There has been a lot discussion on the article to slightly change the town meeting process to allow for more citizen participation. Unfortunately most the discussions have been about my motives and not on the merits of the article. My motive is clear, to eliminate a burden placed on the people of Stoneham by the present procedures. This burden disenfranchises our senior citizens and young families with children. Let’s examine the facts;
The New Hampshire experience
In 1995 towns in NH were given the opportunity to choose a two session process for conducting their town meetings. Since then 65 towns have voted to accept the process and no town voted to repeal that decision. More striking, 80% of the NH towns with a population of over 6000 are operating under this system. Local citizen participation in the process increased on average by 40% in these towns.
What does this proposed change do?
This article does not change the ability for any citizen to go to town meeting and discuss proposed articles and to offer and vote on amendments. The only change is that the final vote, will not be limited to the voters present, but will be private vote by any voter and be taken at the town hall for one week period starting one week after the close of the deliberative session.
The present process manipulates the vote in two ways. (1) The public vote where citizens are scrutinized by friends and supporters of articles which may prevent them from voting the way they want to. (2) The numbering of articles. The Selectman place the controversial articles at the end of the warrant so many of the voters will have gone home and they need fewer votes to pass an article. At last years town meeting the Trash Fee Slush fund was placed at the end of the warrant and voted on by 49 voters and only won by four. Under this plan all articles will be voted on by all voters, and I am sure this article would not have passed.
In conclusion, Harvard economist Edward L Glaeser, in an Op-Ed article in the Boston Globe, argued that to require today’s time strapped citizens to endure lengthy meetings is a time tax to discourage participation, the same as the poll tax was during segregation. Mr. Glaeser concluded his article by saying; “We should be proud of our local government and the town meeting should continue. But we should bring it into the 21st century and make it easier for busy town residents to vote” That is what this article does and I urge all citizens to attend this year’s town meeting and tear down this burden.