Where WERE you last night?

Discussions about upcoming warrant arcticles or anything else related to Town Meeting.

Where WERE you last night?

Postby swamper on Tue May 04, 2010 8:57 am

With the exception of a noted "few"......WHERE WERE ALL YOU "SCHOOL PEOPLE" LAST NIGHT? You wonder why the "special interest" tag gets used and proven time and time again? An "as usual" PATHETIC turn out for Annual Town Mtg. last night in a Town of 30,000 as the REST of the Town's budget issues take place! I had to laugh as the moderator made statements like...."I see 50 voters standing"....I doubt there were that many in attendance sans the board members/officials. There were literally less than TEN voters in the bleachers that were PACKED TO THE GILLS at the school vote STM just two months ago. People just DON'T get it and unfortunately probably never will. *sigh*
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Re: Where WERE you last night?

Postby swamper on Tue May 04, 2010 9:16 am

Tewksbury approves budget hike for FY 2011
By Joyce Tsai, jtsai@lowellsun.com
Updated: 05/04/2010 06:41:07 AM EDT

TEWKSBURY -- Without even a peep of dissent from those in attendance, residents at annual Town Meeting last night approved a 2.4 percent increase in the town budget to $77 million next year.

Before the town gave its stamp of approval, Finance Committee Chairman Kevin Donnelly declared his committee was "pleased it was a balanced budget" that was both "fiscally responsible and ethical."

It was one of the first times in recent memory that the budget passed so smoothly -- with no heated debate and no eleventh-hour amendments to what was originally proposed.

"Tonight reflects the hard work a lot of people put in before the Town Meeting," said Selectmen Chairman Todd Johnson. "We did all the spade work ahead of time."

Residents also approved articles that budgeted $9.4 million for its sewer enterprise fund and $6 million for its water enterprise fund, but not without a few questions about what kind of tax hike that would amount to for town residents next year.

Donnelly demanded to know what kind of tax hike town residents should expect in their water and sewage bills for next year if they approved the budget for those funds.

"I need an estimate. Is it going to cost? Is it going to up by 5 percent, 10 percent or 20 percent?" he asked.

Town Manager Richard Montuori said that although a tax increase was expected next year, it was impossible to know the details yet.

A couple of town residents asked that in the future, more details that laid out the financial impact to residents be made available before being asked to vote on big ticket budget items.

"Without knowing details like how big or how much it is (the impact to residents' taxation rate), is like giving you a blank check," complained one resident.

The town also approved an article that would allow the town to provide worker's compensation coverage to its employees, making it one of the last towns in the areas to do so.

Selectman Anne Marie Stronach said that despite the success in passing many of the articles up for discussion last night, she was disappointed by the lack of voter turnout.

"I don't know if it's apathy, or that the articles aren't very controversial," said Selectman Scott Wilson about the low turnout. "Or I like to think that in general, the town thinks we're doing a good job."
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Re: Where WERE you last night?

Postby GuitarTeacher on Tue May 04, 2010 11:06 am

Personally, I had prior plans that could not be broken. Otherwise I would have been there.
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Re: Where WERE you last night?

Postby Mrs C on Tue May 04, 2010 11:04 pm

Unfortunately, hubby worked much later than expected so there was no way for me to make it. So it's not necessarily "voter apathy" that keeps people from going to town meeting (although I agree that's the biggest reason for low turn out).
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Re: Where WERE you last night?

Postby swamper on Sun May 16, 2010 1:08 pm

**Note: Bolded statement in article below is INCORRECT, this is merely the date of the Committee's next mtg.**

Tewksbury study: Alter Town Meeting
By Joyce Tsai, jtsai@lowellsun.com
Updated: 05/16/2010 06:41:13 AM EDT

TEWKSBURY -- To some, it's the purest form of democratic government.

To others, it's a dinosaur of a bygone era.

The Open Town Meeting form of government is under fire -- and may become a relic of a lost age -- if the selectmen and administrators are able to convince voters that it's a burden in the modern age of two-paycheck families and ever-dwindling free time.

**A Special Act Charter Committee has been studying whether Tewksbury should change its long-established form of government for the past year, and it plans to present its recommendations and findings to the Board of Selectmen on May 26.** It is looking at changing to a more limited version of Open Town Meeting, a Representative Town Meeting or town council form.

A more limited Town Meeting would involve a shorter warrant that would include the approval of the budget, changes in town and zoning bylaws and the adoption of state statutes, said Liz Carey, head of the Special Act Charter Committee. Selectmen would vote on day-to-day items.

Tewksbury has been conducting an Open Town Meetings since it first was incorporated in 1734, said Carey. That was more than 250 years: "Back then, women didn't vote -- only men voted," she said.

Economically and socially, Town Meeting has evolved -- and not for the better, said Carey, who served as town clerk for 27 years.

"We would get 600 to 700 people in the '90s, and now you are seeing it dwindling down to 120 ...," Carey said. "And you say,
'Whoa, let's see what we can do to strategize this.'"

The reasons for that low voter turnout are manifold, Carey acknowledges, but in her view, the hiring of a town manager in 1987 was crucial.

"People became more comfortable with the town manager as the day-to-day manager of the town," she said. She still remembers in one Town Meeting a man saying: 'I don't want to be here; that's why I elected you here."

The fact is "most people don't want to be there," he said.

The average Joe or Jane is unlikely to be involved in town government, unless a warrant article affects or interests them, such as the recent vote on whether to build a new high school, Selectman Anne Marie Stronach said.

"But this isn't just limited to Tewksbury," Stronach said. "I think this just a national issue -- people just don't have the time or interest to get involved unless they see it as problem."

The high-school vote drew 2,200 voters -- compared to last week's more run-of-the-mill meetings that garnered a little more than 100 voters, Carey said.

That's because "demands on people's time are at premium," Stronach said.

On a recent Town Meeting night a crush of cars in the high-school parking lot revealed itself to be those attending athletic events. Town Meeting played to a considerably smaller audience in the school gym.

"People would rather sit home and watch American Idol, or the Celtics or the Bruins, than see another budget get rubber-stamped," said Selectman Scott Wilson.

But "once people believe they make a difference, they come out and vote," Wilson said.

Tewksbury's desire to brush off its colonial-era government is typical, said Michael Walsh, a political science instructor at University of Massachusetts Lowell and former state representative.

Tewksbury, which has a population of about 33,000, is "at the critical population point of more than 20,000 people where having a open-meeting form of government proves to be pretty impractical," Walsh said.

"It's been a long-held tradition that government at its ground level is the best form of government," but that presumption doesn't fly any more. "In theory that sounds great, but in practice we're just not getting people out and invested in these issues," Walsh said.

Dennis Ready, who was instrumental in Chelmsford's transition from Open to representative Town Meeting in 1989, said voter participation is much stronger now.

"The toughest part are people are afraid of change," said Ready, a former selectman. "The people who want to keep Open Town Meeting were saying, 'this is the purest form of democracy -- we don't want to do away with it.' People who were against it were saying 'this is inefficient.'"

Those people protesting the change most strongly usually ended up becoming town representatives, he said.

Mike Flynn, who regularly frequents town meetings and served on the Finance Committee, said the proposed changes are less about voter participation and more about selectmen seeking to increase their power.

"No citizen has come and complained that we have to change our form of government. To me, it's just the selectmen ...," Flynn said. "It's all about control. The selectmen want to become basically the presidents and vice presidents of Tewksbury, and they don't want residents and citizens to question their authority."

But the vote to change the system will "probably breeze through a vote at a Town Meeting that is sparsely populated," Flynn acknowledged.

Residents won't realize that privilege of participating in town meetings "is gone, until it's gone," he said.

"People couldn't care less -- until it's too late."

What could be in Tewksbury's future

Tewksbury is considering acharter change that will alter its government structure. Among the options:

Open Town Meeting: The town's current form. Any registered voter is eligible to discuss and vote on issues.

Limited Town Meeting: Town Meeting will still vote on budget and zoning matters, but other decisions will be made by selectmen.

Representative Town Meeting: Each precinct will elect a set number of representatives to serve as the town's legislature. Billerica and Chelmsford use this system.

Town Council: This will eliminate Town Meeting, and turn power over to an elected council. Watertown uses this system, with representatives elected to serve either one precinct or townwide.

Read more: http://www.lowellsun.com/todaysheadline ... z0o736P6Q4
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Re: Where WERE you last night?

Postby RHall on Tue May 18, 2010 12:13 pm

The news article in the Sunday edition of the Lowell Sun (5-16-10) stated that the Special Act Charter Committee "plans to present its recommendations and findings to the Board of Selectmen on May 26". THIS IS INCORRECT. That is the date of the Special Act Charter Committee's next meeting.

We will be scheduling a meeting with the Board of Selectmen shortly. As well we will be scheduling public hearings in the near future to discuss the possible changes to our Town Charter.

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Re: Where WERE you last night?

Postby bferrari on Tue May 18, 2010 1:00 pm

Any other form of government other than what we have now is STEALING YOUR VOICE and YOUR VOTE from YOUR OWN MOUTH.

In Representative Town Meeting (ask Billerica how that is working out), a select few individuals run to represent your voice. Guess who runs for these positions...?? Anyone?? Developers, friends and relatives of town employees, and anyone who has any monetary gain to make based on changing or keeping the status quo.

Town Meeting must stay as it is. If people don't show up, that is their own fault!

When Liz Carey decided to retire (not run for the position of Town Clerk anymore) she and the former Town Manager sought to remove the requirement that Town Clerk position be an elected one. Of course Liz was all for it, thankfully the upswelling of the public against this put a stop to it.

Moral of the story: Once your remove the "elected" requirement from positions, you remove incentive and the option of removal by the people.

Second Moral of the story: If so many people spoke out against this move by the former Town Clerk and former Town Manager, what makes our local government believe that they will be FOR a move away from Town Meeting as it stands? Just think about that.
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Re: Where WERE you last night?

Postby sean_czarniecki on Tue May 18, 2010 5:02 pm

I agree with Bob's position. No representative will EVER vote every vote the way I would. Do I go to every Town Meeting? Nope. I read all the articles and mark down the way I would vote. I decide if there are any that I would be upset about if they went opposite of what I would vote. If so, I make sure to clear my schedule to be there. If not, I let my schedule play out (if it is clear, I go). If we have another form of government, suddenly, I lose the option of voting the way I want.
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Re: Where WERE you last night?

Postby U8Coach on Wed May 19, 2010 7:31 am

I agree 100%. I feel comfortable knowing that my voice will be heard if I choose to speak, even if it is not at every meeting or on every subject. I say "no" to representative TM.

Secondly, if you want to know why less people show up for the passing of the budget? Maybe because the people in town who care enough to debate and ask for change have seen history enough times to know that Town Meeting is not the place where opposition and debate is welcomed lest we tear apart the fabric of the community.
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Re: Where WERE you last night?

Postby DavePowers on Wed May 19, 2010 8:22 am

Article 1 (home rule petition and now HB3818) was passed at Town Meeting of Fall '08 and then had the rug pulled out from under it by elected officials. Message: Screw the voters

"No connection, I-93 to South Street" voted at Town Meeting. Let's keep our eyes on that. The same elected official who pulled the rug from under 3818 says we should listen to MassHighway's ideas... Why? We already said "no".

So, disillusioned voters do stay away. However, I feel that people should stay involved, vote at TM and exercise their right, as Bob points out, to remove the officials who ignore or overrun the people's will.
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