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Author Topic: DN - Editorial: Does Town Meeting still work?  (Read 1086 times)
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GDouglas
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« on: March 20, 2010, 09:03:24 AM »

From the Derry News

Editorial: Does Town Meeting still work?
March 17, 2010 03:01 pm


Londonderry's newly formed Charter Commission has an important question to consider: Is Town Meeting still an effective form of government?

The evidence from Saturday suggests it is not.

Just 318 of Londonderry's 17,936 registered voters — a scant 2 percent — turned out for Town Meeting and made all the important spending decisions for the rest of the community.

Those 318 voters approved new contracts for the town's administrative and Police Department employees. They rejected a measure that would have changed the distribution of money from the land use change tax. All of the money collected from the tax will continue to be placed in the Conservation Fund. The rejected measure would have reduced that to just 20 percent.

By the time the end of the meeting rolled around to the vote on the budget, even fewer Londonderry citizens were in attendance. Just 231 residents voted on the $25.8 million spending measure. It passed 168-63.

All told, these few Londonderry residents spent about $30 million of their fellow citizens' money.

Now, no one can force unwilling residents to participate in a democratic process such as Town Meeting. And not showing up is one way people can "vote" that they're perfectly happy with the way things are being run.

But it's funny — from the letters we receive it's hard to believe that the 98 percent of Londonderry's registered voters who didn't show up at Town Meeting think everything is just hunky-dory.

That brings us to the role of the newly created Charter Commission. Voters at the town election March 9 established the commission and elected nine citizens to serve on it.

The commission is constrained by the wording of the ballot question that created it. The commission will consider whether Londonderry should abandon the town meeting form of government in favor of the Senate Bill 2 (SB2) format.

Under SB2, there is no Town Meeting. All matters, including the budget, are decided by voting on an official ballot. A deliberative session is held prior to the vote to discuss and amend articles on the ballot.

During the discussion prior to the vote to create the Charter Commission, opponents argued that it was a stealth attack on Londonderry's traditional Town Meeting.

Candidate Jim Loiselle argued that the proposed charter revision is "a wolf in sheep's clothing."

"Article 2 is a cynical attempt by a fearful Town Council to change the form of town government and the rights of citizens to positively impact the budgetary process," Loiselle said in early March. Loiselle was not elected to the commission.

Steve Young, who was elected to the Charter Commission, during the campaign called Town Meeting a "safety valve" that serves as a check on elected officials who, "in the opinion of some, may have lost their way."

Proponents of the commission argued that the time had come for a change.

"Under the current Town Meeting format, those that cannot be there on Saturday are disenfranchised by the system," candidate Brian Farmer said earlier, "leaving the responsibility for approving the spending of over $30 million annually in the hands of a dwindling number of participants."

Farmer certainly has a point about the dwindling number of participants. If Town Meeting attendance dwindles any further, it may disappear altogether.

So is Town Meeting a vital tradition that acts as a safety valve to limit the power of the Town Council? Or is it a relic of the past that disenfranchises busy, modern citizens?

We're not inclined to give up easily on a method of government that has served New Englanders well for hundreds of years. It's part of our bedrock, like good New Hampshire granite.

But with attendance falling so low, as it did in Londonderry Saturday, Town Meeting is getting harder and harder to defend.

http://www.derrynews.com/opinion/local_story_076150156.html
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Glenn Douglas
Sean O'Keefe
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Sean O'Keefe


« Reply #1 on: March 20, 2010, 11:48:32 PM »

Steve Young, who was elected to the Charter Commission, during the campaign called Town Meeting a "safety valve" that serves as a check on elected officials who, "in the opinion of some, may have lost their way."

Interesting...one could think that of the school board..where the quorum is at 500
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T. Freda
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« Reply #2 on: March 21, 2010, 08:05:52 AM »

Left out of the Editorial were the Charter Commission results of the election.

Article 2 Charter Commission. Passed Yes - 1901 No - 1074

827 more voters want to create a Charter Commission.  Doesn’t seem likely that they and the rest of the 1901 people who voted to create a Charter Commission, did so just to keep Saturday Town Meeting the way it is.

That said, question for the three newly elected commissioners who are pro Saturday Town Meeting, (ie, Steve Young, Marty Bove and Kathy Wagner), what affect will the fact that 64 percent of Town voters rejected your pro Saturday Town Meeting position have on your work on the Commission.

   
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GDouglas
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« Reply #3 on: March 21, 2010, 09:22:47 AM »

The first meeting of the Londonderry Charter Commission is 3/29/2010. I'd encourage those interested on both sides of the issue to attend. The camera does not always catch everything that goes on at public meetings. The audience, the side bar discussions, mumbled comments, etc.
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Glenn Douglas
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