UPDATED May 4: The third session of Arlington’s 2022 Town Meeting opened Monday night with Moderator Greg Christiana taking a test vote for attendance and swearing in a handful of newly elected or appointed meeting members. The citizen-powered legislative branch of Arlington is made up of 252 representatives from 21 neighborhood precincts, and meets annually.
Each session traditionally opens with the National Anthem performed by a member of the community. Arlington High School senior Katya Shubochkin, performed the piece on piano from her home. Town Meeting is entirely virtual this year because of ongoing Covid-19 precautions.
Arlington High School senior Katya Shubochkin, performed
the 'Star-Spangled Banner' to open Town Meeting May 2.
Select Board support
The main event of Monday night’s proceedings was Article 11 – Bylaw Amendment/Domestic Partnerships:
To see if the Town will vote to amend Title I Article 23 of the Town Bylaws to define the parameters of domestic partnerships in Arlington; modify the process for registering, amending, withdrawing from, and terminating a domestic partnership in Arlington; specify employment benefits with relation to domestic partnerships; or take any action related thereto.
Christiana introduced Select Board chair and Precinct 3 meeting member, Len Diggins, who spoke of the board’s favorable vote for Article 11. “We feel that rather than not giving people more rights out of concern for potential abuse, let’s more forward and deal with the problems as they come up. We think it’s a good article.”
Rainbow Commission support
Susan Ryan-Vollmar, Precinct 19 Town Meeting member and cochair of the LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission, which placed Article 11 on the warrant, spoke about the need for polyamorous families to have expanded legal protections not addressed in last year’s Article 15, which passed, 221-11.
“Under Arlington’s domestic partnership bylaw, if one member of a partnership dies, then the entire partnership is dissolved. Article 11 will update that language. [It] includes a new section on employment benefits that town employees in registered partnerships would be eligible for [such as] paid bereavement, sick and parental leave.”
Arlington was the first town in the Commonwealth (the cities of Somerville and Cambridge passed ordinances in 2020 and 2021 respectively) to enact a bylaw recognizing polyamorous relationships. In December, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura T. Healey upheld the town’s recognition, and it is current law in Arlington.
“Finally, Article 11 would remove the provision that people registered in domestic partnership must share living expenses and live together,” Ryan-Vollmar said.
Christiana then introduced Christopher Moore (14), who spoke to his Motion to Amend Article 11. “This is not about rights, it’s about benefits. Rather than waiting for [benefits] abuse to happen, we should close that possibility by restoring the basic requirements of living together and sharing basic living expenses.”
In her remarks, Ryan-Vollmar noted that since the domestic-partnership bylaw was enacted, “there have been three registered partnerships in Arlington, and no town employee has registered.”
Moore’s amendment was defeated by a 171-59 vote, with nine abstentions.
Personal polyamorous testimony
Proponent Amos Meeks (3), said he has had “various conversations around this article over the past week trying to understand and address concerns to this article. In every case, I didn’t feel like progress has been made.”
He attributed pushback to “fearmongering” over benefits concerns specifically referencing the Stamps-Mann letter, “Vote NO on Article 11 Domestic Partnerships,” which was submitted during the Select Board’s discussion during public hearings held in February and April.
Meeting members Susan Stamps (3) and Nora Mann (20) wrote that “the [proponents] have gone too far,” arguing that passage may “have the unintended consequence of turning currently supportive employers against extending benefits to folks who are in a committed relationship but [who] have decided not to formalize the relationship with marriage.”
Meeks called their argument “unsupported and speculative.” He spoke about the fear of coming out publicly about his polyamorous relationships to “several hundred Town Meeting members, having no idea what kind of things could be said or done to me as a result. I didn’t want to do it - it was scary – but who would I be if I hadn’t?”
21 speakers flooded the queue, with more than half heard before a motion to terminate debate was passed (the first motion that was proposed an hour into the debate failed). Some brief recaps of meeting member remarks:
Sanjay Newton (10): “I’m happy to support this article. It’s the absolute least we can do for Mr. Meeks, his family, and our other neighbors who need this recognition.”
Allan Tosti (17): “There’s nothing domestic about this proposal. It throws out all limitations, and now includes public benefits.”
Anna Henkin (6): “Requiring to reside indefinitely isn’t required for marriages. I also don’t have to share finances with my husband. The arguments I hear against remind me of things like the myth of the welfare queen committing fraud in a Cadillac on food stamps.”
Dan Dunn (21): “I support the love of these families, and will be supporting this article.”
The motion to close debate passed, and Article 11 was affirmed with a 162-68 vote, with nine abstentions.
Precincts 2, 5, 6, 9 and 17 voted almost unanimously (9-1) in favor of the article. Precincts 7, 11, 14, 15 either split the vote or against adoption of the article. The remaining precincts were majority in favor of Article 11.
Newly elected meeting member and proponent Ryan-Vollmar enjoyed 8-3 support from her precinct, 19. Likewise, Meeks had a 9-3 backing of his precinct, 3.
Most meeting members who voted against the domestic-partnership article during last year’s Town Meeting, also voted against Article 11. In an email to YourArlington, Town Clerk Juli Brazile said that a summary of all votes cast in Town Meeting will be available when the session concludes.
Article 10, trees
On behalf of the Tree Committee, which was created by a Select Board vote in 2010, Stamps presented the Tree Preservation and Protection bylaw to Town Meeting for approval.
She said Arlington “needed to tighten regulations around trees to preserve the canopy.” The new bylaw redefines the size of protected trees from eight to six inches, which the committee modeled on Lexington and Wellesley bylaws, saying a “protected tree is a healthy tree.”
Under the bylaw, a tree plan needs to be submitted before construction can be permitted. “Builders are not tree people. Building plans need to be stamped by a certified arborist or registered landscape architect showing all the protected trees,” Stamps said.
The motion passed, 222-10, with two abstentions – an approval of 96 percent.
AHS building and CPA reports
School Committee member Jeffrey Thielman (12) presented the Arlington High School Committee report to Town Meeting. He said 2,000 people toured the newly opened portion of the school on April 30, which completes the first piece of the four-phased $290 million project.
The moderator received the ’s report on the Community Preservation Act Committee from Clarissa Rowe (4).
Next meeting May 4
The meeting adjourned until Wednesday, May 4. Session four is expected to begin with Article 12 (single-sue plastic water bottles).
Town Meeting will meet every Monday and every Wednesday from 8 to 11 p.m. until all 77 articles in this warrant, and that of other May 11 special Town Meeting, have been heard and voted on. The town moderator maintains a town meeting dashboard, which gives information on all business to date.
Meanwhile, read notes on session 3 by Christian Klein (10) >>
The public can view the meeting via ACMi cablecast on its government channels (RCN, 614 or 15; Comcast,. 22; or Verizon, 26), or by watching the live stream at acmi.tv/govlive/.
This news announcement was published Tuesday, May 3, 2022. It was updated with a full summary by freelancer writer Melanie Gilbert and then on May 40, to add a video and correct numbers under Article 10.
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