March 27, 2007

Town Meeting Notes

Here are some quick notes on the Somerset Special Town Meeting of March 26, 2007. Not a summary, just the highlights. If you read the previous story then you know about our problems with the Highway Department. This situation made for a charged atmosphere in the high school auditorium.

Immediately after the Pledge of Allegiance, someone yelled out a sarcastic farewell “Say goodbye, John!” referring to Town Administrator John McAuliffe. Madam Moderator reminded the Town Meeting body that this was not the forum for discussing the events of the day, but rather to only discuss the articles listed on the agenda.

We passed articles to fix the leaky school roofs and other incidental town business. One moment of humor came while we were discussing $7,500 to be allocated for the “snack shack” at Pierce Beach. The money is needed to repair and refurbish the small building which houses restrooms used during beach events and also may be used as a concession.

There were a lot of people questioning the expense, and so a supporter of the article described what the money was for. He made the mistake of mentioning the Highway Department (who would be tasked with making the repairs) and a loud groan filled the auditorium. This only slowed him down for a moment, and he continued to explain that the repair was needed for many of the events that are planned for the beach this summer, including the showing of movies.

That was simply too much for the Town Meeting body, many of whom immediately burst into loud and bitter laughter as they imagined what sort of movies town employees would be choosing to show at the beach. (again see current scandal).

Madam Moderator had to sternly warn the body at this point to regain order.


We had long discussions on whether we should spend $1,000 on an Automated External Defibrillator. One of the selectmen seemed to be worried that untrained people would be running around zapping people. (I’m exaggerating) If you’re familiar with the AED, you should know that they are designed to be extremely easy to use. If you’re familiar with cardiac arrest, you should know that every second that normal blood flow is interrupted is a precious second. Having a device like this on hand can get the heart pumping blood again before the paramedics arrive. Whether oxygenated blood is getting to the brain makes an enormous difference in a person’s chances of survival. The schools and municipal buildings have these devices available, so the only real argument was whether we ought to have one at the beach.

The discussion that ensued seemed to convince the entire audience that $1,000 was a reasonable price to pay for the protection. It was a unanimous vote in the affirmative to appropriate the money.


There were two votes related to a long battle of certain residents who didn’t want Walgreens coming in to the center of town. I won’t go into detail on it; you can read the story Gene Emery wrote in the Providence Journal. (free registration required) or this older Herald News story.

I’d like to summarize my thoughts.

First, I didn’t have a ton of background on this issue. I came to town meeting thinking that it would be up to the proponents and opponents to make their case before the body. I listened to both with an open mind.

Proponents wanted us to rezone an area from commercial to residential, reversing a previous rezoning — ostensibly to stop Walgreens from building in the center of town. Opponents thought the rezoning should stand.

I had mixed feelings. The town needs the tax revenue and I don’t think that competition in the center of town is a bad thing. On the other hand, I’m not sure the center of town can support the traffic that may arise. I wanted to hear the arguments.

Proponents of the rezoning said the vote was about integrity in government because they felt they’d been lied to at the time of the original rezoning. They wanted the rezoning to either stop Walgreens, force them to find another site, or force them to negotiate some kind of better deal with the abutters.

Opponents said that they wanted more business in the town. But also, they pointed out that a Boston land court had already decided that the rezoning should stand. While a town representative didn’t think that the town would be liable if we reversed the zoning, some opponents raised the spectre of a lawsuit against the town accusing the town of “spot zoning” to keep out Walgreens.

In the end, I thought that the opponents made their case better. The woman and her husband who supported the articles seemed like really nice people. But I didn’t buy their claims to these being votes on morality. Every party in a deal like this is careful about what they hide and what they show. It sounded like they were asking the town to open itself to possible liability because they were unhappy about how business was conducted many years before on the original rezoning. On a personal level, I had bad feelings about my vote, but my head was telling me to go the other way.

Posted by James at March 27, 2007 12:16 PM
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"...including the showing of movies."
You can't make this stuff up. Sometimes I love the Beach.
Ain't the democratic process wonderful, though. If I could, in any way, explain Dartmouth Town Meeting as clearly, I wouldn't be posting about peepers. Thanks.

Posted by: ThirdMate at March 27, 2007 6:51 PM

Thank you.

I wish I had more time for more detailed highlights about some of the more interesting town meeting participants. I'm not good enough at taking notes and it takes me too long to write something semi-coherent.

But I try.

Posted by: James at March 27, 2007 7:56 PM

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