Change made by 5-0 vote to avoid conflict with first night of Passover

Selectboard logo, May 20, 2019

In its first meeting of 2024, the Select Board agreed by unanimous vote Jan. 8 to delay the start of the annual Town Meeting to avoid the first night of Passover, which is Monday, April 22. Town Meeting will instead begin Wednesday, April 24.

Before the decision, the board and Town Counsel Michael Cunningham discussed some of the questions in play in rescinding the board’s November vote for April 22 and in departing from the town bylaw that sets the fourth Monday in April as the first night of the annual Town Meeting.

Cunningham said his research had turned up “no settled law” at the state level that would either permit or prohibit the board from departing from the bylaw. Other towns, he noted, have changed their bylaws to make clearer who has such authority and noted that Arlington could do the same if Town Meeting were to take up a warrant article to that effect this year.

Alternate scenarios earlier considered

Board members initially considered various solutions. Board member Len Diggins noted that the 22nd is the earliest possible date for the fourth Monday of the month, with school vacation falling the week before, leaving very little time to orient new Town Meeting members elected in the town election April 6. Diggins advocated for delaying the start of Town Meeting to April 29, to which Vice Chair John Hurd responded, “I get everything that you’re saying. I just assumed it was better” to get Town Meeting started as soon as possible, because “if you’re running for Town Meeting, you should be familiar with the warrant” before the election. Board member Steve DeCourcey agreed with Hurd that delaying the start to April 29 seemed risky, noting, “We don’t know how big the warrant will be.” Board Chair Eric Helmuth observed that Town Meeting members typically “do most of their deliberating at Town Meeting.”

In the end, the board voted 4-1 against an amendment proposed by Diggins for an April 29 start date, then 5-0 in favor of delaying the first night to April 24. “I am comfortable with the state statute that suggests that we can do this, but would like to make as small a change as possible,” said Helmuth, adding that April 24 was the date that had been discussed with Town Meeting Moderator Greg Christiana. 

Helmuth thanked the Town Meeting members who had brought up the conflict with the first night of Passover -- a situation that Cunningham said had last occurred in 1968 -- to his attention. When the board voted on Nov. 14 to start Town Meeting on April 22, the plan for accommodating Passover was to introduce no substantive business on the first night, but, at this week’s meeting, board member Diane Mahon said she could imagine people considering a run for Town Meeting being deterred by the signal that solution would send. Helmuth agreed.

Next steps toward an appointed town clerk

Last spring, Town Meeting voted 186-31 in favor of making the position of town clerk, held by Juli Brazile, appointed rather than elected, subject to a vote by the whole town. Read YourArlington’s coverage of the discussion here >>

The Select Board voted to “do what Town Meeting asked it to do,” as Cunningham put it, which was to add the question to the ballot for town elections on April 6. 

“Shall the town vote to have its elected Town Clerk become an appointed Town Clerk of the town?” the question asks, drawing a mild complaint from Diggins to the effect that it seems to say “Let’s vote to vote!” Cunningham observed that the language comes from the state Legislature. If “yes” votes prevail, Town Meeting will need to change the bylaws to make the clerk an appointed position, and the town will need to petition the state for home rule; 126 other Massachusetts towns, said Helmuth last spring, have converted the position from an elected to an appointed one.

The board briefly discussed whether to submit a warrant article for annual Town Meeting, assuming the ballot question passes. Brazile was elected through April 2026 and is to serve two more years regardless -- but said at the meeting that she “didn’t see any reason not to do it [complete the process] this year, in case I have a heart attack.” The Select Board and Town Manager Jim Feeney recoiled from this prospect, and Helmuth noted that warrant articles for Town Meeting will be under discussion at the Select Board’s next meeting, Jan. 22. Cunningham said he would start work on the home-rule petition.

Hamentasch Run set for March 24

The board heard via Zoom from Rabbi Avi Bukiet, co-founder of the Center for Jewish Life of Arlington-Belmont, about the 5K Hamentasch Run, planned for Purim on Sunday, March 24. Bukiet expects a maximum of 70 participants and hoped to have them follow a route beginning near Town Hall, looping down through East Arlington, and ending at the Masonic Hall, site of a planned party, given that Purim is “sort of like Halloween in the Jewish tradition.”

Bukiet said that the Arlington Police Department had told him he needed approval from the Select Board, and Administrator Ashley Mahler noted that the same afternoon, she had heard from officer Corey Rateau suggesting that the group reconsider the proposed route. Crossing Pleasant Street and Lake Street would require two police details, whereas using another route starting at Arlington High School and circling the Arlington Reservoir — a route Rateau and others referred to as the “AHS 5K” — would require none.

The board voted unanimously to approve the date of the event “so the organization can start publicizing” it, said Hurd, adding that he expects Bukiet to return to the Select Board after furthern consultations with the APD about the route. 

Helmuth remarked that it might be time for the board and police to collaborate on a default route that would allow them to say to any future applicants, “This is the safest way to run a 5K in Arlington.”

Both proposed routes would involve the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway; while Diggins expressed some concern about whether it would need to be closed, Hurd said that had not been necessary when he ran a much larger 5K a few years ago.

Pedestrian safety; property redemption

The Transportation Advisory Committee’s Laura Swan reported via Zoom on the group’s response to concerns about two intersections and made recommendations that the board supported in referring them to the town manager.

At Dow Avenue and Rhinecliff Street, near the Dallin School, the TAC has observed drivers “trying to take the corner very fast” as they continue on Dow Avenue. Trimming tree branches and removing a possibly dead maple tree that obstruct views of the crosswalk, replacing a “blind drive” sign with a mirror and pedestrian crossing, and implementing new crosswalk paint and a new stop bar at Dow, Swan said, “would make drivers more aware that there is a crosswalk here.” 

On Eastern Avenue, between the Brackett School and Robbins Farm Park, flashing “school zone” signs at dropoff and pickup hours seem to be ineffective in preventing drivers from speeding as they go down the steep hill. Swan noted that the signs “tend to break” (one is not functioning at the moment) and need resetting twice yearly when Daylight Savings Time begins and ends. The TAC recommends replacing them with a static “school zone” sign and a solar-powered radar-feedback sign that tells drivers how fast they are going. 

Such radar-feedback signs are becoming “the industry standard,” noted Feeney. In response to a question from DeCourcey about looking into putting these signs in place of other “school zone” signs around town, Feeney said he “had the same thought in reviewing this—why not be proactive?” Diggins and Mahon thanked the TAC for its conscientious work, with Mahon adding that she appreciates how much better data the town now has on speeding. Given that, she said she hoped the board and town manager might someday revisit “the unwritten policy against speed bumps” in Arlington, and is particularly interested in raised crosswalks. The board voted unanimously to support the TAC recommendations to the Town Manager, subject to a caveat on making sure the maple tree on Dow is really dead.

Another item of business involved the property at 62-64 Brooks Ave. that was foreclosed upon by the town in December 2022 after the owner fell behind on property taxes. The owner, Alex Avakian, has found a private buyer for the property; his attorney, John Leone, spoke on his behalf. The board unanimously approved a plan under which, once Avakian pays the town the taxes and other fees he owes, including the legal costs, he can redeem his remaining equity in the property. The sale can close on Jan. 15 with the board’s approval, and the redemption can proceed as long as the town receives the money due by Feb. 7.

Mahon sought some assurance that if the Feb. 7 deadline is not met, “that’s it” -- rather than “we’re going to start all over.” Leone assured board members that “if this deal falls apart, the town can do whatever it wishes with the property.”

DeCourcey said, “The town was never looking for a windfall on this property” -- “just the taxes and unfortunately fees that have been incurred.” Leone noted that  “the town has been extremely fair with my client.”

Two residents publicly recognized 

The board also took time to recognize two men for their service to the town. Helmuth read a proclamation at the beginning of the meeting recognizing Rob DeRosa, who is retiring after 38 years with the Department of Public Works and as the master mechanic for the police and fire departments. Feeney described him as the person who “would take on anything at any time,” and Mahon recalled him as “a master at everything.” Hurd cited DeRosa as one of “so many people that do unbelievable amounts of work to make the town run as well as it does.” Helmuth concluded: “Thank you, Mr. DeRosa, if someone persuades you to watch this,” while Hurd added, “It sounds like he needs to continue to stand by his phone in case someone finds a wire in a pipe.”

On a more somber note, Greg Dennis, chair of the Election Modernization Committee, spoke via Zoom during the open forum period about the Dec. 9 passing of Paul Parravano. YourArlington commemorated his contributions here >> Parravano, blind since toddlerhood, worked as a “kind but tireless advocate” for better accommodations for voters, Dennis said. DeCourcey remembered having see Parravano at every basketball game when their daughters were teammates, calling him “so engaging and a wonderful, wonderful person.”

At its next meeting on Jan. 22, the board looks forward to hearing from Anna Litten, director of libraries, about plans for the Fox Library. Meanwhile, Helmuth said that all are welcome at the 36th annual Martin Luther King, Jr.,  birthday observance from 6-8 pm on Jan. 15 at Town Hall. Details are here >>

Watch ACMi video of Jan. 8, 2024, meeting:


Dec. 26, 2023: Select Board Dec. 18: Multiple topics handled in final meeting of 2023

This news summary by YourArlington freelance writer Catherine Brewster was published Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024. 


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