Special Town Meeting No. 2: Support for affordable-housing fund, studying police board

UPDATED, Nov. 22: The second session of the Special Town Meeting, held Wednesday, Nov. 18, saw passage of articles 5 through 8, as members continued to become accustomed to a hybrid Zoom portal.

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Supported were changes to the town's fossil-fuel infrastructure, to establishing a committee to study a civilian review board for police and to create an affordable-housing trust fund.

Here is a summary of the votes on the main measures. When the meeting resumes Monday, Nov. 23, it is expected to take up Article 4 (Minuteman Bikeway hours), which had been postponed Nov. 16.

Article 5 (fossil fuel infrastructure)

Passed (93 percent approval); 222 yes, 8 no.

Several Town Meeting members spoke in favor:

  • Christian Klein (10): “To reduce emissions by 2050, we need to do this now.”
  • Joshua Lobel (8): “Climate change is real and we’ve a limited opportunity to mitigate this problem. Why should Arlington take this up? It would be great if we had federal or state leadership, but we don’t. This article is symbolic, and represents opportunities for obsolete buildings that need to be changed. The technology is already there. I’m supportive of this, and glad Arlington’s taking a leadership role.”
  • Gordon Jamieson (12): “We need a little nudge here. The town has a way for our electricity usage to be 100-percent green. I was initially skeptical, but I’ll be voting for this.”
  • John Worden III (8): “I strongly favor this for the climate-change legacy we’ll leave our children and grandchildren. It’s important for us to do whatever we can to show that we are serious about climate change, an existing challenge to our society.”

However, Sophie Migliazzo (8), opposed this article: “Although I’m in favor of clean heat, the whole state would need to adopt it. I’d be more in favor if this were for commercial, not residential, housing, which is unfair.

Article 6 (police civilian advisory board study committee)

Main motion passed (76 percent approval); 182 yes, 52 no.

Two amendments also passed:

  • Christa Kelleher (5), Housing Plan Implementation Committee, requested changing the police chief to the director of equity, inclusion and diversity; restructuring the review board so that the most marginalized groups in our society, the ones with the most interaction with the police, would trust it and use it; and the review board include at least one person with legal experience: (68 percent approval); 162 yes, 77 no.
  • Elizabeth Dray (8) recommended changing the study committee’s composition from “one representative with prosecutorial or legal defense” to “one representative with legal defense”: (62 percent approval); 148 yes, 90 no.

Motion as amended by Kelleher and Dray amendments: (85 percent approval); 205 yes; 36 no.

Several Town Meeting members expressed their support:

  • Jordan Weinstein (21), article author, Pct. 21: “I would set up a Town Meeting committee to study the possibility and efficacy of an Arlington police civilian review board that would have more oversight of our police department. This committee is endorsed by Arlington’s Select Board, Human Rights Commission and Diversity Task Group. I don’t see why we can’t have both a police and a civilian review board, or how this review committee would interfere with what the police chief is doing. If our police force is doing well, there should be a welcome mat for an examination from this committee, independent of the police department.” 
  • William Berkowitz (8): “This committee could ultimately lead to a better police department, by having a dialogue interchange. This article is pro-police and their services. This study committee cannot change police activities, only make recommendations. We have nothing to lose, only to gain, so I support this article.”

Other Town Meeting members voiced their concerns:

  • Edward Tremblay (19): “The police chief is taking this very seriously; her review board makeup doesn’t sound very different from the proposed review board. Perhaps let her review board form and see how it works. We can always come back in another year or two and establish another advisory board if the police chief’s board isn’t working well. We don’t want too many review boards.”
  • Christopher Wilbur (3): “How will the prospect of this committee affect Arlington police morale, if it hasn’t already? Some police officers presume a contentious relationship with this committee, claiming that it’s only a study that should perhaps be challenged. We need to consider police officers’ feelings, and [police chief] Flaherty said she’s looking into polling her officers.”

Police Chief Julie Flaherty responded:

“I’m not opposed to civilian oversight. I support police reform. However, Article 6 is the wrong approach. Arlington’s police is one of the most transparent and advanced, both in the state and the country. Arlington police receive few citizens’ complaints, and hasn’t had a complaint about excessive force in 10 years. We’re an accredited police department, and have a system for reviewing officers. It’s a time-consuming process to ensure that our policies and procedures are in full compliance. We’ve worked tirelessly to build strong partnerships within the community, and we recognize their feedback. We have work to do, and need the community to work with us. 

“We’re very transparent. I’ve never declined an opportunity to speak with a resident. Issues should be worked out at the state level, not at the local level. Our review board includes members of Arlington’s Human Rights Commission, LGBT Commission, Disability Commission, community, stakeholders, residents, business owners, students, town counsel, and the Select Board. The unions understand the climate. This warrant article has many unknowns. The police department should have input and be voting members of the committee. 

“Regardless of this warrant article’s outcome, all police officers will continue fair and impartial policing and to conduct themselves in the professional manner they always have.”

Article 7 (Envision Arlington updated language)

Passed (99 percent approval); 242 yes, 3 no.

Scott Lever (8), Envision Arlington cochair, said, “We recommend that the statements, formerly called goals, remain relatively fixed, such as the use of trained facilitators working with Arlington residents. These statements are intended to inspire future work.”

Article 8 (municipal affordable-housing trust fund)

(Passed; 94 percent approval); 221 yes, 13 no.

John Gersh (18), proposed three amendments:

  • Section 2: Change 80 percent area median income to 60 percent for rentals (remain at 80 percent for purchases). (Failed, 28 percent approval); 66 yes, 166 no. 
  • Voting members must be either local residents or members of local housing boards. (Failed, 24 percent approval); 56 yes, 179 no  
  • Add: “provided that no funds shall be used in connection with any project development under 40B.” (Failed, 23 percent approval); 51 yes, 172 no 

Karen Kelleher (5) proposed one amendment:

  • Allow the Community Preservation Act to determine the definition of affordable housing. (Passed, 76 percent approval); 178 yes, 53 no.

John Hurd, Select Board chair: “This article advances the town’s goals of combating the need for affordable action. The Select Board votes positive action, 5-0.

Karen Kelleher: “I strongly urge flexibility in the bylaw that administers this trust. This trust will be a drive for people who aren’t served here. If this amendment passes, there will be many subsidy sources, and affordable houses, for different levels of need. 

Sanjay Newton (10): “40B is a tool we can use. Removing that possibility forecloses an opportunity to create affordable housing down the road.”

Barbara Thornton (16): “This is a wonderful opportunity for Arlington to develop a housing trust that enables flexibility regarding affordability and housing diversity.”

Annie LaCourt (15): “There’s a general need for this fund. I urge that you vote for the trust, with Kelleher’s amendments. We need this tool.”

See the ACMi video of the Nov. 18 meeting:

Menotomy Matters: Special Town Meeting warrant annotated
Nov. 17, 2020: First virtual Special Town Meeting grinds along
How members voted Nov. 18 >>


This news summary by Susan Gilbert was published Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020, and updated Nov. 20, to add ACMi video window. It was updated Nov. 22, to add a full summary.

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