Published in the July 26, 2017 edition
By MAUREEN DOHERTY
LYNNFIELD — Town Meeting – that venerable New England institution which many citizens consider to be the purest form of democracy – is about to get a spit-shine in Lynnfield.
The tradition that dates back to Colonial days puts policy-makers and politicians on par with each voter who voices “yea” or “nay” on how their town is run and their money is spent.
As ensconced in tradition as Town Meeting may be, in order to remain relevant to today’s voters and encourage greater participation in the twice-yearly venture, town officials are looking for volunteers to join a Town Meeting Study Committee to update how it is run.
As Town Moderator Arthur J. Bourque III explained to the selectmen recently, a few of these changes would require a charter change while other procedural matters could be incorporated without going through such a formal process.
Matters such as the date of Town Meeting, which the charter dictates must commence on the fourth Monday in April and the third Monday in October each year (barring extenuating circumstances such as severe weather necessitating postponement), would require a charter change, he said.
Other matters, such as where to hold it and how to improve parking at the site on Town Meeting night to make it more convenient for voters to attend, would not require changes to the charter.
Bourque suggested simply requiring those town officials who arrive early to park in designated areas farther away from the school and not scheduling other activities at the school on Town Meeting nights would improve the convenience factor for townspeople. Other options could involve using the town’s elderly van and/or school buses to shuttle voters to the venue and setting up additional designated handicap parking spaces in front of the venue for Town Meeting night.
Resident Pat Campbell, who regularly arrives early to attend the public meetings several boards hold an hour prior to the start of Town Meeting, suggested the town could set up the check-in table earlier as a matter of convenience for voters.
Bourque ran through dozens of suggestions that could improve the flow and efficiency of Town Meeting for the study committee to consider which he had culled from feedback received from voters as well as his own observations.
Other aspects of Town Meeting that could be included in the discussion, Bourque said, include:
• How to handle “spillover” crowds, particularly with regard to the increased use of electronics, such as PowerPoint presentations and the potential for electronic voting;
• Working with the Town Clerk on the voter check-in process;
• Evaluating whether the current Town Meeting warrant format and methodology is most effective;
• Evaluating whether “Robert’s Rules” remains the appropriate guideline for conduct at Town Meeting or if “Town Meeting Times” more closely aligned with how Lynnfield currently runs its Town Meeting;
• Should the quorum of 175 voters be reduced or eliminated after the meeting has begun?
• Should active PowerPoint presentations include each motion being considered by the voters and could these screens be amended live when amended?
• Should additional rules of procedure voted on and established by meeting attendees be established, such as length of speaking time allotted to speakers to state their position and give rebuttals? How should requests for or limitations on the distribution of literature in hall be handled?
• Methods of voting, such as exploring the potential benefits of electronic voting and reconsideration of acceptance on MGL Ch. 39, Sec. 15 on declaration of two-thirds vote in the hall by the moderator.
Given just this rundown of potential topics to be tackled by this subcommittee that would report to the Board of Selectmen and Town Meeting, Bourque thought it could take the better part of a year before the members were ready to make recommendations on proposed changes.
The Selectmen Chairman Chris Barrett and Selectmen Phil Crawford and Dick Dalton were very receptive to the ideas suggested by Bourque.
Bourque also stated he did not want to be a member of this committee but when the selectmen voted 3-0 to create the five-member study committee, they also chose to appoint both Town Clerk Trudy Reid and Bourque as “ex-officio” members, given their respective expertise in Town Meeting procedures.
How to get involved
Residents who wish to be considered for appointment to this committee, which will make recommendations to the selectmen and the town on making Town Meeting more efficient and effective, should send a letter of interest and/or resume to Assistant to Administration Bob Curtin at [email protected] As of press time, about six candidates has expressed an interest, Curtin stated.