Voters Accept ORR Project, Appointed Town Clerk

            The Old Rochester Regional High School athletic field, track, and auditorium project article was adopted by Marion Town Meeting voters on May 14, the second night of the Annual Town Meeting, allowing the project’s future to be determined by voters on May 17 during the Annual Election.

            ORR School Committee member Heather Burke of Marion gave what ultimately proved to be an effective presentation due to the voters’ ultimate resounding ‘aye’ followed by very few ‘nays.’ Meanwhile, a number of ORR students stood at the back of the room holding banners or simply biting their nails as they waited for the result.

            A slideshow emphasized the poor state of the main stadium field, the track, and the auditorium, which was supported by a photograph of the ORR Drama Club on the stage during a performance, half the cast in darkness due to broken lights also deemed unsafe to the students who operate them.

            On the fields, Burke said student athletes are suffering from sprains, knee injuries, and a variety of safety hazards, and the state of the track puts ORR at the top of the list for worst tracks in the conference. One student recalled times when she felt embarrassed when opposing teams’ coaches complained to referees about the state of the facilities.

            Burke said the project over the 15-years bond will cost the average Marion homeowner about $25.11 per year.

            “We can support our students, increase safety, and improve our facilities for less than the cost of a couple of pizzas a year,” Burke said.

            Burke fielded every question thrown at her and often elicited applause. When one voter asked her how she would choose between funding the classroom, the field, or the auditorium if there was ever a financial conundrum, Burke responded, “We make these types of choices every day because all sorts of [unexpected] things happen at the high school. … We look at the funds and we try to meet all needs.”

            Resident and Planning Board member Andrew Daniel said, although he does not oppose the project, it’s the timing that concerns him.

            “After we finish paying off one loan would be a good time to take out another,” Daniel said.

            Finance Committee Chairman Peter Winters reaffirmed the committee’s decision to not recommend the article because of the $12.5 million in water and sewer articles voters passed just the night before, and his opinion that the ORR School Committee did not follow a process agreeable to the FinCom.

            Resident Jennifer MacDonald pointed to the income the fields will generate once they are installed, saying the project could be paid off sooner, as other towns have done.

Breaking down the project costs, Burke showed the artificial turf field priced at $950,000, the LED field lighting at $195,000, safety fencing and netting at $52,500, the track and infield at $375,000, and the auditorium light and audio upgrades at $50,000.

            “We have no dog in the fight here, but I’ve been to the other schools and I’ve seen what they have and it’s an embarrassment what we have,” said resident Anthony Days. He asked for a show of hands for those who have either played on or watched someone play on the ORR field. Most hands went up.

            ORR senior Will Garcia, captain of the football team and track team, jazz band member, and drama club participant, said, “The big reason why we want to replace that field in the first place is safety.” Over the four years at ORR, he said, “I can’t say how many times I’ve blown my ankle out on the field.” As for the track, ORR is tied with Dighton-Rehoboth as “the two top teams in the conference … with the worst facilities in the conference.”

            On the stage, Garcia continued, ”I’ve seen people stumble” due to broken stage lighting while the drama club produces revenue for the school with its sellout shows.

            Resident Joe Zora could barely utter the words in support of the project due to his emotion over simply speaking about his grandchildren who will one day soon move through the ORR schools. His motion to move the question was barely coherent.

            The vote to adopt the article prompted loud applause and cheers, as the selectmen begged everyone not to leave.

            The debate over Article 58 to change the town clerk position from an elected position to an appointed one was split, but the resulting vote was an unequivocal and resounding ‘aye’ in favor of appointing the town clerk to somehow restore accountability to the position.

            The argument in favor of the change was an improvement in the professional delivery of services and accountability, while the argument against stemmed mostly from the concern that political power would become too concentrated.

            Helen Ostergaard, a former town clerk, defended the elected position, saying, “The duties of the town clerk are clearly spelled out in the general laws of the Commonwealth and it is the duty of any sitting town clerk to follow those,” regardless of whether he or she is considered “qualified” for the position. She supported the idea of Town Meeting adopting a mechanism to recall elected officials rather than making the position appointed. She alluded to current Town Clerk Ray Pickles and how he was appointed to the position of executive director for the Carver, Marion, Wareham Regional Refuse Disposal District decades ago, “But nobody held him accountable … so it doesn’t really matter whether they’re elected or appointed. The selectmen (or CMW board, rather) did not hold this individual accountable and that’s all I’m going to say.”

            Conservation Commission Chairman Jeff Doubrava and Selectman Norm Hills argued over whether there was a mechanism to remove appointed officials from their position when Doubrava said the selectmen once told him there was no process to remove an appointed commissioner who quit attending meetings. Hills disagreed.

            “There is due process,” said Town Administrator Paul Dawson, who used to be a town clerk – both appointed and elected – before serving as the TA of Marion. He said a meeting would likely be held in executive session, “And the rights of the affected employee and/or committee member would be protected through this … clause.”

            Barbara Sanderson wondered if it was just simpler to keep the position elected and establish a proper recall process, which Marion does not have.

            Christine Winters was concerned that the article was a “kneejerk reaction” to the Pickles matter, and any recall provision adopted should be applied “across the board in an orderly and well-defined policy that everyone can understand, and no one is picking and choosing.” For Winters, the article fails to address what is needed “to make all of our elected officials accountable.

            Finance Committee member Alan Minard supported the article, saying, “I have never seen our current clerk in the building  – this will allow us to set hours for this person … and there’s accountability, there’s oversight.”

            Kate Mahoney opposed the article, saying she worries about the usurpation of power on all levels of government because, obviously, the town clerk position was created as an elected one for a reason.

            “To answer to the citizens to now become someone who answers to three people,” said Mahoney, “there aren’t enough checks and balances. It all becomes one pool.”

            Peter Winters, in the last comment on the article before the question was moved, alluded that Pickles was first appointed to the town clerk position before he was subsequently and repeatedly elected.

            The article received the two-thirds vote it needed to pass. The town clerk position will remain elected until either Pickles resigns or until his term expires in May 2020.

            Residents rejected an article to create a bylaw that would add a new section to the Marion Code to require property owners to properly maintain vacant properties by, including but not limited to, mowing their grass, landscaping upkeep, removing litter, and replacing broken windows.

            The article was a response to a number of vacant buildings in town being left overgrown for years, said Selectman John Waterman, creating a ‘blight’ “that hurt the image of Marion and the value of all properties in Marion,” he said.

            Zora questioned the language and the extent of the bylaw’s reach and objected to the discretion being left to one person only, the building commissioner.

            Mahoney was concerned that the bylaw overreached by putting the control and decision making into one person’s hands. She recalled a time when serving on the ZBA that the board grappled with the definition of “vacant” in one zoning bylaw.

            “It’s too vague,” said Mahoney. “I think this is, like, big overkill.”

            A motion to table the article indefinitely failed 66-49 – in favor, but in need of a two-thirds vote, the town moderator insisted – and ultimately the article failed to garner the two-thirds vote to pass.

            Article 37, $268,000 to fund the extension of the Creek Road pathway southward adjacent to Point Road up to Jenna Drive, passed, but not without some debate over the project’s merit.

            Some considered the proposed .75-mile-short shared-use path no more than a sidewalk, while another looked at an existing nearby path as the “bike path to nowhere.” Minard, who said he often rides his bike from his home in that area, thought the path would be more valuable if it were redirected toward Route 6 for a connection.

             “If we spend this money to go south, we come to what is my estimation, a dead end,” Minard said. “[The path is] a great idea, but we’re going the wrong way here.”

            Waterman suggested this path was just one small step closer to connecting Marion with a network of paths.

            “The only way we’re gonna get here is to do a small piece at a time,” Waterman said, adding that the study of Route 6 could one day lead to bike paths there. “I think this is one small step, to use a term, but we need to start and I think this is a start to making our town more pedestrian friendly.

            Voters passed Article 38 to appropriate $20,000 from CPA reserves to install a handicap access lift and game management/press box at the ORR main athletic field, but not without 

Justin Shea’s endorsement on behalf of the ORR Athletics Booster Club. According to Shea, ORR is the only conference school without a press box, and the school has been without one since the renovation 16 years ago. Now, permitting requires a new press box be built to withstand 120-mile-an-hour hurricane winds and must be handicap accessible. Shea said the boosters raised $50,000 in private donations to fund the project, but he’s asked the three Tri-Towns to each contribute $20,000 for the ADA compliance features to move the project forward. One day, Shea said, someone in a wheelchair will want to operate the scoreboard, manage the music, or wish to video record games for ORCTV. “With your help tonight, we can support that,” he said.

            The vote was unanimous.

            Voters approved Article 40 to appropriate $800,000 in CPA funds to restore the exterior of the Town House. A full renovation project was defeated at Town Meeting last year. Bob Raymond of the Town House Study Committee commented that this proposal at least lets the town preserve some of the historic features of the exterior and protect the interior from further damage.

            Article 26 for $582,090 to purchase a new trash truck was passed over as a result of adoption of Article 25, $420,000 to outsource the town’s curbside trash and recycling collection.

            Articles 44 through 54 were passed over due to a clerical error in the warrant not discovered until after it went to print and was posted.

            Article 59, to prohibit adult-use marijuana and establishments in Marion, was passed over. According to Dawson, the Attorney General would not approve the article, as it was not drafted properly.

            Articles that passed with minimal to no discussion: Article 27, $48,000 for a new work truck for the Facilities Department; Article 28, $21,000 for two riding lawn mowers for the Recreation Department; Article 29, $13,000 to replace five garage doors at the Silvershell Beach house; Article 30, $18,850 to eradicate invasive species at the Planting Island Causeway and at Sprague’s Cove; Article 32, $100,000 to fund the OPEB (other post employment benefits) Liability Trust Fund; Article 33, $50,000 to fund the School Department Stabilization Fund; Article 34 to fund the Capital Improvement Project Stabilization Fund; Article 35, $2,000 for the Community Preservation Committee’s administrative costs; Article 36, to appropriate $84,000 and $194,000 for Community Preservation Act purposes; Article 39, $60,000 in CPA funds for digitization of town records; Article 41, $2,000 from the Chester A. Vose Fund for the Assessors for the reduction of taxes; Article 42, to create a Recreation Revolving Account and cap the annual expenditure at $15,000; Article 43, to create a Board of Health Revolving Fund and cap the annual expenditure at $17,500; Article 56, to authorize a land swap of town-owned land on Boat Works Lane for AJ Boat Corporation’s property off Point Road; Article 57 to accept the gift of Grassy Island granted 20 years ago by Jeanette V. Speranza after-the-fact; Article 60 to authorize the Board of Selectmen to apply for grants on behalf of the town; Article 61, to allow the Board of Selectmen to litigate on behalf of the town; Article 62 to allow the Board of Selectmen to sell excess town-owned property no longer of use to the town; Article 63 to allow the Board of Selectmen to sell or transfer taxation possession property; Article 64 to consider the reports of town officers and committees; Article 65 to place the five questions on the May 17 Annual Election ballot.

            The polls at the Benjamin D. Cushing Community Center open at 8:00 am on Friday, May 17 and close at 8:00 pm.

Marion Town Meeting Part 2

By Jean Perry

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