Town Meeting changes backfire

Written by Administrator
 | Wednesday, 12 March 2014 15:48

A variety of changes at this year’s Annual Town Meeting shot for efficiency but ultimately slowed down the process, drawing out some articles for hours.

Among the changes was the use of electronic balloting. Voters were assigned an electronic balloting device, similar to a television remote control, and were instructed to use the device only for certain warrant articles. The devices were used several times on questions that required a majority or two-thirds vote when the traditional voice vote was too close to call.

For these articles, a green light by the moderator’s podium was illuminated, signaling a 30-second voting window for town meeting voters to either press “1” in support of the article or “2” in opposition to the article. In all cases, the electronic devices accurately reflected the direction of the voice vote and teller count, though not to the exact number.

Moderator Friend Weiler explained that the electronic vote and the counted vote would never be exactly the same, because, due to human nature, it is unlikely all voters will vote the same way again, especially on controversial articles.

Betsy Sullivan, Finance Committee chair, explained many financial changes that were made for this year’s town meeting in the hopes of streamlining voting procedures for various articles.

“As some of you have noted, we are trying some new things this year,” Sullivan said. “Some will be comfortable, some uncomfortable, some will stay and some you will not see next year. We are trying to improve and respond to comments from previous years that people cannot dedicate the time town meeting demanded.”

In the past, whether an article required a unanimous vote or a majority vote, a member of the finance committee would stand up and speak about each individual article. This year, the information from the finance committee was printed in the warrant that was available at town meeting.

This change doesn’t mean we didn’t review it and it doesn’t mean we can’t speak to it; we are happy to do that,” she said. “We are looking forward to comments on how this change feels.”

The most notable change was within Article 5, the Fiscal Year 2015 Operating Budget. Instead of voting on totals for each department in the budget, the article was divided into four motions and each line item was read aloud. Voters were able to “hold” certain line items for discussion after the reading. Despite the fact that this new change aimed at shortening the length of discussion on the operating budget, it took nearly 45 minutes to explain the process and clear up confusion, as which point Moderator Friend Weiler Sr. recessed for lunch. It would take another two and a half hours to get through the rest of the operating budget.

Also new this year was the requirement for all amendments to articles to be handed to the Moderator in writing. Voters were provided an amendment form in the back of the Town Meeting informational warrant available at the meeting. Voters filled out the form with the article number, their name and the exact wording of the amendment.