The Select Board approved the order of warrant articles for the upcoming April Town Meeting this week amid a broader discussion of how to get more Concordians more engaged in their self-governance.
And here’s hoping your social calendar is clear and your seat is comfortable: “This looks like a three-night meeting to me,” Town Moderator Carmin Reiss told the board Monday night.
Setting the order of the warrant is a perennial challenge in a format where people often show up for a few issues that mean a lot to them — and then take off afterward.
“All these articles are really important, so we want to see a lot of people there to hear about it, engage, think about it, participate in the vote,” said Reiss, who’s been moderator since 2016 and is running for re-election this year. “It’s frustrating to try and organize it for when we think that people would come. We wish they would come for everything.”
There are at least four articles currently listed for the warrant that focus on the structure and function of Town Meeting itself.
One is the creation of a group to formally study the way Town Meeting works — something that hasn’t been done since the mid-1990s, according to Reiss. Citizen petitioners will also ask their neighbors to consider remote participation at annual and special Town Meetings, use of handheld electronic voting, and other reforms.
Select Board Chair Henry Dane, who’s also declared his candidacy for re-election, said the Town Meeting-related articles should come up at a point “where we expect a lot of people to be present … I don’t think that that’s something that we want to get decided by a small number of people who hang on ’til the end of the meeting, because [that] has some existential significance.”
The town and school budgets, of course, are the big-ticket items approved by meeting voters. There’s the capital improvement and debt plan and there’s a request for public safety funding for Concord’s commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the start of the Revolution.
There’s an article for in-town solar expansion, and citizen petitions for new cell towers at the landfill at 755 Walden Street and the Public Works parcel on Keyes Road.
The town’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission also proposes reviewing and updating the charges and workings of the Historic Districts and Historical Commission — a move the chair of the HDC urged the Select Board not to support, as The Concord Bridge reported last month.
There are other items that stand out, Board members said: “The MBTA zoning on the warrant is not just an ordinary zoning bylaw issue,” Dane said. “I assume it’s going to be a major item of discussion, whether it be extensive presentations and perhaps numerous proposed amendments.”
The MBTA Communities Act is meant to help deal with housing shortages, particularly near mass transit stops such as those in Concord Center and West Concord. Locally, there would be five districts where multifamily housing would be allowed without special permits — although it’s not required that such housing actually be built.
“My expectation is that that will be a specially scheduled article, [a] high interest article that will take place at 7:15 on Tuesday night,” Reiss said.
The creation of a stormwater enterprise fund “is a significant change in town structure, and I think that’s a bit of a sleeper in that I don’t think many people in town are aware of this proposal,” Reiss said. “I think we want to make sure that it appears on the first night of Town Meeting when we have a good crowd of folks there.”
And for the article regarding improvements to Nagog Pond, a town water supply, “I believe that the number for PFAS mitigation is $50 million,” Reiss said, “so that’s a significant undertaking for the town — and one that voters should be aware of.”
Ultimately, the Select Board voted to approve the order of warrant articles with just one change: They (slightly) moved up a vote on the naming of the forthcoming new middle school for Ellen Garrison, a Concord-born anti-slavery activist and teacher. “We want to have this conversation with the entire town,” Board Clerk Mary Hartman said.
As approved by the board, the warrant lists 53 articles, some of which may be consolidated into a consent calendar that voters can approve in one stroke. The full list of warrant articles starts on page 51 of the Select Board meeting packet for January 8, which can be viewed at concordma.gov or at https://bit.ly/3TPh1iT.
2024 Town Meeting is scheduled to begin Monday, April 29 at 7 p.m. at Concord-Carlisle High School. The deadline to register to vote at the meeting is 5 p.m. on Friday, April 19.