At the request of the new town counsel, Anderson and Kreiger, town meeting moderator Friend Weiler Sr., called a meeting Monday morning. The entire board of selectmen attended as did the finance director, the town counsel, the leaders of the finance committee and fiscal advisory committee and the soon-to-be new town manager René Read.
Before the annual town meeting took place on March 9, there were many issues with its preparation that caused concern among those in charge of the meeting.
“Part of the problem is the preparation to get to where we were,” said Weiler.
It appears that the internal, published calendar to which town officials were supposed to adhere was set aside, which caused many things to happen at the last minute, causing confusion before and during town meeting. Also, many new members appointed to both the finance committee and the fiscal advisory committee in the fall needed additional time to get up to speed, and the February blizzard and subsequent storms forced the cancellation of meetings, which hampered the financial committees’ efforts to finalize their votes on the operating and capital budgets. Having a new town counsel who called for all the motions for the warrant articles to be rewritten after a review the week before town meeting also led to frustration for those who run the meeting.
“This just happened to be a town meeting with a lot of motion changes,” said Selectman David Madigan. “It seems like we were shifting the sands as we were going along.”
“Every single motion had to be rewritten the week before” town meeting, said Susan Kelley, executive assistant to the town manager/selectmen.
“We had a lot of new characters in the play and we stumbled a bit,” said Finance Committee chairman Betsy Sullivan. “We did this to ourselves.”
“But the end result came out well,” responded Selectman Shawn Dahlen.
Town Counsel Kevin Batt of Anderson and Kreiger offered suggestions to help with next year’s town meeting preparation. He said Duxbury had too many people involved with crafting the motions for the articles, and he recommended that in the future a group of five begin this process. This group would include the moderator, finance director, one selectmen, an administrative assistant and the town counsel. After this smaller group set the motions, he said another meeting should be called for all the article proponents to review the warrant, the motions, and their presentations. Time limits would then be set for all speakers and presentations.
At the meeting, the officials and committee members discussed what was an appropriate time limit for both speakers and for official presentations such as the budget. Weiler said he felt that town officials and board members discussing the budget should be allowed more time than speakers on the floor, but he did not specify how long that should be. Weiler said it was hard to control time limits for speakers during the meet- ing because he wanted to give equal time to both proponents and opponents of articles.
“It’s really difficult,” Weiler said of controlling the length of time people were allowed to speak as the meeting ran its course.
Fiscal Advisory co-chair- man James Lampert said of- ficial presentations should be limited to ten minutes and speakers should have less time.
“They do have the right to speak, but they don’t have the right to speak interminably,” said Lampert.
Selectman Ted Flynn felt something must be done to shorten the motions read by the finance committee. He said it bothered him that Sul livan had to read three long motions for routine utility pole easements at the third night of town meeting this year.
“We waste a phenomenal amount of time reading these lengthy motions,” said Flynn.
Batt recommended stream lining town meeting by putting the motions on an overhead projector. That way the audience could read them to themselves and the person present ing the motions could save time by saying “so moved” instead of reading the whole motion. Batt said this technique works well in Lexington, where he is a town counsel.
Meeting participants were also frustrated by the way amendments were presented at town meeting, saying some, such as the police chief’s amendment to the animal control bylaw, should have been drafted and submitted long before the meeting. Batt sug- gested the town have quadruplicate forms available at the meeting for amendments, so speakers could more easily submit their amendments in writing to the moderator, town clerk and town counsel. This would help to eliminate some confusion during town meeting.
Batt also recommended that Duxbury consider placing some of the items that are in the special town meeting into the annual town meeting, but town officials balked at this suggestion. They felt that the special town meeting had traditionally been for items that need action in the current fis- cal year. While Batt said this could still happen in the anual town meeting, Duxbury officials said to change that notion would be confusing.
“In the special town meeting, people know that they’re dealing with the current fiscal year,” said Finance Director John Madden. “Let’s keep it simple.”
Another of Batt’s suggestions also met with a bit of resistance. He recommended eliminating the first article, which allowed for the appointments of board and commit- tees by the moderator and selectmen. Batt said this article didn’t line up with the town’s bylaws, which also allow the town manager to appoint committees. Batt said if residents defeated Article 1 it could wreak havoc. However, town officials said they liked Article 1 because it set the tone for the meeting to begin and got people voting.