It’s a ‘Yes’ for water company acquisition!

Screenshot 2019-04-23 06.52.28

April 23, 2019 by Carol Britton Meyer

By Carol Britton Meyer

Nearly 2,000 voters turned out for last night's first session of Town Meeting despite torrential rain  to make their voices heard -- with a large majority in favor of the town buying the water company.

Some arrived as early as 5 p.m. sheltered by umbrellas, waiting in line by the front Hingham High entrance to be admitted into the building at 5:30 p.m.

People milled around once inside, talking to friends and neighbors and making new acquaintances before the meeting was called to order.

Town Moderator Michael Puzo acknowledged Supt. of Schools Dorothy Galo for her 57 years of service to the Hingham Public Schools receiving a standing ovation from the audience.  Moderator Puzo also welcomed incoming Supt. Paul Austin.

Before the first agenda item was addressed, Puzo remarked about the “great honor and privilege” Hingham citizens experience with the freedom of the self-governing Town Meeting process.

A two-thirds vote was required to approve the water company purchase. The result of the paper ballot vote --requested by the required 50 voters  -- was an overwhelming "yes" among the voters sitting in the gym, auditorium, and cafeteria. The vote was  1,482 to 382 in favor of the acquisition.

"I'm grateful for the positive discussion and glad that so many voters attended," said Selectman Mary Power following the meeting. "This is a very important issue."

Prior to the vote, many citizens talked on both sides of the issue. Advisory Committee Water Company Acquisition Subcommittee Chairman Victor Baltera urged a "yes" vote.

"Such a purchase would be a financial plus for ratepayers, freeing up capital [for system improvements]," he said.

Subcommittee member Libby Claypoole expressed a different view speaking for the three AdCom members, including herself, who did not support the warrant article. "It's an incomplete proposal, and if it didn't work out we would have to live with the consequences for years to come," she said. "A business plan is also needed."

Water Company Acquisition Study Committee member Ed Siegfried said he entered the process with no preconceived ideas.  But after studying the issue for seven years, he supported the purchase. "If we thought it wouldn't work out, it would have been over," he said.

Resident James O'Hare of the Keep Aquarion group urged voters to take a "No" stand. "After careful study, we decided it wasn't a wise choice to buy the water company," he said. "When something goes wrong it's expensive to fix it. We have good water in Hingham [already]."

Resident Chrissy Maher Roberts - the self-proclaimed "crazy water lady" - gave the final debate speech of the evening with an emotional case asking for support of the acquisition.  Roberts proclaimed "You either believe in Hingham, and that it can do something that 96% of other towns do, or you don't. This Crazy Water Lady believes in Hingham ... and I hope you will too."

The following three related articles -- to name the Hingham Selectmen as water commissioners; to establish a [self-supporting] enterprise fund; and to approve funds to cover the transition -- passed with no discussion at nearly 11:30 p.m. following more than two hours of discussion on both sides of the acquisition article itself. That's when Town Moderator Michael Puzo called it a night.

Guests (non-residents) aren't allowed to speak at the meeting unless with the permission of Town Meeting. That was the case with Hull Selectmen Chairman Domenico Sestito, who read a letter the Hull board sent to the Hingham Selectmen last week in support of the acquisition, encouraging Hingham voters to do the same. "As I said when the Hingham Selectmen visited us a couple of weeks back [to talk about the proposed acquisition] and I will say again, you presented a strong, compelling case."

Voters, however, declined to allow Aquarion officials who were present to speak, including  President and CEO Charles Firlotte, Vice President of Operations John Walsh, and Community Relations Manager Ronit Goldstein.

Because the voice vote was not clear, a standing vote was taken to determine whether or not Firlotte could speak, with more than 1,400 voters saying "No." Voters declined to allow Goldstein and Walsh to speak on a voice vote.

John Walsh, VP of Operations for Aquarion, provided the following statement to the Anchor, "It’s been an arduous process for both sides, we are extremely disappointed for the residents of Hingham, Hull and North Cohasset that we did not prevail. We look forward to working with Town officials on a speedy, orderly and seamless transition process and we thank everyone who supported us."

As the meeting wrapped up, Puzo reminded participants, "Thirteen of the 45 warrant articles have been completed, which means there are 32 left for tomorrow [Tuesday] night. This meeting is about much more than Articles 1 through 13 [10 through 13 related to the proposed acquisition]." He encouraged  voters to return tonight, Tuesday, by 6:30 p.m. so the meeting can start promptly at 7 p.m. "I expect we'll finish the agenda [on the second night]," he said.

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