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Tensions flare at Trails Committee meeting during discussion about UCTC

by | Jun 15, 2023 | Featured: News, News

The Trail Coordination and Management Committee met jointly with Select Board chair Muriel Kramer on Wednesday night for 90 minutes, with the main point of contention being the potential reorganization of the Upper Charles Trail Committee.

At last month’s Annual Town Meeting, there was an overwhelming vote of approval on Article 47. This nonbinding article, proposed by TCMC chair Peter LaGoy as a private citizen, asked that Town Manager Norman Khumalo abolish the current UCTC and reconfigure it as a TCMC subcommittee. Because the UCTC was created by the Select Board, it is under its purview to make a decision about the UCTC’s future.

This article was drafted in response to what has been seen as a lack of responsiveness to residents’ concerns about proposed Upper Charles Trail Segments 6 and 7. They were proposed to travel behind Marathon School and then head to the Milford border, crossing busy Hayden Rowe Street in the process.

In response to the Town Meeting vote, the Select Board created a subcommittee that drafted a survey to get public input about the UCTC’s charge and charter, as well as the potential users of the Upper Charles Trail and the surfacing they would desire.

Kramer noted during the meeting that the survey is nearly ready to go out to the public. The final draft was submitted to Khumalo, who is having it reviewed by an outside consultant before it is released. It will be available online, and paper copies will be available at the library and the senior center. She expected the survey release date to be posted on the town website and released to the local media. There also could be posters at trailheads with QR codes directing to the survey.

“We’re hoping to get a nice cross section of the community, including ages and areas of the community,”  Kramer said.

UCTC’s future sparks tense debate

LaGoy said he proposed making the UCTC a TCMC subcommittee with the intent of it functioning in the same way that a school building committee reports to the School Committee about its project. He explained that there are five TCMC associate positions vacant that potentially could be held by members of a UCTC subcommittee, if approved by the Select Board.

Kramer clarified that school building committees report to the Select Board, not the School Committee.

Said Kramer: “What we really want to have is a go-forward position that really is collaborative and works for all interested parties and really helps us make some progress.”

She pointed out that because there has been some tension between the UCTC and the TCMC, she personally envisions them as remaining separate committees. Her reasoning was that subcommittees do not seem to be “a super successful structure.” Also, she wanted to make sure that the UCTC’s previous work was not invalidated.

TCMC member Charles Dauchy noted that this is the first time that the TCMC has discussed the UCTC’s future as a committee. LaGoy and TCMC member Linda Chuss added that some town members felt their concerns were not being heard by the UCTC nor the Select Board for more than a year and a half. This made the Town Meeting article “an extraordinary step,” according to LaGoy.

Said LaGoy as a private citizen: “It was presented in the hope that it would force some action on the part of the Select Board.”

Countered Kramer: “When the Select Board doesn’t necessarily take the action you wanted, it doesn’t mean that you haven’t been heard. It may mean that you haven’t been necessarily agreed with.”

She added that the subcommittee approach never was formally submitted to the Select Board for consideration.

“For me, there’s a serious piece that we formulate committees by charge and by purpose — not to suit people or to remove people,” Kramer stressed. “I really don’t want to get to a place where we’re working collectively against individuals or people. I want to find different ways forward, always.”

UCTC member calls article a ‘strong-arming’ tactic

When the topic veered into talk about Segments 6 and 7, Jim Ciriello, the UCTC’s liaison from the Conservation Commission, spoke out. He noted that this was not on the meeting agenda for discussion.

“What’s on the agenda is the charge and this so-called new committee,” said Ciriello. He added that he believed that LaGoy perceived a UCTC subcommittee as “a foregone conclusion.”

Said Ciriello: “Clearly, this whole thing has come about because of bullying and strong-arming.”

LaGoy replied that the segment discussion could be considered under the agenda item on the UCTC’s “status.”

Chuss pointed out that there seemed to be a disconnect between the Town Meeting vote and the UCTC’s vote to retain its current officers, calling the reelection “business as usual.” Kramer, who attended the UCTC meeting when the election of officers was held, said she was surprised by the vote.

When Ciriello interrupted Chuss and began to yell, LaGoy told him he was out of order. Ciriello, who refused to stop talking, eventually asked if LaGoy wanted him to leave, and LaGoy said yes.

“The problem is that nobody went to the Upper Charles Trail committee for years,” Ciriello said before departing. “Virtual, after COVID and in person.”

The Select Board liaison to the UCTC is Irfan Nasrullah. He had not attended UCTC meetings for some time until the election of new officers last month. He is a member of the subcommittee that drafted the survey, along with Select Board member Amy Ritterbusch.

Said Kramer: “It is a priority for me that we value, respect and transition in a respectful way.”

“The two groups are not working, clearly,” said TCMC member Fran DeYoung. “There’s a lot of energy being spent that could be done in, I think, a more cohesive way. But the ball is clearly in the Select Board’s court.”

Kramer noted that the issue is “politically charged and emotionally charged” and suggested an arbiter.

“There’s a piece of me that’s like, ‘Why are we arguing about trails?’ ” she said. “We love them.”

TCMC charge discussed

Committee members reviewed the TCMC’s three-page charge. What was missing from it, LaGoy said, is the work about building trails.

“You’ve been doing a lot of work that doesn’t satisfy the charge,” Kramer pointed out, noting that there are parts of both the UCTC and TCMC charters that are not being acted upon.

The key focus areas of the charge, LaGoy said, should be trail development and maintenance, outreach, and working with other committees.

Chuss added that the structure and number of members should be considered.

The TCMC and the Select Board are scheduled to meet jointly next Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., with the UCTC a topic for discussion.

5 Comments

  1. John Ritz

    One point made by Peter LaGoy was that the proposed segments 5 (Center Trail to EMC Park) and 6 (around Marathon School) only make sense in the context of the Upper Charles Trail if that trail continues down Hayden Rowe (segment 7), and there’s general agreement that segment 7 is not an acceptable option. Segments 5 & 6 may have value as trails connecting schools & neighborhoods, but not as part of the Upper Charles Trail. If the town wants those trails, their development should be the responsibility of the TCMC, and the UCTC should not continue to design & spend funds on them.

  2. AT

    When people are screaming at each other and having to exit meeting (over a potential recreational trail), it’s clear there is some real dysfunction going on. Every person in the room should be pausing and doing some self-evaluation to diagnose why emotions are so high and if there’s anything they can do to right the ship. Hint: If you’re feeling like you are absolutely right and are unwilling to do anything different there’s a good chance you’re part of the problem or at least can’t be part of any reasonable solution.

    • Peter LaGoy

      To be clear, only one person was yelling, and to a certain degree, that expression of frustration was understandable. I’ve been on the losing end of a town meeting vote on something I worked hard on and cared about; it’s hard to take, especially if you’ve devoted considerable time to the issue. The 70:30 vote of the town telling the UCTC that they were going in the wrong direction had to be frustrating for members. That said, inaccurate accusations and yelling are never appropriate. The remainder of the meeting was a good back and forth and we hope to continue the process of discussing our views on next steps for the Upper Charles Trail moving forward.

  3. Christina

    another committee where the people who should be there, aren’t. The liaison should at least attend every meeting! How do they know what’s actually going on? I personally know that the UCTC has been working in this trail for years, trying to keep everyone happy. People should attend meetings so they have ALL the facts!

  4. Glen Dawson

    As a town resident, but an “outsider” who has not been involved in this issue, I would simply like to suggest that when the vast majority of people at Town Meeting express their desire to try a different approach, then perhaps the relevant committee (who I assume is supposed to represent the interests of the citizens of the town?) should hit the reset button. Reminds me of the Main St renovation, which, after millions of dollars, is delivering us a narrow road that emergency vehicles are going to struggle to navigate.

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