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WVN #327: After unruly Town Meeting, suggestions welcomed

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  • waylandvoters1
    Dear Wayland Voter, -- Selectmen are open to Town Meeting improvements. Also in this newsletter: -- A legal complaint has been filed over the way town
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 10, 2009
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      Dear Wayland Voter,

      -- Selectmen are open to Town Meeting improvements.

      Also in this newsletter:

      -- A legal complaint has been filed over the way town officials met with a congresswoman to discuss the Town Center.

      -- Wayland will use "manager at risk" methods in hopes of saving time and money on the new high school.

      SELECTMEN RECEPTIVE TO TOWN MEETING IMPROVEMENT

      The selectmen say they take seriously the many complaints and suggestions they received after the recent special Town Meeting. Their consensus in a discussion during their Dec. 7 meeting was to seek the cooperation of Town Moderator Peter Gossels with the hope of gathering the expertise of many citizens to seek solutions.

      Such a gathering, they said, might include the School Committee, which controls the field house and owns the speakers and microphones that failed to deliver sound to the moderator's podium on Nov. 18 and 19, as well as WayCAM, which broadcasts live and experienced problems. Gossels says the recent Town Meeting was the most unruly he has seen since he began attending in 1962.

      The selectmen already have at hand an 11-page report from the Town Meeting Study Committee submitted in 2005 that examined many aspects, including holding the initial session on a Sunday afternoon.

      Some possible solutions are certain to cost money, which would require Town Meeting funding approval.

      Hours of Town Meeting were devoted to vote counts. Some selectmen said the idea of instant electronic voting with hand-held devices should be investigated.

      "But we don't even know what it would cost," Selectmen Sue Pope said.

      Apparently she hadn't read a communication to the Board from former Selectman Alan Reiss, following up his Wayland Town Crier column on electronic voting. Reiss gave the selectmen a detailed estimate, which you can read at:

      Document: Bringing Electronic Voting to Wayland Town Meeting
      Document: Options Technology Quote for 2,000 keypad system

      -- WVN Staff

      OPEN MEETING COMPLAINT OVER TSONGAS VISIT

      A complaint filed with the Middlesex district attorney this week alleges that the selectmen violated the state Open Meeting Law (OML) when U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas visited Wayland to tour the site of the Town Center project.

      The legal action follows earlier complaints that important officials were deliberately left out of the visit.

      Former Selectman George Harris, an attorney, argues in his Dec. 8 OML complaint that officials incorrectly described substantive discussion as a "reception" and on-site inspection.

      On Nov. 20 Town Administrator Fred Turkington sent an email inviting certain town officials and the Town Center developers to join Tsongas at a "reception" at the Town Building followed by a tour of the Route 20 site.

      The same day Tsongas issued a news release saying that the congresswoman would "discuss ongoing economic development initiatives, including the Wayland Town Center project" and "ways the federal government can be an active partner in these efforts."

      There was no posting telling the public of the Nov. 24 gathering, as is required for an official meeting involving a quorum of officials. A quorum of the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee attended the gathering.

      The subjects of the meeting "are surely matters over which the board has jurisdiction," Harris argues.

      After Harris made his accusations in person at the Nov. 30 selectmen's meeting, selectmen hotly denied that there had been a violation. Turkington then requested a legal opinion from Kopelman and Paige, a law firm specializing in municipal law. That opinion, dated Dec. 3, said that the "reception" was a social gathering and as such not subject to the Open Meeting Law. Furthermore, according to the opinion, the tour was an "on-site inspection" not subject to the law.

      "It is apparent that the town administrator provided self-serving and misleading `facts'" to Kopelman and Paige, Harris says. The opinion, he says, doesn't take account of the Tsongas press release and a later email from Selectman Tom Fay that outlines the substance of the visit.

      Harris quotes from the statute: "The Open Meeting Law applies to every meeting of a quorum of a governmental body, if any public business over which the governmental body has jurisdiction is discussed or is considered..."

      "No . . . social meeting shall be used in circumvention of the spirit or requirements of this section to discuss or act upon a matter over which the governmental body has supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power."

      Regardless of how the district attorney rules, the selectivity of the list of officials invited to the Tsongas meeting raises questions for voters. The selectmen and the selectmen-appointed Finance Committee were invited, along with the chairman of the Planning Board (but not other members, who were apparently unaware of the meeting). Also unaware were officials of bodies that have not always been as unswerving in support of Twenty Wayland, the Town Center developers, as the selectmen, among them the Conservation Commission, Historic District Commission, Housing Partnership and Housing Authority.

      A Nov. 18-19 fall Town Meeting article easing affordable housing requirements at the developer's request was passed after contentious debate. Some residents expressed skepticism that anything will be built soon by Twenty Wayland.

      If Tsongas had wanted to hear any disparate views, she wouldn't have been likely to find them on Nov. 24.

      -- Michael Short

      "MANAGER AT RISK" A CHANCE TO SAVE MONEY, TIME ON H.S.

      Lea Anderson, chair of the High School Building Committee, asked for and received the unanimous approval of the School Committee on Dec. 7 to proceed with the Construction Manager at Risk method to build the recently approved new $71 million high school. The method has already been approved by the state.

      In an email to WVN, Anderson defined the approach: "CM at Risk is a construction delivery method in which a construction manager (CM) is hired early in the design process based on qualifications as well as price. The CM at Risk delivery method offers advantages around construction manager qualification, constructibility of design, and shorter schedule." A more extensive description can be found at:

      http://www.sheehan.com/publications/good-company-newsletter/CM-at-Risk--A-New-Alternative-for-Public-Construction-Projects.aspx/pdf

      She told the committee that the method is more administratively complex than the older "design-build" process, as it involves a series of bids for different pieces of the project rather than one large bid. But 90 percent or more of private sector projects are done this way, even though it's fairly new for public sector projects. It's faster and can draw from a much larger pool of contractors. The project owner doesn't have to take the lowest bid, which means the contractor's qualifications can be considered. As a result, Anderson told WVN, "the reduction in problems results in a better end product and the shortened schedule can mean cost savings, especially with today's low interest rates and favorable market conditions."

      -- Tom Sciacca

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      Michael Short, Editor
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