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Quorum issues causes Hingham Town Meeting to go into third night

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  April 25, 2012 11:34 AM

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Jessica Bartlett

A quorum count disrupted Town Meeting, delaying the proceedings half an hour while people called friends to come down for the cause.

Hingham Town Meeting will go to a third night, partly because of a quorum call that delayed progress of the meeting by half an hour on Tuesday.

A quorum, or 300 people, must be present for Town Meeting to begin. Although often people leave throughout the meeting, a quorum is presumed present unless a voter stands and asks for it to be recounted.

Such was the case on Tuesday. After waiting 45 minutes for a quorum to form at the start of the meeting, the number was questioned again midway through the session.

Even with residents urging that the quorum request be dropped, Russell Reeves, a Hingham blogger who currently has a lawsuit against the town, pushed forward until some nearby residents arrived to resolve the issue.

A quorum question, again called by Reeves, ultimately ended the meeting at midnight, resulting in what many felt was an unceremonious finale for Town Moderator Tom O’Donnell, whose tenure ended Tuesday after 45 years in the position.

Despite the awkward ending, O'Donnell received a standing ovation for his work at the town at the conclusion of Tuesday's session.

When the meeting continues on Monday, the newly elected moderator will take over in the role.

Although there were problems with the quorum, an article to reduce the quorum size to 200 was narrowly defeated 147-145.

The vote was in line with the recommendation from the Advisory Committee, which said that shrinking the quorum requirement would send the wrong message as to the importance of Town Meeting.

Despite the occasional hold-ups, debate proceeded on a number of articles Tuesday.

A request from Derby Street Shoppes for electronic signage was shot down by residents who felt the signs, described as both bright and noisy, did not fit the culture of Hingham.

“[When passing these] we consider what is the benefit to the town and the detriment. From the perspective of the Planning Board, there are no benefits…for the detriments, imagine a loud TV screen throwing images at you as you walk along the sidewalk. That is what this bylaw asks you to pass,” said Sarah Corey with the Planning Board.

Although Advisory Committee members said failing to pass such a measure would send the important commercial taxpayers the wrong message, residents were up in arms.

“Do we want digital billboards in Hingham? Because that’s what this effectively amounts to,” said David Degiorgi, who lives on Prospect Street.

Residents rejected the two articles by a majority vote.

An article seeking to change the treatment of properties that are not in conformance with area bylaws was passed after some debate.

Some residents were concerned that the zoning change would mean that properties that are not in conformance would be forced into conformance - either with setbacks, or the type of housing – if a property were “abandoned” for six months.

However, with an amendment, the article now allows abandoned properties to be restored without running into major complications.

Town meeting also voted to add 115 acres of land to the Office Park District north of Derby Street. The land was zoned for residential use, but hadn’t been treated that way for some time.

A majority of the Planning Board and the Advisory Board agreed with the change. Although the Board of Selectmen did not take a stance on the issue, Selectman Laura Burns said it was overall a good idea.

“It is not the town’s role to decide what to do with their private property. We’re being asked what kind of development we would prefer to see…I would like to see community office park development…and services they might like to use which provides commercial tax revenue,” Burns said.

The request for $600,000 to pay for a sewer system replacement on Ship Street and Cottage Street – which would be paid back through a betterment by the 30 residents in that area – also stirred up debate.

A majority of the Advisory Board, the sewer commission, and 70 percent of the residents on the street felt that the new system was necessary. Yet for some residents, the request to participate in something not everyone agreed on was unfair.

“People want to get what they want, even if it means reaching into pockets of neighbors for something they don’t want, when there is no documented need,” said Tom Patch, who lives on Ship Street. “The bottom line here is the question is whether the proponents are willing to accept [to pay] for this themselves.”

Regardless of complaints, the motion was adopted by a two-thirds standing vote.

The meeting also recommended that the Treasurer/Collecter position be changed from an elected position to an appointed one – a decision that will also require a vote at the polls on Saturday, and approved a motion to accept a demolition delay bylaw for historical houses.

Town Meeting will continue on Monday, April 30, at 7 p.m. at Hingham High School’s gymnasium to deal with articles 45 to 62.

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