Controversial Line Items May Prompt Debate
By now, everyone has dutifully read the 105-page Finance and Warrant Commission report and recommendations for Town Meeting next Monday, May 5, right?. The Town Meeting process expects a lot from participants.
The Town does not have the resources to prepare detailed pro and con analysis of every warrant article. That laborious task really falls to the Finance Commission to frame what shows up on the warrant for disposition by a mass meeting of hundreds of residents in a 3-4 hour time frame. The warrant must be vetted so we do not end up with interminable meetings where residents nitpick over details. That’s why the role of the Moderator is so critical before the town meeting...to appoint a representative group of residents to FinCom who can ask the detailed questions during the review process and encourage actionable warrant articles. The process has generally seemed to work, but I do wonder how the new moderator will handle debate over a few items that have potential to ignite controversy:
Tasers for Westwood
Article 5 is a supplemental appropriation for capital equipment including $42,500 for “Electronic control devices.” ECDs are tasers—weapons that deliver a jolt of electricity to a suspect rendering them non-lethally incapacitated. Article 5 also includes “automated license plate reader,” for $20,000. This is a scanner that will read and record the license plate numbers, location, and time of vehicles.
Being “tased” is preferable to being shot, but how often have our police needed to subdue someone and wished they could have taken them down with a taser instead of potentially drawing a firearm? I’m sure the police chief has an answer for that, but still, it’s an issue worth discussion as to whether this town has really changed so much as to justify such measures. The license plate scanner is controversial for privacy concerns—Do you want your whereabouts logged and stored in a database somewhere for analysis? The neighboring states of Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire have passed legislation to limit the use of such technology.
Will we have a discussion at Town Meeting? If we do, will it delay the consideration of the many other warrant articles that need to be considered and voted upon in order for the Town to operate? What if someone stands up and demands a quorum call—potentially sending everyone home for the night and necessitating an expensive and inconvenient re-convening of Town Meeting the next day?
The moderator plays a vital but often unseen role in managing the meeting so a balance is struck between healthy discussion and unnecessary delay. Perhaps these items are noncontroversial to the majority...perhaps a couple of sentences from the police chief will allay concerns. We will see...
Sex Offender Ban
No one supports sex offenders or wants to see them in our town. Westwood is certainly taking that to heart in Article 27 which will ban the presence of level 2 or 3 sex offenders in many “child safety zones,” in town, including the public library. I posted more details here. Is it constitutional? Maybe. Is it enforceable? Well, I guess it will be a matter of “see someone, say something.” Or will we post photos of Westwood’s top 10 unwanted?
$275K to Study Safety Buildings
Article 16 asks for money to commission a feasibility study to determine the best solution for the inadequate police and fire stations. Originally, the task force had hoped to bring a solution to town meeting which involves possibly major changes to Islington Center. However, that is NOT on the agenda tonight; the study will consider as many as 15 possible configurations, some of which do not involve moving anything. The consensus of all parties up to this point is that our existing fire and police facilities are woefully inadequate and something needs to be done.
This website contains all the useful information from the Task Force:
The next meeting of the Task Force is Thursday, May 8, 2014 at 7:30pm at the Main Library.
During the Board of Selectman election, there has been some discussion of whether or not University Station is contributing enough to this effort. The town's current analysis is that University Station will add about 12% to the fire department’s workload and the project is required to contribute $900,000 toward mitigation.
The likely outcome of the study will be a more specific recommendation and a future Town Meeting vote which would include some kind of funding mechanism (borrow or tax).
The items above are only a few of the 28 Warrant Articles up for a vote next Monday. Other articles may or may not prove controversial, but it could be a long night!