Sign of the times: Town Meeting approves town clerk change, rejects vacant building bylaw

Oct 27, 2020

While Town Meeting did not approve the lease or sale of property on Reed Road, members did sign off on other articles such as road maintenance, potential changes to the town clerk position, and money toward land conservation —  along with an additional rejection to a vacant house bylaw. 

At the Oct. 27 meeting, members approved the proposed $2.6 million capital plan. While the article passed, there was much discussion with regard to $34,500 from the surplus fund going toward the electric sign outside of Town Hall. 

Many residents expressed concerns about the sign being a distraction.

“There’s so many other ways to let people know what’s going on,” Precinct 8 member Margo Moore said. “Is it going to be on 24/7 providing more light pollution?” 

Town Administrator Shawn MacInnes assured Town Meeting members that there are no plans to keep the sign on all day. According to MacInnes, the sign was installed because many who live near Memorial Stadium were not notified of what events were happening at the venue.

“With the Covid pandemic, it became even more necessary,” he said. “I think it’s informative but will blend into the scenery.”

Precinct 9 member Roseanne O’Connell said she felt the sign was needed, saying that “of the budget, it’s probably the least expensive thing on there.” 

Town meeting also approved changing the Town Clerk to an appointed position rather than elected. The proposal comes following the retirement of longtime clerk Lynn Medeiros this summer.

The town administrator noted that many towns in the commonwealth have made this transition in recent years and that “there have been no documented communities that have done the opposite.”

Now approved, the question will be on the ballot for the April town election. If voted through, the change would take effect July 1, 2021. 

The Community Preservation Committee will also be getting $300,000 in funding for a Russells Mills land conservation project to preserve around 24 acres of open space in Russells Mills village across Fisher Road from Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust’s Destruction Brook Woods property.

Meanwhile, members rejected a proposed bylaw that would create a registry of Dartmouth buildings that have sat vacant and/or abandoned for longer than 60 days.

Select Board Vice Chair Shawn McDonald noted that this article “was asked for by a lot of people” and is necessary to address vacant buildings many see “as a hazard to the neighborhood.”

“If something has to be tweaked, then we can tweak it as it goes along,” he added. “That’s what a bylaw does.”

Numerous voters noted that while they understand the intention behind the bylaw, the wording was too vague. Others wondered why seasonal homes were included.

“People who own summer homes generally take care of them,” Precinct 9 member Judith Lund said. “I sympathize with the need to get rid of problem houses, but I don't see the need to include any seasonal residences.”

Town Counsel Anthony Savastano said the reason seasonal buildings were added was because of objections raised at the previous Town Meeting adding that such properties would be treated differently under the bylaw.