Town Meeting: “Reconsiderations” won’t be taken lightly

by Beth Melo on April 10, 2018

Post image for Town Meeting: “Reconsiderations” won’t be taken lightly

Above: Tonight, when the Moderator goes through Town Meeting instructions, expect him to address reconsideration dos and don’ts. (image cropped from SAM video)

Last night, voters may have been left unsure about the current process to reconsider votes. So, I sought a little clarity.

Late in the evening a voter attempted to reconsider the motion on funding the Trottier track. Upon questioning by Moderator Paul Cimino, he explained it was to help voters not need to return tonight to protect the vote. Cimino denied the motion. 

The Moderator explained that using reconsideration to secure votes was a bad habit at past Town Meetings, and he wasn’t going to allow it to continue.

But he didn’t address the motivation behind that habit. It’s a move voters have traditionally taken to avoid someone else pulling a fast one after the “prevailing side” has left the building. So, I followed up with him today to find out how he would handle requests from voters looking to actually change a vote.

The Moderator confirmed that that he wasn’t going to allow either side of an Article to reconsider a vote unless there was a legitimate reason. 

Cimino couldn’t define exactly what would qualify. But he reassured the demographics of the room doesn’t fit the bill. Voters also won’t be able to re-raise questions because they since took more time to look at the details and presentations that were already out there.

But he acknowledged there might be legitimate reasons at times. An example was if information presented to voters was later discovered to be false.

The Moderator’s decision to change how he handles the motion requests may explain selectmen withdrawing two related Articles. 

Selectmen had proposed Articles 33 & 34 to either eliminate or clarify the process for reconsidering a vote. (You can read about their past discussion here.) Last night, selectmen asked voters to indefinitely postpone the Articles.

Those votes took place after 11:00 pm and were part of an effort to quickly get through more Articles before the night was done. The Moderator proposed four that he believed could be handled rapidly. Therefore, the board didn’t take time to explain and voters didn’t call for a reason. And I haven’t heard back on my query to the Town Administrator today. (So, it’s possibly coincidental.) 

Even if the Moderator does allow a “Motion to Reconsider”, 2/3 of voters have to approve doing it. My opinion is that most voters are against changing a vote mid-Town Meeting, as seemingly underhanded – even if they were on the losing side.

(It is different from bringing an Article back for another chance at the next Town Meeting. That can also be controversial, but less so, since there is plenty of advance notice.)

So, if you came out to vote a position on a specific article, you shouldn’t need to return tonight just to protect that. But, I hope you will anyway, to participate on the votes yet to be taken.

The meeting reconvenes at 7:30 pm tonight at Trottier Middle School. See you there!

(If you can’t make it, click here for yesterday’s post on how to follow it remotely.)

On a separate note – Like the snazzy new Town seal on the podium in the picture above? Assabet students are to thank for that. Kudos on a fine job!

1 MikeD April 10, 2018 at 6:57 PM

While I don’t agree with the ‘gaming’ aspect of the reconsideration process, the moderator showed bad form in summarily dismissing the motion without more explanation. Even though it was late at the time, he missed an opportunity. Thankfully we have the town blog to do what the moderator should have last night.

2 Kelly Roney April 12, 2018 at 2:26 AM

When was the last time a motion to reconsider succeeded?

3 beth April 17, 2018 at 9:03 AM

I reached out to a former longtime moderator, John Wilson. He said that during his 24 years as moderator, there were a few times where Articles were successfully reconsidered. He couldn’t recall specifics but believed that it was based on new information that was considered compelling.

In recent years the trend has been to use the motion in an effort to secure a vote to avoid a later reconsideration.

4 Matthew April 17, 2018 at 2:03 PM

I’m not sure of the rules here but I think the Mr. Cimino was a bit heavy handed in his dismissal of the motion to reconsider. I wanted to speak up but felt that I shouldn’t get up and voice my opinion because I was met with unnecessary skepticism of the value of my comments the first time I spoke at the meeting. I was met with “Do you have anything new to add?” As I was trying to introduce myself.

(Objectivity and fairness is as necessary as efficiency and organization. I think everyone worrying about what time it is to be a bunch of selfish baggage they should leave at the door. I have three kids and my wife left work early to watch them so I could attend the meeting. If staying up a little late and a few bucks for babysitting is the only price most of us pay for democracy then what’s the problem?)

I also believe that anytime a vote needs to be counted that the moderator should also seek a count of those who obstained. There were a number of us who did not vote either way and I was still on the fence because I had not had enough time to consider.
By the time the motion came to reconsider I was ready to vote for the change. My reasons can be explained elsewhere but I believe the whole process would have benefitted from the time many of us had after the first vote.

I believe the ability to reconsider is valuable to the fair process as a whole, not just a tool of those looking to secure the initial vote.

5 Kelly Roney April 17, 2018 at 6:47 PM

Thanks, Beth.

Yes, I’ve seen moves to reconsider, and all but perhaps one were motivated by the desire to prevent further reconsideration.

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