At Annual Town Meeting (ATM) on May 2, voters were asked to consider Article 47, a Citizens Petition that sought to abolish the Upper Charles Trail Committee (UCTC). Even before Town Meeting, the legality of the petition was challenged by town counsel, who advised the Select Board on April 28 that “Town Meeting doesn’t have the authority to direct the Town Manager’s actions in this regard.” Rather, the town’s lawyers recommended the Select Board treat it as an advisory vote.
Hotly contested in the pages of HopNews and the Hopkinton Independent, the agenda item finally arrived deep into the second night of ATM. With the audience dwindling, the debate began with Peter LaGoy, the current chair of the Trails Coordination and Management Committee (TCMC), moving to introduce the article as written in the warrant. LaGoy made a presentation in which he outlined the reasons for the petition, with he and others feeling that the UCTC had not listened to safety concerns, was not responsive to public input, and was too reliant on their selected engineering firm, which encouraged them to develop the trail in an urban environment.
Jane Moran, chair of the UCTC spoke in dissent. She pointed out that the UCTC reports to the Select Board and that their remit is to submit 2-3 options for trail segments for Select Board approval. “This work should be directly overseen by the Select Board,” said Moran.
Linda Chuss, a School Street resident, said “I’m voting Yes on Article 47 to send a strong message to town officials.”
Muriel Kramer, current chair of the Select Board, spoke as a private citizen. “I am opposed to this article,” said Kramer. “It is personally divisive and affrontive to pursue (disbanding the UCTC) this way.”
After nearly an hour of discussion a motion was introduced to end the debate and it carried. The results from the voice vote were not clear and a standing vote was called for. Ultimately the motion carried overwhelmingly, with 72% of attendees voting to disband the UCTC.
At their May 23 meeting, the Select Board discussed the town vote and the fate of the UCTC. “We have to listen to what the Town Meeting vote said,” said Select Board member Irfan Nasrullah. “We can’t ignore it.”
“It is our duty to listen to (the town’s) voice,” said Shahidul Mannan. “(Delaying) may send a mixed message. I would be in favor of dissolving or suspending the UCTC’s operation.”
But there was no motion introduced to disband the committee. Instead, after more discussion, the Select Board voted 3-2 to suspend the UCTC, setting a date of July 11 to reconsider. They further agreed to convene a subcommittee to develop a survey for residents to offer their opinion on the UCTC.
The Select Board met again on June 6 and continued the discussion. By then Nasrullah seemed less certain. “What we’re looking for is public input,” he said, “because to me the articles at Town Meeting were not specific as to what the issues exactly are.”
“As far as abolishing the committee and making it a subcommittee of the Trails committee, I don’t think anyone mentioned that in their comments, except the presenter,” said Board Member Amy Ritterbusch.
The survey produced was notable in that it didn’t contemplate the existence of the UCTC at all. Rather it asked detailed questions about the structure of the committee, the voting rights of members, and the qualifications of membership. The survey was distributed online and in printed form, although discrepancies existed between the versions. On July 6, the results of the survey were published, with approximately 135 respondents out of the more than 11,500 registered voters in Hopkinton.
Many of the respondents answered affirmatively, but others were less impressed.
“Stop stalling!!! Voters sent clear messages that you are avoiding again,” wrote one.
“I find it odd that the questions presume a level of familiarity with Town organization/procedures that most residents (myself included) are not too familiar with,” wrote another.
“Start over. Drain the swamp. Get rid of the members who are only on the committee to sabotage progress in the name of self-interest,” one respondent replied.
In an interview this week, Town Clerk Conor Degan offered his thoughts. “I think the intent by Town Meeting voters was not to get rid of the Upper Charles Trails Committee,” he said. “I believe the intent was to repurpose of the UCTC as it exists subservient to the Select Board, and to have one instead that is a subcommittee of the Trails committee.”
“It seems like the Select Board doesn’t want to make a tough call,” said LaGoy. “Maybe they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”
When reached for comment, Select Board member Shahidul Mannan said “At the May 23 and June 6 Select Board meetings, I expressed concern that we may be sending the wrong message. However, I respected my colleagues’ opinions and agreed to give it time. Generally I do believe that once the town voted the people had spoken, and if there is a reason to change that in the future then we have a democratic process for that.”