Vote-changing meeting inflames town

Thursday April 18, 2013

This letter will not discuss the merits of using the Lowry property for affordable housing. It only addresses the warrant article for the 7:25 p.m. Special Town Meeting on April 24 at the high school. The single item on the agenda proposes that we change the rules on how many votes it takes to transfer town land from its current use to affordable housing. The consequences of voting to change the rules are that (1) we will be accused of manipulating the system to change the rules at the last minute, (2) we have not considered the implications for town properties other than Lowry, and (3) if this change in voting rules is then used to actually transfer Lowry, we will have created bitterness that could haunt us for years. We should vote NO on this vote-changing proposal.

The Special Town Meeting was scheduled at 7:25 because another Special Town Meeting was already called for 7:30 that same night. At the 7:30 meeting, we will vote whether to transfer part of the Lowry property for use as affordable housing. Currently, a two-thirds vote at Town Meeting is required to make that transfer. The Selectmen, who have already voted in favor of the transfer of Lowry, scheduled the 7:25 meeting so we can adopt a provision of state law that would change the voting requirement from a two-thirds majority to a simple majority. We are being asked to change the voting rules five minutes before we vote under the new rules.

The timing of the 7:25 vote-changing plan has already raised the perception that it is a manipulative, result-oriented effort to change the rules at the last minute so that the proponents’ preferred result would be easier to obtain. This proposed change comes in the middle of an already overheated argument over Lowry. Changing the voting scheme may make sense sometime, but it should be debated when we are in a calmer state.

We are so focused on the immediate consequences for a single controversial site that we have not examined how it may apply to other town properties. We have lots of town properties, including Photec, the former and current town garage sites, the Burbank lot up Luce Road, the Little Red Schoolhouse, the Milne Library, Mills Hollow off Oblong Road, the Blair lot on New Ashford Road, and Town Hall itself. By hastily framing the vote-changing proposal in the middle of a controversy on a single site, we have not considered the unintended consequences of how it might apply to other town-owned properties and their neighborhoods.

Imagine the outrage if the vote to transfer Lowry is greater than the five-minutes old majority rule, but less than the pre-existing two-thirds rule. We will have taken the divisiveness we are already experiencing, and given it a permanent place in our town memory. We have three Town Meetings within a month of each other, and the first one at 7:25 will try to change the rules governing the next two meetings.

The vote-changing proposal for the 7:25 meeting is horribly timed. There is no need to hold this vote now. I urge you to vote NO as a first step in trying to restore some calm and rationality to the affordable housing debate. ANDY HOGELAND



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