Falmouth High School Money In Voters' Hands

$18.8 Million Approved on Voice Vote

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School Building Committee spokesman Dr. Robert Antonucci makes his pitch last night.

Falmouth Town Meeting Members last night overwhelmingly approved the second largest borrowing in the town's history, reserving a place on the May 20 ballot for $18.8 million to complete the renovations of Falmouth High School. The largest ever appropriation was the original $67 million appropriation. Town Meeting Members made their intentions clear enough that a voice vote was accepted and a standing count not required.

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Town Meeting Gadfly Richard Latimer, previous winner of the "Badge of Bombast."
Led by a frank but firm request by committee spokesman Dr. Robert Antonucci, School Building Committee members embraced a memorandum of understanding (MOU) recently signed with the Finance Committee, Town Moderator, and Selectmen to share authority and information as the project moves forward.  Although a 2/3 majority was required for this vote, a simple majority will be required when voters have their say.  The ballot vote is not required, but is moving forward based on a recent vote of the Selectmen, who cited the need for the voters to have their voices heard and hold sole authority to place items on the ballot.

Antonucci walked Town Meeting Members through a detailed handout which explained costs to date and future requests amounting to the requested $18.8 million. He noted that with the MOU, "checks and balances are in place," and praised his colleagues for doing their "very, very best" on what has been an admittedly complex and frustrating project. Antonucci also noted that the exisiting high school was "flawed from the day it opened," as the open-campus-style building never lent itself to a sound learning enviroment with few internal walls and even fewer operating windows.

A million here, a million there...

Selectmen Chairman Kevin Murphy provided information on the MOU, which, he added, is not a "power grab" by the Selectmen, but an opportunity to gain the public trust in the leadership of the project. He pledged the full resources of the town, including Town Manager Robert Whritenour and Assistant Town Manager Heather Harper, to "move forward and provide the scrutiny of the entire town" to bring Falmouth's largest-ever building project to a successful completion. He assured those present and viewers at home that "For every dollar spent, there will be accountability," and assured skeptics that "if you're looking for some watchdogs, you got 'em."

The first speaker was not convinced.  Long-time Town Meeting Member Robert Young offered an amendment to reduce the requested additional amount to $13,716,000, a cut of roughly $5 million.   School Building Committee members urged rejection of the amendment, explaining that they want to "come once and only once" to ask for additional funds.

 

"We can be slapped and chastised. If that be the case, let it be." - Dr. AntonucciAntonucci offered an open and hearfelt plea for support.  "We can be slapped and chastised.  If that be the case, let it be," he said, clearly acknowledging the angst in the community. All speakers remained respectful, though, and Town Meeting Members' reputation for handling difficult issues with dignity and tact remains. Although the amendment received the lion's share of the discussion on the article, it ultimately failed, based by the words of some on a lack of detail in the $5 million reduction and worry that a reduction may cause further requests and delays. 

The vote on the amendment, which requires a majority, clearly failed, leaving the original $18.8 million on the table.  Moderator Vieira did not ask for additional discussion on the main motion, opting instead to move right to the vote.  The intent was clear, and the article passed.  Town Meeting Members headed into the break ready to move on.

Frequent pot-stirrer Michael Freeman had other plans. He asked for reconsideration, which was soundly defeated and the School Building Committee, Selectmen, Finance Committe and Moderator will continue their discussion toward the May 20 climax, with full support of the Town Meeting in hand.

With one article finished, the time was 9:30, and, as Willie Wonka would say, there was so much to do but so little time.  Town Meeting quickly disposed of several more articles, primarily those related to spending under the Community Preservation Act, but deliberations continued well past 11 to complete work on a near-handful of petition articles that have grabbed headlines and attention spans over recent weeks:

Other articles acted upon

- Article 50 was a petition article that asked Town Meeting to take back the authority to enact regulations under the town's wetlands bylaw.  This authority was ceded to the Conservation Commission in 1984. After a lengthy debate, which included charges of "over-regulation" from former Conservation Administrator Pamela Truesdale, Town Meeting opted by a wide margin to keep the process intact.

- Article 51 sought by petition to keep all beaches open 24 hours per day.  Although many expressed agreement with the concept, most agreed with Assistant Beach Superintendent Bruce Mogardo that a solution to the vexing problem of opening beaches on a summer morning with the lot full already begs additional review. The article was rejected.

- Article 52 sought through petition to highlight the ongoing process of siting affordable housing in the village of Woods Hole by asking that the now dormant plan to construct 15 units on town-owned property at 419 Woods Hole Road recently coined as "Webster Woods" move forward.  Selectman Carey Murphy offered the main motion, attempting to provide a forum to discuss the four-year effort by the Affordable Housing Committee to develop the property, which was dismissed recently by Selectmen. In what was among the more awkward moments of the entire three-night meeting,  petitioner Marc Finneran and Selectman Catherine Bumpus regressed into playground behavior, both using the word "stupid" to describe the other's thoughts. The article failed by a wide margin, most assuredly sacrificed by promises that other plans are in the works. 

All told, this memorable and successful gathering of civic-minded Falmouthites approved spending of over $129,000,000, gave new life to a reeling project, stood firm on development, and even gave a bump to the Town of Barnstable's homeless program. I love democracy in action!  The next Town Meeting is Nov. 10.

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