Precinct 1, 3, 5 Fall Meeting - Oct 28th, 2019
Precincts 1, 3, and 5 had a community meeting in the Thompson Library. 25--30 people attended and there was a mix of town meeting members and residents.
Steve Revilak gave a presentation titled "How town meeting works". Town meeting is our town's Legislative body. There are 21 precincts (voting districts) with 12 town meeting members each, giving a total of 252. Each year, four people are elected to three-year terms, plus partial terms for vacant seats.
Town meeting starts in April and goes until we get through the warrant -- typically 2--4 weeks. Meetings are held on Monday and Wednesday nights, from 20:00--23:00. Anyone can attend town meeting. Town meeting members sit on the floor of town hall auditorium, and spectators are welcome to sit in the balcony. The meetings are also broadcast by ACMi. We can also hold Special town meetings during the year; these are in addition to the main meeting in April. Special town meetings typically last one evening, and involve a small number of warrant articles.
The warrant is town meeting's agenda, and sets the scope for issues that will be discussed. The moderator announces an article for debate, and the article's proponent presents it. After the initial presentation, town meeting members are given the opportunity to provide comments or ask questions. Eventually, town meeting runs out of things to say, or someone motions to terminate debate. Once debate ends, town meeting votes on the article.
Warrant articles are submitted during the winter. They can be introduced by town bodies, or by resident petition. Articles are given hearings by the Select Board, Redevelopment Board, or Finance Committee, depending on what the article entails. The end product is a main motion (also called a "recommended action" or "recommended vote"), which is what town meeting actually votes on. Main motions are not written during town meeting. Our job is to debate them, amend them (when necessary), and vote on them.
An article might receive a recommended vote of "no action". This means the hearing body recommends that town meeting do nothing with the article at this time. When this happens, the article goes nowhere, unless someone submits an amendment to the no action vote.
Steve gives an example to illustrate the difference between a warrant article and a main motion. He closes by explaining the process by which residents can submit their own articles. When the warrant opens (usually in December), you'll download a warrant article packet from the town website. Work with town counsel on the language, gather signatures, and submit them to the Select Board's office by the due date. Then, you'll have one or more hearings before the Select Board, Redevelopment Board, or Finance Committee. It's generally good to start talking with the relevant body before submitting the article.
Next, Christa Kelleher spoke about her experience in bringing the Election Modernization Study Group warrant article to 2019 town meeting. This was warrant article 36.
Warrant article submissions start in late December/early January. Anyone interested in proposing an article should obtain the forms and checklist from the town website, and speak with Town Counsel about your ideas. Christa wanted to see more attention paid to our election system. From discussions with Town Counsel, a study group seemed like the best way forward. Christa brought this idea to the select board, and started reaching out to local experts on voting and elections. She proposed a committee whose goal is to look at voter registration practices, early voting, ranked choice voting, non-citizen voting, and similar subjects. The group will perform research and make recommendations at the next town meeting.
There's involved in forming a committee than you might think. A committee's work can be ongoing or task-focused, and there are a number of ways it can be structured (task force, working group, etc). Committee proposals also have to include details on the committee composition (who will be on the committee), and who the appointing bodies are. It takes time to iron out these details.
Once the warrant language is written, you can start gathering signatures. Make sure the signatures are legible, so the clerk's office can validate them.
After submitting signatures, prepare for your hearing. The town will mail you a letter containing your hearing date. You'll need to attend the hearing and give a presentation. Christa had to present her article to the Select Board.
Be prepared to collaborate. Town meeting generally feels more comfortable when articles have been well-vetted, and collaboration can be part of that vetting process. Collaboration can also come by way of amendments, and several amendments were proposed to Christa's article (mainly in terms of the size and composition of the study committee).
Next, Len Diggins talks about being a town meeting member. Len finds it's is a great way to talk with people about issues.
To run, you'll need to obtain forms from the Clerk's office and gather signatures. You'll need ten signatures from voters in your precinct, but its safer to gather a larger number, like twenty.
Every year, we elect four town meeting members in each precinct, for three year terms. We also elect TMMs for partial terms. These one- and two-year terms come about when someone moves away, or has to resign. The clerk's office can provide a list of openings in your precinct.
There's no signature gathering requirement when TMMs run for re-election. You'll just need to inform the clerk that you plan to run for re-election.
Once you're on the ballot, you'll need to campaign. Knocking on doors and talking to people can be a great experience. It's very important to listen to your constituents. Len tries to campaign even if he's running unopposed, because it gives him the opportunity to talk with people.
If you find that no one is running for a seat, try to do a write-in campaign. Several of our TMMs were first elected this way.
Town meeting starts in April, and usually runs until June. We meet from 8-11pm on Monday and Wednesday nights. The moderator gives an orientation session before town meeting begins. This can be very helpful for new town meeting members.
In a town, the government is us.
The meeting closes with a question and answer session. Several of the questions involved the condition of sidewalks and sidewalk repair. This illustrated how town meeting members can be an important interface between residents and the rest of town government. TMMs tend to be familiar with how the town is run, so they're a good resource in figuring out who to contact with a particular issue.