Weak Support for Town Manager

Ann Rappaport–Wellesley Townsman, March 3, 2016

“How could the most significant issue in my ten years as a Town Meeting member move ahead without a supermajority vote?”

Town Meeting’s Lukewarm Support of the Special Act

With dismay, I realized this fall that wholesale change to our town government could be brought to voters though a simple majority vote of Town Meeting. Bonded capital projects, zoning bylaw changes, even easement acceptances, require a 2/3rd vote. How could the most significant issue in my ten years as a Town Meeting member move ahead without a supermajority vote?

After eight contentious nights of Town Meeting this fall, Town Meeting approved the Special Act by a 60% vote. Had it required a 2/3rd vote, the Special Act would not have passed at Town Meeting and Question 1 would not be on the ballot. How does this vote compare to other significant projects approved by Town Meeting over the past decade?

With the exception of the Meals Tax and now the Special Act, every successful counted vote had a pass rate of at least 70%. Some votes, including the new high school and 900 Worcester, had pass rates exceeding 80%. The Special Act garnered the least support from Town Meeting members of any counted vote this decade.  The purchase of the North 40, renovations to Fiske/Schofield, and Natural Resource Protection zoning also all easily passed the 2/3rd threshold by declared voice vote.

Advisory usually vets major proposals until its vote can reflect a near unanimous verdict. Prior to the Special Act, only two of the counted votes over the past decade – Large House Review and the Meals Tax – had more than a single dissenting Advisory vote (each vote was 12-2). By contrast, 5 Advisory members voted against the Special Act.

Most important issues in Wellesley take a while to gel. Major building projects require several votes by Town Meeting – for feasibility study, design development, and construction funding. Zoning bylaw changes often initially fail at Town Meeting but eventually succeed by being (more) responsive to Town Meeting concerns. Here, the Special Act was pushed through in a single Special Town Meeting.  But we still have a chance to hit the ‘pause’ button. Please join me in voting NO on March 15 to allow a more thoughtful, consensus-driven plan for any changes to Wellesley’s town government to emerge.

Ann Rappaport

Former Vice-Chair, Advisory Committee

7 Bradford Road