PLYMOUTH – They barely made it to lunch.
If it weren’t for the antics of long-time Town Meeting Rep. Randy Parker and others, Saturday’s fall Town Meeting might have completed its business and adjourned by 11 a.m.
That would have left the cafeteria at the new Plymouth North High School with pasta, salads and at least a hundred submarine sandwiches that had been prepared for the meeting’s expected noontime lunch break.
Fortunately for the cafeteria workers, during early articles that might have been expected to pass with little or no comment or debate, Parker found a way to both interject levity and make arguments for moving Town Hall back to – at the very least – a five-day week.
Parker and others were among a handful of “no” votes on other articles that, because the tally was not unanimous, required the moderator enact a roll call vote.
The first article seemed innocuous enough. It asked the representatives to amend the town’s personnel bylaws to add temporary workers to deal with the onslaught that occurs during “sticker season” – when residents line up for beach stickers, transfer station access passes and a variety of other permits about to expire.
After joking about the meaning of a reference in a human resources memo to “turnover” (was it cherry, apple, a relative of the least tern, or something to do with tanning evenly on both sides, Parker mused), he argued “with all due respect,” that it would be better to have Town Hall open five days a week instead of hiring temporary staff to deal with long lines Monday through Thursday.
Despite Parker’s cheerful chiding, Article 1 passed handily.
Article 2A, which traditionally amends the votes taken at the spring Town Meeting to address a variety of changes in revenues and receipts – and is seldom the subject of extended debate – also caught Parker’s attention. This year, the article included funds for those temporary workers and Parker wondered aloud if it was appropriate for the town to be adjusting staffing before Town Meeting had the opportunity to approve the necessary contracts.
Parker was largely on his own, again, when the vote was taken, but the lack of unanimity again necessitated a roll call vote.
A similar situation occurred with Article 2B, which addressed changes in several enterprise fund appropriations. DPW employee Dale Weber told the meeting these budgetary changes, which arose in part because of personnel transfers from one department to another, were against the spirit and intent of the legislation which created the water and sewer enterprise funds.
Weber cited a FAQ (Frequently Asked Question) on the state Department of Revenue website that says a legislative body cannot use enterprise fund for purposes not related to those funds. Director of Finance Lynne Barrett stepped to the microphone and explained that, technically, the town was not transferring funds from one enterprise fund to another; it was adjusting the budgets of the respective departments before they were made permanent (which she said does not occur until the tax rate is certified, usually in December).
Those early hiccups aside, the meeting moved forward at a rapid pace with every article – until the next to the last – receiving either unanimous approval or strong majority support.
Three articles related to runway improvements at Plymouth Airport (4A, 4B and 13) would have been unanimously approved except for the lone no vote of Rep. Christopher Green.
Then the articles started to fly by: 4C, D, E, F and G were approved without comment.
Article 6, which was a housekeeping article that would allow the Plymouth Growth and Develop Corporation (PGDC) to chip in $30,000 for the multimillion dollar downtown parking garage project (the vast majority of the funding coming from the state and federal governments) was delayed for a moment as Parker mused about using those – and other funds – for public parking in Manomet.
Voters approved Article 7, enabling the town to borrow $300,000 from the Massachusetts Water Pollution Abatement Trust to loan back to residents – at a 5 percent interest rate – for replacing or renovating failed septic systems.
Two articles (8 and 18) that concerned the town’s plans to redevelop the 1829 Courthouse Corridor, which at past meetings would have been the subject of rancorous debate, were unanimously approved.
Tax Increment Financing (TIF) agreements were approved for (Article 9) the Cranberry Crescent Economic Opportunity Area, a new retail development off Route 80 in West Plymouth, and (Article 10) for Mirabeau Boston-South LLC, a proposed spa hotel at The Pinehills.
The first substantive debate occurred when the meeting arrived at the three articles sponsored by the Community Preservation Committee.
The first CPC article, 16a, proposed purchasing the Congregation Beth Jacob Community Center at 25 1/2 Court St. and adding additional funds to make it ADA compliant and ready for its intended use as a performing arts center.
Several Town Meeting reps argued passionately against the proposal. Precinct 15 Rep. Michael Babini said the town should wait until it knows more about the proposal and the condition of the building. A structural report done at the behest of the CPC was viewed as a warning sign by many critics. But others, notably musician and arts entrepreneur Michael Landers, made an equally strong case for its approval.
The vote was not close; the article passed with a 72 percent majority, 85-32.
The CPC’s other two articles – the last of which came with a price tag of $3 million – passed without little or no objection.
The pace then quickened, before encountering strong headwinds at Article 33, originally a citizen petition, which asked the town to implement a two-year moratorium on commercial wind turbines in residential areas.
This was an article anticipated to see considerable debate. The opening, multimedia presentation and the discussion that followed took the meeting from just after 11 a.m. to the midday hour when, despite the chance that representatives were likely to vote within minutes, the meeting broke for lunch.
When they returned Ken “Move the Article” Howe, appeared like a clockwork cuckoo and did his thing.
The moratorium was, technically, a zoning article and, therefore, required a two-thirds majority vote. A roll call was requested and, as the count moved from precinct to precinct, the yeses and no’s rose and fell, fell and rose.
A flurry of yes votes took proponents to the brink of success but, when the count was announced, the tally fell just short of a two-thirds majority, 68-39 (a 64 percent majority).
Three more votes in favor would have approved the moratorium but word from town officials is that this close vote indicates there is sufficient support to begin immediately addressing weaknesses in the town’s existing wind bylaw.
There was one final article, #34, addressing a zoning change for property adjacent to Commerce Way’s intersection with Route 80 in West Plymouth.
After assurances that this article would accommodate the concerns of residents of the area and that the petitioner was committed to paying for certain improvements that would facilitate the development of the retail project directly across Route 80, the article was passed and the meeting was adjourned.