It’s not unusual for residents to come forward with citizen petitions at Natick’s Town Meetings, but this fall’s edition stands out for having nearly a quarter of its 33 warrant articles being of this variety.
Those filers we reached out to said that submitting a citizen petition was relatively straightforward. Though it does take some strong stuff to be able to defend your article before the Finance Committee, perhaps other town bodies, and then ultimately Town Meeting itself.
As Finance Committee Chair Linda Wollschlager recently told a petitioner in thanking her for coming forward with an article: “It’s daunting.” The committee had just voted 8-1 to refer the article back to the sponsor and others, though encouraging words were shared about the effort.
Jeff Alderson, who is sponsoring Article 30 on the warrant in an effort to replace the recently approved town seal with the original one from 1876, said the paperwork required to file was straightforward.
“I was given a link to the Petitioner’s Guide to Warrant Articles. It was very useful to help me pull the information together, meet deadlines, and get the paperwork completed. The questionnaire guidance was equally useful,” Alderson said. “Anyone that is motivated enough to bring a topic to town meeting should have no issues following this process. This was my first time presenting an article, even though this is my third year on town meeting.”
Alderson said the most citizen petitions he saw flowing through Town Meeting was during the recent “dam years.” He quipped: “I hope I’m also not creating something similar with the ‘seal years.'” (He emphasized that his focus is on the town seal, not the town brand, which involves a separate effort.)
A good number of citizen petitions get shot down at Town Meeting, but others prevail. One example of a winner: Article 28, which was introduced by Natick police officer Thomas Butler at last year’s Annual Fall Town Meeting. The article, which involved extending veterans’ benefits, easily gained approval by the Select Board and Finance Committee, and Town Meeting overwhelmingly okayed it 115-3-1.
Josh Ostroff, a longtime Town Meeting member and town government volunteer on various boards, is sponsoring Article 29, which would make members of the Finance Committee eligible to serve on an elected Charter Commission (if the town decides to form one) via a bylaw amendment. “As a proponent of a charter commission, I want to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate,” he says.
Ostroff has sponsored numerous citizen petitions over the years, and says this marks 20 years of having done so (he’s also mentored others who have submitted citizen petitions). The first one he submitted, which was successful, was to change the bylaws so that a motion to dissolve Town Meeting could not be taken up until everything on the warrant had been addressed. “There was a history of TM being dissolved and leaving people in the lurch who had followed the process to bring legislation forward. It was a technique used to preserve the status quo at a time when TM was very insular,” he said.
Ostroff appreciates the ability for residents to file citizen petitions, though acknowledges it’s easier to do if you have lots of government experience, as he does. As Ostroff told Town Moderator Frank Foss during an interview on a Town Meeting preview video recorded by Pegasus, “One of the great things about local government is how easy it is to get involved. And with a citizens petition, with just a couple handfuls of signatures, you can bring something to Town Meeting to be discussed…,” he said.
Citizen petitions often grow out of personal experiences. For example, Kat Monahan, who is behind Article 32 (Paid Family Medical Leave for Town of Natick Employees), has seen how PFML has helped people at her job and would like to see it benefit people who work for the town. The idea is that it might even work as a benefit that could lure or retain employees at a time when municipalities like Natick are challenged on the hiring front.
Roger Scott, who has filed 2 citizen petitions at Fall Annual Town Meeting, seeks to ensure safety of residents living on dead-end streets in the wake of the town’s agreement with an outfit that plans to put 32 affordable housing units onto sparsely populated dead-end Auburn Street in his neighborhood. He’s also looking to give seniors, like himself, more real estate tax relief than is currently available.
Paul Joseph, a Select Board member filing a citizen petition as an individual resident, was inspired to put forth Article 22 (Amend Zoning Bylaw Body Art Establishments in Downtown Mixed Use Zoning District) when he was approached by a business owner right before the warrant closed who was looking to offer microblading, aka, cosmetic makeup, as part of an esthetician operation. “She approached the town and realized the town did allow for this, but then after signing a lease downtown found out that the downtown mixed use district did not allow for this type of use…,” he explained.
You can get a whirlwind tour of this fall’s citizen petitions by watching the Natick Pegasus recording of interviews with the petitioners and by reviewing the article wording in the warrant. Motion language on some articles has also begun to surface as petitioners make their cases before town bodies: For example, you can find such details from the Sept. 26 Finance Committee meeting re: Cody Jacobs’ Article 31 on Protecting Access to Reproductive & Gender Affirming Care in Natick.
The citizen petitions on the Fall Annual Town Meeting warrant:
- Article 21: Re-Zoning of 24 North Main St., 26 North Main St., 30 North Main St.
- Article 22: Amend Zoning Bylaw Body Art Establishments in Downtown Mixed Use (DM) Zoning District
- Article 23: To Ensure Safety of Residents living on Dead-End Streets
- Article 29: Eligibility of Finance Committee Members to Serve on Charter Commission
- Article 30: Replace SATM 2023 Town Seal with 1876 Town Seal
- Article 31: Safe & Fair Reproductive & Gender Affirming Care Access By-Law
- Article 32: Paid Family Medical Leave for Town of Natick Employees
- Article 33: Ensuring Stability: A Proposal for Fixed Annual Real Estate Tax for Long-Term Homeowners
Note: I keep wanting to call these citizen’s petitions or citizens’ petitions, but citizen petition it seems to be.