Galvinizers’ Night Out

17May12

Pro-debt exclusion crowd dominates Wakefield, MA Annual Town Meeting
Voting at Town Meeting
The Monday, May 14 Galvin Gala was scheduled to begin at 7:30, but if you arrived later than 7 p.m., you may have found yourself parking, as I did, in Victory Village down off Richardson Street.

Packing the Galvin Auditorium and the cafeteria, the crowd of 1,400-plus, some sporting their “Galvinize Wakefield” pins, formed exactly the kind of village that Hillary Clinton said it would take. They were there to make sure Article 5 passed Town Meeting, sending a debt exclusion question to a June 9 ballot on whether the Town of Wakefield should build a brand new new $74 million middle school.

Sensing that there were a lot of Town Meeting newbies in the house, Town Moderator Bill Carroll attempted to instill some sense of decorum from the start, reminding people that they had to be seated and quiet.

“We don’t talk during Town Meeting like a lot of you are now,” Carroll admonished after gaveling Town Meeting open. “You will not cheer and you will not clap,” Carroll warned. “This is not a pep rally.”

During the first 30 minutes of the meeting there were still seats available in the auditorium, but a large group of cohorts insisted upon standing in the rear, leaning against the wall.

Carroll ordered them to find seats. Nobody moved. “I’m not kidding,” Carroll repeated, but was met with defiance.

“We’ll wait,” Carroll told them, “and people can stare at you. Then we’ll move to scorn.” Finally, they shuffled to the remaining seats.

School hallwayIt was a moot exercise, as it turned out. By 8 p.m. Carroll announced that his assistant moderator down the hall was reporting via text message that the cafeteria was full. By 8:30, every seat in the auditorium was occupied too, and Carroll was forced to suspend the “no standing” rule.

During the first hour, the meeting did manage to get some work done, approving the various parts of the town budget under Article 1, and at 8:50 p.m., chairman of the Board of Selectmen Betsy Sheeran made a motion that Town Meeting take Article 5, the Galvin matter, out of order. Asked by an attendee why this was being done, Carroll said that both the Police and Fire chiefs were concerned about the number of people in the building, so it would be prudent to get to the main event without delay.

But before Sheeran’s motion could be acted upon, another resident suggested taking up Article 3 first, the $5 million recreation bond that would upgrade some of the town’s crumbling athletic fields and facilities.

It was a smart move. With 1,400 voters eager to spend $74 million on a new middle school, they certainly weren’t going to balk at another $5 million. Why risk leaving Article 3 on the table for a future Town Meeting session with the usual 180 attendees?

After Article 3 squeaked by 1,360-1, Sheeran again made her motion to take up Article 5 next. To no one’s surprise, Sheeran’s motion passed unanimously and it was finally show time.

Galvin Middle School - Wakefield, MAPermanent Building Committee Chairman John Encarnacao spoke eloquently on why he believed that the town needed to build a new school for the town’s 1,070 middle school students. At the conclusion of his remarks, he asked that Town Meeting allow the architect and the Project Manager, who had sat through the entire meeting, to make a brief presentation on the project.

But the Galvin supporters already knew everything they needed to know and were in no mood for presentations.

Galvinize Wakefield activist Joshua Polster jumped to the microphone and attempted to move that the question be put to a vote before there could be any discussion, but Carroll wouldn’t allow it.

“So we have to sit through this?” asked another supporter who felt that the crowd was already sufficiently Galvinized. “Most of us have already heard it. That’s why we’re here.”

Given a strict 5-minute time limit by Carroll, architect Charles Hay rushed through his presentation on the project. Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio then ran through the project costs and the tax impact of the proposed debt exclusion ($188 per year for 25 years for the average homeowner).

Bartley Street resident Roland Cote spoke against the project, and former FinCom Chairman Marc Luca voiced skepticism over the School Department’s history of spending priorities when it came to technology and maintenance of school buildings.

Vote Counting at Town MeetingLuca attempted to lessen the tax impact of the debt exclusion by reducing it by the equivalent of $500,000 a year and funding that portion within the normal budget. But no one seconded Luca’s motion.

When it came time to vote, it wasn’t quite unanimous (1331-7 in favor), so the vote had to be hand counted in order to document the required two-thirds majority. Even before the tellers had finished counting the vote, people were starting to file out of the hall.

Maybe they had parked in Victory Village, but their minds, they were already there.

[This coulumn originally appeared in the May 17, 2012 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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