OPINION: North Andover Town Meeting Was a Fiasco

By: Kevin Dube – 6-24

This year’s town meeting started off with a fiasco. Far more people than were planned for showed up which caused many technological issues. The only overflow venue set up was the café, and it filled quickly. While the early articles were being discussed people were still streaming in and the overflow was routed to the field house.

Of course there was no A/V equipment set up there, and in the café the equipment that was present was quickly overloaded causing a near total disruption in the audio from the auditorium. The staff of North Andover CAM put in a Herculean effort to get everything up and working to get the issues resolved and get the field house wired as best as they could given the circumstances. After 48 grueling minutes town meeting finally resumed.

This did not need to happen. There were two highly contentious articles on the warrant for this town meeting, Articles 20 and 28, the $20+ million-dollar fields project and the MBTA zoning respectively.

Proponents and opponents of both of these articles were working diligently to get their supporters out for these meetings. Social media was flooded with posts urging people to come out and vote. All youth sports were cancelled for the evening to allow as many people as possible to attend town meeting.

In prior years when such contentious issues are on the warrant, town meeting has been moved into the field house. We saw this with the pot farm and the Royal Crest issues. Why wasn’t it done this time? Our Town Moderator, Mark DiSalvo should have known turnout would be high for this town meeting. Why didn’t he move it to the field house? That would have mitigated all of the technological issues we faced. When we had to suspend the meeting for 48 minutes why wasn’t it simply rescheduled?

Our town typically does a fantastic job of ensuring all citizens that wish to participate in town meeting can do so. This includes providing child care for those with young children. However, that child care ends at 10PM, and truly, who with a young child can be out after that time?

The 48-minute delay this year pushed the vote on article 28 to 10:18PM, the hand count on that article didn’t end until 10:30. Child care was over by then. Two hundred eighty-three fewer votes were cast for Article 28 than for Article 20, the hand count for which ended at 9:15. How many of these were disenfranchised by Mark DiSalvo failing to properly prepare for the massive turnout we had?

As to the articles themselves, I would love to see the middle school fields developed for our student athletes. However, I voted against Article 20. Unfortunately, our town is suffering from massive fiscal problems right now. Even before the recent revelations of our massive school budget shortfall we were already facing deficits. In the February 16, 2021, Finance Committee meeting our Town manager was already talking about “setting the table” for a prop 2 ½ override.

This was due to massive increased maintenance costs on things like the new senior center our town was sold on without mentioning the resultant ongoing costs of these projects. In the same vein I asked what the new fields would cost to maintain. Rather than have a real plan, town manager Melissa Rodriguez rattled off a number for the 2017 replacement of the turf at the High School field. She failed to take into account either the fact that the new project has twice the square footage of the High School field, or the effect of the massive inflation we’ve experienced since 2017.

Why didn’t she have a solid number prepared?

It is this kind of fiscal mismanagement and lack of accounting for ever increasing ongoing expenses that we have the schools’ problem we have now, among others. Therefore, I had to vote no, and I’m happy enough of our fellow citizens did the same to defeat the article.

The MBTA zoning is a whole other issue. Truly it requires its own article, and I will be devoting a future piece on this matter. Suffice to say this is an incredibly bad deal for our town. The sites selected are actually very desirable areas for development. The town has in fact spent $150,000 on a study to bring an MBTA station to the Osgood Landing site. Not only would such a station make this site all the more desirable for development, it would also require us to add even more units to our quota.

The Market Basket site likewise is desirable given its proximity to 495. Bear in mind the Market Basket is moving to the existing Kohl’s location. While it is stated Kohl’s will move to the former Market Basket site, will it? What is the most profitable use of that property for the land owner? Do we really trust our town government that has proven over and over again their absolute commitment to bringing as many high-density units into our town as possible?

Had enough? Feel it’s time we changed our government, both in town and the Commonwealth at large? Please, reach out to me at northandovergop@gmail.com and get involved! ◊