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Proposed precinct reduction spurs opposition

Selectboard logo, May 20, 2019

'Only five precincts are out of balance, so minimally disruptive options should be on the table.'
    -- Don Seltzer

UPDATED, Sept. 21: Town Clerk Juli Brazile recommends reducing the number of precincts from the current 21 to 16, to allow more flexibility in the face of anticipated changes to election law, especially regarding early voting and vote by mail. “Having 16 precincts is overall better for Arlington,” she told the Select Board on Sept. 13.

Her recommendation met significant pushback.

“The town is following the guidelines outlined by the secretary of state; the law sets the standards for how to draw precincts that do not dilute minority votes. Our goal is to avoid situations where a small number of households are very different from the rest of the precinct. Fewer precincts allows for more flexibility and increased efficiency, as well as being more affordable because fewer precincts need to be staffed on Election Day.

“We’re not proposing fewer polling locations; we’ll stick with the ones we’ve got. Some polling locations currently accommodate three precincts, so some people now have to travel far. Reprecincting won’t worsen the traveling distance,” said Brazile.

Seeking feedback

Reducing the number of precincts will simultaneously decrease the number of Town Meeting members, from 252 to 240.

“We’re currently having conversations with the community and getting feedback,” added Brazile. 

Board member Eric Helmuth said, “I’m glad we’re getting lots of feedback; the more feedback, the better. This plan doesn’t dilute the democratic representation of the town. My biggest concern is logistical; do we have enough time to get this right?”

Board Chair Steve DeCourcey said, “Going from 252 Town Meeting members to 240 concerns me. We want to keep an open mind, and hear from as many Town Meeting members as possible because this affects them.” 

Residents’ concerns

Nevertheless, some residents do not favor these changes.

“Only five precincts are out of balance, so minimally disruptive options should be on the table,” said resident Don Seltzer.

Beth Melofchik, Precinct 9 meeting member, said, “I’m alarmed at the notion of disenfranchisement. I’d like to ask the Select Board to consider a 21-precinct version with the least amount of disruption. I’m also alarmed at the efficiencies aimed at saving money.”

Charles Foskett, Finance Committee chair and Precinct 8 meeting member, said, “The current proposal to reduce the number of precincts is deeply troubling, and I recommend that the board gets input from Town Meeting members and citizens.

“This proposal has no broad mandate in town, and will only increase citizen frustration in the long run. The 24-percent proposed decrease in the number of precincts means that Town Meeting member candidates must reach out to 30-percent more voters, essentially diluting their representation.”

“This proposal saves $18K annually, only one 100th of one percent of the town budget. I’m concerned that this proposal imposes a much larger work load on the Finance Committee, probably by about 30 percent, and will make recruiting for the committee much more of a challenge. I urge no action on this proposal,” added Foskett.

Roderick Holland, Precinct 7 meeting member, said, “The current number of precincts is very manageable from the perspective of Town Meeting members, who can canvass their entire precincts in three days and allows for relationships to grow.” 

“Town Meeting isn’t broke, so why do we need to fix it? I like the idea of smaller precincts. It’s much more manageable; Town Meeting members can walk their districts and meet their neighbors. Saving money on democracy issues isn’t the right place to save money,” said Robin Bergman. 

See the agenda documents for reprecincting plans >>  

3 Broadway Plaza trees to be removed

The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority plan to excavate three trees at Broadway Plaza, as unanimously approved by the board.

Removing three trees is needed to complete work on a large water main. They will discuss the remaining nine trees to reconstruct the Broadway Plaza surface on Sept. 20. 

“These trees are being removed this week by Verizon to get the fiberoptics out of the way,” said Director of Public Works Michael Rademacher.

In a memo to the Select Board, Rademacher writes that “the trees associated with the MWRA work are unavoidable. They are directly impacted by the excavation needed to replace the water main valve.”

However, several residents expressed dismay.

“I can’t believe town is planning to take down more trees,” said John Sanbonmatsu.

Tree committee member Susan Stamps, Precinct 3 meeting member, acknowledged that “the MWRA has to take down these trees,” yet for the nine other trees, she asked that “we go back to the drawing board. Those trees provide a lot of shade and flood control.”

Melofchik asked the board to consider doubling the number of trees planted each year by the town’s tree warden. “In light of the recent U.N. Report [on climate change], that would be one of the essential things for the board to consider, ramping up to mediate climate change and to protect and invigorate our tree canopy. It’s essential to the community’s health and well-being.”

Dunn honored

The Select Board honored Dan Dunn, a former member of the board who served from 2011 until 2020, when he declined to run for reelection. He then served in an interim role earlier this year after Joseph Curro Jr. setpped down.

"I've the utmost respect for you and what you've done for the town, on the Select Board and as a Finance Committee member," said board member John Hurd.

Health and Human Services accepts funds 

Arlington’s Health and Human Services Department received another round of donations, primarily for Covid-related expenses and senior-services grants and gifts.

These funds come from the state Department of Health Public Health Trust Fund, Metropolitan Area Planning Council, Symmes Memorial Fund, Lahey Hospital, I’m Still Here Foundation, Mount Auburn Hospital and Mass Service Alliance, according to a memo from Christine Bongiorno, town director of health and human services.

“These gifts are tremendously valuable to the town of Arlington,” said Town Counsel Doug Heim.

Board member Len Diggins said, “This shows how much we’re part of a vibrant community.” 

Stop signs to be posted near Thompson

The Arlington Police Department will post stop signs on Patrick Street, for westbound traffic on Everett Street, and on Wellesley Road, for eastbound traffic on Everett Street, as unanimously approved by the board. 

Anthony’s East Side Deli under new ownership

Anthony’s East Side Deli, 159 Mass. Ave., has a new owner: Jeevan Shrestha. “My partners and I will try to give our best to the town,” said Shrestha. 

Store hours will remain the same, daily 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.  

See the entire Sept. 13 broadcast on ACMi:


July 21, 2021: Town contemplates reducing number of precincts
 

This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Susan Gilbert on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. It was updated Sept. 21, to correct the quote by Foskett about the percentage of the town budget.

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