Wide-brimmed Hats and Parasols Mark a Scorching Annual Town Meeting

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Under a blazing sun seated in chairs on the turf of the Westford Academy trustees field, about 300 voters spent three hours on June 20 deciding 13 articles as well as eight housekeeping measures from a consent agenda.

The annual Town Meeting, typically meets on the fourth Saturday in March inside the Abbot School gym. But under COVID-19, social distancing regulations made it impossible for voters to assemble inside.

With the warmer weather, Town Manager Jodi Ross pushed for the meeting to take place this month, so that the town’s fiscal budget for 2021 could be approved.

The day turned out to be a scorcher, prompting many to reach for their parasols and wide-brimmed hats for shade, and to accept cold water bottles being offered by volunteers. Chairs were arranged in long columns distanced by 6 feet behind and in front.

Select Board Chair Andrea Peraner-Sweet kicked off the meeting promptly at 9 a.m. with a joint statement from all town leaders condemning the actions of police in Minneapolis that led to the death of George Floyd. The incident appears to have crystallized the country against police brutality. Floyd died on the street while in custody of four Minneapolis police officers. He had allegedly used a counterfeit $20 bill to pay for something and was under arrest. A video showed Floyd on the ground crying for his mother and saying he couldn’t breath as Officer Derek Chauvin apparently applied so much pressure to Floyd’s neck that the black man suffocated.

From left Select Board members Scott Hazelton, Elizabeth Almeida, Mark Kost, Tom Clay, Andrea Peraner-Sweet at Annual Town Meeting 2020 with Town Manager Jodi Ross and Assistant Town Manager Eric Heideman. COURTESY PHOTO

 

Peraner-Sweet invited residents to engage “in a broad community discussion” and relayed the Police Department’s policies, saying, “The methods used by police in Minneapolis that killed George Floyd are not part of any police training program in Massachusetts, including those used by members of the Westford Police Department.”

ANNUAL TOWN MEETING RESULTS

Town Meeting began with Peraner-Sweet requesting voters to take out of order, articles 12, 13, 14, 15, and 18 — all citizen petitions that will be brought back to special Town Meeting this fall, with the exception of article 12, which was postponed indefinitely.

Article 12 sought to assess the cost effectiveness of outsourcing ambulance services.

Peraner-Sweet’s consent agenda passed by majority.

Town Moderator Susan McNeill Spuhler introduced another consent agenda for articles 1, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 16, and 17. The bundled articles were approved by a majority of the voters. 

  • Annual Town Meeting 2020. PHOTOS BY WESTFORDCAT STAFF MEMBERS

REMAINING ARTICLES

Article 2 sought to amend the pay classification plan for the Department of Public Works Director, the Director of Public Works Business Manager, the Water Superintendent, and the Highway Operations Supervisor effective March 30. PASSED.

Article 3 sought an appropriation from free cash for the sum of $987,713 to provide for the following capital requests and costs incidental and related to: the technology, police, fire and school departments. ALL MOTIONS PASSED

Article 4 sought a $30K appropriation from the sale of cemetery lots for the care improvements and embellishments or the enlargement of the Pine Grove Cemetery. PASSED.

Article 5 sought approval for eight Community Preservation projects totaling $1,221,023.

–$190K from undesignated fund balance for future open space land purchases. PASSED.

–$17,960 for the Forge VFW baseball field dugouts and any other related costs. PASSED 153 to 98.

–$40K for the Forge VFW skate park. PASSED.

–$111,500 for the Ronan McElligott Playground safety surfacing installation and any other related costs. PASSED.

–$97,150for the Healthy Lakes and Ponds Program and any other related costs. PASSED

–$14,412 from the Historic Resources Fund Balance for the Pageant Field Stone Wall restoration and related costs. PASSED

–$750K for the design and construction of eight tennis courts at the Robinson School and other related costs. PASSED 

–$1,344,152 to construct a new amenities building on the trustees field at Westford Academy. FAILED

Article 6 requested $55K for the purpose of providing funds to address associated issues regarding perchlorate contamination. PASSED 

Article 7 sought to establish limitations on expenditures from the revolving funds. PASSED

Article 8 sought $120,880,934 for the operation and maintenance of town departments for the fiscal year of July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021. Department budgets and line items PASSED

Article 9 sought to have the town appropriate Chapter 90 proceeds due to the town  (for transportation and roadway maintenance). PASSED 

From left Select Board members Scott Hazelton, Elizabeth Almeida, Mark Kost, Tom Clay, Andrea Peraner-Sweet at Annual Town Meeting 2020 with Town Manager Jodi Ross and Assistant Town Manager Eric Heideman. COURTESY PHOTO

Article 10 sought to appropriate funds of $21,682 from the water enterprise fund to the water enterprise budget. PASSED AS PART OF A CONSENT AGENDA

Article 11 asked voters to allow select board members to accept any and all easements for sidewalks, drainage or other utility purposes “as they deem in the town’s best interests. PASSED AS PART OF A CONSENT AGENDA

Article 12 sought to assess the cost effectiveness of outsourcing ambulance services.  DISMISSED

Article 13 would rename the Columbus day holiday to Indigenous People’s Day. DISMISSED UNTIL SPECIAL TOWN MEETING.

Article 14 would authorize the select board members to petition the General Court for one more alcohol on premises license. DISMISSED UNTIL SPECIAL TOWN MEETING.

Article 15 asked for clarification of Westford Community Access TV’s  memorandum of understanding between the town and TV station. DISMISSED UNTIL SPECIAL TOWN MEETING.

Article 16 would revise the town’s bylaws to merge the Affordable Housing Committee and the Affordable Housing Trust into One Committee. PASSED 

Article 17 would accept Jennie Richards Road as a public way. PASSED

Article 18 would allow town officials to dispose of the 63 Main Street residential property purchased by the town in 2018 for $600K. DISMISSED UNTIL SPECIAL TOWN MEETING.

GORDON B. SEAVEY AWARD

Journalist Gordon B. Seavey created an award that honors a Westford resident each year for significant contributions to educational programs or services. This year, Superintendent Everett “Bill” Olsen presented the award to the entire town for the kindness many residents showed toward a severely injured school principal.

Kevin LaCoste, principal of the Robinson School, was paralyzed in July after falling out of a tree. The town pulled together under the leadership of resident Nancy Cook who coordinated a small army of contractors to remodel LaCoste’s home making it accessible by wheelchair.

Cook accepted the award on behalf of the town.

Seavey established the award to honor a resident each year, who exhibits exemplary service to the education community. A supporter of education, he was editor and publisher of the Belmont Citizen and a Westford resident. He established a memorial and a communications scholarship to be presented to two college-bound graduating seniors. Seavey died in December 1996 at 91.

CORRECTIONS — A request for $17,960 for improvements at the Forge VFW baseball field dugout passed, and a request for $1,344,152 to build a new amenities building on the trustees field at Westford Academy failed twice, 115 to 112 for lack of majority. The number of voters who attended is still under review by the town clerk. Any change will be reflected here.

UPDATE — A total amount of $1,221,023 was recommended by the Community Preservation Committee for eight projects.