Three ‘Modest’ Proposals Frame New Regs For Town Meeting Roll Call Votes

Photo: Moderator Mike Widmer discussing changes to the roll call bylaw with the Select Board

The most impassioned moments of the 2019 annual Belmont Town Meeting didn’t involve a vote but how they were reported. And next week, Town Meeting members and residents will hear and comment on changes to the roll call bylaw sponsored by three mainstays of town government.

At this year’s Town Meeting a group of members sought roll call votes on the outcome of several articles including measures that passed overwhelmingly on a voice vote.

Unlike the usual aggregate vote when just the grand total of yea and nay are presented to the meeting, a roll call requires each member’s vote to be recorded and made public. With electronic voting in Belmont, member’s names are projected on the main screen for the assembly to see how each member voted.

While roll call proponents said knowing how a member voted is an expected part of representative government, others called out the rarely invoked process “harassment” and “vote shaming” by revealing who may have voted against “popular” measures.

The town is holding a public meeting to discuss proposed Roll Call Bylaw changes on Tuesday, Oct. 15 at 7:15 p.m. at the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St.

It culminated with a vote favored by the pro-roll call caucus going down to defeat during the roll call after initially passing with an aggregate tally. Soon after, there was some confusion on who could ask that the article be reconsidered, resulting in a decision by the moderator that left Town Meeting in a kerfuffle for a few days.

At a recent Select Board meeting, representatives of the Town Clerk’s Office, the Town Administrator and Town Moderator presented an initial draft article which they will bring to the fall Special Town Meeting in November supporting, as moderator Mike Widmer describes it, three “modest” proposals that will clarify and codify what constitutes a roll call vote.

“The proposal is based on the informal survey of Town Meeting members after the annual meeting … and we have done our best to reflect the will of the majority of members,” said Widmer.

Assistant Town Clerk Meg Piccione announced the proposed changes to the bylaw:

  • a roll call will be automatically conducted for the final action on any article or motion that requires a 2/3 majority vote.
  • an automatic roll call will be done when a motion or article is passed by fewer than 10 aggregate votes.
  • If a member requests a roll call vote for any other article, the measure will require 50 supporting members, up from 35.

Widmer noted the bylaw change also includes redefining reconsideration – when a matter that was voted on is brought back before the Town Meeting for a second time – which was also an issue at the annual meeting. The new bylaw will only allow a member who voted in the majority be allowed to request a motion to reconsider.

Widmer said he does expect some to question the group’s bylaw change and possibly challenge some aspects of the new bylaw.

“We’re under no illusion that there won’t be any amendments to this proposal,” said Widmer. “But our hope is to have …the one article so we can make it a smoother process rather than having one citizen’s petition for an article and another for something else.”

Belmont Votes: 2018 Town Election

Photo:

The annual Belmont Town Election takes place on Tuesday, April 3, 2018.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

And below is information that will make the process of casting your ballot all that much easier.

Whose running for town wide and Town Meeting 

Click here for the Belmont League of Women Voters Guide for candidates and their campaign message.

Polling Places

For voting purposes, Belmont is divided into eight voting precincts, located as follows:

  • Precinct 1 – Belmont Memorial Library, Assembly Room, 336 Concord Ave.
  • Precinct 2 – Belmont Town Hall, Selectmen’s Room, 455 Concord Ave.
  • Precinct 3 – Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St.
  • Precinct 4 – Daniel Butler School, Gymnasium, 90 White St.
  • Precinct 5 – Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St.
  • Precinct 6 – Belmont Fire Headquarters, 299 Trapelo Rd.
  • Precinct 7 – Burbank School, Gymnasium, 266 School St.
  • Precinct 8 – Winn Brook School, Gymnasium, 97 Waterhouse Rd. (Enter from Cross Street)

Please adhere to the posted parking restrictions and use caution to ensure the safety of pedestrians around the voting precincts.

Are You Registered to Vote in Belmont and Eligible to Vote April 3? 

If you are wondering if you are a registered voter and your voting precinct, go to the Town Clerk’s web page or phone the Town Clerk’s office at 617-993-2600.

Arrive early, consider traffic and limited parking 

Belmont Police will designate some voter parking at each of the polling locations however with a  busy election, parking close to the polling places is often a challenge.

Plan ahead: consider walking, carpooling with a friend or voting “off peak” during the middle of the day. Only voters who arrive at the precinct and are in line for the Voter Check-In before the close of polls at 8 p.m. can be permitted to vote; those who arrive too late will miss out.

Election Day campaigning

The Town Clerk and the Board of Registrars of Voters remind all residents that campaign signs, stickers, buttons or materials may NOT be displayed within 150 feet of each polling place. This prohibition, per Massachusetts General Laws, Ch. 54, §65, even extends to a candidate whose name is on the ballot, when the candidate is not actively voting.  The Town Clerk’s website posts a map displaying the 150-foot radius under Campaigning: Running for Elected Office and Town Meeting.

Election Results – How Do I Find Out the Results?

Election results for each precinct are announced by the Warden of each precinct after the close of the polls. The unofficial town-wide results will be announced at Town Hall and posted on the home page of the Town website as soon as they are available Tuesday evening or phone the  Town Clerk’s office at 617-993-2600 on Wednesday morning. Campaign representatives are welcome to wait at Town Hall for the printed results.

Town Election ’18: Ballot Set For Town Meeting; A Race For School Committee

Photo: Pam Eagar readies to run for Town Meeting.

Pam Eagar has spent 40 years in Belmont, raising seven children (all attending the Belmont schools) and taking care of her mother in her home on Claflin Street near Belmont Center. 

Now, with the kids away and with time on her hands, Eagar wants to make a difference in the governing of Belmont with an eye on Town Meeting.

“I’m interested in [town government] but I had always been really busy for a lot of years with kids and grandchildren. But now seems a good time to get involved,” she said Eagar who came to the Town Clerk’s office Tuesday, Feb. 13 to make sure her nomination papers to run for one of the 12 available seats in Precinct 8 had been certified. 

She took her time debating whether to run down to the deadline on Tuesday. 

“I didn’t decide until the other day that I thought, ‘Oh if I want to do this I have to do this right away!”

When the clock struck 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 13, the ballot was set for Belmont’s 2018 Town Election to take place on Tuesday, April 3. See the candidates for town-wide office and all Town Meeting races in Belmont’s eight precincts here.

There is one townwide race as three candidates have been certified for the two, three-year seats on the Belmont School Committee as incumbent Susan Burgess-Cox will face off against a pair of newcomers; Winchester teacher Tara Donner and Jill Souza Norton, the director of Education Policy at Abt Associates. 

Over on the Town Meeting side, it’s a bit of a topsy-turvy year as precincts that have been historically light on candidates have filled the ballot with the 12 seats available while others will have open seats.

The big surprise is the typically underrepresented Precinct 7, the Harvard Lawn neighborhood along Belmont Street to the Cambridge line, which has filled the ballot with 12 candidates. And over at the usually politically active precincts 3 and 4, could only muster 10 candidates each for the dozen three-year slots. 

And one of the 13 seek a seat in Precinct 8 is Eagar who said she sees “a lot of growth in the town and I think we need to be really careful how things are regulated. Financially the town needs a lot of good planning in place because money doesn’t go on forever.” 

Town Meeting Warrant Opens in February for Citizen Petitions

Photo: Belmont Town Meeting.

Have you ever said, “There ought to be a law in this town!

Here’s your chance to do just that.

The town warrant – the document that calls for the annual Town Meeting which Board of Selectmen voted to approve at last night’s Selectmen’s meeting – will be “open” from Feb. 1 to Feb. 29 for residents who wish to add their own article to be heard and voted on by the 290-member Town Meeting in May.

“Citizens are welcomed to submit petitions,” said Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman.

Under Massachusetts law, residents may place articles before the annual Town Meeting without approval by the Selectmen by petitioning the Town Clerk to insert the article into the warrant. Officially, it only requires ten signatures on the petition from residents to secure a place on the warrant although Cushman recommends 15 to be on the safe side.

While not all petitions are successful, a good portion succeeded to become bylaws. In the past few years, citizen’s petitions on banning smoking in town playgrounds, combining school and town building supervision, restricting yard sales and requiring residents to shovel snow from sidewalks have passed Town Meeting muster and included into the bylaws.

For those residents thinking about putting their stamp on the town’s bylaws, Cushman advises petitioners to do their homework and be prepared to work with town officials and government groups to construct their appeal to have the chance of a favorable vote before Town Meeting.

For those seeking changes to the town’s zoning bylaws should meet with the Planning Board and the town’s Office of Community Development while those looking to alter the town’s budget priorities need to get in touch with the Warrant and Capital Budget committees and the town’s financial departments, said Cushman.

With all petitions Town Counsel, George Hall will review each, to determine that they do not violate the state or US constitutions.

“So it’s important that citizens start the process earlier than later to receive advice in drafting their petitions and getting the support they need to give themselves a good chance before Town Meeting,” said Cushman.

Preservation Committee Approves $818K in Grants; Next Stop, Town Meeting

Photo: PQ Playground.

The Community Preservation Committee will recommend to the annual Town Meeting in May spending a little more than $800,000 on six projects set to preserve the town’s historical records, enhance the open space around a landmark and provide recreation to town residents.

The committee voted on Wednesday, Jan. 13 to approved six out of the seven final applications totaling $818,350. A $50,000 request to the Conservation Commission to create a fund to purchase land was withdrawn by the commission before the vote. 

The list of approved projects include:

• Construction of an Intergenerational Walking Path at Clay Pit Pond. Sponsor: Mary Trudeau, agent, Belmont Conservation Commission. $228,350.

• Preserving Belmont’s Original Vital Records. Sponsor: Ellen Cushman, Belmont Town Clerk. $80,000.

• Digitizing Belmont’s Town Meeting Records, Sponsor: Ellen Cushman, $85,000.

• Town Hall Exterior Railings Improvements. Sponsor: Gerald R. Boyle, Facilities Dept, $75,000.

• Pequossette Playground Revitalization study. Sponsor: Julie Crockett, Friends of PQ Park, $25,000.

• Reconstruction of Winn Brook tennis courts, Sponsor: Jay Marcotte, Belmont DPW, $325,000

The projects sponsors and the CPA committee are scheduled to meet with the Warrant Committee on March 2, said CPC member Floyd Carman while meetings with the Board of Selectmen and Capital Budget Committee are being arranged. 

Adopted by Belmont voters in 2010, the Community Preservation Act fund is financed by a 1.5 percent property tax surcharges  and annual distributions received from the state’s “Massachusetts Community Preservation Trust Fund.”

Look Who’s Running: Town-Wide, Town Meeting Candidates on the Ballot

The “almost” final list of candidates on the 2015 Belmont Town Election has been released by Town Clerk Ellen Cushman on Monday, Feb. 23, with the hopeful trend of increased participation for those seeking to become Town Meeting members.

The list is not yet a final because residents have until Thursday, March 5 to withdraw their candidacy by writing to Cushman.

The list of all candidates, both town-wide and for Town Meeting, can be found here at the Town Clerk’s web site.

In town-wide races, only the seat on the Belmont Board of Selectmen is being contested with incumbent Andy Rojas being challenged by Town Meeting Member Jim Williams.

Cushman said she is encouraged by the number of candidates for Town Meeting, with six of the town’s eight precinct with the requisite 12 candidates on the ballot. And of the two that failed to reach the dozen candidates, both precincts 3 and 7 – notorious for seeing seats go up for grabs – will only see a single three-year seat go down to write-in votes.

And if anyone in precincts 5, 6 or 7 is looking for a quick way onto Town Meeting, there are no candidates for the partial term seats last two to one year. Each of those seven seats will be filled either by write-ins or at precinct meetings before May’s Town Meeting.

Precinct 1: 15 candidates (10 seeking re-election, 3 newcomers) for three-year terms.

Precinct 2: 12 candidates (9 re-election, 3 newcomers) for three-year terms.

Precinct 3: 11 candidates (7 re-election, 4 newcomers) for three-year terms.

Precinct 4: 14 candidates (10 re-election, 4 newcomers) for three-year terms.

Precinct 5: 13 candidates (11 re-election, 2 newcomers) for three-year terms. No candidates for a one-year term.

Precinct 6: 13 candidates (10 re-election, 3 newcomers) for three-year terms. No candidates for a one-year term or a two-year term.

Precinct 7: 11 candidates (7 re-election, 4 newcomers) for three-year terms. No candidates for four, two-year terms.

Precinct 8: 12 candidates (9 re-election, 3 newcomers) for three-year terms. One candidate for one, one-year term.

Less Than a Week to Turn In Town Meeting, Town Wide Nomination Papers

The good news, said Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman, is the number of residents who took out nomination papers will result in competitive races in nearly all of Belmont’s eight precincts.

The bad news, see added, is that many potential candidates have yet to turn in those papers with the signature of 25 Belmontians to her.

“They’ve taken them out, and now I’m waiting for them to bring them back,” said Cushman today, Feb. 11.

And the deadline for the papers to be in and certified by Cushman is looming quite large.

“They only have six day, until Feb. 17 at 5 p.m. And when the bell rings, they’ll lose their chance,” said Cushman, pointing to a call bell next to the old-style time stamp machine on the Office’s front desk.

Belmont’s eight precincts will be electing 12 Town Meeting Members in addition to any partial-term seats. Cushman opened a folder for one of the precincts and showed the sign-out sheet with several names of residents who took out papers. Only one had  been turned in.

People should not wait until the last minute to return nomination papers for either Town Meeting or for those with intentions of running for town-wide office, said Cushman, reminding residents her and all town offices will be closed for the President’s Day Holiday on Monday, Feb. 16.

Plenty of Town Meeting Positions Waiting for Candidates

With two weeks remaining for residents to throw their hats into the ring, a boatload of Town Meeting positions in several precincts remain waiting to be filled by candidates.

According to Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman, as of the Jan. 27th deadline for incumbent Town Meeting members to announce their intentions to seek election to the 290-member legislative body, there remains several open seats in each of the town’s eight precincts. (see below)

While traditionally-active precincts such as 1, 6 and 8 appear likely to have enough candidates to have contested races – more than 12 candidates for the dozen seats up for election – others are in serious need of residents willing to run to represent their neighborhoods.

“Right now, we have deficits of three candidates in Precinct 3 and six in Precinct 7,” said Cushman on Friday, Jan. 30. Precinct 3 is west of Concord Avenue and east of Trapelo Road, around Town Field and along Pleasant Street and up Mill Street. Precinct 7 is the Grove Street Playground neighborhood east to the Cambridge town line between Washington and Belmont streets.

If there remains a deficit of candidates on the Town Election ballot on April 7, the remaining Town Meeting slots will be selected with “write-in” candidates.

Cushman hopes to remind residents of the importance of Town Meeting as it is the legislative body of Belmont that approves or rejects new bylaws and determines the annual town budget.

“I would remind residents in Precinct 7 that their precinct is where a citizen’s petition to limit the height of residential houses will be voted at Town Meeting needing a two-thirds vote,” said Cushman.

Next deadline is Feb. 17, at 5 p.m. for all nomination papers for town-wide offices and Town Meeting members.

PRECINCT 1: 10 candidates for re-election, 2 residents took out nomination papers, 12 three-year seats available.

PRECINCT 2: 9 candidates for re-election, 4 residents took out nomination papers, 12 three-year seats available.

PRECINCT 3: 7 candidates for re-election, 2 residents took out nomination papers; 12 three-year seats available.

PRECINCT 4: 10 candidates for re-election, 3 residents took out nomination papers; 12 three-year seats available.

PRECINCT 5: 11 candidates for re-election, 2 residents took out nomination papers; 12 three-year seats available AND 1 one-year seat available with 1 person taking papers out for that position.

PRECINCT 6: 10 candidates for re-election, 3 residents took out nomination papers; 12 three-year seats available AND 1 one-year AND 1 two-year seat available.

PRECINCT 7: 7 candidates for re-election, 3 residents took out nomination papers; 12 three-year seats available AND 4 two-year seats available.

PRECINCT 8: 10 candidates for re-election, 6 residents took out nomination papers; 12 three-year seats available AND 1 one-year seat available.