Repost: 7 reasons to attend Town Meeting

Above: Town Meeting 2010 (photo by Chris Wraight)

I published this post two years ago. It was true then, and it’s still true now.

On the fence about whether to attend town meeting on Monday night? Here are seven reasons why you should.

1. You get to decide what your tax rate will be
The more stuff that gets funded at town meeting, the more you’re likely to pay in property taxes. It’s as simple and as complex as that.

2. Not that many people attend, so your vote can make a big difference
As much as I’d like to think the auditorium at Trottier will be at-capacity next Monday night, I know that’s not likely. It’s been such a challenge to meet the 150-person quorum in years past that last year (2008) Town Meeting voted to decrease the quorum to 100.

But what that means is that every vote has a big impact. Last year (2008) a motion that would have decreased the average tax bill by $340 failed by just a single vote. How’s that for impact?

3. It’s democracy at its purest
It might be easy to assume you don’t have any control over how money is spent in town, that some board in some conference room is making those decisions. But you’d be wrong.

Town officials like the selectmen and the Advisory Committee make recommendations on how to spend money, but it’s the voters who get to make the final decisions. Town Meeting may decide to follow the town’s recommendations, or it may completely ignore them and forge its own path. Either outcome is equally valid.

Says Selectman Bill Boland, “We don’t make the rules. Town Meeting makes the rules.”

4. You get to see your friends and neighbors
Say hello to friends while buying a chocolate brownie from the Girl Scouts in the lobby. Wave to your neighbors across the aisle in the auditorium. Feel part of the community.

5. You care whether schools get technology, or the police department gets a new cruiser
Or any number of things. if there are services you’re passionate about — the arts, recreation, schools, public safety — Town Meeting is the place to make sure they get the funding they need.

6. If you don’t attend, you lose the right to complain
“When someone calls me to complain about something, the first question I ask them is did you go to town meeting?” That’s Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf explaining how she has little sympathy for those who don’t participate in the process.

If you don’t like the decisions that were made — or the amount of the check you send to the town each quarter — and you didn’t go to town meeting, then you have only yourself to blame.

7. It beats TV for a night
“It’s one of the great pleasures of living in New England. It’s an ongoing theater,” thinks Advisory Committee Chairman John Butler. So bring your popcorn. (Except don’t, because food isn’t allowed in the Trottier auditorium.)

Town Meeting starts Monday, April 11 at 7:00 pm at the Trottier auditorium. See you there!

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13 years ago

I would like to bring my 14 year old son with me to see town government at work. Is this allowed?

Al Hamilton
13 years ago
Reply to  Bill

Guests are allowed. They have to wear a special sticker and sit other visitors.

At the beginning of the meeting the Moderator reads the list of guests and asks if there is any objection. There never is. You might call David Coombs, our Moderator, who I am sure will be more than happy to help.

I think it is a great idea for your son to attend. I think it should be required for all students to attend at least 1 Town Meeting.

Make sure to remind him that he can’t vote yet. I believe he could however speak.

13 years ago
Reply to  susan

Hey thanks so much!

13 years ago

I thought you had a great idea Bill I had been thinking the same thing. I just called the Town Clerk’s office and was told that only registered voters are allowed in and town employees that don’t live here can come in with special permission. It’s too bad because what a great learning experience this could have been.

Al Hamilton
13 years ago
Reply to  Tessa


That is clearly not the case. Reporters who fall into neither category are admitted. Students who assist with TV equipment are also permitted to attend. Students who have not been old enough to vote have attended. With all due respect to the Town Clerk, the ultimate authority with respect to the rules of Town Meeting is the Moderator who is our elected “Speaker of the House”.

13 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Hi Al
I just got off the phone again with the clerks office and was told that kids – even middle school and high school age – can not come into the hall. They are welcome however to wait in the cafeteria. I still wish this was something that could change. Perhaps it also has to do with the size if the auditorium. There are only 500 seats.

Mary Hynes
13 years ago

maybe we should find a way to amend the rules to allow a special “student admission” or some other mechanism for young people to benefit from this learning experience.

Karen Muggeridge
13 years ago

Town Meeting Time: A Handbook of Parliamentary Law, are the rules that govern town meeting. I don’t have a copy, but let me try to paraphrase the rule as I believe it to be.

The town clerk has the jurisdiction over the hall prior to “the gavel”, or the start of town meeting. Once “the gavel is down”, or Town Meeting has started, the moderator has jurisdiction. (my quotes).

In many towns a section of the hall/auditorium will be cordoned off for non-voters. Names don’t have to be read by the moderator if people are sitting n this area. This is sanctioned by the town clerk ahead of time. As this is not the case in Southborough, a non-voter can get permission ahead of time by the moderator and have their name read at the beginning of the town meeting.

Obviously, you don’t want to have an abuse of non-voters being let into the hall, ie people not getting babysitters, etc, but I don’t think that is the case here.
I also think that were that a group of, let’s say girls scouts working on a badge, they could be given permission by the moderator. They could even be read as a group, not individually.

When I was at ARHS, it was a requirement that we attend town meeting for our freshman civics class. Bill, it is great that you are looking to bring your son. I believe TM is the truest form of grassroots government.
You should be in touch with David Coombs.

carrie alpert
13 years ago

any young adult at ARHS that wants to come to the TM should be allowed~power to the kids!
Oh yes, the ‘rules’ by which we all must follow–they cannot come to the meeting because they are not of age and not a registered voter–the sky will fall and the whole town will crumble. Seems like it is already happening and the youth today have some really amazing ideas. I would really enjoy hearing what visions,hopes and dreams these kids have for our town and what ideas they have.
and really, what’s with the gavel? you cannot just say “time to sit down?”

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