DRACUT -- Ordinarily, after such a controversy-filled Town Meeting featuring split-voice votes on several key warrant articles - as barely a quorum of 250 Dracut voters experienced Tuesday night - one could say Town Moderator Leo Gaudette earned his money.

That could not be said of Gaudette after this feisty biannual gathering, however, as Town Meeting earlier had voted to take away the town moderator's annual $550 stipend, and to strip each member of the Board of Selectmen and School Committee of their annual $2,000 stipends as well.

The successful motion to put an end to payment of stipends to the town's elected officials -- an amendment to Article 4 on the warrant -- was made by Finance Committee Chairman George Dristiliaris, acting on the voted recommendation of his board. His wife, newly elected Selectman Tami Dristiliaris, literally stood alone (at one point, during a Town Meeting standing-vote count) among her colleagues on both boards in siding with a narrow, five-vote, 126-121 majority that voted to discontinue the stipends.

The stipends debate and vote, which Gaudette was forced to send to a paper ballot after the voice and standing vote-counts proved indecisive, represented a total budget impact of $20,550 and took an hour to complete.


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Seconding Dristiliaris' motion and joining him at the microphone to advocate for stopping the stipends was former nine-year Selectman John Zimini.

"We're looking for money for the schools; we're looking for money for the snow and ice-removal deficit," Zimini told Town Meeting. "Twenty thousand dollars here, $20,000 there, all adds up to hundreds of thousands. We have to start somewhere."

Resident Kelly Liakos spoke against continuing the stipends. "They're choosing to do this because they want to serve our town; nobody is forcing them to," Liakos said. "If they want to serve our town that badly, then I don't think they should have to be paid to do it."

Greater Lowell Tech School Committee member Joe Espinola, who receives no stipends for his elective service, also spoke for not paying selectmen and School Committee members anything.

Selectman Joe DiRocco and School Committee Chairman Michael McNamara spoke in favor of keeping the stipends as is. DiRocco called the amount "a small token of appreciation," that covered some of the many miscellaneous expenses all board members incur.

McNamara noted that he and other board members either do not accept the $2,000 stipend, or give that money to local charities. McNamara has been giving his yearly stipend to the Dracut Scholarship Foundation each March, he said.

By contrast, the subsequent warrant Article 5, asking Town Meeting for approval of the $71 million operating budget, took less than 30 seconds by voice vote after the budget was quickly summarized by Chief Financial Officer Ann Vandal.

Also attracting its share of debate and a too-close-to-call voice vote that forced a standing vote count was Article 28, a multiple false-alarm penalty bylaw, put forth by Deputy Police Chief David Chartrand. The proposed bylaw, which Chartrand said was modeled on similar existing bylaws in surrounding communities that have proven effective in reducing the numbers of false alarms, took up several pages of the Town Meeting warrant.

Chartrand and Selectmen Chairwoman Cathy Richardson pointed out that for the first year the specified schedule of fines and possible tax liens against uncooperative false-alarm owners would be waived during an "educational" period. But the bylaw's leading critic, Selectman Tony Archinski, a retired 25-year police officer, persuaded Town Meeting to defeat the article, arguing that it needed to be better explained, simplified, reworded and rewritten. Article 28 was rejected by Town Meeting, with 134 to 126.

In other action, Town Meeting unanimously approved the Board of Selectmen's request to forward 16 proposed changes to the Town Charter to the state Attorney General's Office for a legality check. Town Attorney Jim Hall explained that once the town receives the OK from the state on each charter proposal, voters in the annual town election next May will have an opportunity to vote individually on each. The proposed charter changes include rewording the charter's given number of members of the Board of Library Trustees from three to five, and amending the town manager's job requirements to include management professionals other than strictly those with prior town manager or assistant town manager experience, Hall said.

Several articles proposed by the Community Preservation Committee to expend funds to better the town's recreational facilities all received Town Meeting approval.

Among these articles was a $260,000 plan introduced by Dracut Girls Softball President Steven Gomes to construct a permanent restroom facilities building at Monahan Park. To date, Gomes noted the town's champion ballplayers have had to make do with only portable bathroom stalls at the park, located across the street from the Central Fire Station.

Town Meeting ended on a rather fiery note, as residents Rich Cowan and Julie Jette engaged in a shouting match on the microphone with Gaudette over Article 36, authored by Jette, proposing to post information opposing Kinder Morgan Inc.'s planned Tennessee Pipeline project through Dracut on the town's website.

Town Meeting passed a motion to dismiss Article 36 based on the recommendation of Gaudette, who stated that "Town Meeting cannot instruct a town board, or town department head to violate the law to utilize town property (in this case, the town's website) for a political position," Gaudette said.

Cowan and Jette voiced their objections to the town's decision to post Kinder Morgan's presentation, given at a recent selectmen's meeting, onto the town's website.

"On seeing that posted on the town's website, Dracut residents are getting the feeling that you really don't have their backs on this," Jette told selectmen in the board's meeting at Lakeview Junior High that preceded Town Meeting.

Town Manager James Duggan advised selectmen that in his judgment, the Kinder Morgan posting ought to be removed from the town's website.

Commenting on his shouting match with Gaudette, Cowan said after Town Meeting that six people thanked him for contesting the moderator's ruling that an amendment to Jette's Article 36 was out of order.

Jette's attempt to amend her article on Town Meeting floor, which Gaudette did not allow her to present, would have asked the Board of Selectmen "to hold a public forum within 40 days on the pipeline and compressor station, a forum at which residents would be permitted to speak," Cowan said.

"That amendment sounds tame and reasonable, (but) not to the moderator," Cowan said after Town Meeting. "(Gaudette) didn't even let Julie read the new motion. He wrestled it from her, making the absurd claim the motion was off the topic of what had been put on the agenda in the first place.

"(Jette's) original motion was on presenting alternative views on the pipeline; the amended motion was on presenting alternative views on the pipeline. What's the difference?" Cowan said.

By seven minutes past the scheduled 7:30 p.m. start of Town Meeting only 188 registered voters were in attendance, Gaudette reported. Following a 20-minute recess, Town Meeting had barely achieved its quorum of 250, Gaudette said, before gavelling the meeting to order.

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