Meet the new board: Same as the old board

Jun 7, 2018 by

Town Meeting retires ‘Selectmen’

Published in the June 7, 2018 edition

By MAUREEN DOHERTY

NORTH READING — It was an eventful opening session of Town Meeting Monday night. While the 175 voters present didn’t quite make it through the entire 40-article warrant in four hours for the grand slam, they did at least get a triple by wrapping up the first 29 articles by just after 11 p.m.

This, of course, means at least one more session of Town Meeting will be necessary to dispense with the final 11 articles. The second session is tonight (Thursday) at 7 p.m. at NRHS Performing Arts Center.

We have a deal

The meeting started off on a high note with the announcement that after a year of often arduous negotiations with Andover, the Boards of Selectmen in both North Reading and Andover have reached an accord on a long term water contract.

The ink was barely dry on the 99-year Intermunicipal Agreement (IMA) when Town Meeting was called to order at 7 p.m. as the five North Reading board members unanimously voted to approve it during their meeting held prior to Town Meeting at 5 p.m. Their Andover counterparts had signed it earlier in the day. It still has to run its course through the State House before it becomes final.

The House bill filed by State Rep. Brad Jones last month is making its way through the legislative process with signs pointing toward its ultimate approval prior to the end of the current legislative session in July. Approval by the General Court and the governor is needed on the 99-year deal for potable water that would be in effect through the year 2117 because such contracts cannot otherwise be entered into longer than 25 years.

“Tempore est mutantur”

For this who aren’t familiar with Latin adages, “Tempore est mutantur” means “Times are changed,” which is precisely how Selectman Kathryn Manupelli described the reasoning behind Article 27, the home rule petition that passed nearly unanimously to change the name of the Board of Selectmen to “Select Board” and to change the name of the members elected to it to “Select Board Members” in order to make it gender neutral.

Manupelli thanked Selectmen Chairman Mike Prisco for bringing it forward and pointed out that back when the town broke away from the Town of Reading and became incorporated as the Town of North Reading in 1853 no women were allowed to vote. That right would not be ratified until 1920. Still, she said, nearly 100 years has passed since women had gained the right to vote and it’s times to get in step with the last century in the current century.

Aldebran Longabaugh-Burg spoke highly in favor of Article 27 and said was “long overdue.” Jeff Yull said he did not see the necessity of it, adding that he has “too much respect for women” to believe that they would feel intimidated to run for office because  the name of the board is Board of Selectmen.

In response to a question about why the name “Town Council” was not chosen instead of “Select Board,” as had been done by Wakefield last month, Town Counsel Darren Klein of Kopelman and Page said that Town Councils generally function differently than Boards of Selectmen as they are more along the lines of a City Council, which is not the form of governing in this town under its Charter.

Selectman Andrew Schultz said when this issue was first raised at a meeting he didn’t think much of it, but he re-thought his position once he considered that “it does affect half the people in this room.” He added that “It is time to come out of the comfort zone” and believes it will be a good change for the town.

The name change is not immediate as all warrant articles must be approved by the Attorney General’s office before they take effect.

Budget and paper ballots

The FY2019 operating budget of $72.7M, voted as two motions for available funds and debt service, passed virtually without a hitch.

The budget breaks down as $27M for general government, $31.4M for education, which includes the town’s assessments for its own five schools plus Northeast Metro Tech and Essex Tech; debt service of $7.9M and enterprise funds for the Hillview and Parks & Recreation combined at $6.45M.

However, discussions surrounding changes in the public safety budgets took up nearly half the meeting. Earlier this year Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto proposed a Public Safety Director (PSD) position which was passed by the board in the form of giving a stipend to the person who holds that role to oversee five departments and reducing his direct reports from 14 to nine. The option approved for the stipend was $30,000 and it was offered to Police Chief Michael Murphy although Gilleberto stressed that this stipend is not attached to any one department head.

The current request in the budget would also provide for $10,000 in overtime for FY19 to cover possible instances when the PSD role created a situation where administrative duties would need to be covered by another officer.

Those in favor of the PSD position stated that the efficiencies that Murphy has already found in the budget have saved the town $100,000 in this budget. Both Provisional Fire Chief Don Stats and Health Director Bob Bracey said having Murphy available to advise them has proven invaluable in their respective roles.

Selectman Steve O’Leary stated his opposition to the creation of this new position. He had opposed it when it was adopted by the board in February and he remains opposed believing that it is not necessary. He repeatedly stated at Town Meeting that his opposition is not a reflection of his opinion on how the chief performs his role as head of his department or in this new role, but he cannot justify the salary increase that will provide one individual with a salary over $200,000 in a town of this size.

Another aspect of the public safety budget is the proposed change from a uniformed dispatch service to a civilian dispatch service proposed to be phased in during the final quarter of the fiscal year. Gilleberto favors this model because it would provide a means to get a uniformed officer or supervisor out from behind the dispatch desk and into the field. The same would be true for the Fire Department, which is staffed with five-man duty crews — four of whom are available for calls with the fifth on the desk.

Potentially removing that line item from the budget was what one voter had in mind when he offered an amendment to Article 14. The amendment offered by Ed Frammartino read simply: “I move to amend Article 14, sections 36 and 37, by eliminating salaries and expenses as printed in the warrant.”

Town Moderator John Murphy said doing so would have the effect of zeroing out the Police Department’s entire budget. Since this was not the intent of the motion it failed. After the meeting Frammartino explained to the Transcript that he is public safety officer in another community which transitioned to a civilian dispatch service many years ago and he recalled that it was a long and difficult transition and he wanted to ensure that the of safety and support of fellow officers remains paramount.

Subsequently, O’Leary offered a different amendment to Article 14 which went to a paper ballot. His amendment sought to reduce line 34 (salaries) by $30,000 to zero and to reduce by exactly $10,000 the Police Department line 36 Salaries budget from $3,725,785 to $3,715,785. It also requested that these changes be “reflected” in the total budgets for “Public Safety Administration, Police Department, General Government and Total Budget appropriations.”

In order to go to a paper ballot, the moderator explained that a minimum of 25 voters would have to stand and be counted; 43 stood. It took about 30 minutes for Town Clerk Barbara Stats and her team of four to go through the paper ballot process.

It ultimately lost by 12 votes, 88-76, which means the budgets were approved. Earlier in the meeting, due to a “technological malfunction” that created an error in the printed warrant, a motion was approved reducing by $15,000 the salary pool supplement compensation change line (from $232,966 to $217,966) plus four corresponding totals to correct the error as it was carried forward in the sums.

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