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Williamstown Special Town Meeting Rules Clarified
By Stephen Dravis, Williamstown Correspondent
11:14PM / Monday, April 22, 2013
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The Selectmen reviewed procedures for Wednesday's special town meetings and urged voters to attend. Left, Selectman Ronald Turbin reads an Arbor Day Proclamation.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Selectmen and town manager on Monday evening fielded questions about the procedure for Wednesday's special town meetings while the board's chairman took advantage of the chance to make one final appeal for voters to attend the meetings.

"I know it is much more comfortable to stay home and watch meetings on TV, but such an action doesn't allow us to have a democratic process," Chairman David Rempell reminded viewers on the town's community access television station.

Although the board faced a relatively light agenda at its last meeting before the 7:25 gathering at Mount Greylock Regional High School, the petitoners' request portion of the meeting opened the door to a discussion of the finer points of the process.

Stratton Road resident and former Selectman Kenneth Swiatek, an outspoken opponent of developing town-owned land currently under the control of the town's Conservation Commission, asked a series of questions ranging from the procedure of voting to whether the outcome of a 7:25 special town meeting would "change the rules" for the scheduled 7:30 meeting.

Rempell said the voting on Wednesday could be by secret ballot or voice vote at the discretion of Moderator Mark Gold.

As for the question of whether the lone question on the 7:25 special town meeting warrant would affect the procedure for Article 2 on the 7:30 meeting, Town Manager Peter Fohlin said that it would.

"Town counsel has opined that the article you're asking about would take effect immediately upon being voted," Fohlin said.

Andrew Hogeland urged the land issues be table for present.
Dr. Eric White is withdrawing an article that would conserve his land.
Kenneth Swiatek questioned the voting procedures.
Sarah Harris said Williamstown Theatre festival will be transferring its license.

In other words, if the town decides at the 7:25 meeting that it wants to adopt a provision of state law allowing land transfers for the purpose of developing affordable housing to be by simple majority votes, then the 7:30 meeting on that point will be decided by simple majority, instead of a two-thirds "super majority."

There are those in town who hope the town makes no decisions about town-owned property at the Wednesday meeting, and their sentiments were heard on Monday as well.

Andrew Hogeland repeated the call to table all of the issues before the town that he made last week at a joint meeting of the Select Board and Con Comm. And he said he would contact Gold before Wednesday night to find out just what would be involved in taking that step.

Each of the selectmen concurred that it would be wise to delay a final decision and give the town more time to review its options before either moving a portion the so-called Lowry property out of the Con Comm's control or putting all of Lowry and the larger Burbank property into conservation "in perpetuity," as Article 3 on the 7:30 special town meeting warrant proposes.

"I have to say it's a good idea," Selectman Ronald Turbin said. "It would leave [the proposals] out there, but it would give the town time, first of all, to heal the divisions."

Selectwoman Jane Allen agreed but worried aloud whether the potential for tabling the issues would lead to some voters concluding that the meeting is not worth attending.

Rempell agreed.

"Whatever happens Wednesday night will happen by town meeting vote," he said. "It is crucial that everybody come to town meeting. We'll be making some important decisions, and the more people who are there, the more people we'll hear from.

"I just hope the Mount Greylock High School gym is packed."

In all likelihood, the voters who do attend will not have a chance to vote on the only non-controversial question on the agenda.

Landowner Dr. Eric White, whose property is the subject of a conservation restriction on Article 1 of the 7:30 meeting warrant, announced Monday his intention to withdraw his application for the town's approval of the restriction.

"I thought last Feb. 11 when I was here and again on March 25 that everything was in order ... but unfortunately, after I was already listed on the town meeting warrant, an issue has come up that more likely than not will require significant rewriting of this 23-page conservation restriction," White said. "I didn't want to show up at Wednesday night's meeting and surprise everyone with my motion, so I'm telling everyone now that that is my intention."

Fohlin provided the evening's last bit of special town meeting information, reminding voters to arrive by 7 p.m. to check in and informing the audience that there is neither absentee balloting nor proxy voting at town meeting.

In other business on Monday, the Selectmen set a pair of May 13 public hearings to consider transferring the liquor license of the Williamstown Theatre Festival to Water Street's Hops & Vines.

The WTF's operations and human resources coordinator explained the reasoning for the request.

"We don't run a restaurant, so our hope is that by fully transferring the license ... it will help the town and make sure we offer the best services we can," Sarah Harris told the board.

Rempell also read into the record excerpts from the board's glowing annual evaluation of Fohlin. He cited Fohlin's execution of the complex federal Hazard Mitigation Grant and his success in explaining the grant process to the town as well as his stewardship of town finances.

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