STONEHAM, MA - Citizens last week sanctioned an amendment to local bylaws regarding procedures at Town Meeting that will require all authors of warrant articles to submit in advance copies of motions for warrant articles being pitched during the assemblies.
According to Town Moderator Larry Means, a proponent of Article 3, the new regulation will require presenters of warrant articles to provide him with a copy of the main motion to be made on the floor of Town Meeting at least three days before that assembly convenes.
The article passed unanimously.
According to Means, the intent of the ordinance change is to prevent unnecessary delays at Town Meeting, which may result when a motion made on the floor differs significantly from the proposal originally included in the town warrant.
Technically, the warrant, made available for public inspection a number of days before any Town Meeting, is intended to serve as notice that a particular issue may be raised for a vote. However, those presenting the proposal during Town Meeting may make a different motion, as long as it generally relates to the subject matter published in the warrant.
In recent years, when unexpected changes have been made to some warrant articles, Means has been forced to take long recesses, to make sure that the amended proposal is appropriately worded. Those delays can be significant, particularly when a new motion relates to technical matters that require Town Counsel William Solomon to check to make sure it contains the correct legalese.
"The problem arises when you come to Town Meeting and give a very detailed motion with problems," said Means. "If someone can't have a motion [submitted in advance to me] because he or she is still doing work, all they have to do is notify the town administrator's office and myself and there's no problem."
According to School Committee Chairman Shelly MacNeill, she also hopes that the bylaw change will prevent confusion amongst citizens by preventing local officials from making drastic changes to warrant articles without any advance notice.
Those type of issues commonly arise when Town Meeting is asked to consider articles related to finances, such as the passage of the annual budget. In recent years, it hasn't been uncommon for the Selectmen to submit a generic budget article for publication in the Town Warrant, but not have the annual budget finalized until a hour or less before Town Meeting begins.
"That might have been one of the reasons I came up with this article," said Means, after MacNeill referred to one warrant article pitched recently at Town Meeting, when the Selectmen asked the town to appropriate $300,000 at the last minute.
Finance Board member William Previdi emphasized that the new rules will not apply to citizens who are trying to make an amendment to a motion made at Town Meeting.
Besides that action, Town Meeting also considered a number of other proposals during last Monday night's Special Town Meeting.
Article 1, which clarified the exact size of signage allowed on businesses and the permissible height of lettering inside that signage, passed unanimously. The measure was intended to streamline the process for businesses to change signs, once a property owner has already obtained an initial special permit for the structure.
Article 3, which passed unanimously, enables the town to abandon a land easement at the middle school that was obtained from an abutting commercial property owner. Town Meeting accepted that easement, which included several pieces of land, in May of 1999. However, the abutter — the rightful owner of the space — has asked the town to abandon its rights to a small 200 square foot sliver of the easement, which contains a total of some 9,000 square feet.
Article 5 appropriates approximately $10,000 of Stoneham's free cash for FY'14 towards a restoration project at the Old Burial Ground off of Pleasant Street. The proposal passed unanimously and will fund renovation work to around a dozen broke headstones at the historical site, which dates back to 1728 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Historical Commission is overseeing the work.
Article 6, approved unanimously, designated $20,000 in the overlay surplus account for the recertification of taxable property in Stoneham. The town's Board of Assessors goes through the process every three years, per state regulations.
Article 10, which passed easily, allows local officials to make some $97,541 adjustments to the current year budget.
The assembly also voted unanimously in favor of Article 14, which authorizes some $210,350 for capital equipment acquisition and infrastructure repair work, including the purchase of new police cruisers, repairs to the Police dept. and public library's HVAC systems, the installation of a new compressor at the Stoneham Arena and lighting installation at Recreation Park.
Article 18, also sanctioned without dissent, authorizes the public works department to purchase a new $125,000 dump truck from surplus funds in the Water & Sewer Enterprise account. The fund, into which surplus revenues from residents' water and sewer bills are deposited, presently contains about $1 million.
Town Meeting also accepted some $486,814 in state funding for road work, authorized the expenditure of $25,000 from Lindenwood Cemetary's perpetual care account for maintenance work, approved a home rule petition asking Beacon Hill legislators to grant the town five additional liquor licenses, and granted the police department permission to submit fingerprints from door-to-door salesmen to the FBI for a background check through the federal agency's criminal database.
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