Article 29 at Town Meeting causes stir
By Tara Hughes Nov. 14, 2023 revised on Nov. 15, 2023
A citizen’s petition at Monday night’s Town Meeting caused quite a stir with the moderator being challenged about Robert’s Rules of Order, and the petitioner proposing an amendment. Precinct 1 Town Meeting Member Timothy Matthews presented his petition as Article 29, to amend the town’s bylaws about the Finance Committee (FinCom). Matthews had researched how other communities appoint members and what their processes are before recommending projects to their town meetings.
Matthews pointed out that FinCom is meant to advise Town Meeting and is not a policy-making body. But he said he believes there’s a gap in information from FinCom, such as the lack of up- to-date meeting minutes, no video recordings of meetings to show deliberations, and a lack of concrete, detailed written analysis for Town Meeting members to review before the meeting. He said the article was needed to strengthen what he saw as the deteriorating relationship between FinCom and Town Meeting, as well as other boards and committees. Matthews pointed out there has been an increasing number of articles with substantial disagreement between FinCom recommendations and town meeting sentiment, often resulting in a reversal of FinCom’s budget cuts on the floor of town meeting, and a breakdown of trust.
Matthews also mentioned that the bylaws are deficient with regard to equal representation of precincts on the committee and are out of step with a majority of Massachusetts communities. A majority of communities have five, seven, or nine FinCom members appointed by their town moderator and widely disseminate deliberations and findings to town meeting in advance. However, there are peer communities with eleven- and fifteen-member committees.
After a lengthy presentation on the original article, which focused on ensuring transparency and rebalancing the committee which currently has a substantial number of members from precinct 6, Matthews made a motion to amend his article and instead establish a FinCom study committee, which was seconded. Town Moderator Heather von Mering informed Town Meeting and the proponent that the correct motion would be a “Motion to Refer” Article 29 to Committee.
Von Mering then asked the members if they wanted to continue with debate or adjourn to Thursday night. After much commotion and confusion regarding the original motions and the guidance motion, the members voted to continue.
Precinct 2 Town Meeting Member Stephanie Zaremba commented that she noticed the “change in discourse lately” and felt the town as a whole needed to focus less on numbers and more on people. She supported the motion.
Former FinCom chair Megan Blackwell said she was concerned with the timing and believed that the magnifying glass which would now be on FinCom may prevent candidates from coming forward to fill the five seats that will be open in the spring. She urged a no vote on the motion.
Town Meeting Member Caren Connelly said that there had been too much focus on Roberts Rules when they should be debating the motion at hand. She said there is nothing wrong with studying this issue and it would only strengthen the town to do so.
A motion to move the question ending debate passed and the members voted against the study committee proposal. The next step would have been to debate Article 29 as originally written. However, a motion to indefinitely postpone Article 29 was made and seconded.
The Select Board agreed, but Chair Rich Mucci said he hoped there would be a Bylaw and Charter review. FinCom also voted favorable action on the motion with one member voting against. Precinct 5 member Pamela Cort rose in favor of the postponement but indicated her hope that the issues would be examined in a fair way and that there would be an effort to “clean up the process”. The motion to postpone passed and Thursday’s meeting will start with an article to change the same by-laws regarding the process to appoint or reappoint FinCom members.
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