AN INSIDE LOOK - Commentary and opinions on local politics and life in general in Southeastern Massachusetts! Featuring the writings of Bill Gouveia, newspaper columnist for the Sun Chronicle and local cable TV talk show host. Feel free to read, comment and enjoy!
Monday, April 8, 2013
It Town Meeting an a la carte type Deal?
AN INSIDE LOOK
By Bill Gouveia
This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, April 8, 2013.
The Town of
Westborough is not a neighboring community, but is experiencing an interesting
governmental issue local communities have no doubt come across before.It involves Open Town Meeting and those who
show up for certain articles, vote, and leave.
A few weeks
ago a quorum of Westborough voters began their Town Meeting.But as the budget article approached, a
steady influx of people began to stream in.It turns out most were citizens interested in passing the school
budget.Many had received a series of
text messages from people at the meeting letting them know the budget article
many of the busy folks who could not or did not want to devote many hours of
their day to this civic duty could show up when their favorite topic was at
hand, vote, and then leave.After
conclusion of the budget action, “at least 100 people” left the meeting,
according to Advisory Finance Committee Chairman Edward Behn.
worried that people coming for one issue and then leaving damages the integrity
of Town Meeting.He said, “I think
whenever the integrity of the meeting is undermined, it hurts us all.”
George Barrette also found the practice objectionable, although he noted it is
certainly legal.“We have a
problem.It’s a big one, and it’s not
going to get better,” he added.
texting aspect is relatively new, the problem of voters leaving after voting on
something of specific interest is not.It is pretty common, and something local voters have complained about
for decades.And for many Open Town
Meeting communities, it promises to keep occurring regularly.
has not been friendly to the Open Town Meeting format.Many citizens today prefer to watch meetings
and gather information on their televisions or computers or smart phones.Then they want to vote on the matter at hand
quickly..They would be happy to do it
from home.Many are willing to leave the
more mundane and boring business for those able and wishing to actually spend
hours in a school auditorium or gymnasium during their free time.
nothing wrong with going to only a certain part of the meeting, voting on the
issue, and leaving.When criticized for
this, they often seem surprised.
rather we stay at home and not be involved at all?” asked one local resident I
questioned about this phenomenon.When
told some would prefer that over seeing folks just come, vote and leave, that
same person responded:“It’s the 21st
century.Times have changed.Deal with it.”
person has a point.
In this day
and age, it is difficult to get people to devote hours of their time to a
governmental system that has changed little over the last few centuries.Town Meeting is often tedious, plodding, and
monotonous.It is these things by its
very nature, through no real fault of its own.
For a local
political junkie like me, it is interesting and worthwhile.For most normal folks, it is not.This is clearly evidenced by the fact that an
extremely small percentage of voters attend.
come and vote on something but refuse to stick around for complicated zoning
articles or authorizing the revolving account for the annual white goods
recycling day, we act surprised.And we
blame them – not the system that makes their lives difficult..
OTM was never meant to be fast.It was designed to be both democratic and
thorough.Most importantly, it was
intended to be a voice for the people where every citizen has the opportunity
to be heard and be counted. It is the purest form of democracy.
But it was
never intended to be a vehicle for voting only on what you want, then going
home.Yet that is what it has become in
many towns.And because we can’t stop
that, we pass rules to make it even easier.
I love and
respect Open Town Meeting.I continue to
attend my own, and urge others to do the same.But when they can’t devote hours to the process, I
have trouble blaming them.
left their system of government – or has it left them?
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and
can be emailed at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at