2014 annual town meeting recap: fine points

Town meetings seem to behave, in part, like musical theatre. If you can’t carry a tune, you probably won’t carry an argument. Alas, some of today’s would-be performers come across–politically speaking–as tone deaf. However, there still remain quite a few sparks of life.

May 27: Tommy Vitolo of Precinct 6 flagged conditions the Advisory Committee had tried to attach to special appropriations item 41 under Article 8: $50,000 to study Beacon Street traffic signals, aiding MBTA Green Line trains. Dr. Vitolo said the proposed conditions amounted to an invalid attempt to bind actions of a future town meeting and moved to delete them. No Advisory Committee member stood up to respond. Town meeting members agreed by a show of hands, with only two people counted as opposed.

Joyce Jozwicki of Precinct 9 sounded more than a little cross about special appropriations item 40 in Article 8: $30,000 for “bicycle access improvement.” She contended it “should be preceded by enforcement of the rules for bicyclists.” Over the fan noise, no response could be heard from the Bicycle Advisory Committee.

Driscoll School: In the debate over a Driscoll School feasibility study, School Committee chair Susan Wolf Ditkoff admitted what had long been clear to close observers: despite nearly religious objections, the School Department has already increased class sizes, “on average 1-1/2 students per class,” she said.

That almost cancels Brookline costs to support METCO and “materials fees” students. If standards for class size rise from about 25 to about 27 students, then the current students from outside Brookline will all have been absorbed by the current staff within the current buildings–responding to historic promises that those students occupy “available seats.”

Concerning special appropriations item 51 under Article 8, George White of Precinct 9 asked: Where’s the plan for light-emitting-diode (LED) street lights? For once the moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, sounded flustered, saying that should be in the warrant report. It is not. He brushed off Mr. White, telling him to go ask the Department of Public Works–whose commissioner was standing on town-meeting floor, looking ready to answer the question. After all, LED street lights are Mr. Pappastergion’s signature project of the year.

School funding: In the debate over school funding, Jonathan Davis of Precinct 10 asked about costs of “carts” for computers: “Is that much money really needed?” He never got a clear answer. School superintendent William Lupini launched his “so” “right” dialect–a local curiosity at School Committee meetings–as in, “So…they’re for the computers we’re purchasing…Right?” Yes, indeed. “Exactly what it says on the tin.”

More items from Ms. Ditkoff of the School Committee: “The cost per student has been absolutely flat for the last five years…We’ve added more than 50 classrooms out of our current spaces.” Without explanation, the latter sounded like “space magic.” Apparently a School Committee insider violated current town-meeting protocol–a Gadsby invention–distributing rogue handouts on town-meeting floor. It caught Mr. Gadsby’s attention and drew a reproach, but then he relented, saying it “has my retroactive approval.” Humph! Issues of free speech went unmentioned–even with Martin “Marty” Rosenthal, Karen Wenc and Harry Friedman on hand.

Somebody might have asked but didn’t: since Public Schools of Brookline already spends around $17,000 per year per student, if computers are so important and the ones PSB prefers cost only $330 each, why not get a computer for every student and forego the fancy carts and projectors PSB wouldn’t need?

Police Department topics: Harry Friedman of Precinct 12 objected to investigating criminal backgrounds of construction workers, during debate about the police budget. Joslin Murphy, recently appointed as town counsel, said Massachusetts law now requires checking national Criminal Offender Record Information if workers have unsupervised contact with school children. That might be an issue, for example, in the upcoming Lawrence School project. Mr. Friedman was dissatisfied, saying, “People in these jobs often have criminal records” but need employment to regain a place in society. He called the practice “heartless and vindictive.” However, workers on town jobs are usually going to be union members–unlikely to get those particular jobs fresh out of prison.

Mr. Friedman also objected to police seeking out a “Groton man”–apparently not a graduate of Groton School–who answered a fake “personal” ad Brookline police placed online. Outside a putative “hands off” stance, Moderator Gadsby asked Daniel O’Leary, the chief of police, about the “purpose of entrapment policies.” Not satisfied at Mr. O’Leary’s responses, Mr. Friedman said, “From a moral or ethical point of view [the incident] really…crosses over the line…. If the Brookline police want to be the protectors of eastern Massachusetts…they can go into Boston and patrol the streets there.”

Advisory chair Harry Bohrs confirmed the once touted Galaxy WiFi services are dead and gone, although many antennas still hang from street-light brackets. He said Brookline is equipping some employees with wireless Internet, to the tune of $50 per device per month.

May 29, human relations: Article 10 proposed to replace the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, dating from 1970, with a new Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission. It also designates a new “chief diversity officer” reporting to Town Administrator Mel Klecker and reduces the new commission’s duties and powers, compared with the 1970 commission. Nancy Daly led the effort to write Article 10 and spoke for the Board of Selectmen. She said it would “not give the [new] commission the quasi-judicial authority to hear and act on…complaints.”

Precinct 15 town meeting member Mariela Ames, chair of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, spoke for the current commission and against Article 10. She said it “will take away any direct role or oversight on complaints brought to the [chief diversity officer] by employees…[and] take away the commission’s authority for developing…equal opportunity and affirmative action. It will give the commission about eighteen tasks…but appropriates no money for them.”

Speaking about a chief diversity officer, Ms. Ames said, “What good does that do if we’re going to ask this person to do precisely what was wrong by his predecessor? Only this time, we put it in writing: that is, handle complaints privately, have sole discretion whether to share information with the commission, have no oversight and no accountability…in essence, get paid hundreds of thousands to do…what exactly? Keep the lid on?”

Stature as a department head: It must have been a troubling moment for Ms. Daly and other members of the “diversity committee.” However, one of them, Martin “Marty” Rosenthal of Precinct 9, had joined with Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 in proposing an amendment to this year’s Article 10: designating a new chief diversity officer as a “senior administrator/department head”–the same language used in Brookline bylaws for the head of the Human Resources office, which was created by town meeting in 2000.

A motion to close debate after nearly an hour proved premature; it failed to get a two-thirds vote. Arguments continued. While Mr. Rosenthal and Dr. Spiegel had offered spirited sallies for their amendment, it was likely Joanna Baker of Precinct 13 who sailed it over the net.

Ms. Baker recounted experiences as a recruiter, helping to employ and advance people of color. “People hate change,” she said. “Change makes people uncomfortable.” According to Ms. Baker, the stature of being a department head will matter. In order to be effective, she said, a chief diversity officer will have to be “shrewd, discerning, sophisticated, gutsy.” In a recorded vote, town meeting adopted the Rosenthal-Spiegel amendment by a margin of 107 to 95. The main motion also got a recorded vote: approved 185 to 16.

Noise control: In Article 12, changes to Brookline’s noise-control bylaw were proposed by Fred Lebow, an acoustic engineer and a former Precinct 1 town meeting member–to provide what he claimed would be better standards for regulating noise. He proposed a new standard for estimating background noise at night: make measurements during the day and subtract 10 decibels. That’s not helpful if your neighborhood tends to be fairly noisy by day but quiet at night. Selectmen missed the problem, but they managed to flag a provision to regulate some of the leafblowers while exempting others–large ones mounted on wheeled carts.

Tommy Vitolo of Precinct 6–a recent B.U. Systems Engineering grad and transplant from Precinct 1–challenged the proposed standard for night-time noise at town meeting. Dr. Vitolo carved away pseudoscience from the proposal, saying, “This warrant article is bad news. The most sensible way to measure ambient noise at night is to measure ambient noise at night…Legislating night-time ambient noise is a bit like legislating that the earth is flat.”

For the supporters of the article, including a majority on the Board of Selectmen and a unanimous Advisory Committee, there was no recovery. In a show of hands, Moderator Gadsby found zero raised in support and declared unanimous rejection of the article–an extremely rare event. He asked officials gathered at tables just past the auditorium’s stage, “Have we no courage in the front of town meeting?”

Mavens of precinct politics–towns don’t have wards–may recall that Mr. Lebow was among a wave of Precinct 1 conservatives who infiltrated, years ago, a moderate delegation. Dr. Vitolo was involved with a second, progressive wave, who eclipsed the first wave a few years later. The waves more often involve galleries of mostly incumbents, promoting themselves as friendly “neighbors.” Controversies at the time roiled over whether or not to support renovation of the Carlton St. footbridge. Was that really a convenience to the neighborhoods, or would it instead become a crossway for criminals, slinking in from Boston? We shall see.

Down-zoning: Two quietly successful articles carried on a trend: adapting Brookline’s land use regulations to neighborhoods. It had taken root at a heated, 4-night town meeting held in December, 1973. Like that previous effort, both recent ones were organized by neighborhood residents. Unlike that previous effort, both got help and support from town boards and agencies, and both aroused little controversy.

Article 11 proposed a neighborhood conservation district for Toxteth St. between Aspinwall Ave. and Francis St., plus adjacent parts of Perry St., Harrison Ave., Aspinwall Ave and Francis St. It was built out starting in the late nineteenth century–before Brookline adopted zoning–on a more spacious scale than the current T-5 two-family zoning requires. Ann Turner of Precinct 3 said the recent effort was prompted by an obnoxious project built to the maximum under zoning limits and requiring no special town review.

Article 21 proposed a new S-4 type of single-family zone for parts of Buttonwood, near Meadowbrook Rd., also currently zoned T-5 two-family. Neighborhood resident Diane Gold told town meeting she and her neighbors were motivated by a developer who took advantage of current zoning to replace one modest, single-family house with a pair of “huge, 4-story, 2-family luxury condos…Green space was paved over to create ten parking spaces.” She recalled, “We were told they can do this by right…If you don’t like it, change the zoning.” With help from Polly Selkoe of the Planning Department and with town meeting’s approval, that is what residents did.

Zoning changes rejected: The Planning Board, Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee all took it on the chin with two other zoning changes proposed by the Planning Board. Article 22 revived the long-running disputes over self-service gasoline stations–proposing to allow them in business districts when combined with so-called “convenience stores.” As proposed, those stores could be up to 3,000 square feet–far larger than many current retail stores.

Judith Vanderkay of Precinct 9 recalled, “Twenty years ago…my neighborhood rallied to prevent a giant, highway rest-stop-type gas station.” She said Article 22 looked “like something from ALEC being proposed in the guise of an innocuous regulation”–referring to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a far-right group that has been promoting pro-business, anti-labor laws, mostly in state legislatures. The proposal failed on a recorded vote of 109 to 62, below the two-thirds margin required for a zoning change.

In S-40 single-family districts–Brookline’s lowest zoning density–Article 23 proposed to disallow new, detached accessory dwellings to be occupied by employees or their family members. Last November, town meeting disallowed them in single-family districts with smaller lot sizes. Steve Heikin spoke for the Planning Board, saying that accessory dwellings are a “loophole” allowing permanent construction for a temporary use.

Town meeting members Anita Johnson of Precinct 8, Rebecca Mautner of Precinct 11 and Jane Gilman of Precinct 3 denounced the Planning Board proposal–partly as an attack on “affordable housing.” Ms. Johnson cited an approach used by Portland, OR. “They put a size limit on accessory units…825 square feet.” She said Portland’s regulation “has been totally successful, and everyone agrees with it.” Article 23 failed on a recorded vote of 106 to 56, again below the two-thirds margin required for a zoning change.

Renovation of the Carlton St. footbridge, strongly controversial a decade ago, returned to town meeting in Article 24. The now-dilapidated bridge was built in the 1890s to serve a whistle-stop on the former Boston and Albany commuter rail service between Needham and Boston. It has been closed since fall, 1975. Article 24 proposed accepting a grant in easement from MBTA to accommodate wheelchair ramps. Speaking for the Board of Selectmen, Betsy DeWitt said Brookline would “apply for a state [Transportation Improvement Program] grant, up to 90 percent” of funds already set aside. In a quiet surprise, town meeting voted unanimous approval.

Retirement Board pay: Stipends for Retirement Board members–a perennial–returned to town meeting in Article 25. As on previous occasions, board member James C. “Chet” Riley asked for town meeting’s support. “We have the ability right now to invest your $245 million,” he said. “We are the deciding body.” According to Mr. Riley, the board’s work has become “a lot more daunting, a lot more challenging.” That did not sway Advisory. Committee member Karen Wenc of Precinct 11 said, “The substance of this article [came] before town meeting in the May, 2012, session–with no demonstration that the Retirement Board’s efforts are [now] measurably greater” than they were then. “There is no compelling reason for change.”

The Board of Selectmen reversed former opposition–by a margin of 3 to 2. Speaking as one of the three in favor, Nancy Daly said the “vast majority [of neighboring communities] do provide a stipend…Boston, Newton, Cambridge….” Town meeting members would likely notice that the few communities Ms. Daly named–unlike Brookline–are all cities. In a personal appeal, Martin “Marty” Rosenthal of Precinct 9 stated, “Nobody’s done more for the town of Brookline than Chet Riley.” Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 took a financial approach, saying, “This is one of the few boards that actually has the final say over large quantities of money. They’re volunteers, but they deserve the sort of minimal compensation that this article proposes.” Article 25 proposed a stipend of $3,000 per year for each of the five board members.

Regina Frawley of Precinct 16 did not agree. “[This is] at least the fourth time in fourteen years” with the proposal, she said. “They’ve been waiting for the right town meeting, the right Board of Selectmen…It’s a town. This is a volunteer [effort], and if they don’t want to do it they shouldn’t volunteer.” Precinct 6 town meeting member Merelice said, “I’ve been in the financial services industry,” and asked, “Do [board members] get the advice and counsel of licensed [financial] planners?” Mr. Riley of the Retirement Board responded, saying, “We hire and fire consultants and money managers.” What may have sounded like posturing did not sit well with town meeting members, who rejected Article 25 in a recorded vote, 47 to 100.

June 2, Brookline Place: The final session of the 2014 annual town meeting began with the postponed Articles 15 through 19, concerning proposed redevelopment for Brookline Place. Moderator Gadsby’s stagework in positioning those articles to begin a session provided a showplace for Children’s Hospital–the landowner and developer–and for the town officials, boards and committees who became sponsors and supporters of the project. The block bounded by Washington St., Brookline Ave. and Pearl St. is part of the former Marsh Project–involved in redevelopment efforts for nearly 50 years.

Town meeting members who declared partial opposition had proposed alternative zoning in Article 16. As compared with Article 15, the official zoning proposal, Article 16 would have restricted new on-site parking for over 180,000 square feet of added office space. Supporters of Article 16 claimed that the adjacent MBTA Green Line trolley stop and the nearby bus stops for MBTA routes 60, 65 and 66, traveling via Route 9, should make any added parking unnecessary. Management of Children’s Hospital have contended that more parking is needed for financially viable development and that costs of removing contaminated soil would make it too expensive to place that parking underground, as normally required by Brookline’s zoning.

In an apparent response, the Planning Board and their Brookline Place Advisory Committee proposed to reduce added parking from about 465 to about 325 spaces–negotiated with the management of Children’s Hospital. The change apparently undercut support for Article 16. Submitters of that article opted not to offer a motion for it. Town meeting passed over the article without a vote. Fifty years ago and earlier, weak opposition would have been squelched: maybe allowed a speaker and then switched off. Brookline’s traditions have changed. The debate over the Brookline Place articles included many speakers and took about an hour and twenty minutes.

Precinct 6 town meeting member Merelice spoke forthrightly. “Let’s start with admitting the reality that Children’s Hospital has us over a barrel,” she said. Children’s had acquired 6-story offices the former Harvard Community Health Plan built on the eastern part of the Brookline Place block during the 1990s. More recently, Children’s bought the western part of the block, occupied by two low-rise buildings dating from early twentieth century. The literal “Brookline Place” is a narrow, little used way running north from Washington St. between the larger low-rise building and the 6-story offices.

Referring to a former attempt at redeveloping Brookline Place, Merelice commented, “Town meeting members ten years ago lost sight of the fact that they were voting for zoning.” The controversial project–never carried out–anticipated biotechnology laboratories. A key problem with the site has been soil that is badly contaminated from nearly a century of use by a former gas works. Merelice continued, “When Children’s bought, they knew full well the soil was contaminated. Nevertheless, they proceeded to buy up all the adjacent parcels. Now they’re asking the town to feel sorry for them, because it would be ‘too expensive’ to remove the soil. Their answer is a huge garage with no underground parking.”

Treating Article 16 as though it posed a real threat to the Brookline Place project, Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 recalled, “Fifty years ago…[with the] Chestnut Hill shopping center, [which] straddles the line between Brookline and Newton, Brookline did not want any retail development because of concerns about congestion and traffic…All the retail establishments were built on the Newton side of the line; Brookline got the parking lot. Newton got the abundance of taxes; Brookline lost millions in tax revenue.”

Dr. Spiegel described an unsuccessful attempt in the early 1980s to build a hotel replacing the former Boston Cadillac, located opposite the B.U. Bridge. Brookline Place, he said, offers the town “$2 million in taxes…[That] means more classroom teachers…support for METCO…[and] the Coolidge Corner Library…With all the good that it has, will it be built?”

Moderator Gadsby held a recorded vote on Article 15 for zoning changes. Town meeting approved 170 to 9, he announced, with 20 abstaining. Mr. Gadsby then passed over Article 16 without a vote. Articles 17 and 18 were approved by voice votes. Article 19 was approved by a show of hands, declared unanimous.

Taxi medallions: Town meeting member John Harris of Precinct 8 filed Article 26, proposing that Brookline ask the General Court to repeal laws it had passed, at town meeting’s request, authorizing Brookline to sell taxi medallions. The Transportation Board and Board of Selectmen, both committed to the medallions since they were proposed in 2007, proved much exercised over the attack from Mr. Harris. Robert Volk of Precinct 4 proposed referring Article 26 to a special committee to be appointed by Moderator Gadsby.

Mr. Harris said his “intention [was] to begin the debate…the town should have had in 2008.” He asserted that “medallions establish an artificial quota on the number of taxis allowed to operate,” leading to evil consequences. Jonathan Karon of Precinct 12 agreed, describing his experience representing a person who had been injured during an incident involving a taxi in Boston, which uses medallions. If you are injured in such a way, Mr. Karon said, you will find the “medallion is mortgaged…insurance [is] at the legal minimum…[and the] medallion owner will disclaim responsibility,” saying the taxi driver is an “independent contractor.”

Advisory Committee member Michael Sandman, a former Transportation Board chair, responded for the committee, saying “nearly every premise that Mr. Harris spoke of is wrong.” He showed three pages of items. About a claim that “medallions establish an artificial quota,” Mr. Sandman said Brookline has actually “had a closed system for decades, with a fixed number of licenses.” Joshua Safer of Precinct 16, the current Transportation Board chair, agreed. He said, “The current system is a closed system…There is scarcity by design…We have no logical way to bring newcomers into the industry.”

Charles “Chuck” Swartz of Precinct 9 asked, “How would a Brookline [medallion] system be different from Boston? He got a fairly opaque answer from Richard La Capra, who has been employed by the Transportation Department as a consultant on taxi regulation since 2010. Mr. La Capra stated that a “Brookline [taxi medallion] system will be different [from Boston]…because it is handled at the regulatory level in a…different fashion.”

Chad Ellis of Precinct 12 said he had prepared a financial model, checked out with Mr. La Capra, finding that a 10 percent fall in taxi fare revenues would produce at least a 50 percent contraction in medallion values. He supported the article filed by Mr. Harris.

Moderator Gadsby called for a vote on Mr. Volk’s motion to refer the article rather than approve or reject it. Unable to decide from a show of hands, Mr. Gadsby held an electronic vote. Town meeting approved referral, he announced, 96 to 91. Mr. Gadsby asked for volunteers to serve on a moderator’s committee and said he plans to appoint a committee within three weeks.

Resolutions: Article 27 was filed by Neil Gordon of Precinct 1, who described himself at town meeting as a veteran of the Vietnam War. It asked for a “modest but meaningful memorial to Brookline’s veterans,” flying flags in their honor. Town meeting approved in a unanimous voice vote.

Article 28, filed by Frank Caro of Precinct 10, did not get such a swift hearing. It proposed a resolution saying that Brookline should “proactively deploy enforcement officers on foot in business districts beginning in the fourth daylight hour after snowfalls,” to enforce Brookline’s snow clearance bylaw. The Board of Selectmen, supported by the Advisory Committee, proposed referring Article 28 to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner–to address it using a “task force.”

However, the same problem had been taken to at least three previous town meetings. Each referred an article to a moderator’s committee, yet the problem remained unsolved. Dennis Doughty of Precinct 3 presented some graphics showing snow-removal complaints logged since December, 2011, by the Brookonline Web page. They indicated several chronic problem spots, targets of repeated complaints.

Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., of Precinct 16, a lawyer with quite a few local business clients, had already voiced a related argument, saying there were a few chronic problems but that nevertheless “the goal should not be to fine and to warn” business owners. Lea Cohen, an Advisory Committee member at large, spoke as the outgoing chair of the Brookline Chamber of Commerce. She objected that “the existing bylaw has some very tight time-frames.” She asked town meeting not to “make another gesture that singles out our merchants with uneven enforcement policies.”

Joshua Safer, of Precinct 16, disagreed with trying a “partnership” tactic again. He noted that “the last moderator’s committee on sidewalk snow removal suggested exactly [what Article 28 proposed], across the entire town.” Mr. Safer stated, “The police force seems comfortable that they would have the resources to undertake this particular effort.” Saralynn Allaire of Precinct 16, a member of the Commission for the Disabled, turned adamant, “It’s time,” Dr. Allaire said, “to take serious action on this problem, instead of just kicking it down the road yet again.” By a show of hands, a large majority of town meeting rejected referral of Article 28 to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner. Nearly all approved the resolution.

Local First: Article 29, a resolution urging support for local business, was submitted on behalf of an organization called Brookline Local First. Issues developed at town meeting and in several earlier reviews over what “local” might mean in that context. The Board of Selectmen proposed that town meeting refer the article to the Economic Development Advisory Board, which they appoint, rather than accept or reject it.

Abram “Abe” Faber, co-owner with his wife Christina “Christy” Timon of Clear Flour Bread on Thorndike St., made the arguments for Article 29. The two have run Clear Flour since 1982, live in Brookline and brought up a family here, he said. “Vibrancy of Brookline’s economy,” Mr. Faber stated, “stems from its independent businesses.” Comparing them with what he called “formula businesses”–franchises and chain stores–he said, “Independent businesses hire a greater proportion of local employees [and] pay them higher wages…Cities and towns benefit most…from…independent…rather than formula businesses.”

The arguments rang false to Hsiu-Lan Chang, also a Brookline resident. She introduced herself to town meeting as owner of Fast Frame, a franchise located on Beacon St. in Washington Square. She described her background as a trustee of the Brookline Community Foundation, a founder of the Washington Square Association and a supporter of several local civic and charitable groups. Her sons David and Leo, she said, are graduates of Brookline public schools. “Article 29,” she stated, “left…[an] impression that I’m not a part of this community.” She urged town meeting to reject the article, saying, “The imposition of an arbitrary definition on the word ‘local’…is exclusionary, divisive and simply wrong.”

Speaking for the Board of Selectmen, Betsy DeWitt suggested proponents of the article might be seeking more than the town could do. She mentioned requirements of “state procurement law to solicit broadly, without discrimination among suppliers in purchasing practices.” Ms. DeWitt stated, “While well intentioned, this resolution is flawed. We must have a fair, broad and inclusive definition of local business.”

Speaking for the Economic Development Advisory Board, Clifford Brown of Precinct 14 said EDAB would give the article careful consideration if it were referred to them but cautioned, “Brookline businesses should focus outward and on expanding the local economy.” A show of hands on the motion to refer proved too close to call for Moderator Gadsby. He conducted an electronic count. Town meeting approved referral 99 to 76, he announced, with 3 abstentions.

Article 31 proposed a resolution affirming “support for the prohibition of discrimination or harassment on the basis of gender identity and expression in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, lending and public education.” Alex Coleman, a clinical psychologist and a member of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, submitted the article and made the main arguments for it. He said he had lived in Brookline more than 30 years, bringing up a son who is a Brookline High graduate, and described his recollections of making public a trans-sexual identity, over 20 years ago, as being a “horrific experience.”

Dr. Coleman said that attitudes have begun to change: “There are now students in the Brookline schools who identify as being gender-nonconforming,…[However], people…[with] a different gender identity…or expression…don’t have the same protections as everybody else.” Frequent problems he noted are “harassment in places of public accommodation…[and being] denied equal treatment by a government agency or official.”

Leonard “Len” Weiss spoke for the Advisory Committee, supported by the Board of Selectmen. The committee proposed an amendment asking Brookline’s legal staff to review Brookline’s bylaws and propose changes at next fall’s town meeting to make them “consistent with [the] purpose” of Article 31. Town meeting approved the resolution as amended.

Article 32, submitted by Frank Farlow of Precinct 4, proposed a resolution urging the General Court to enact S. 1225 of the current session, An Act Relative to Public Investment in Fossil Fuels. That calls for state pension funds to divest from “fossil fuel companies” but does not specify what the term means. Speaking for the Advisory Committee, Harry Bohrs, the chairman, cited that issue, claiming the “bill does not support its own goals in a meaningfully effective way.” Karen Wenc of Precinct 11, an Advisory member, said as an energy consumer she “would feel hypocritical and insincere in voting for this resolution.”

Arguing in favor of the resolution, Edward “Ed” Loechler of Precinct 8 acknowledged, “When you hear the word ‘divestment’ you think, ‘well, we’ll lose too much money’.” Dr. Loechler said, “Profits are not the same as returns on investment.” It is the latter, he contended, that matters for pension-fund portfolios. He cited an independent review of returns on investment for around 3,000 U.S. public stocks over many years, claiming that the difference between performance with and without including about 200 “fossil fuel companies” proved “statistically insignificant.” However, Dr. Loechler argued, even if that were not so, “It’s time to stop talking about climate change and start doing something about it…Making money from the destruction of the planet is wrong…as wrong as making money from slavery was in the 1850s.”

For the Board of Selectmen, Nancy Daly spoke of a “very tangible financial hazard to not addressing climate change.” Town meeting members asked for a recorded vote on the article. They approved the resolution 126 to 20, with 7 abstaining–the last action during a long and complicated town meeting.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, June 7, 2014


Correction, June 8, 2014. In the discussion of Article 23, the phrase “family members or employees” was corrected to read “employees or their family members.” Thanks to Stanley Spiegel for spotting the mistake.


John Hilliard, Brookline taxi consultant contract signed, Brookline TAB, December 3, 2010

City of Boston, Taxi Consultant Report, Nelson Nygaard, October, 2013

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