Town Meeting Votes To Approve Public Safety Facility Land Purchase By 12 Votes
By Hingham Current Staff; November 20, 2020
Outdoor Special Town Meeting November 2020 [Hingham Current file photos / Kristen Arute]
After three hours of discussion and debate on the chilly multipurpose field at Hingham High School, Town Meeting voted by a razor-thin margin to authorize the Board of Selectmen to purchase the property at 335 Lincoln Street next to Fresh Market. A 2/3-approval was required, and in the end it was achieved but only by 12 votes. Of the 453 people who voted, 69%, or 314, said yes. The remainder of 139 said no.
Promptly at noon, Town Moderator Michael Puzo welcomed everyone in attendance and opened the Meeting with some remarks about the manner in which Town Meeting is held. Members of the Board of Selectmen, Advisory Committee and Public Safety Facility Committee spoke, and the floor was opened up to members of the public.
A handful of board and committee members spoke in favor of the purchase from the audience; several people shared their thoughts; some asked questions; and some, like Susan Garland and Priya Howell, spoke in favor of the purchase but stressed the importance of "fully funding" the schools. Howell warned that parents would be back in the spring to make sure this happened.
Attendees were regularly reminded that the vote was for the purchase of the land only and any discussion about the price of the final project was not relevant. However, the Moderator did allow one question on the price to be answered. Bob Garrity of the Public Safety Facility Building Committee revealed that the consultants had estimated a final price of $35M - stressing that it was a very rough estimate.
Among those who spoke was Tom O'Reilly who proposed a Motion to Amend the Article. The language he suggested for insertion would have prohibited the construction of a Public Safety Facility and preserve the property for the schools until the issues with Foster School were addressed. "Buy the land, but don't do anything until Foster School is finished," he explained. That proposal was ruled out of scope by the Moderator who did not allow it to move forward.
Christine Smith who is chair of the South Shore Country Club Committee said that she has served on various boards and committees since moving to Hingham in 1998 and encouraged people to "trust the process" and suggested that "if you have a problem, you volunteer and help address the problem." She also reminded Town Meeting attendees that $2.5M had been allocated to Foster School in 2006 to "breathe 10 years of life" into the building. After calling for consensus-building, she added, "You don't want to pit anyone against anyone in this town."
Another former School Committee member approached the issue from a different angle. Andy Shafter said that the annual interest on the loan alone would equal "one teacher." He noted that the town owns quite a bit of property already and inquired as to whether or not the study committee had explored the option of a land swap. Advisory Committee member Nancy MacDonald said that several properties in the Fottler Road area had been considered but the owners were not amenable to selling.
Danielle Erdmann who said she moved to the Shipyard a year ago from South Boston expressed concerns about the impact a public safety facility would have on traffic in the area. She then addressed a second comment to the school crowd, whose remarks had made an impression on her, by saying, "The Board of Selectmen is not listening to you."
That prompted a response from Selectman Mary Power who asserted that "all town boards and committees work very hard to listen to all of the needs of the town's citizenry." However, Power did concede that the pandemic had "exposed some funding deficiencies in town."
At 2:00 PM, Jude Miller called the question. Based on the voice vote, the Moderator said he had no doubt the motion had carried; however, a motion for reconsideration then prompted a standing vote. After the count, the final tally was revealed to be 314 votes in favor of purchasing the land and 139 opposed.