Your input counts: Seeking feedback on Town Meetings – deadline May 31st

by beth on May 25, 2017

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The Town Meeting Review Committee is seeking voter feedback by the end of this month.

Over the past year, Southborough residents participated in not only a 3-day Annual Town Meeting, but two Special Town Meetings. That gives participants a lot of experience to draw on when submitting feedback on potential improvements. 

It should also have given those of you who didn’t attend any of the 5 nights a chance to think about why not – and what would have made a difference.

Town Meeting survey card

(click to enlarge)

The committee is researching changes to increase voter participation. To help them make recommendations on future improvements, take their quick survey. (And I promise, it is a quick one.)

Questions cover items like ways to streamline the meeting, quorum, timing, and remote participation. And, of course, there’s a field that allows you to freely share your thoughts.

Last May, when Stephen Morreale was elected Moderator, he promised to research improvements. In June, he worked jointly with the Board of Selectmen to form a Town Meeting Review Committee (TMRC) to review the process, participation, workflow and schedule. They have been working on that since.

This month, a new Moderator was elected – Paul Cimino. But the committee’s mission remains. (After all, as a former selectmen, Cimino voted in support of the committee and its work.)

Before the committee reports out its findings, it is seeking more input. Earlier this spring, members explained:

The committee was charged with exploring ‘best practices’ used in other New England communities, voting procedures, warrant review and community education related to Town government.

To that end, TMRC members have developed a short questionnaire. Your input is sought. Our goal is to make citizen participation in town government work as best as possible – so your comments are essential.

To access the survey, click here. To learn more about the TMRC, click here.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Town Moderator May 26, 2017 at 10:43 AM

To our Town’s voters:

To amplify on Beth’s post — as a Selectman I did indeed support the creation of the Town Meeting Review Committee, and as your new Moderator I continue to strongly support the Committee’s efforts (and I thank my predecessor, Steve Morreale, for his leadership on this issue).

I am confident that we can continue to streamline and improve the Town Meeting experience, and I am looking forward to the Committee’s report. Of course, any substantive changes to the format of Town Meeting will be subject to approval by … you guessed it … Town Meeting voters. Meanwhile, I would urge everyone to take a few minutes to complete the Committee’s short survey.

This comment also is a good opportunity for me to thank you generally for your support on Election Day and in the coming months. I look forward to the challenge of serving our Town as Moderator, and trying to fill the shoes of all of my predecessors who served so well for so many years. Please note that I can be reached by email at any time at ‘moderator@southboroughma.com’ and appreciate any thoughts you may have. Thank you.

Paul Cimino
Moderator

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2 Kelly Roney May 29, 2017 at 10:13 PM

Thanks for your openness, Paul.

Attending Town Meeting is a time commitment. Some have complained about it, but I think it’s a simple fact that direct democracy takes time. The only way to “fix” that would be representative town government (either representative TM or a town council), and I haven’t heard anyone propose that (though probably some have).

I see three main challenges:
– Presentations are too long.
– It seems as though there are different rules for officials than there are for voters/members.
– Voters don’t know how TM works.

Presenters should be able to distill their message into 5-minute talks. In fact, they should aim for 3 minutes, focused on their pitch, not on their charter, or thanking everyone, or trying to bullet-proof their message. By the same token, voters should refrain from repeating from the floor what someone else has already said, except to say, “I agree with X on Y.”

Different rules? We’ve run into problems when there’s an amendment from the floor, and a delay comes due to the requirement to write out the amendment. Why don’t the front tables have to do this? Of course, they do – they just do it before Town Meeting opens. If we’re going to have amendments from the floor – and why bother with TM if we don’t – we need an easier process, say a laptop at which the proposer of an amendment can bang out the text quickly and visibly to the hall. There might also be a way to let voters type their amendments on their own devices.

I’ve been attending TMs for 30 years, and things still surprise me, so it’s no surprise that new members don’t always get what’s happening. Lots of times, someone moves the question when there’s a very short line of speakers, but then it would take longer to count the two-thirds to end debate than it would take to let them speak.

We also need clear adherence to debating the motion on the floor. Yes, there should be latitude regarding debate about how an amendment affects the main motion, but we had one article at this year’s Annual Town Meeting while an amendment was being written, during which the debate was not focused on the amendment. There was also an attempt to amend an amendment that I believe Town Meeting Time prohibits the Moderator from accepting. Steve rightly didn’t accept it, but I would have liked to see him say something like, “Because there’s already an amendment on the floor, we have to vote on it before we can consider another amendment.” When the vote was taken, I’m pretty sure a substantial number of people in the hall didn’t really know what they were voting on.

When we spoke about this after ATM (at the Historical Society meeting, I think), I tried to say some of this, and I think I wasn’t very articulate about it. I’d like to see a separate screen from the presentation screen that has simple status at all times:
– the main motion with the proportion of votes needed to pass, e.g. Article 7
– the subsidiary motion, e.g. amendment proposed by a board, committee, or voter/member with the text of the amendment

To do this, you’d need two things:
– a monitor on your podium, so that you could detect and correct errors
– someone to do the typing who’s pretty conversant with the process

This would only make sense if voters can type their amendments. I suppose we might use an image of a handwritten amendment, but I know my own handwriting is terrible.

All of this would be more democratic. Would it be faster and more convenient? I doubt it. Self-government is hard. It’s just better than giving up.

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