Wednesday, May 3, 2017
A CITIZEN’S GUIDE
TO TOWN MEETING
AN OVERVIEW OF OPEN TOWN MEETING
Produced by: William A. Gouveia, Town Moderator
Norton Town Meeting Guide
This document is designed to be a simple guide to attending Town Meeting in the Town of Norton. The purpose of this brief guide is to encourage attendance, stimulate participation, and further understanding of the town’s legislative process.
Norton has an Open Town Meeting form of government, and such a system depends on the active participation of its registered voters in order to succeed. Neither all the questions nor all the answers are contained on these pages. But it is hoped you will utilize the guidance provided here to become and stay active in town government.
Town Meeting is run according to the rules published in the book Town Meeting Time.
Definition of Town Meeting
Town Meeting is a gathering of the town’s registered voters in order to act as the legislative body of government. There are two types of Town Meetings: the Annual Town Meeting (ATM) and Special Town Meetings (STM).
The Spring Annual Town Meeting is held sometime in the months of April, May or June. It is generally considered the “financial meeting”. It is where the budget of the town is voted, and most major financial appropriations are acted upon. The Fall Annual Town Meeting is held within the between the months of September, October and November. It is considered the “business meeting”, and is generally reserved for bylaw changes, zoning amendments, and other matters not directly related to the operating budget. However, matters of all types may and can be considered at either session.
Special Town Meetings (STM) are held for unforeseen or emergency actions that cannot wait for the ATM. STM can transfer funds within the budget or articles, but cannot raise and appropriate new funds from taxation.
Calling Town Meeting
The ATM is required to be held within the months previously mentioned. The selectmen must open the warrant for each meeting, and close said warrant 90 days before the date of the spring annual town meeting and 45 days before the fall annual town meeting, and 5 days after a public notification of the closing. Citizens can request selectmen place an article on the warrant prior to its closing, or they can guarantee a spot by submitting a petition prior to the warrant’s closing with the signatures of ten (10) registered voters.
Selectmen may call a STM by majority vote, and must close the warrant for said STM 45 days before the date of the meeting. Voters may also force the calling of a STM by submitting a petition calling for same bearing the signatures of at least two hundred (200) voters. Voters may also add articles to an open STM warrant via a petition containing at least one hundred (100) signatures.
All Town Meetings must be held within the physical borders of the community and be open and accessible to all who wish to attend. The responsibility for calling the Town Meeting and setting the date resides with the Board of Selectmen. Once the Town Meeting begins, the Moderator is in charge of all facets of the meeting.
All Town Meeting warrants and articles must be submitted to the Finance Committee for their recommendation. The Finance Committee is an 11-member board appointed to staggered terms by the Town Moderator. They must issue a recommendation on all articles to come before the meeting, and must make those recommendations available in writing to the voters. Their meetings are open to the public, and they must hold a public hearing on the budget every spring. Any positive recommendation of the Finance Committee shall be the initial motion on that article to the meeting.
VOTERS – All registered voters can attend and will decide all motions.
MODERATOR – The elected official charged with running the meeting. The Moderator is given broad powers and decides all disputes and parliamentary questions.
TOWN CLERK – The elected town official who records the minutes of the meeting and all actions, and reports all the results to the state.
TOWN MANAGER – The chief executive officer of the town, responsible for submitting the town budget to the Finance Committee and Board of Selectmen.
COUNTERS – Individuals appointed by the Town Clerk to serve as counters when a standing vote is required, and to man the ballot box when a ballot vote is required. They also serve to check in voters and make sure they are registered.
TOWN OFFICIALS – The selectmen, school committee members, and other elected and appointed boards and officials required to be at the meeting to answer the questions of voters and speak on articles that pertain to them.
TOWN COUNSEL – The town’s attorney who is present to give opinions on legal issues that may arise.
Voting and types of votes
Majority: At least half + one (50% + 1) of the total vote count must be in favor to pass. Example: 70 voters; 36 votes in favor; 34 votes against – the motion passes. Most votes taken during town meeting require a majority; those that do not are explicitly called out in this document.
Plurality: A plurality vote occurs when more than two (2) options are before the voters; the winner is the option that receives the most votes. Example: 70 voters; 20 votes for A; 22 votes for B; 28 votes for C – choice C wins. Plurality votes are required for situations such as nominations to committees.
Two Thirds (2/3): At least 2/3 of the total vote count must be in favor to pass. Example: 66 voters; 44 vote in favor; 22 vote against – the motion passes. A 2/3 vote is required for by-law changes; appropriations from the stabilization fund; or requests to borrow money. The moderator may determine if a vote is 2/3 or not my voice or show of hands.
Four-fifths (4/5): At least 4/5 of the total vote count must be in favor to pass. Example: 100 voters, 80 vote in favor, 20 vote against – the motion passes. A 4/5 vote is required for motions that request payment of an expenditure for the previous fiscal year during an Annual Town Meeting. The Moderator may take a voice vote and, if it is unanimous, that will count as a 4/5 vote. If there is any opposition, the vote must be counted.
Nine-tenths (9/10): At least 9/10 of the total vote count must be in favor to pass. Example: 100 voters, 90 vote in favor, 10 vote against – the motion passes. A 9/10 vote is required for motions that request payment of an expenditure for the previous fiscal year during a Special Town Meeting. The Moderator may take a voice vote and, if it is unanimous, that will count as a 9/10 vote. If there is any opposition, the vote must be counted.
Challenges: The decision of the Moderator on whether or not a particular vote has passed or failed by voice vote or show of hands may be challenged by the voters. If seven (7) voters stand and challenge the Moderator’s declaration, a counted vote shall be taken. If fifteen of the voters present so request, the vote must be by ballot. The Moderator may decide to hold any vote by either counted hands or ballot at the Moderator’s discretion.
Show of Hands: The Moderator will decide most votes though a show of hands. The Moderator will announce the result and it shall be subject to challenge as stated in the town bylaws.
Counted Vote: The Moderator shall ask all those voting Yes on a question to stand, and they shall be counted by tellers designated for such purpose by the Moderator and/or Town Clerk. The process shall be repeated for all those voting No. The tellers shall tally the vote and report it to the Moderator, who will show it to the Town Clerk and then announce the result to the meeting.
Ballot Vote: The Moderator will announce the rules for any particular ballot vote, and the Moderator and Town Clerk shall preside over the process. There shall be a ballot box where the ballots are secured, and the tellers shall tally the votes and report said tally to the Moderator, who will share it with the Town Clerk and announce the result to the meeting. All ballots cast shall remain in the custody of the Town Clerk.
Procedures and Motions
The rules for operating Norton’s Town Meeting are set by the town bylaws, by Town Meeting Time, and by the discretion of the Moderator in office at the time.
There is a zero quorum requirement in Norton, so when the Moderator calls the meeting to order, business can be conducted by as few as one voter.
The moderator will read the opening of the warrant and confirm with the town clerk that the warrant has been properly posted.
The town warrant is the document from which the official business of the town is conducted. All town meetings must be called pursuant to a warrant signed by the selectmen and the warrant must contain all articles to be acted upon at the meeting. Refer to: Ch. 39, Sect. 10 M.G.L.
The warrant is printed and posted, i.e. available to the public, at least fourteen (14) days before the meeting in accordance with town bylaws. At that time a copy can be obtained at the town hall. Copies will also be made available at the town meeting.
The town warrant contains a list of articles; these are the requests that are to be considered at the meeting. All articles must include the following:
• what the petitioner wants the town to do, i.e. what the request is for
• what department or committee the expense is for
• who is responsible for the expenditures or proposed action
• who the sponsor is
The moderator will call for a motion on each article. Articles will be considered in the order in which they appear in the town warrant.
A motion for the article will be made. While articles use general language, the motion for the article must be specific. Example Article: “To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate, transfer from available funds available in the treasury, or borrow under the provisions of Chapter 44 of the General Laws, a sum of money to purchase or lease purchase a pumper truck for the Fire Department, or take any action thereon.” Example Motion that would be in order: “Mr. Moderator, I move that the Town vote to raise and appropriate one hundred seventy-five thousand dollars for the purpose of purchasing and equipping a new pumper truck for the Fire Department, such funds to be expended under the direction of the Public Safety Officer.”
The motion must be within the bounds of the original article. For instance, if a motion was made for this article to purchase a sanding truck for the D.P.W, it would not be in order.
The motion for the article must be submitted in written form. The motion as written must exactly match the motion that is spoken on the floor. This is necessary to maintain an accurate recording of the proceedings. Written motions for articles should be submitted to the moderator prior to the meeting. The moderator will follow along as the motion is made to ensure they are the same.
If the motion is not in order, the moderator will indicate the problem and either seek to rectify it or declare the motion out of order.
All articles receiving a positive recommendation from the Finance Committee will be moved by the Finance Committee, and the Moderator will recognize the chairperson or representative of the Finance Committee for that purpose before recognizing anyone else for the purpose of moving the article.
As part of the motion, reading of portions of the article may be waived. In those cases, the moderator will encourage questions from the floor so the entire motion is understood.
In some cases, a written report may be required for an article. When this occurs, do not include the reading of the report as part of the motion for the article. The moderator will call for the report once the motion is in order and there is a second.
The moderator will call for a second on the motion, except that any motion made by the Finance Committee shall automatically be considered to have received a second.
Any town meeting member can second a motion. When seconding a motion, the name and address of the voter who seconded needs to be identified and recorded for the meeting minutes. This is necessary to maintain an accurate recording of the proceedings.
If there is no second, the motion fails.
The moderator will call for any discussion on the motion.
Any town meeting member (voter) or person authorized to speak can indicate to the moderator they wish to speak during discussion.
All speakers must:
• be recognized by the moderator before speaking
• speak into one of the microphones provided If you need assistance, notify one of the tellers when checking in. Should you need other kinds of assistance, please notify the town hall prior to the meeting so proper accommodations can be made.
• state your first name, last name and street address This is necessary to maintain an accurate recording of the proceedings. If you are recognized to speak and you’ve already given your name and address during that town meeting session, you do not need to repeat your name and address.
• address all comments and questions to the moderator Examples: “Mr. Moderator, I’d like to ask…” or, “Madam Moderator, I support this motion because…”
• speak only to the motion under discussion If your comments or question are not within the bounds of the motion being discussed, the moderator will indicate that your comments are not in order and ask that you keep your comments on topic.
• limit your comments to 3-5 minutes If you have a need to address the floor for more than 5 minutes on a particular motion, you should contact the moderator prior to the meeting. Speakers may ask the moderator for additional time, but it may not always be granted.
The moderator will attempt to keep the discussion as evenhanded as possible. The moderator will recognize speakers with various viewpoints on the motion at hand and recognize speakers who can answer questions that have been posed. As a result, speakers may not be recognized in the order in which they expressed their desire to speak, i.e. “who raised their hand first”.
When it is time to vote on a motion, the moderator will:
• indicate what percentage of yes votes are needed to pass the motion (different types of motions require different vote thresholds)
• make a decision on how the vote will be taken: voice vote, standing count, or paper ballot
Types of Motions
During discussion, town meeting members can make a motion to amend on any main motion (motions pertaining to warrant articles). In addition, other types of motions can be amended, e.g. an amendment can be amended.
1. Be recognized by the moderator to speak.
2. Make a motion to amend. Motions for amendments follow the same rules as motions for warrant articles:
• It must be specific: Amendment that would be in order for the prior example: “Mr. Moderator, I move that the amount of funds to raise and appropriate for the motion before the floor be amended to read two hundred and ten thousand dollars.”
• It must be relevant to the motion currently under consideration.
• It must be submitted in written form and be identical to the motion made on the floor
3. The moderator will declare the motion to amend is in order. If the amendment is not in order, the moderator will indicate the problem.
4. The moderator will call for a second on the motion to amend. If there is no second, the amendment fails.
5. Proceedings will move to discussion and a vote.
6. Amendments can also be amended, but it can get confusing if there are too many amendments on the floor at one time. Amendments will be limited to at most two (2) amendments at any given time, with only one (1) at a time allowed on the main motion. When one amendment is disposed of, another amendment can be proposed. If an amendment is before the floor and a proposed amendment to it fails, the amendment before the floor can be amended again. Amendments shall be by a majority vote, even if the vote necessary on the main motion is a higher requirement.
7. When an amendment is passed, it then becomes the main motion. The Moderator shall then ask for a vote on the main motion as amended, and that shall be the vote on the article itself.
MOTION TO MOVE THE QUESTION
If town meeting members feel that discussion is becoming repetitious, they can ask for discussion to stop so a vote can be taken. To do this, any town meeting member can make a motion to “Move the Question”, “Move the Previous Question”, or “Call the Question”.
1. Be recognized by the moderator to speak. You must be recognized in order to move the question; if a town meeting member has not been recognized to speak, the motion will be ruled not in order and disregarded.
2. Make a motion to move the question. “Mr. Moderator, I move the previous question.”
When you make a motion to move the question, it is the only thing you must do. It would not be in order to make comments about the issue at hand and then move the question.
3. The moderator will declare that the question has been moved.
4. The moderator will call for a second on the motion to move the question. If there is no second, the motion is lost and discussion continues on the article under consideration.
5. Proceedings will move to an immediate vote on whether or not discussion will stop. If it is evident to the moderator that a number of town meeting members have not had a chance to speak, the moderator may make the floor aware of this information before a vote is taken. A majority vote is required to pass the motion. Upon a successful vote, the article under consideration shall immediately be voted upon with no further discussion.
6. The Moderator has the discretion to deny a motion to move the question if the Moderator believes there has not been enough discussion on the matter, or that many people who wish to speak and may add value to the discussion have not yet been able to address the meeting. The decision of the Moderator in this instance is final and cannot be appealed.
MOTION TO RECONSIDER
After a vote is taken on a motion, a town meeting member can ask the floor to reconsider the motion to vote on it again.
1. Be recognized by the moderator to speak. You must be recognized in order to make a motion to reconsider.
2. Make a motion to reconsider. “Mr. Moderator, I move we reconsider article…”
3. The moderator will declare that a motion to reconsider is before the floor.
4. The moderator will call for a second on the motion to reconsider. If there is no second, the motion fails.
5. Discussion will be allowed if the motion being reconsidered allows discussion.
6. Proceedings will then move to a vote. A simple majority vote is required to reconsider most articles.
7. If you vote YES on a motion to reconsider, you are saying that you wish to reopen discussion and take a re-vote. The original vote is discarded and a new vote is taken.
8. If you vote NO on a motion to reconsider, you are saying that the vote already taken should stand and no further vote will be allowed on this issue.
9. After a vote to reconsider has been taken, it cannot be reconsidered again.
10. A motion to reconsider for an article can be made before the end of the session, i.e. before adjourning or dissolving the meeting. However, if town meeting is adjourned to a subsequent session, voters may still reconsider any article that has not yet already be reconsidered – even if the article has been acted upon during a different night.
11. The Moderator will not accept any motion to reconsider an article until at least three articles on the warrant following that article have been acted upon. If there are fewer than three articles remaining on the warrant, the Moderator shall accept any proper motion for reconsideration.
There are many other motions with varying requirements. The full chart of motions can be found in the book Town Meeting Time.