Town Meeting to Address Tax Increases, Rule Changes, As Attridge Takes the Reins
“It feels like I was born to do it,” says Jack Attridge, Marblehead’s newest Town Moderator. For sixteen years, his predecessor – the late Gary Speiss – moderated the annual May Town Meeting. Known for his sharp mind, grasp of Town Meeting law, and commitment to running things efficiently, Speiss was a well-respected keeper of order at the often feisty annual gatherings. A corporate attorney and Harvard Law graduate, Speiss managed motions, debates, and votes, and sometimes navigated uncharted waters, like holding massive public meetings outdoors or with unprecedented remote protocols in recent years.
This May’s Town Meeting will be Attridge’s first as moderator following his election last June. Attridge grew up in Marblehead, working his first job at his grandfather and great-grandfather’s grocery store. Those early years working in the family business paved the way for his ongoing involvement in other Town activities through the years. The realtor, husband, and father of two decided to run for the moderator role when Speiss announced he was not running for re-election. Speiss passed away in December 2022. He left behind a guide to Town Meeting that has stood the test of time, and that Attridge says he will continue to use.
In the months since his election to the position, Attridge has been reading up on meetings of decades past and getting involved with the Massachusetts Moderators’ Association, and he says he is ready. Asked if he has big shoes to fill after Speiss, Attridge says, “No. I feel like I have a big obligation to the Town, but I think that’s the same sentiment that everybody before me has had.”
Attridge has worked behind the scenes on Town Meeting for a long time, he shares, “whether it’s on a municipal committee, or whether it’s assisting on the remote location.” The latter, he says, has involved his “constant communication with [Town Clerk] Robin Michaud,” and he believes his understanding of the logistics and expectations of Town Meeting is strong. “I’m extremely comfortable with the process,” he says.
Accessibility is something Attridge notes is important for Town Meeting. For anyone looking for Americans With Disabilities (ADA) accommodations, information on submitting a request may be found here.
The Town Warrant: 54 Articles
Marblehead’s Town Warrant, outlining all of the proposals to be considered at Town Meeting, was published last Friday. The draft document contains 54 articles, 43 of which are sponsored by various Town committees and boards, and 11 of which are sponsored by individual citizens and voters. At Town Meeting on May 1, 2023, residents in attendance will operate as a legislative body, voting on whether or not the proposed articles should be approved.
Override Articles to Increase Taxes
Many of the articles are administrative in nature and not likely to involve much debate or discussion at Town Meeting. There are several, however, that will likely inspire spirited debate in May.
For example, there are three proposed articles to override Proposition 2 ½ and thereby raise local taxes above the 2.5 percent limit legally allowed each year. The Finance Committee has sponsored Article 31 to augment the Town budget, not surprising given the presentation by Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer at the State of the Town earlier this month painting a grim financial forecast due to rising costs, inflation, and existing budgetary commitments. The School Committee has also placed an article (Article 32) in the Town Warrant to override Prop 2 ½ for the purpose of augmenting the school budget.
What is not known at this time is the amount to be considered and whether voters will be asked to approve the increases permanently or for a limited time period. The third override article (Article 40) is sponsored by the Select Board and involves raising money to repair and renovate the Franklin Street fire station.
Changing the Timing of Local Elections
Article 38, sponsored by Town Clerk Robin Michaud, seeks to have the Clerk’s office officially closed on all Saturdays and to have Saturdays be considered a legal holiday for the Town Clerk. As the Town Clerk’s office is already closed on Saturdays, it is speculated that this article is in the warrant in order to increase the number of days between Town Meeting and the scheduling of Town elections. The Town Clerk also is sponsoring an article to change the timing of the Town Elections to the second Tuesday after the first Monday in June – one week earlier than its current timing.
Article 36 proposes that the Town Moderator be allowed to use electronic vote counting devices. Should the article pass, at some point in the future the Town could move ahead with utilizing an electronic ballot system at Town Meeting.
Accessory Dwelling Units
In Article 39, the Marblehead Planning Board is asking the town to approve a zoning law change to allow property owners to construct Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) on their property. The Planning Board has already held multiple public forums and engaged in significant deliberations on this topic, and several components of the article will likely require a detailed presentation at Town Meeting.
Any citizen in Marblehead is allowed to propose an article for a vote at Town Meeting. When a citizen-sponsored article does not succeed, sometimes it is for a substantive reason, but other times it is because it was not presented in the most optimal way or did not follow prevailing legal requirements. Attridge, like Speiss before him, offered to meet with article sponsors to help ensure that articles are in proper form.
The eleven articles sponsored by citizens are as follows:
Article 44: Changing the Select Board terms from one year to three years. (Sponsor: Jim Zisson and others)
Article 45: To strengthen the reporting, transparency, and other controls in place for the Town’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Review (CAFR). (Sponsor: Ronald Grenier and others)
Article 46: To advise the Old and Historic Districts Commission to allow heat pump systems in order to accommodate the installation of solar panels. (Sponsor: Mark Adams and others)
Article 47: To reverse the newly created bylaw that regulates the use of leaf blowers. (Sponsor: Todd Norman)
Article 48: To add enforcement and penalty mechanisms to the existing bylaw that bans the use of leaf blowers during certain periods. The enforcement mechanisms would involve the Marblehead Police and the Marblehead Health Department and their designees, and violations would involve fines. (Sponsor: Beatrice Stahl and others)
Article 49: To create a bylaw that would establish a Traffic Safety Advisory Committee (TSAC) with members appointed by the Select Board to evaluate transportation issues in the town. (Sponsor: Daniel Albert and others)
Article 50: To amend existing Town bylaws to add language pertaining to streets and pedestrians. (Sponsor: Daniel Albert and others)
Article 51: To amend Town bylaws to add a requirement that certain Town Boards and Commissions record their meetings and make them accessible on the Town website along with the minutes of the meetings. (Sponsor: Rosalind Nadeau and others)
Article 52: To amend Town bylaws to add requirements for the use of best practices with respect to hybrid or remote meeting platforms for all public meetings. (Sponsor: Rosalind Nadeau and others)
Article 53: To allow candidates for local office to obtain nomination papers 48 weekday hours (rather than 14 days) prior to the date required for certification. (Sponsored by Jonathan Lederman and others)
Article 54: To have the Town vote to allow for the creation of a Standard Operating Procedures Manual that would define the process regularly executed and the basis for decision making by the Select Board, Harbors and Waters Board, Board of Health, and Recreation and Parks Commission. (Sponsored by Megan Sweeney and others)
Getting Educated on the Issues Ahead of Town Meeting
Attridge says he is “imploring people to” educate themselves ahead of Town Meeting. “Now is the critical time” to follow along and learn more from departments and committees who are discussing relevant matters ahead of Town Meeting. “Another thing I’m going to implore on people is that, yes, minds can be changed when you walk through that door, but I really want people to consider that when you show up to Town Meeting you’re showing up as a collective group for the common good and bringing your opinions is what it’s all about; however all of the conversations are going to be going through the moderator.”
Attridge notes that much of the work of Town Meeting is done before the meeting even takes place, but also says that minds have been changed through debate at Town Meeting, and uses Indigenous People’s Day as an example. “When people got up and explained their personal experiences, a lot of minds were changed on that issue and it passed.”
Town Meeting will be held on May 1, 2023 at 7:00 p.m. at Veterans Middle School Auditorium, 217 Pleasant Street.