WVN #363: Committee suggests Town Meeting improvements
- Dear Wayland Voter,
Another special committee has taken a shot at improving Town Meeting and suggests a number of changes that wouldn't affect the essential nature of the Wayland institution.
Also in this newsletter: The Environmental Protection Agency's newest plan for dealing with mercury in the Sudbury River wouldn't improve conditions in Wayland and could even make them worse.
RECOMMENDATIONS ON IMPROVING TOWN MEETING
The temporary Town Meeting Procedures Committee recommends several changes while endorsing Wayland's centuries-old open town meeting tradition. Committee members note that earlier study committees, one as far back as 1978, had dealt with some of the same issues.
In a July 26 final report before disbanding, the seven-member committee's recommendations included:
-- Count standing votes more efficiently by such methods as using more tellers, training tellers more thoroughly, anticipating important votes and marking seating sections clearly.
-- Adopt a consent calendar, a system used by the Board of Selectmen to vote on routine items as a package. The selectmen and the moderator would choose the articles to be included. Recognizing that voters sometimes have questions even about apparently noncontroversial matters, the committee recommends that the articles be thoroughly summarized in the Town Meeting warrant and that a request by 10 voters would remove an article from the calendar. Wayland would have to change its by-laws to adopt the system.
-- Boards and petitioners presenting an article should appoint at least one advocate/spokesman. There have been complaints that people responding to questions from voters are inadequately prepared.
-- The moderator should appoint an assistant to improve efficiency. Moderator Peter Gossels, who appeared before the Board of Selectmen on July 26 as chairman of the committee, along with some committee members, was enthusiastic about the proposal. In fact he is seeking applicants.
The assistant will help select and supervise tellers and do other things to make Town Meeting more efficient. For example, the assistant could sit at a desk reachable by voters who have questions or need guidance on procedures. The assistant would have no power to make decisions.
Interested voters can reach Gossels at 32 Hampshire Road, Wayland MA 01778, or pgossels@.... Deadline: Aug. 16.
-- Consider changing debate limitations. Achieving a balance between efficiency and fairness can be difficult. Under current rules each article can be debated for an hour, (or longer, if voters approve), including 10 minutes each for pro and con arguments.
Gossels reminded the selectmen, "Town Meeting is not just a mechanism like a voting machine. You have to give people a reasonable chance to be heard."
The report recommends that the standing Town Meeting Advisory Committee study the matter.
The standing committee includes three subcommittees: Electronic voting implementation (there will be a test of a system next spring), facilities and procedures.
-- Try beginning a Town Meeting with a Sunday afternoon session, limited to three hours, which the committee said was the maximum time that voters indicated they're willing to give up. A Sunday session resulting from a previous study committee recommendation was held on April 29, 2007. Attendance was good (over 600), and a session of about five hours made continuation sessions unnecessary.
-- Improve audio-visual capability. This is complicated because the traditional location at the high school field house may not be available for Town Meeting until 2012 because of construction. A/V needs may differ at alternative sites such as the middle school gym or auditorium.
-- Clarify and limit reconsideration, the procedure under which a voter can introduce a motion to take another look at legislation already passed. Showing of "significant new information" (in the moderator's judgment) is required, and then a 2/3 majority. The committee felt that the concept of new information needs to be better defined.
At the November 2009 Special Town Meeting, reconsideration was part of an exceptionally divisive, acrimonious debate before the selectmen succeeded on a second try in getting enough votes to pass an article they said was essential to keep the proposed Town Center mixed-use development alive. This article decreased the amount of affordable housing at the Town Center.
You can read the entire report posted on the town website at:
-- WVN Staff
NO IMPROVEMENT EXPECTED IN WAYLAND FROM NYANZA PLAN
EPA has issued its draft plan and recommendation for addressing mercury in the Sudbury River from the Nyanza Superfund site, location of a former dye plant in Ashland. The proposed $8.5 million plan, in contrast to other more costly possible options considered by the EPA, basically calls for placing a soft cap of 6 inches of sand on 84 acres on the bottom of Reservoir #2 in Framingham. Mercury levels would also be monitored throughout the rest of the river.
Unfortunately, none of EPA's proposals will make any significant difference to the mercury levels in the river in Wayland, including its recommended proposal, and some of the possible actions might even make it worse. That's because the river in Wayland, like all bodies of water in the Northeast, is also polluted from airborne mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants in the midwest and more local incinerators burning trash containing old thermostats and thermometers. The additional mercury from Nyanza, according to the EPA studies, only adds an additional 30 percent or so to the mercury risk in fish caught between Route 20 and Lincoln.
EPA's preferred action, adding a layer of sand to the worst-polluted reservoir in Framingham just downstream of the Ashland Superfund site, would have virtually no remediating effect in Wayland. Other possible actions, such as extensive dredging favored by some Framingham residents and officials, might make Wayland's problem worse by sending polluted sediment downstream. One Framingham selectman's suggestion is to draw down the reservoir and scrape off dry contaminated sediment, an option the agency admits warrants serious consideration.
EPA emphasizes that, in their evaluations, the only health risks from exposure to the Nyanza mercury are to fishermen eating fish from the river. There is no risk from swimming in, boating on, or living near the river, the agency says, and no "population level" risk to wildlife. However, the question of any mercury impact to wells along the river, which includes many private and all Wayland town wells, has been raised at public meetings.
The river fish from Saxonville to Route 20, including the popular fishing spot Heard Pond, have even lower mercury levels than those in North Wayland, according to EPA. That's because the Great Meadows, the nearly mile-wide river marsh north of Route 20 that motivated the founding of our town, serves as a highly efficient chemical factory to convert the metallic mercury from the atmosphere and Nyanza into the more toxic organic Methyl mercury, which is taken up by aquatic creatures. The mercury is then "bio-magnified" as bigger critters eat smaller critters, and is highest in the larger fish caught by humans.
At the July 19 EPA hearing, held in Framingham there was repeated public criticism of the EPA's proposal. Some of those who testified also expressed concern that the message that eating the river fish is a health hazard is still not getting across to those who rely on the fish as a food source, despite signs posted in several languages.
To read the proposed plan, visit epa.gov/region1/superfund/sites/nyanza. The proposal and further information are available under the "Newsletters & Press Releases" section. The plan is currently open for public comment until Aug. 26. Written comments can be submitted to the EPA, attention Daniel Keefe, project manager, EPA New England, 5 Post Office Square, Suite 100 Boston, MA 02109-3912 or e-mail keefe.daniel@... .
-- Tom Sciacca
The Wayland library will re-open on Monday Aug. 9 after being closed by flooding since March. A celebratory public event is planned for Sept. 12.
In WVN Newsletter #362 we reversed the employers of two newly appointed members of the Conservation Commission with careers in human resources. Markey Burke is a recruitment consultant and Ted Harding works at Boston-Power rather than the other way around. The third new appointee, Larry Kiernan, works for IBM in business development.
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor