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Biweekly Column
Brookline TAB
Brookline, Massachusetts

Town Meeting Drama Time

Dennis Fox

May 19 , 2005

I'll be traveling next week, so I won't be watching Brookline's Town Meeting. Those of you still here, though, can experience the drama in person at the high school auditorium. The eye rolling, the smirks, the inattentiveness and hostility and worried faces don't come across nearly as clearly on community access TV.

Of course, some warrant articles are simply boring, or pointless, or both. The annual vote to "allow selectmen to appoint two individuals as Measurers of Wood and Bark" strikes some Brookliners as charmingly traditional, but I'm not one of them. The proposal to "pay any unpaid bills from prior fiscal years" should elicit not democratic debate but routine bookkeeping. Fortunately, articles like these generally come early, before exhaustion sets in.

There's always the chance for excitement, or at least emotion, when our representatives move to meatier issues. I'd like to see how Town Meeting Members respond to Stanley Wayne. His historical, financial, and constitutional arguments for eliminating the town's refuse collection fee have once again failed to persuade the Selectmen and Advisory Committee, I doubt Town Meeting will go along either, but the debate could be satisfyingly quirky.

Another return item is Ron Goldman's attempt to "encourage parents and caregivers of children to refrain from use of corporal punishment." This article will generate more hostility than Wayne's (last year, Town Meeting Member Karen Wenc accused Goldman of narcissism and grandiosity). I suspect members will approve it this time, despite annoyance at Goldman's refusal to give up. Perhaps they'll realize that opposing a non-enforceable endorsement of violence-free parenting makes them look foolish. Still, the article is (intentionally?) numbered 25 out of 26, so members might simply go home early, thus preventing the quorum required for a vote. We may see this again next year.

A third repeat article is Susan Allen's effort to rescind last year's approval of a Level II biolab in yet-to-be-built 2 Brookline Place. I sympathize with Allen's argument that some future unscrupulous lab owner might ignore safety rules. Accidents and deceit are probably inevitable. Also inevitable is this article's defeat.

The proposal to "limit the hours of basketball at Billy Ward Playground" seems better suited for neighborhood resolution than Town Meeting. Some neighbors think that local kids and adults shooting hoops in the evening are too noisy; others disagree. Ideally, neighborhood residents would work something out among themselves, perhaps following suggestions in the warrant article's background materials: planting more shrubbery to mask noise, reminding teenagers to mind their language, and so on. I wonder how residents living blocks or even miles away will explain why they should have any input at all.

The proposals to establish historic districts in Chestnut Hill and on Harvard Avenue arouse much heat, though I'm lukewarm. I, too, want to limit over-development, but instead of block by block exemptions, I'd rather Brookline proceed more comprehensively, building in substantially more affordable housing. The debate over these two articles and a third that would establish secret neighborhood ballots for assessing views about historic designation could get nasty.

A warrant article to remove Brookline from Norfolk County interests me. I too wonder what we get for our county tax payment, but, more important, I have only a hazy idea where the rest of the county actually is. Belonging to a county we're not physically attached to is pretty weird. But I don't understand the article's suggestion that Brookline remain in the Norfolk court system. When I received a jury notice a couple of months ago I got lost looking for the Dedham courthouse, which you can't easily get to on public transportation. The Advisory Committee's recommendation that a Moderator's Committee investigate relations with the county makes sense.

A Brookline High School group, Student Action for Justice and Action, wants to "extend the town's living wage bylaw to all town contractors and subcontractors and their employees." This article will likely pass, partly because SAJE emphasizes there will be little real impact: most town contractors already pay above the bylaw's $10.72 an hour. I hope SAJE comes back next year with a proposal to raise that amount (it's higher in Boston and Cambridge) and to mandate the hourly wage not just for town contractors but for every business in Brookline. It's time.

Note: this version may differ from the published version.

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