Clarksburg School Project Defeated by One Vote
The answer: the article failed by one — one — vote.
The authorization of the borrowing, of which $11.3 million would be reimbursed by the state, required a two-thirds vote.
Exactly 431 votes were cast: 144 were no votes and 287 were yes votes. The two-thirds rule required 288 votes.
"There is nothing that can be done with this particular article this evening," said Town Moderator Bryan Tanner.
The announcement was greeted with groans by the nearly 100 people still left at the end of the special town meeting that had lasted more than three hours to get an answer on one article on the warrant.
A second article relating to a debt exclusion for the borrowing was passed over; it was covered in the language of the first article, and had been reliant in any case on the first article passing.
The School Committee is expected to appeal the vote,member Patricia Prengruber, also a member of the School Building Committee, said afterward.
The vote to authorize the borrowing of $19 million for the renovation and addition to the 50-year-old K-8 school was already fraught with tension. The debate over the cost had split the town: some decried the $3.25 that would be affixed to the tax rate for the next 40 years, others that it was a difficult but necessary price to pay to keep the one institution in town that attracted new residents.
The special town meeting brought out a record-breaking crowd of 453, making it the largest in memory. The line to get into the school stretched from the back of the school up the driveway; vehicles were crowded into every available spot along West Cross Road and at the Senior Center several hundred yards away.
The start of the meeting was delayed an hour as voters signed into the standing-room only gym, the largest gathering place in the town. Well more than 100 stood outside by the open windows as a PA system tried to relay the action on the floor.
"We will be entering into some uncharted territory," Tanner said in opening the meeting at 7:30. "This is unprecedented in Clarksburg history and also this turnout is unprecedented and will pose some challenges."
Town Administrator Carl McKinney thanked the crowd and asked them to keep in mind they came as neighbors and friends.
"People have different circumstances that may dictate their vote," he said. "Please leave here as friends and neighbors."
Town officials had been expecting a heavy turnout but not one that doubled the capacity of the undersized gymnasium. The decision had been made ahead to vote by secret ballot as a way to contain the process. An attempt to change that on the floor to a hand vote failed.
The PTG had blanketed the town with cards, flyers and signs urging people to attend the three earlier informational forums and the special town meeting vote itself.
"I think what we wanted to do was make sure everybody got facts, true facts, that we were given by both the town and the School Building Committee," said Kimberly Rougeau, a teacher, parent and PTG member who also attended the school. "I think most people don't keep up with current events or things that are happening and we knew that to reach everybdy we had to go out there and it meant T-shirts, it meant signs ...
"We didn't want to upset anybody, we wanted to make sure everybody knew what has happening."
Many appeared to have already determined their vote on the matter. There had been three information sessions, the get-out-the-vote effort, and, possibly the most determining factor, the cost that would tack $3.25 onto the tax rate for the next 40 years.
"I just want to vote and leave," said one woman who had waited an hour in line to get in. "I don't need to hear anything, I know how I'm voting."
There was little discussion of question one, written in the legal language put forward by the Massachusetts School Building Authority. John Solari, a member of the School Committee, questioned why the article did allow for funding for bidding preparation as had been discussed at previous information sessions.
The amount of $500,000 had been repeated several times but the amount was given as zero in the article.
Select Board Chairman Jeffrey Levanos said the decision had been made to leave it zero because the town would not know if it's getting the U.S. Department of Agriculture loan until February.
"By putting zero in there we're saying we don't want to foot any money for upfront costs," he said. "If we put all this money for upfront costs and the town doesn't get the loan, the town will be on the hook to pay it back ... this may delay it for two or three months but we won't have to pay and get nothing in return."
John Arigoni offered a somewhat complicated motion to relieve senior citizens of the tax burden of the school; it did not receive a second.
Actual voting did not begin until almost 8 p.m. and lasted until Tanner closed voting at 8:35, after making several announcements for people to get inside and vote.
Registered voters were given a pink card with a number when they signed in; that was handed off to the election clerks and for blue perforated ticket with a yes and a no printed on them. Each voter tore the ticket and dropped their yes or no vote in the ballot box and the leftover in a trashcan next to it.
It became apparent there was a problem once the tickets and pink slips were counted -- several times over. Tanner huddled with Town Clerk Carol Jammalo and the Select Board.
"The vote was very close," Tanner said. "It comes down to a question of rounding up, or rounding down. It was that close."
He called town counsel, who then contacted her town meeting expert to determine which way the vote should go.
The legal expert's determination was that a two-thirds vote means that twice the number of no votes must be cast: therefore, the 288.
Tanner said the moderator can often be the tiebreaker but he had already voted as the 287th vote.
Several of those still waiting as the clocked passed 9:30 argued the math wasn't correct, and questioned who had done the counting and how the voting had occurred.
Jammalo said the number of blue votes and the number of pink cards both totaled 431 and no votes were missing. If legal counsel determined it was 288 then bond counsel would have difficulty accepting a different number,, she said.
"I think the travesty of this is the people who waited for an hour and left without voting," Deborah Rosseli said. About 20 people had signed in but did not cast ballots. "I think we would have had a different outcome."
Town officials agreed that it had been a difficult process because of the space issues. The "cafegymatorium" in the school has been used for decades but town meetings have rarely attracted more than 100 people. McKinney said later that should another vote be held the town would look to venues outside of Clarksburg that could hold a larger number.
There also seemed to be confusion among residents about how town meeting votes are taken, with some complaining in the lead up to the vote that they were not allowed to vote by absentee ballot.
Resident Mary Giron motioned to change the amount or the scope of the project so as to revisit it at another meeting in hopes of keeping the project alive. It was heartily seconded and approved.
"I will allow this vote this evening but I don't know the legality," Tanner said. "The motion carries under transacting any other new business."
Tags: Clarksburg school project,
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