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First virtual Special Town Meeting grinds along

UPDATED, Nov. 18: A range of issues slowed Arlington's first virtual Special Town Meeting to a crawl on Monday, Nov. 16. A summary of the second session will be published.

Town Meeting logo

The 243 voting, more than usual of the total of 252, deliberated from home devices, some finding the hybrid Zoom ZPat portal frustrating to navigate, as they plodded for three hours and found themselves midway through No. 5 (fossil fuel infrastructure), of 25 articles.

Further complicating matters were audio problems on ACMi, a consent agenda that "fell apart" and an issue with two members casting votes outside of the portal.

The meeting's specific progress:

  • After Article 1 (committee reports) was accepted in a 242-1 vote, Moderator John Leone entered a "no action" on the consent agenda. Article 2 is used as a way to speed the meeting. Not this time, because so many of the items were held for discussion.
  • Article 3 (outdoor lighting, uplighting): Following the adoption of amendments, the main motion as amended passed, 194-50-1.
  • Article 4 (Minuteman Bikeway hours): The meeting voted, 134-101-1, to support a motion by Patricia Muldoon (20) to postpone debate until Monday, Nov. 23.
  • Article 5: Discussion about whether to pursue home-rule legislation allowing the town to regulate fossil fuel infrastructure in new construction and/or major renovation and rehabilitation projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was postponed to Wednesday, Nov. 18, as the meeting adjourned at 10:59 p.m. without a vote and many on the speaker's list.

2 have votes entered manually

Here is a summary of some of the details.

After swearing in five new members by 8:25 p.m. -- saying, "I can't see you, but I have to believe you have your right hand raised” -- Leone conducted a vote to authorize using electronic platform from ZPato Research. He noted that members Marie Krepelka (13) and John Leonard (17) would have their votes entered manually and had provided affidavits.

An issue involving those votes arose after Leone called for a vote on Article 3 as amended. Members said no precedent or bylaw allows meeting members to vote as absentees in advance, by giving the moderator an affidavit. They also questioned whether the moderator could rely on that advance directive once the main motions had been amended or substituted.
"I appreciate your position, Mr. Moderator," Sheri Baron (7) said, expressing support for the moderator.

Deborah Butler (19) suggested offering loaning a computer during Town Meeting. Leone said that was considered, and Leonard declined to take it. He said Krepelka want to either for personal reasons.

The discussion of this article, just before 10 p.m. break, as well as a bit earlier, was muddled as audio became garbled for ACMi viewers on Comcast and Verizon.

Some confused

Confusion about the Zoom/portal continued for some throughout the evening. Voting via the portal took much longer than electronic clicker voting, done since 2014. Leone remained patient, but also reminded members how many remained to vote.

Because members have to navigate between two screens -- Zoom and the ZPato portal -- some may not have minimized each screen. In some cases, that might mean the Zoom screen overlaid the portal, obscuring the vote button.

Under lighting article, Adam Badik (5) and BethAnn Friedman (15) offered amendments. See them all here >> 

Gordon Jamieson (12) liked both amendments, as did proponent Paul Schlichtman (9).

Steve Revilak (1), noting that a similar article passed last year, asked how many businesses or churches had altered lighting since then.

Town Building Inspector Michael Byrne (13) said he has received few such request. "Offhand, I can think of three," he said.

After the amendments and main motion were adopted, Susan Stamps (3) said she was surprised these passed, noting the amendments limited uplighting passed last year. "I felt people did not necessarily understand that they were voting for amendments and not the main motion," she wrote Nov. 17, in response to a query.

Bikeway hours

As to Minuteman Bikeway hours, the proposal is to have the hours changed from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. to between 5 a.m. and "such evening hours as set by the town manager no earlier than 9 p.m. Anyone found there between the posted evening hours "shall be considered trespassers and subject to a fine of up to $20."

Ed Trembly (19) had a simple quest: "Why are there hours?" The Select Board report says that several bikeway communities have no hour restrictions, including Lexington and Bedford.

Town Counsel Doug Heim, uncertain he should respond, said the MBTA owns the property and the town is charged to regulate it.

Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine said the town could set hours in coordination with the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee. He said that cycling after dark is increasingly common.

John Worden (8) asked how the public is to know about bikeway hours.

Rod Holland (7) said that, as a frequent cyclist who cited improvements, he finds the bikeway "petty safe to ride at night .... We should think about doing away with the hours."

Pat Muldoon (20) said she supports all comments, but proposed to table for more discussion.

Zarina Memon (21) supported postponing, adding that the Cambridge part of the bikeway does not have hours.

A motion to terminate debate passed, 222-13.

The vote on Muldoon’s motion to resume debate next week passed, 134-101-1. 

Fossil fuels continue

John Hurd introduced the fossil fuel article, and Pat Hanlon (5) introduced Amos Meeks of Sustainable Arlington, who made a detailed presentation in a recorded message. You can see the thrust at the Clean Energy Future Committee site.

Jim DiTiullio (12), of the committee, spoke in favor. "We cannot rely on fossil fuels," he said. "What will you tell your grandchildren" about you how addressed climate change?

Trembly said that electric vehicles had improved over time, but he was "not sure this is ready for prime time." He said he is unsure that the town’s grid can handle all the new devices, suggesting a hybrid system.

Just before adjourning, Leone asked for motions to reconsider. Ian Goodsell (11) wondered whether the meeting could begin at 7 p.m., instead if 8. Leone said it would be taken up Nov. 18.

Audio issues

Ray Bloom, a form meeting member who had served Precinct 20 for 21 years, reported audio issues with ACMi's broadcast on Comcast, and Bob Sprague reported similar ones on Verizon.

Asked about the issue, Norm McLeod, ACMi executive director, explained Nov. 18: "It was a technical problem that as far as we know arises when there is an oversaturated white object, like paper, on the screen.

"This was a common problem in the old days of analog TV, but even now in the digital world, this sometimes causes a small glitch or blip or dropout in the stream.

"Unfortunately, not much can be done to correct the problem. In the old days, blue paper was substituted for white paper to tone down the white and make the image 'Broadcast Safe,' but this may not be feasible for documents being presented today, as the documents were all initially created on white paper. We at ACMi will continue to monitor the streams and to correct any additional glitches should they arise to the best of our ability."

See the ACMi video of the Nov. 16 meeting:

Menotomy Matters: Special Town Meeting warrant annotated
Nov. 15, 2020: Behind portal opening town's first virtual Special Town Meeting
How members voted Nov. 16 >>


This news summary by Bob Sprague was published Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020, and updated Nov. 18, to add McLeod quote and ACMi link. 

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