Recently The Swellesley Report was cc’d on an anonymous letter that arrived to us via the USPS, as were some Town of Wellesley government officials and committee members, some State elected officials, and several local news agencies. The letter’s subject line: “Mistake Regarding the Outcome of Wellesley Town Manager Referendum.” The letter was addressed to Marjorie Freiman, Chair of the Wellesley Board of Selectmen.
As you may remember, over a year ago Wellesley residents voted down a proposal to change the town’s government to a Board of Selectmen-Town Manager system. The official results from the Town Clerk came in at 2,834 No votes to 2,131 Yes votes. Stated simply, Wellesley voters said “no, thanks” to creating a Town Manager position.
Many of those who voted No said that the Town Manager plan, as proposed, would have taken too much control out of the hands of citizens, including volunteers who devote their time on boards and committees. Those voting Yes felt it was time for the town to change its form of government in light of Wellesley’s growth.
In all, the process leading up to the town-wide vote took over two years. In 2014, a Town Government Study Committee began exploring possible changes to the town’s government structure. Next, Town Meeting approved the Town Manager plan and then –and this part is important — a Special Act was signed by Governor Charlie Baker to move forward with the plan that then went to voters, who had the final decision.
In the letter The Swellesley Report received, the writer, who self-identified only as A Concerned Wellesley Citizen, claimed that “…the Selectmen, Town Clerk, and others have accidentally presumed that the referendum rejected Town Meeting’s vote to adopt a Town Manager form of government. Yet according to the summary of the applicable procedures by our own Town Counsel, this presumption is incorrect.”
Citing Section 9 of Wellesley’s enabling act, the writer said that a simple voting majority, while necessary, was not sufficient. Section 9 says that “In order to nullify the Town Meeting’s action, at least 20 percent of all registered voters in the Town must vote in the negative on the referendum and a majority of those who vote on the referendum must vote in the negative.”
The letter writer points out that in the March 14, 2016 vote, Wellesley had 16,267 registered voters, and that 20% of that number is 3,254. “Only 2,834 voters voted in the negative,” which, the letter writer says, means that “…the referendum therefore failed because an insufficient number of registered voters voted ‘no’ .”
I checked in with Town Clerk Kathleen Nagle to make sense of this. Well aware of the letter, she expressed a certain level of frustration that, because the letter was signed anonymously, she couldn’t very well address the writer’s concerns directly. According to Nagle, the vote was the acceptance of a Special Act, not a negation of an Act of Town meeting, which makes all the difference and is why the vote stands and is not, as claimed by the letter writer, a regrettable mistake requiring correction.
Nagle said, “…the vote was not a negation of an Act of Town Meeting, although this was the end result. Rather, the vote was the acceptance of a Special Act.” Because of this, she says, only a majority vote was needed.
Nagle cited Chapter 20 of the Acts of 2016, Section 11, which reads: “This act shall be submitted for acceptance to the qualified voters of the town of Wellesley at the next regular or special town election following its enactment in the form of the following question, which shall be placed upon the official ballot to be used at the election: “Shall an act passed by the general court in the year 2016 entitled ‘An Act providing for a selectmen-town manager form of government in the town of Wellesley’ be adopted? If a majority of the votes cast in answer to the question is in the affirmative, this act shall take effect in the town, but not otherwise.”
We’re not sure why over a year after a vote has taken place a suggestion has been put forward that “Town Counsel…provide guidance on how to correctly (if belatedly) certify the vote and finalize the adoption of a Town Manager form of government.”
What seems sure, however, is that Town Hall is not backing down.
Hillary Clinton didn’t let a little laryngitis stop her, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise. When the former Secretary of State and Democratic Party presidential candidate took the stage to a standing ovation and the enthusiastic applause of the 570 graduates of the Wellesley College Class of 2017 and their families, she looked out at her people and began to speak in a voice that suddenly issued a rasp instead of its customary I Am Woman Hear Me Roar cadence.
The sips of water and the lozenge likely helped her regain her speechifying stride, but sheer force of will probably had something to do with it. Laryngitis never had a chance, and Clinton kept on going. (You can read her remarks in their entirety here)
She introduced the graduates to a Hillary it’s hard to believe ever existed. One who after her first month of classes as a Wellesley College freshman she says, “made a frantic collect call (ask your parents what that was) back to Illinois to tell [her] mother and father [she wasn’t] smart enough to be here. My father said, “Okay, come home.” My mother said, ‘You have to stick it out.’ That’s what happened to me.”
Soon enough, of course, Clinton’s remarks turned to politics. She called the budget “that was just proposed in Washington an attack of unimaginable cruelty on the most vulnerable among us, the youngest, the oldest, the poorest, and hard-working people who need a little help to gain or hang on to a decent middle class life. It grossly under-funds public education, mental health, and efforts even to combat the opioid epidemic. And in reversing our commitment to fight climate change, it puts the future of our nation and our world at risk. ”
While acknowledging that her audience didn’t create the circumstances of the world’s problems, Clinton told the Class of 2017 that they had the power to change them. “Don’t let anyone tell you your voice doesn’t matter. In the years to come, there will be trolls galore—online and in person—eager to tell you that you don’t have anything worthwhile to say or anything meaningful to contribute. They may even call you a Nasty Woman. Some may take a slightly more sophisticated approach and say your elite education means you are out of touch with real people. In other words, “sit down and shut up.” Now, in my experience, that’s the last thing you should ever tell a Wellesley graduate.”
If this year’s student speaker Tala Nashawati — who says she came to Wellesley because a perceptive guidance counselor saw in her “slight feminist tendencies” — is an indication of the general determination level of her class, sitting down and shutting up is not the likely path of this group. Now that they have diplomas in hand they might, like Clinton recently did, take a little time off. Like her, they might spend some time with their families, take a few long walks in the woods, organize their closets, and sip some Chardonnay.
Then, it will be time to get down to it. Whatever “it” may be for each one.
Congratulations, Wellesley College Class of 2017.
The grounds are weeded, mulched, pruned, and blooming within an inch of their lives. Banners have been hung, and tents have been erected. It’s Wellesley College graduation time, and it’s a special one this year. First of all, after four years of unremitting labor, the Class of 2017 will receive their diplomas. Oh, and Secretary of State and Wellesley College Class of 1969 alumna Hillary Clinton will be on hand to deliver remarks.
Tomorrow everyone will be all smiles and tears, but just a few short months ago, the stress level on campus was running high over the upcoming Commencement. According to an editorial in the student newspaper of Wellesley College, The Wellesley News, some students were concerned that Commencement was in danger of becoming more of a post-election rally for Hillary Clinton than a celebration of the Class of 2017 and their families. The idea that a couple thousand alumnae might descend on campus (as they did on election night, hoping to celebrate a big win) was making some graduating seniors wonder if their milestone moment was in jeopardy of being overshadowed by Clinton’s star power. Toss in rumors that Paw Paw and Granny might not be invited due to limited ticketing, and you had a lot of women asking, “Who’s being celebrated here, anyway?”
As it turns out, the administration took matters firmly in hand. Back in March, Clinton spoke at a private event at the college, perhaps taking a bit of the edge off of alumnae demand to see her this week. In a nod to the 570 graduates that their four years of continuous struggle and triumphs counted for pretty much everything, the school instituted a lottery in order to limit the number of alumnae who would be allowed to attend. Such a compromise ensured not only that security and parking would be kept under control, but that extended family members would be warmly welcomed to the campus to witness their student receive her diploma. (You can also see it live streamed.)
So although Wellesley College encourages alumnae to consider the campus something of a second home, for this go around they’ll have to think of that second home as one that’s not available to them this weekend. Kind of like the family lake house that everyone shares, but that you can’t go to when the cousins are taking their summer weekend turn.
Here’s a sneak preview of graduation day. I get to go as press, so thanks for reading The Swellesley Report.