Arlington’s Board of Selectmen (BoS) held a final hearing on Article 24, to enable the Park and Recreation Commission (PRC) to establish off-leash hours from 6 pm to park closing. The Selectmen voted unanimously to support “no action” on this article at Town Meeting. Town Meeting may still pass this Article, but without support of the Selectmen. Without their support, it will be an uphill battle.
Article 24 Background
The proponents of Article 24, represented by its sponsor, one of us (M.H.), put forth a warrant article for the 2012 Town Meeting with the same wording as the 2010 Article 36, which allowed morning off-leash recreation hours. The proposed language of Article 24 would allow evening off-leash recreation on: “lands under control of the Park and Recreation Commission except: A. those lands directly contiguous to school properties; B. within 15 feet of playground equipment; C. by specific exclusion of the Park and Recreation Commission.”
This language was recommended by PRC, and allows the PRC complete flexibility in establishing, modifying, or discontinuing off-leash hours to respond to evolving community needs. Proponents of Article 24 met with the PRC Chair before putting forth the article for approval and language and scheduled discussion with the full PRC shortly thereafter. Proponents also stated that they would not bring forth the Article if PRC didn’t feel the timing was appropriate or had any other reservations about implementing evening off-leash hours.
Warrant Article 24 was submitted to Town Warrant with the signatures of 10 registered Arlington residents, as required.
Feb 27, 2012: First BoS hearing on Article 24. PRC provided a short paragraph to BoS on the Article. The BoS decided to postpone consideration of this Article to allow the PRC more time to provide more detailed information. On Feb 27, members of the public, who had waited until after 9 pm, were not allowed to speak after the sponsoring proponent. It was our impression that we would be able to participate at the next hearing.
Mar 26, 2012: Second BoS hearing on Article 24: PRC provided a 2-page response to Article 24, indicating support for the Article. Again, the Article came up late on the Agenda, and the supporters of the Article waited past 9pm for an opportunity to talk. Again, the sponsoring proponent was allowed to speak, but the BoS refused to allow any other members of the public to speak saying “This isn’t a hearing” and “We already know what you’re going to say.” The BoS unanimously voted “No Action” on Article 24. See the video for the full discussion.
(A link to obtain the PRC’s 2-page memo and a link to a video of the hearing appear at the end of this article.)
In their memo to the BoS, the PRC also recognized the community interest in off-leash hours, and said the article, if passed, would be “very workable.” The memo anticipated a more limited number of parks, as compared to the morning hours, and perhaps seasonal restrictions. But, as is appropriate, the PRC memo explained that specific details (e.g. which parks, which times of year) would not be determined until there was a transparent public input process, involving dog owners and other concerned users of each potential park. This was exactly the kind of process used to establish the morning off-leash hours, after the Article 36 substitute motion (with wording analogous to that shown above) passed at TM in 2010. Allowing discretion on off-leash recreation by a Park and Recreation Commission, or its equivalent, is in keeping with its typical role. For example, Brookline’s Green Dog Plan is allowed by a general bylaw that leaves the park-specific details, including the hours, to its Park and Recreation Commission.
Even though Article 36 passed in 2010, and had been supported by the PRC, the BoS had voted “no action” (4 to 1). The passage of the Article at TM was very close, and we believe this was in part because of the lack of BoS support.
At the March 26 Hearing all five Selectmen were present, and each presented his or her reasons for voting “no action.” Next to each objection are the arguments of Article 24 proponents, who would have raised these in response had we been given a chance to speak.
– Too soon (Dunn, Rowe and LaCourt): Matter of personal opinion—has been 2 years since Article 36 passed, this one goes either way
– Too much pressure on PRC (Rowe): PRC has indicated support, and did not tell Article 24 proponents that this was either too soon or too much pressure when asked.
– Positive action not supported by PRC (Greeley): We disagree—memo indicates community need for evening hours, calls plan “workable”, and suggests acceptable wording for a motion
– Plan not detailed enough (Mahon, Rowe): Plan is detailed exactly as Article 36, which PRC has implemented and considers a successful program. BoS seem not to trust their PRC with the responsibility to implement this program, as has been done in Arlington and other towns. In addition, having a more detailed plan in the bylaws would render evening hours less flexible, reduce discretion of PRC, and would require act of Town Meeting to change.
In addition, at the Feb 27 Hearing, this argument was also raised:
– Warrant Article should be submitted by PRC, not by 10 Registered Voters: This argument is puzzling, at best. Arlington’s bylaws allow warrant articles to be submitted by the public, and indeed, every year many articles appear before TM that are submitted by 10 Registered Voters, on everything from leaf blowers to chickens.
While their reasons for voting “no action” were stated, at least one Selectman supported the idea of evening off-leash hours, and others were supportive of bringing the issue before Town Meeting.
The Selectmen have a practice of holding public hearings on Warrant Articles, but have not been consistent in allowing the public to speak, as was evident at the hearings that evening. We would have liked the opportunity to be heard on this issue. We note that, in addition, dozens of our members wrote letters in support of Article 24 to the BoS, but that there was no “correspondence received” for this Article as there often is for others.
by A-DOG Members:
S. Doctrow (TMM, Pct 21), J. Goebel (TMM (2008-2010), Pct 21), A. Goldstein (TMM, Pct 14), M. Henning (TMM, Pct 19), and R. Varghese