Welcome to this week’s LexObserver news roundup, a quick read you can expect in your inbox every Friday.
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Beyond this newsletter, we consolidated some reporting from last week’s newsletter into a general Town Meeting Explainer which you can read anytime on our website. Also, a huge thank you to two volunteers, Sunhee Heo and Jingtao Wu, for translating two of our articles from this summer into Korean and Mandarin respectively. Though these are older articles, we hope eventually to regularly translate our content, and are always looking for more volunteers to help us reach that goal!
Now, the news:Week of Nov. 12: Lexington News Roundup
Reported by Sophie Culpepper; Proofread by Harry Forsdick
- At Special Town Meeting this week, technical difficulties cut Monday’s meeting short. On Tuesday, two of the three discussed zoning articles passed unamended, and one passed in amended form. The Consent Agenda passed unanimously.
- Crime in downtown Lexington: Carrie Thenen, owner of Jewels From the Crown, is frustrated that her store was robbed for the second time in three years last week. Investigations remain ongoing for this break-in and A threat last week to Diamond Middle School, according to Lexington Police Lieutenant Christopher Barry.
- On Tuesday, Lexingtonians and others gathered on the Battle Green to defend national voting rights as part of a statewide and nationwide Week of Action.
- This week’s School Committee meeting was shorter than usual due to Special Town Meeting; most of the meeting was spent discussing parts of Superintendent Julie Hackett’s report about COVID-19 and time-on-learning requirements.
- Due to the holiday yesterday, COVID-19 town numbers for the week won’t be updated until later today; LPS case numbers trended down again this week.
- Community announcements (successful student-organized Asian American and Pacific Islander Veterans Day Benefit Concert yesterday; new boba cafe opened last Saturday; public hearing on FY22 property tax rates next Monday; local vaccination clinics for kids ages 5-11 start one week from today)
At Special Town Meeting session Tuesday, all three zoning articles discussed pass; technical difficulties foil Monday session
Note: We’re posting Twitter summaries of each session after the meeting: Follow us to get those @ObserverLex.
- After technical difficulties Monday curtailed Session 1, Special Town Meeting had to change its proposed schedule of articles and used Tuesday to address three of the articles it had intended to address Monday (zoning articles 12, 13 and 14), as well as the consent agenda, as originally scheduled.
- STM unanimously passed the consent agenda, comprised of four articles: Article 2 (paying for prior years’ unpaid bills) and Article 8 (Climate Action Plan) both which were indefinitely postponed, while Article 6 (paying for community preservation projects) and Article 11 (easements for the Town of Burlington) were both approved. More details in the consent agenda.
- Good fences make good neighbors: Article 12, Structures in Yards, passed by 86.6% of votes after 1 failed amendment. The article’s changes include adding a definition of ‘fence’ and limits to the heights of fences and retaining walls along a street to 4 feet. The failed amendment, proposed by Select Board Member and Town Meeting Member At Large Joe Pato, received 43.1% of votes; it would have allowed e.g. up to a 6-foot fence on top of a 6-foot retaining wall, which he maintained in part could be an important safety measure depending on the topography of the part of town in question. More in the Planning Board’s report.
- Diversity and zoning: Article 13, Equity and Permitting, passed by 94.2% of votes in an amended form after the approval of an amendment by Matthew Daggett (TMM, Precinct 2). This article acknowledges the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in zoning, while the amendment from Daggett minimized originally proposed changes to special permitting and site plan review criteria, which some residents viewed as beyond the scope of encouraging DEI in zoning. Original motion here; amended motion here.
- Here comes the sun: Article 14, Solar Energy Systems, passed by 98.8% of votes. It reduces obstacles to and streamlines permitting for small-scale solar energy systems. Despite the widespread support for this article, one member of the public voiced concerns about unfair labor practices involved in creating solar panels and the waste expired panels create; other members, including Select Board Member Mark Sandeen, said the major elements of solar panels, glass, silicon and aluminum, are “highly recyclable,” and some last well beyond their warranties. More in the Planning Board’s report.
- Motion about new police station updated: Article 5, on funding for construction of a new police station, which was also intended to be addressed Monday, was not addressed Tuesday either because the Select Board submitted a revised motion for this article. Instead, it is now scheduled to be addressed next Thursday, Nov. 18.
- A new permanent station and a temporary station: While the previous motion called for $870,000 to fund the new police station, the new motion will allow Town Meeting Members to vote separately on the two components of this funding: Parts A and B. Part A calls for $255,000 to be appropriated “for design, engineering and architectural services for a new Police Station 1575 Massachusetts Avenue,” and supplements funding already appropriated under Article 14 from the 2018 Annual Town Meeting, according to the original Select Board Statement. This additional funding is necessary because the project has become more expensive than anticipated in the original appropriation due to “requests for additional schematic designs, increased project scope and community input.” The Town will still have to seek construction funding for a new Police Station in the spring, at the 2022 Annual Town Meeting. Part B would allocate $615,000 for the renovation of the building at 173 Bedford St., previously a temporary Fire Station, to serve as a temporary Police Station.
- A proposed amendment: The deadline to submit amendments was today at noon; one amendment is currently posted, submitted by Dawn McKenna (TMM, Precinct 6), which would limit Article 5 to Part A, appropriating funds for the architectural design of a new police station, striking Part B so that the funding for a temporary police station is addressed at a later Town Meeting. McKenna has called for the separation of these two articles at multiple Select Board meetings; at the most recent Nov. 9 Select Board meeting, she said that she was concerned about voting on the temporary police station now because Town Meeting might turn down construction funds or the debt exclusion when those are presented during Annual Town Meeting in the spring. One Select Board member, Suzie Barry, expressed similar concerns with funding the temporary police station now; the other four Select Board members support funding both now. David Kantor, Vice Chair of the Capital Expenditures Committee, expressed concerns about the rising cost of delaying construction at the temporary site; “delaying execution, unless it’s a miracle, is going to cost more money,” he said at the Nov. 9 Select Board meeting. “Unless someone is saying we are not going to need a new police station, it is a fiduciary responsibility to get it done now,” he added.
- The next session of Special Town Meeting will take place Monday, Nov. 15, when the STM plans to take up zoning articles 15 and 16, and financial articles 4 and 7, time permitting. More on STM and the zoning articles in last week’s newsletter.
- Other sessions of STM will take place next Wednesday the 17th, and likely Thursday the 18th, with Tuesday, Nov. 16 on hold as an extra overflow day. More information on the town website. You can watch Tuesday’s session in full on LexMedia, where all Town Meeting sessions will be posted.
- What went wrong on Monday? According to Pato, the portal for virtual Town Meeting is typically moved to a dedicated server prior to the beginning of the meeting, “so that we are protected from contention on the server.” But on Monday, the server the portal was moved to “had a different database engine behind the installation of the software, and that didn’t work well at all with the way the portal works.” To give a sense of scale, roughly two minutes into the meeting, “we had about 7,000 failing connections.” On Tuesday, the Town Meeting portal remained on a shared server, which ran smoothly; Pato asked Town Meeting Members to “take it a little gently” with “intensive activities” such as voting, to avoid everyone acting simultaneously and overwhelming the server.
Carrie Thenen, owner of Jewels From the Crown, describes concerns about safety following second break-in at her store in three years
The culprit left at least one brick used to break the front door on the scene, according to owner Carrie Thenen. (Photo: Nicco Mele / LexObserver)
- The break-in last Friday at Jewels From the Crown on Waltham St. was shockingly blatant, according to owner Carrie Thenen; it happened early in the morning, around 6 a.m., with the culprit breaking the tempered glass front door on Waltham St. The fact that the person responsible broke into the front door, rather than the back door, “speaks pretty loudly to me that they’re like, Okay, I can do this. Who’s going to stop me?” she said. It was first reported to her by a tenant in the space above her around 9 a.m, she said.
- The culprit left at least one brick that had been used in the robbery, but Thenen still doesn’t have any information about who is responsible, she said. “Jewels From the Crown is an ongoing investigation,” Lexington Police Lieutenant Christopher Barry told LexObserver this morning, adding that he could not divulge any additional information while the investigation is in progress.
- It also wasn’t the first time Thenen’s store had been robbed, she noted; about three years ago, someone broke into the store — through the front, but with a hammer rather than a brick, Thenen said. That time, the culprit had “made so much more of a mess in my shop,” she said, by breaking the glass cases; this time, only the door was broken. Though she has insurance, she still has to pay thousands up front in many cases, she said.
- Because this is the second break-in, Thenen now feels she should carry mace, she said. “This should not be happening in Lexington Center,” Thenen said. “I have owned my store for years, and I never worried about anything. And now I have to worry every time I leave the store, is somebody going to try and break in again?” She would feel safer if the center had security cameras or “maybe…an officer that checks doors at night” as a deterrent, she added. Both of these changes together would be ideal, in her view: “it wouldn’t be a band-aid; I think it would be a good suture,” she said. “Once is a fluke. Twice, there’s a problem.”
- Thenen secures most of her wares, including the most valuable items, in a safe at the end of each day — but leaves certain items, “mostly silver jewelry,” in the window displays, since customers tell her they appreciate being able to see what’s new. “This time, [the thief] didn’t get much,” she said, compared to last time. Losses from the first burglary, including damage to the store, totaled approximately $4,500, Thenen wrote in a follow-up email; this time, the cost of jewelry and store repairs is about $3,500, she wrote. But “now, I will not leave jewelry in the windows,” Thenen said, which she worries will affect her business since foot traffic on Waltham St. continues after her business closes, typically around 5:30 p.m.
- The culprit in the first theft was caught immediately, Thenen said, but her jewelry, mostly silver, is still being held by the police due to COVID-19-related delays to the case. She does not know when she will get this jewelry back, she said. Multiple Lexington Police Department members did not respond to multiple requests for comment about this by press time.
- The store was cleaned up and reopened for business the day after the break-in. “I said, I’m not going to be staying home because my store was broken into,” Thenen explained.
Still no update on threat at Diamond last week
- Last week, we mentioned an alert about a threatening phone call regarding Diamond Middle School on Thursday. The Lexington Police Department is still looking into that phone call as well, according to Lieutenant Christopher Barry. “Most of the time those school threats are fairly generic,” he said. “However, in this day and age, you can’t assume that they’re just nothing, so we have to take the steps to do our best to ensure the school community is safe.”
Lexingtonians and others gather to defend voting rights
Citizens from Lexington and surrounding towns gathered on the Battle Green Tuesday to advocate for voting rights. (Photo: Sophie Culpepper / LexObserver)
- Throughout Massachusetts this week, democracy activists from statewide and local Indivisible groups rallied in support of voting rights by traveling from town to town in a “filibuster ban-van” gathering signatures in giant letters to President Biden. The letter calls on President Joe Biden to urge the Senate to end the filibuster and pass the Freedom to Vote Act as soon as possible. The signed banners will be hand-delivered to the White House Nov. 17.
- The Indivisible groups hosted the rallies in partnership with other activist groups including the Declaration for American Democracy and the League of Women Voters, in coordination with a nationwide “Freedom to Vote – Time to Act” Week of Action.
- Over 50 individuals from Lexington and surrounding towns descended on the Battle Green Tuesday between 12 and 1 p.m. The group gathered 66 signatures across two banners, 47 of which were by Lexington residents and the remainder from individuals who attended from 14 other towns including Waltham, Brookline and Salem, according to a follow-up email to LexObserver from Lisa Baci of Minuteman Indivisible, Lexington’s chapter of the Indivisible Mass Coalition.
- Shaw Yang of Concord is a member of the steering committee for Indivisible Acton, and attended the rally in Lexington Tuesday “because we need the White House to hear that we want to take action; they have to stand up for voting rights” in the face of voter suppression by passing the Freedom to Vote Act, he told LexObserver. “It’s also good to have activists come together and do something together, because we do need some hope as well,” he added.
- Yang was holding a full-sized American flag at the rally; he explained that voting, in his view, “is a patriotic duty. And the flag obviously symbolizes patriotism” and therefore is a symbol of voting rights, too.
- “Lexington and Concord are the historical places for freedom,” Yang said. “So, certainly that has a special meaning. But, frankly, we need everybody to come out. It doesn’t matter where you are, where you’re from… We cannot lose our democracy.” He stressed the urgency of this cause, and added that defenders of voting rights “cannot be just us activists.”
School Committee discusses COVID-19 updates, time-on-learning requirements in superintendent’s report
Note: We also post Twitter summaries of School Committee meetings the evening of the meetings: Follow us to get those @ObserverLex.
- Tuesday’s School Committee meeting was shorter than usual in light of Special Town Meeting; most of the meeting was spent discussing updates from Superintendent Julie Hackett’s report related to COVID-19 and time-on-learning requirements.
- Hackett reiterated a Nov. 3 announcement that due to the good LPS COVID news of high vaccination rates and low case numbers, as well as the recent approval of vaccines for 5-11-year olds, LPS is lifting the weekly testing requirement for unvaccinated students participating in sports and rostered extracurriculars under the previously passed local extracurricular vaccine policy, though pooled testing will continue. More here.
- Re Time-on-Learning: Since the School Committee voted to add one early release day per month for middle and high school students +staff at their last meeting, Hackett said a few parents had reached out to learn about whether LPS meets the state’s time-on-learning requirements.
- For about 25 years, Massachusetts has required 900 hours per year of structured learning time for elementary school students, and 990 hours per year at the secondary school level.
- LPS students technically meet time-on-learning requirement in every grade, but for grades 11 and 12, space constraints create problems, per Hackett’s report.
- LHS juniors and seniors can participate in “open campus” for 6/32 schedule blocks (19%), which does not count as “structured learning” under the state’s definition — but, the severe overcrowding of Lexington High School means “We simply do not have the physical space at Lexington High School to keep 11th and 12th graders in classes or studies 100% of the time,” Hackett wrote.
- The recently added monthly half-days for middle and high school students and staff do not move LHS from compliance to non-compliance on time-on-learning, Hackett added.
- LPS has been seeking funding and approval to begin a new high school building from the Massachusetts School Building Authority for a few years; they submitted a third Statement of Interest in June.
- Other highlights from Hackett’s report include that Maria Hastings Elementary School was recognized as a model school. More information in the report.
COVID-19 cases in town and at LPS
- Due to the holiday yesterday, the town dashboard won’t be updated with this week’s case numbers until later today; the town gets its data from the state, which typically posts numbers after 5 p.m. on Thursday, but delayed posting this week’s data for Veterans Day. There were some new cases this week, according to a person from the Lexington Public Health Office; last week, there were 15 new cases.
- At Lexington Public Schools, the number of staff or students who were absent for testing positive remained the same as last week, while the number of students on quarantine declined. As of yesterday, 5 staff or students were absent who had tested positive, like last week, while 1 student (and no staff) was on quarantine, compared to 4 students last week, according to the LPS dashboard. The only cases recorded this week were in some elementary school buildings and the high school, meaning no cases were recorded in many buildings; LPS continues to see very low case numbers.
- Congratulations to students for organizing a beautiful Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) History Inclusion Benefit Concert at LHS yesterday — the concert ran more than two hours and featured everything from Korean fan dancing to traditional Chinese instruments to choral and orchestral performances, as well as speakers including the first Chinese American Two-Star General, William Chen, State Representative Michelle Ciccolo, and Shaw Yang, who also attended Tuesday’s voting rights rally. High school students in the Greater Boston area, including many LHS students, have raised over $10,000 for a curriculum that includes AAPI history, and you can still donate by check, PayPal or Venmo, according to the Chinese American Association of Lexington’s website.
- CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice opened a new location in Lexington last Saturday, Nov. 6. One of LexObserver’s LHS interns said that having another place to get bubble tea, or boba, is very exciting for many students in town.
- There will be a public hearing on FY2022 property tax rates during the Select Board’s meeting next Monday, Nov. 15, at 6 p.m. (before Special Town Meeting reconvenes). Information on the rates here.
- Now that the Pfizer vaccine is officially authorized for 5-11-year olds, LPS will hold multiple vaccination clinics starting Friday, Nov. 19 (one week from today.) You can sign up here.
That’s a wrap for today. Was this roundup useful to you? What do you want to see in this email next week? Let us know, and please, please ask your friends to sign up and donate too! Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with tips and questions anytime. As always, you can also check out and share our website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Thanks for reading and have a great weekend.
Nicco Mele, Sophie Culpepper, and Sarah Liu