Friday, December 4, 2015

Town Scrum - Weston, MA

So, I may have to change my name after writing this blog. Possibly move out of town. Today I need to talk about the town meeting. Or as I like to call it, Town Scrum. I am no rugby fan but this is how I understand a scrum (after looking it up on my friend google): 

Scrum: (noun) an ordered formation of players... in which the forwards of a team form up with arms interlocked and heads down, and push forward against a similar group from the opposing side. The ball is thrown into the scrum and the players try to gain possession of it by kicking it backward toward their own side.

I will tell you why I consider town meetings a rugby match in just a moment. First I need to set the stage…ummm, field. Town meetings. I have never attended a town meeting in my life. Not even sure we had them in San Francisco, Burlingame, Evanston, Miami Shores or São Paulo which are the places I have lived in my "adult" life. Okay, possibly in New Canaan (where I grew up) which is really Weston in a different state, more pink and green, ACK stickers and twice our size. But I was 18 and didn't care about that stuff.

Town meeting is the legislative body of our town. Yep, it's up there front and center on this, our "Brief Guide to Weston Town Meeting Procedure". The brief guide is two pages long and has everything from how to participate in a debate (line up at the microphone) and how the voting is done (a display of official voting cards). It's like auctions gone wild. We got green voting cards at this last vote. I was going to take it home but it was collected by the powers that be. 

This particular town meeting was a special meeting called because of some pressing matters such as additional funding of a playground (now this is the ball that gets thrown into the scrum…wait for it), a new sidewalk to and from school so kids don't have to walk on the road, and appropriating spaces for "community housing" (who does not love this euphemism? I do.). 

Let me note that the latter item was "passed over" but I don't know why. It was not discussed in the meeting (okay the moderator did say why we wouldn't be talking about it but I didn't hear it). That discussion will not be a scrum. That will be a mosh pit. No one wants "community housing" near them. This is a blog post for another day.

So I got there about 6:50 for the 7 pm start and the high school auditorium was about a third full. It would become about half full. I did note that there was a demographic that I don't often see--older folks mostly (I have to watch it with this term now that I am middle-aged. Older than me. Retired perhaps) then a group of younger parent-types, some with kids in tow. Remember the 7 pm start. And kids' bedtimes, if you have kids. Kids who are not vampires. 

Stage set. 

First up was approving the budget. Quick discussion, over in about 10 minutes. Passed unanimously.  Passed because we were cutting money from budget due to a decrease in school salaries. I must investigate this one a bit. I abstained; I know nothing. 

Article 2 required a full hour. An hour to decide whether or not to increase the number of signatures needed to get an item up in front of town meeting. The petition was to change it from 10 signatures to 100. I am not going into why this measure was on the ballot here in town. I got the feeling it was a targeted measure to try to resolve an issue with one resident who keeps on taking up town time over wanting to take over her neighbor's house for a parking lot. I may have that wrong. Anyway I voted yes on requiring more signatures, but the majority said no, we like only 10 signatures because, as one gentleman commentator said "it can be really hard to get signatures with such a spread-out town and we're all busy." Yes, we are all busy. Why then are we taking an hour for all this back and forth? Sigh.

And then the heart of the heart. The scrum. Here goes. Article 3 was about Additional Funding for Lamson Playground. This will take waaaaaay too long to summarize here but the Lamson playground project has been around for a while apparently. We have one teeny-tiny playground in this town called Tavernside. It is literally at the side of a tavern (not in service--whoo, that could be a lawsuit!) and small though shaded and pleasant. My kids (age 9) term it as "lame". We've been once in the 18 months almost we've lived here. It is also along the Boston Post Road which splits the playground from the town green. There is some justifiable concern about getting kids in and out of the place without being smushed like bugs. 

Lamson Park would be our new playground. Right next to the town hall and on the other side of the town green (not on the Boston Post Road). The playground was approved in May 2014 before I moved here to Weston. I can only imagine that town meeting now that I know about this one. Playgrounds cost money: $225,000 in fact from the town budget, and $40,000 more was raised privately. I admit that this planning and designing of the playground has gone on without me paying much attention. My kids will be aged-out before this comes to pass--and frankly, my kids are open spacers. Free-rangers. Ticks in the woods. Playgrounds are for recess in their minds. 

I was aware of the battles in the background though. Revolutionary War has nothing on this. Well, actually it does, as I will tell you shortly (I really had no intention to go on so long but well, here it is). Plans were changed, trees are being felled, ziplines being added, a play structure that is visible from space (just kidding--but it's not necessarily small) and our Weston Town Crier added fuel to the fire by leading a September front page with "Most Expensive Option Chosen for Lamson Park". In case you were one of the last souls on earth to think the media is unbiased, guess again.
So the article at the town meeting was about asking for $25,000 more to make the park better. Safety was the number one stated change in mission. And so here we go:

The players: 
--Parent Team, mostly younger parents who wanted kids to have a safe playground
--Historic Team, mostly ummm seasoned individuals who don't want a playground at all at Lamson Park. 

There was probably a third team that was unorganized. A third team who said yep Lamson, but not the way it was proposed.
 But a third team ruins my analogy so let's leave them on the sidelines.

First up, a resident who explained the need for funds. This resident was a forward for the Parent Team-- he explained how wonderful the park would be and what a great community-building thing an integrated park and town green would be, not to mention that we'd have fewer issues with kids crossing the street and being smushed like bugs.  More funding was needed to address some new learnings about the property.

Then the moderator (the Ref?) dropped the ball into the middle of the scrum. Historic Commission, forward for the History Team, and Planning Committee, another forward, then linked arms and stated opposition to the ENTIRE park, not just the updated price tag. 

And then the Historic Team went big time: a Daughter of the American Revolution came up to speak.
I admit the existence of the DAR organization cracks me up. Seriously, what? So American. I guess it doesn't exist in many countries, such as Brazil, my foster country, since that would be a Daughter of the Really-Just-a-Peaceful-Split. DRJAPS. No.  And I guess I personally would be a Daughter-of-the-Dutch-people-fleeing-plague-there-in-the-1860s. Wow that is so not catchy.

Okay here is the explanation of the organization, from its site:
The organization Daughters of the American Revolution is a lineage-based membership service organization for women who are directly descended from a person involved in United States' independence.The DAR, founded in 1890 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., is a non-profit, non-political volunteer women's service organization dedicated to promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and securing America's future through better education for children.

Okay, keep this "non-political" organization part in mind. So the DAR comes up at the meeting and says she is opposed to Lamson Park in general because it is an important historical site. In fact when the new town hall was built in 1917 ("new" in Boston-type age) everyone was opposed to that, because it also took Lamson land.  She mentioned that Samuel Lamson was a colonel in the Minutemen and it was from this farm site in 1775 that he led the Weston Minute Men from the mustering site to the battle in Concord. Okay he was not a colonel in 1775, but that's quibbling with something that is frankly, cool. I am so wowed by where I live. The heart of US history (yeah, okay not native American history, I get that).

But I digress. DAR says that Samuel Lamson would NOT have wanted this park--she spoke almost as if she had known him (no, she was not that old). Then she goes on from this nice history lesson to say and furthermore, this site is probably "somewhat illegal" (her words) since Lamson stipulated that a structure should never be built there. I guess the jungle gym is a structure. Sigh. I would like to point out given my research here that Lamson had seven kids with one wife and three more with a second and I'm guessing the respective Mrs. Lamsons would have LOVED a playground there. Maybe not the zipline. 

Then a Parent Team forward came up and expressed why playgrounds are so important for the community building. Then a Historic Team came up and said she suggested we "build Disneyworld Weston at another time." Yes, I hummed "It's a Small World". I have to change the words. It's a small town after all…

For the next hour, the scrum moved up and back. One Historic Team player called the building inspector "full of baloney." One seemingly neutral player did make a statement on not being opposed to a new playground, but perhaps thinking of one that was in a less historic location--he suggested kids needed "lessons in cultural and environmental stewardship."  One lovely woman said she walked around the town green every day and did not want to be disturbed by the sounds of "screaming children." I'd like to editorialize that a bit more but right now I am trying to find out her address so I can send my 9 year old twins to play on her front lawn.  Just the part owned by the town.

Then my favorite comment of the night came from the next speaker who basically said that if you tried to preserve every supposedly historic site in eastern Massachusetts, you could not build anything ever. Also he said that he certainly hoped that the space would not be needed again as a mustering place, which made me laugh out loud. I got a couple of nasty looks from the Historic Team players on either side of me. I was afraid I would become the ball. 

Finally a vote was called. Full disclosure: I abstained. That will not make some of my friends very happy with me but I really didn't know enough to vote on more money. The cards were raised for and then against the article. The request for more funding failed. When it was announced at 9:10 pm, applause broke out from the Historic Team. The Parent Team (and abstainers--me) made a break for the door--I think less because they were angry but more because it was time to get the users of the playgrounds, those kids, to bed. 

My takeaway from this meeting is that our town has quite a rift between the parents and the historics.  Only time will tell if the parents can re-group and find a way to make their playground. No, I'm not getting involved. Except possibly on the task force for making votes in our town a little less biased to those who can be there at 7 pm on a work night. Let's make an app. 

What could possibly go wrong?

{Note: blog amended February 8, 2016 to reflect correct result. Thank you to my careful readers for the correction}