Commentary by Frank Schroth
At a recent meeting of the Board of Selectmen, Chair Katie Conlon recapped a site walk of the wharf area that included looking at the Swift Hat Shop. The building is one of oldest commercial structures in Milton. It has seen better days; but given it’s history there is interest particularly from the Historical Commission in preserving it. Preserving it will take some work given the owner has a demolition order for it. The good news is that Mr. Roberts, the owner, has said he would be willing to pay to relocate the building. But as Ms. Conlon noted there are a lot of moving parts to moving this part of Milton.
The notion is to move the building slightly down Wharf Street onto town owned land. One unanswered question is which town department has jurisdiction over the property. Other rather large unanswered questions are what would it cost to restore the building, who would maintain it, and what use would it be put to. And there this also confirmation of what Mr. Roberts wants in exchange which he indicated at a meeting of the Historical Commission would be a variance to build residential in a commercial zone.
Maybe there is value in preservation. One could see many benefits to leaving it where it is, tearing down the ugly structure attached to it, and resurrecting it as an attractive retail shop. If it is moved, there are two concerns.
The first is that the area it currently sits on remain commercial or mixed use. Further erosion of what little commercial space Milton has is fiscally unwise in terms of property taxes. Second, Wharf Street is one of Milton’s most important natural assets and the only location in town where residents have direct access to the Neponset. Any development on town land down there should be done with an eye to improving and expanding upon providing access to the water for recreational purposes to benefit all. All too often this town finds itself in a tail wagging the dog situation the comes about as the result of demands and needs by a one of development. This is just one more example of why a Master Plan that takes a comprehensive look at areas of town and develops options and strategies that take in each area’s unique qualities is so important. This is not just about the hat shop. It is about amplifying the value of a unique natural asset and reinvigorating the commercial space.
MATV board demonstrates how not to make a decision
Unbeknownst to many there has been a bit of a fracas regarding Milton Access Television’s (MATV) recent decision to broadcast Warrant Committee meetings. Everything about the decision, which members of the Warrant Committee are not happy about, is a bit confusing including when it was made. The MATV board met and voted this week on the issue. However, at least two meetings had already been televised.
At last nights meeting of the Warrant Committee Mike Lynch, Director of MATV, presented the committee with the motion that the MATV board had voted on. It reads:
MATV shall broadcast, or, if unfeasible, record for a later broadcast, any meeting of the Milton Warrant Committee that has scheduled a meeting or presentation with the member(s) or chairman of any elected or appointed Town Board or Committee, or an appointed or elected Town Official or manager; or a member of the General Court. Other meetings of the Warrant Committee shall be broadcast or recorded at the request of the Moderator, if feasible for the MATV staff. Nothing here in shall be construed to preclude MATV from filming any public meeting.
The motion passed passed by a vote of 5-3.
The question the Warrant Committee had was why now? It is a natural question to ask and one that did not receive a very articulate answer.
The Warrant Committee plays a vital and important role in our municipal government. School Committee, Board of Selectmen, and Planning Board are all televised live. And so it might seem natural and logical to televise Warrant Committee meetings. We are not so sure. The Warrant Committee is a group of volunteers appointed by the Town Moderator to serve in an advisory capacity. They are not elected nor do they have any specific authority. What they do is spend an extraordinary amount of time reviewing, analyzing, and vetting articles in the town warrant. They meet with department heads and town officials to review budgets, budget priorities, and any other matters as stated in the warrant articles (e.g. citizens petitions, zoning changes) for the purpose of making recommendations to town meeting on each article. It is an arduous process. The concern we have is that televising the meetings could inhibit the discussion in ways that are not constructive. Members may not speak as freely or speak at all. Alternatively, members may grandstand or play to the cameras.
Warrant Committee meetings are open to the public. Having attended some, one is struck by the give and take among the members and those they are speaking or questioning. It is difficult to describe but there is a healthy tension and a quality of debate that is lacking in most town meetings. It would be very unfortunate if the presence of live television erased that. And it could. The other aspect of their meetings that is important to note is that they go on forever. It is very rare that any given issue or matter is decided in a single session. Any opinions on an issue arrived at from watching a session or a portion of a session will likely be very ill formed unless all sessions on that issue have been viewed.
When asked last night why now? Mr. Lynch said that as a result of additional personnel resources and the wiring of the Blute Conference room – now we can. There is no disagreement that MATV has the right to televise the meetings; but as one warrant committee member noted last night, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” We agree with that.
One can understand the educational benefits and transparency in government is critical to its health but these meetings are already open and the decision to televise may come at a cost – a cost of possibly inhibiting discussion, resignation of members (Mr. Walsh said members had told him they may resign if all meetings are televised), and who knows what in terms of arm chair quarterbacking and second guessing of decisions. At last night’s session Mr. Hayes referred to MATV’s statement that 45 people had asked for DVDs of warrant committee meetings. It is very difficult to understand how this will improve anything.
The MATV board did not manage this well and they have not explained themselves well. Why the Chair of the MATV board was not present to explain his board’s decision on a matter that has clearly antagonized the committee and put the town moderator in an awkward position was also a head scratcher. The board made the decision and the chairman of that board should have been present to explain it.