations
that there was flimsy evidence of cost savings and that the town
would lose valuable volunteer dedication and expertise.
BUDGET AND SCHOOL CLOSING
At the April 14 session, voters still upset over what they saw as
a flawed and casual process in choosing to close part of Loker
School tried to amend Article 6, the omnibus $60.4 million
Fiscal 2009 budget, to delay the closing for a year in order to do
the thorough study called for in the School Committee's
published procedures. This also failed, but not before
opponents had one more chance to attack the School
Committee's process and question the estimate of saving
The capital budget of $2.335 million drew persistent questioning
that forced the selectmen to explain the allocation of $600,000
for the Public Safety Building, the sixth time the town has been
asked for money to repair the five-year-old building. This has
added 50 percent to the cost, said one questioner, Road
Commissioner Anette Lewis. Selectman Joe Nolan explained
that the new money will replace part of the roof and most of the
siding but won't be directed toward the basement, which floods
because of the high water table. The town is suing the architect,
alleging design flaws. Legal fees so far are in the neighborhood
When asked about $290,000 for school repairs, School
Committee member Jeff Dieffenbach acknowledged that a new
boiler at the Middle School is being litigated.
Wayland and Sudbury have jointly run a treatment plant for more
than 25 years with the aim of providing economical disposal to
households in both towns.
Members of the septage facility board jousted with the FinCom,
which seeks more reporting and expects progress on meeting
revenue projections. Board members argued that the facility
already reports to the towns, has no debt, supports itself by fees
and should remain open as a benefit to residents of the two
towns. The $889,000 appropriated by voters won't come from tax
The selectmen have yet to fill a vacancy on the joint septage
When you have your septic system emptied, one member
recommended to residents, be sure the pumper goes to the
The existing treatment plant at the former Raytheon property
must be replaced to accommodate the planned Town Center
housing/shopping/office development. The Wastewater
Management District Commission asked to borrow up to $5.2
million to accomplish that. Some voters said there was no need
to approve more than $500,000 now for engineering and
design. The plant hasn't yet been approved by federal and state
environmental authorities. But Commission Chairman David
Schofield said there had been "fairly contentious meetings" with
the developer's attorneys and argued that approving the full $5.2
million would demonstrate good faith to Twenty Wayland. Voters
approved the borrowing.
Though Twenty Wayland has agreed to pay 70 percent of the
cost of the new plant, one voter said the payment terms -- 4.5
percent over 20 years -- were unusual and too generous. This
arrangement essentially provides financing at low municipal
bond rates, rather than much higher commercial rates
applicable if Twenty Wayland paid the town immediately.
Article 15 argued that spending up to $250,000 for a "full list and
measure" of all properties would give taxpayers confidence that
assessments are equitable, and do this at a particularly good
time because the assessment criteria have changed.
Furthermore, it was argued, the payback time would be two or
three years if the number of abatement payments declines to
levels seen in other towns. Assessors gave back $215,000 to
property owners in 2006, $262,000 in 2007 and $193,000 so far
The FinCom argued that there are no supporting data, the full list
and measure might not identify the problems, and the number of
abatement requests (929 in the past three years) is declining.
Voters rejected the article.
The FinCom has recognized "the perception of inaccuracies
voiced by some residents" and allocated $40,000 for a
consultant to look at the system. Though this might delay a
comprehensive solution, it could go a long way toward
addressing the problem if the process is thorough and open.
(Molly Upton, a WVN contributor, was the lead petitioner of the
article. WVN has reported on numerous assessment errors.)
CAPITAL FACILITIES PLANNING
Article 18 argued for a capital planning committee drawing on a
variety of expertise to create a "clearing house" that would
"depoliticize the planning process so the same criteria are
applied fairly to all projects." Citing completed projects mired in
litigation and repairs (see the budget and school section above)
the argument is that volunteer experts in such fields as
architecture, engineering, project design, and environmental and
health concerns could work with town boards and employees to
create a 10-year plan for major projects.
The FinCom argues that it recently created a draft Capital
Improvement Plan to deal with projects large and small.
According to the petitioners, the FinCom has a heavy work load
already. No other town surveyed has a finance committee that
also serves as the capital facilities planning group, said the
lead petitioner, former Selectman Linda Segal. FinCom
members would be welcome on the planning committee.
The FinCom didn't address a central point of the article, bringing
to the process specialists in fields other than finance.
Opposed by the selectmen, FinCom and SOS, the article failed.
NEW TOWN POOL
Voters were enthusiastic about Article 19, a proposal to replace
the decades-old town swimming pool. Voters had questions,
and some neighbors opposed it, but this public-private venture
is the only available plan to replace the pool, which is scheduled
to close next year.
The selectmen will be given the power to sell or lease the
property to the non-profit Wayland Community Pool corporation .
(See www.waylandcommunitypool.org for more information and
drawings of the proposed eight-lane facility.)
Details are lacking, and there could be problems with building
on the existing pool site. The plan is to pay for the new building
and pool with donations and debt and operate with fees paid by,
for example, school and other organized swim groups, plus
individual memberships. The roof can be partly opened to attract
A voice vote drew the two-thirds majority required for an article
involving a land transfer.
IMPROVING TOWN WEBSITE
Voters approved only one article submitted by petitioners but
opposed by the Finance Committee: a committee to
recommend improvements in electronic communication with
residents. The lead petitioner advertised it as a "no-brainer"
decision: no power, no money, no staff time. The committee
would gather ideas from other town sites, ask Wayland
residents what they'd like and make recommendations which
the selectmen can deal with as they see fit.
The FinCom said it would recommend approval only if the
committee reported to the town administrator. The petitioner,
former selectman George Harris, said it would be
unprecedented to do that. Reporting to a town employee
would remove the committee from public scrutiny under the state
Open Meeting Law. The motion passed after the FinCom
declined to argue against it.
Four members will be appointed by the town moderator, three
by the Board of Selectmen. If you're interested in serving, contact
Moderator Gossels or the Board.
In the mean time, you can see Town meeting results at
-- Michael Short
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Michael Short, Editor