Monday, October 26, 2015

Why Is RTM So Afraid of North Attleboro Voters?

GOUVEIA: Is North Attleboro's RTM afraid of the voters?

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Posted: Sunday, October 25, 2015 11:30 pm | Updated: 11:44 pm, Sun Oct 25, 2015.
Many times in North Attleboro "the numbers" just don't seem to add up. But the recent action by the town's RTM is arguably the most nonsensical challenge to mathematical logic in the community's history.
Recently this elected legislative body passed a change making it more difficult for voters to overturn RTM actions via the ballot box.
Under the old rules, it took the signatures of 5 percent (about 900) of registered voters to place a referendum question on the ballot. A minimum of 30 signatures had to be from each precinct. Under the new rules, that regulation remains unchanged.
However, RTM members included a new provision that any such referendum cannot pass unless a minimum of 15 percent of the town's registered voters actually cast ballots. Currently, that would be approximately 2700 people.
The town election this year saw roughly 7000 people (about 40 percent) cast votes, largely because the ballot featured a Prop 2-1/2 override. That was a highly unusual turnout for a town election.
In 2014 just over 10 percent voted. That number was less than 10 percent in 2013. Unfortunately, that type of turnout is much more typical.
Most major legislative decisions in town are made by the 135-member RTM. Most RTM members are chosen at elections where less than 2000 people cast ballots, and the vast majority are unopposed. Last year only about 48 people ran for 65 open seats. Some seats attracted no candidates at all.
If 500 people turned out at an election to choose RTM members, everything they voted would be valid and binding. Those 135 people (or the 90-100 that usually show up) would essentially run the town.
But while 500 people is good enough to choose all RTM members, it will now require 2700 people to vote on affirming or overturning one of their decisions. The obvious question here is - why?
Why are 500 voters enough to select the people who will make the town's major choices, but not enough to overturn one of them? Why are 135 people enough to make those decisions in the first place, but 2000 at an election not enough to overturn them?
Just imagine this scenario.
A total of 500 voters turn twice in two years and elect 135 RTM members. Those 135 RTM members pass a controversial new rule of some sort. One thousand people sign a petition to put it on a referendum ballot. Then 2500 people come out to vote on the referendum and reject that controversial new rule by a landslide count of 2400-100.
But it doesn't count. Why? Because RTM passed a rule that 2700 people (15 percent) have to cast ballots or the vote is invalid.
So the action of 135 citizens, put into office by 500 citizens, trumps the actual vote of 2500 citizens? That doesn't add up.
Why do RTM members have so little faith in the citizens of North Attleboro? Why do they continually act like North voters can't be trusted?
RTM member John Dromsky claimed the change was needed because the old rules could have allowed a single voter to overturn a town meeting decision. Of course, that is absurd.
But under the new rules an overwhelming vote of 2500 people could be voided. Which of those two things is worse?
RTM member Jim McKenna was right when he opposed the change because it would "insulate" town meeting decisions from citizens. Obviously, that was the intent all along.
North's RTM ignores voters when they pass non-binding referendums. It refuses to allow them to cast binding ballots on government reform. Now it sets rules to ignore election results based upon arbitrary turnout requirements.
When voting against allowing people to cast ballots on government reform in March, RTM member David Manoogian said proponents of that charter never explained why the current government needs to be changed.
This is why.
Why are RTM members so afraid of the voters? Why are they so intent on limiting the power of the citizens they serve?
Some wonder why more people in North don't turn out to vote. Why should they? Their government has done everything possible to make their votes irrelevant.
If North Attleboro citizens aren't outraged over the way their government is treating them - then they deserve the government they get.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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