Is Fall Town Meeting Being Misused?
With close to 20 articles on the Nov. 7 agenda, selectmen discussed the purpose of the special meeting.
Before offering their support for several articles on the Nov. 7 special Town Meeting warrant Tuesday evening, selectmen considered what exactly the purpose of the meeting should be—and the five board members were not in agreement on the subject.
Selectman James Healy began the discussion by saying he felt the nearly 20-article warrant was “too long” and not what the town had envisioned for a special Town Meeting.
Healy said he felt the town’s main business should be conducted at the annual meeting in May and that only emergency items or those that were critical to pass sooner rather than later should be on the fall warrant.
“The November Town Meeting is supposed to be for budget items that need to be corrected or for town items that come up and are of an urgent nature,” Healy said.
But others felt differently.
Selectman John Bulian said he was fine with the warrant’s length and that if some items were pushed to May, it would make the annual meeting even longer.
Selectman Jerry Wasserman said Healy was not alone in his concerns and that many members of the Finance Committee had voiced similar opinions. But, he added, the town has grown and changed over the years and “waiting until May doesn’t make sense from a management standpoint anymore.”
“We ought to admit that it’s not a special; it’s a regularly scheduled Town Meeting,” Wasserman said.
He also noted that it could be to the town’s advantage to conduct certain items of business in the fall, allowing the town to get in early on the bidding process or get other projects underway.
One of the articles discussed Tuesday, which proposes zoning changes to the New England Business Center, was one of those items that could benefit the town if approved in the fall, Economic Development Director Devra Bailin said.
One of the New England Business Center properties is slated for demolition, and the owner has expressed an interest in redeveloping under the new zoning regulations—changes that could attract “a different type of tenant” and mean more money for both the property owner and the town, Bailin said.
Though talk turned briefly to the five zoning articles that appear on the warrant, the conversation eventually returned to the overall purpose of the special meeting.
Selectman Dan Matthews said though the fall special Town Meeting has become a regular occurrence, voters also expect the meeting to last only one night. He said a meeting that stretches beyond the first evening could result in member absences, articles that don't get fully discussed or articles that are discussed at length at the expense of other items.
Matthews said he’d like to see all zoning articles in the future moved to the spring because they tend to encourage specific concerns that could prolong the meeting “and even derail an article.”
Bulian said he felt that all articles were important if they were placed on the fall warrant by town officials.
He also said that having an extended fall meeting was a rarity and that he “can’t remember the last time we went two nights in November.”
Selectman Moe Handel, board chairman, did not say whether certain types of articles should be limited for the fall meeting. But he did note: “I don’t think anything should be on the warrant that doesn’t need to be on the warrant.”
In the end, selectmen decided to leave it in the hands of the board leadership—asking the chairman (Handel) and vice-chairman (Wasserman) to meet with the town manager to review the purpose of the meeting and decide whether to limit articles.