WVN #466: Unexpected Town Meeting Presents Important Choices
- Dear Wayland Voter,
Despite an informal policy of holding a second town meeting in the fall to deal with non-financial matters, Wayland officials decided against it in 2012. But some people had other ideas, and the result is a seven-article Special Town Meeting on Oct. 3 that gives citizens a chance to take action on vital matters.
Also in this newsletter: The special audit committee moves ahead. Plus briefs including a traffic alert, flu shots and hazardous waste.
THE MEETING THAT SELECTMEN HAD HOPED TO AVOID
A Framingham activist who gathered more than the necessary 200 petition signatures for two articles in Wayland forced the selectmen to call the Oct. 3 meeting. When that happened, the Planning Board added an article, the only one not from petitioners. Wayland petitioners created the remaining four.
As a result residents who were outraged at summer NStar clear-cutting of trees will have their say. And other citizens, concerned about irregular and thinly accounted financial practices, will speak for Articles 4 and 5. It was disclosed last week that Wayland never executed legal documents for a trust fund involving millions of dollars in employee retirement benefit accounts.
Responding to NStar
Without knowing whether there would be a fall town meeting, residents in the Oak Hill/Meadowview neighborhood had worked over the summer to draft two warrant articles to protect against utility company overkill. They are Articles 1 and 2, as you'll see in the blue warrant booklet you received in the mail recently. Why do petitioners believe protections are important? Read on.
NStar had sent its annual vegetation management notification letters to town hall. They appeared to be boilerplate, but nobody noticed that this year would be different. NStar had a new, more aggressive plan to completely defoliate the right of way along its high-tension transmission lines.
NStar also contacted a few Wayland staff via email starting in January. None of the utility's correspondence was readily available. The public never learned that NStar's February and May letters announced public comment periods.
In some cases, NStar addressed letters and emails to the wrong party. Since July 2009, the "Tree Warden" in Wayland is the Board of Public Works, which was never copied on the correspondence. NStar also failed to make clear that it had different plans for two different transmission corridors in Wayland, with one to be chemically sprayed this year.
Wayland missed public comment opportunities with the state entity that issues approval letters to the utility. When the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) heard nothing from the Town of Wayland, it issued an April 2012 letter authorizing NStar to proceed with its plans.
Wayland missed the chance to make its case to MDAR about the town's "sensitive areas" and what residents have established to protect our environmental resources. In contrast, towns on the Cape were aware of the fine print and acted effectively to better protect their water supply.
Articles 1 and 2 seek to make Wayland better prepared when NStar returns with next year's vegetation plan. On Sept. 24 the Board of Health voted to support Article 2but not Article 3. The board hopes the motion made at Town Meeting under Article 2 will resolve the concerns raised by town counsel. The Planning Board held its Sept. 24 public hearing for Article 1 and recommended the petitioners proposal be referred for further study. The Board's thinking is that an alternative could be offered at the 2013 annual town meeting that might be more enforceable with regard to a utility.
Framingham resident Steven Hakar submitted the language in Articles 3 and 7 to three towns. Article 3, prompted by NStar's action, asks federal and state legislators to require public hearings before a utility applies toxic chemicals. This resolution failed in Framingham but was approved on September 24 by Sudbury's STM voters. Article 7 asks lawmakers to file legislation to end unfunded mandates. This resolution was rejected by both Framingham and Sudbury town meeting voters.
Questions, Disclosures on Wayland Accounting
Articles 4 and 5 are time-sensitive as we begin the Fiscal 2014 budget season. Article 4 seeks to restore the level of line-item budget detail voters used to see in warrant booklets a decade ago. Article 5 seeks to require a separate funding article each year for an obscure category called Other Post-Retirement Benefits (OPEB), essentially non-pension benefits. Discrepancies, inconsistent information and new discoveries prompted the petitioners' action.
Among the new discoveries is a resource found by Googling "OPEB trust." Among the first links listed is the work of Mark Abrahams of The Abrahams Group, the same consultant Wayland has tapped in the past for financial expertise. (Abrahams Group research in the last two years has turned up a number of financial irregularities in Wayland.)
Apparently Abrahams has been making presentations about OPEB at meetings of the Massachusetts Government Finance Officers Association for the last two years, trying to help educate municipalities about OPEB issues because there is no "go to" state agency providing that kind of assistance.
The Abrahams Part Two and Part Three Powerpoint presentations titled "Trusting Your Trust Fund" presented at MGFOA meetings in 2012 are available here:
In Part Two, Abrahams illustrates how OPEB issues are complex and do not seem well understood in many municipalities.
For example, having trust fund agreements can save towns money in the form of higher discounts on OPEB investments. A resident's public record request for access to Wayland's OPEB trust agreement documents resulted in a shocking disclosure by Assistant Town Administrator/HR Director John Senchyshyn. He responded in an email last week that no such legal documents for an OPEB trust fund were ever executed in Wayland.
The FinCom reported in the 2011 Annual Town Meeting warrant that its management plan called for setting aside $1 million per year for OPEB. After four years, instead of $4 million in that account, inexplicably there is $9.7 million.
The FinCom contends in its published comments in the Special Town Meeting warrant that Article 5 is not necessary. It complains that a separate article for funding OPEB each year creates more work (see page 20). At best, the FinCom appears as uninformed about some OPEB details as the petitioners, who seek transparency and accountability regarding Wayland's financial management practices. Substantive explanations and solutions are long overdue, they say.
Conservation Cluster Development
The Planning Board's Article 6 would modify the existing zoning bylaw governing conservation cluster development, which concentrates buildings to leave open space in an extensive parcel. The developer of the Covered Bridge housing project off Rice Road requested this bylaw change. Some residents have questioned the wording, finding it confusing. It is unclear if the new language could have unintended consequences elsewhere in town. The Planning Board continued the hearing until Oct. 2; the Sept. 24 public hearing is available on WayCAM's Video on Demand:
(time delay before program begins)
Additional information links:
-- Linda Segal
AUDIT COMMITTEE MOVES FORWARD
The Audit Committee met Sept. 4 and discussed the School Committee's financial review Request For Proposals process with Shawn Kinney, School Committee member and designated liaison to the audit committee on this matter. The purpose of this process is to find an auditing firm to audit the past five years of off-ledger school committee accounts including principal's discretionary funds, revolving funds and school activity funds. This process had been initiated by a petitioners' article approved by voters at the annual 2012 Town Meeting requesting an audit of school fee-based funds since Fiscal 2007.
An initial RFP written by the School Committee requested information from four firms suggested by Rebecca Chasen, chair of the Operational Review Committee. These firms sent descriptions of themselves. The idea was to choose one of them to write a preliminary document outlining exactly what should be done after a short examination of a subset of the accounts in question. The School Committee felt that they did not have the expertise to write a detailed RFP without help. This first phasewas supposed to determine the scope of the audit.
Then a second, more detailed, RFP would be issued using the information from the first phase. The second phase RFP would ask respondents to present the approach they would use for the audit process itself.
Kinney remarked that he thought the self-descriptions already sent in by the firms were inadequate for making a judgment on which firm to use. In particular, he wanted to ask them what work they had done in Massachusetts as knowledge of Massachusetts law was important for this task. In addition, Kinney pointed out that the firms had not been given enough information about what had already been done by the earlier Abrahams study. Kinney wanted a couple of weeks to close this information gap before the audit committee made a decision on which firm to make the first phase study.
Donna Bouchard, one of the petitioners of the 2012 Town Meeting article, then spoke and asked that the RFP also request information about which employee of the firm would work on the audit. She also pointed out that two million dollars of checks had been issued in school checking accounts whose recipients and purposes were unknown. Only check numbers and amounts were known. (Some of these checks may have been made out to "cash".)
On Aug. 27, the Board of Selectmen had amended the original charge to the Audit Committee adding the following:
(a) conduct a review of and provide input to the School Committee on the submitted proposals received by the School Committee in response to a letter dated July 27, 2012 to invited audit/consulting firms, with specific attention given to advising the School Committee on the project scope and tasks to be completed by the audit/consulting firms;
(b) rank order the responding firms and provide a recommendation to the School Committee; and,
(c) support and assist the selected audit/consulting firm in responding to questions and gathering documents necessary to complete their review of certain school accounts as outlined in the scope of services.
-- Betty Salzberg
MOTORISTS NOTE: TRAFFIC SIGNAL REPAIR
The traffic signal at Routes 27/126/20 in Wayland Center will be out of operation for much of Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012. Mass DOT has approved the disabling of the system from 6 a.m. until approximately 3 p.m. for repairs. Detail police officers will be assigned to assist with traffic direction during these hours. However, significant delays are possible. Motorists are asked to seek an alternative route, if possible, for the morning commute.
MEETINGS & EVENTS:
Thursday, Sept. 27:
Selectmen's Special Town Meeting warrant hearing, 7 p.m.
After the hearing, the Selectmen plan to discuss their voted position on each article.
Conservation Commission, 7:30 p.m.
Town Meeting Procedures Subcommittee, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 29:
Prescription Drugs Take Back Day, sponsored by the US Drug Enforcement Agency, at Wayland's Public Safety Building, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. A great chance to clean out medicine cabinets of unwanted, unneeded, or expired medications for proper disposal.
Monday, Oct. 1:
Board of Public Works. 7 p.m. Agenda includes traffic calming on King and Mitchell Streets, Glezen Lane and Parkland Drive, Town Center off-site improvements and possible board positions on Special Town Meeting articles.
Tuesday, Oct. 2, Wayland Hgh School Auditorium, 7:30 p.m. "Medical Marijuana -- Yes or No." Drs. Kevin Sabet and Jeffrey Miron debate Question 3 on the November ballot. Audience Q and A follows. See:
FREE FLU VACCINE
The Wayland Health Department is providing flu vaccine clinics. Although there is no out-of-pocket expense, please bring your insurance card for vaccine reimbursement.
Family Flu Clinic
Saturday, Sept. 29 10 a.m.-2 p.m, Wayland Middle School
Flu Clinics for all residents
Wednesday Oct. 10 4-8 p.m.
Wednesday Oct. 17 4-8 p.m.
These Clinics will be held in the Large Hearing Room of the Wayland Town Building
Seasonal Flu Vaccine, flu mist, and high dose, will be available, as well as Pneumococcal Vaccine and Tdap (Tetanus, Diptheria, Pertussis)Vaccine for those individuals who meet the criteria set forth by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH).
More information: Wayland Health Department, 508-358-3616, 9 a.m.-3 p.m
The last day to register to vote for the Nov. 6 presidential election is Wednesday, Oct. 17. Election information, including the use of absentee ballots, is posted on the town clerk's website:
HAZARDOUS WASTE COLLECTION
The Wayland Board of Health is pre-registering residents for the next Household Hazardous Waste collection day to be held on Saturday, Oct. 27. The collection location will be at 195 Main Street on Route 27 at the parking lot of the Highway garage at the Wayland Middle School.
You must complete a pre-registration form and choose a half-hour slot between 9 a.m. and 12 noon on Oct. 27. The pre-registration slots are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. Forms are available in the Board of Health office, Wayland Town Building lobby, Council on Aging at Town Hall (all at 41 Cochituate Road), Wayland Public Library (5 Concord Way), the Wayland Transfer Station & Recycling Center (484 Boston Post Road) and on-line:
Completed forms must be submitted to the Board of Health office by noon Friday, Oct. 26 More information: Board of Health, 508- 358-3617.
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor