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Author Topic: LT - Residents Seek Answers to What SB2 Deliberative Session Would Bring  (Read 1470 times)
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« on: April 19, 2010, 12:45:28 PM »

From the Londonderry Times

Residents Seek Answers to What SB2 Deliberative Session Would Bring
April Guilmet
Londonderry Times

The Londonderry Charter Commission held its first public hearing on Monday, with a handful of residents voicing their thoughts on a possible change to how the town governs.

In the coming year, the commission will be gathering information on whether local voters wish to consider replacing Town Meeting with an SB2 (Senate Bill 2) form of government.

All nine commissioners, Brian Farmer, Al Baldasaro, Debra Paul, Marty Bove, Chris Paul, Lara McIntyre, Steve Young, Kathy Wagner and Cris Navarro, attended the April 12 hearing, with eight community members in the audience.

After a brief discussion on rules of conduct, the consensus was that while there are no formal rules, commissioners would be expected to discuss issues in a civil manner.

During the commission's initial meeting on March 29, chairman Brian Farmer said one suggestion was to adopt the 700-page Robert's Rules of Order, though the commission was advised against this by the town's attorney, mainly due to its length.

"The real concern here is that we're behaving in a civil manner," Farmer said, noting that the chairman would be responsible for maintaining order. "We don't engage in debates with people from the floor or allow them to engage in debates with each other. So it's a standard set of decorum we need to look at."

Commissioner Chris Paul said he would prefer a less formal route. "Anything that keeps things civil and keeps things moving along is fine with me," he said.

Farmer concurred, and noted the commission is subject to RSA 91A, the state's governing rules for public meetings. "This is not, typically the type of board with nonpublic sessions or 'non-meetings' which take place for legal purposes only. Everything is supposed to be in public, in front of the board," Farmer said.

With ground rules determined, the commission opened its public hearing, urging the attending citizens to voice their thoughts on: "Shall a charter commission be established for the sole purpose of establishing official ballot voting under the town's current Town Council-Budgetary Town Meeting form of government?"

According to the state's Web site, New Hampshire instituted the SB2 form of government in 1995 due to growing concerns from residents unable to attend a traditional Town Meeting due to family and career obligations.

Under SB2, a Deliberative Session is held about a month prior to town elections, and is similar to a Town Meeting. However, the town's budget and warrant articles are voted on during the regular Election Day in March.

Pauline Caron asked for an explanation as to how the town's government would change, should voters decide SB2 is the way to go.

"Does this mean we would no longer have a town meeting?" she asked. "Would the budget committee still be involved?"

"Yes and yes," Farmer replied. He said the question would first appear on the Tuesday ballot in March 2011. Should voters approve the item, Saturday's Town Meeting would cease the following year, though Farmer noted it could be replaced with an evening Deliberative Session in February, similar to what the school district currently has.

The Deliberative Session may or may not have a quorum, another option the commission is currently exploring.

"It's really kind of simple. The change you would see would not take place until March 2012," Farmer said.

Martin Srugis spoke in favor of a change to SB2.

"Initially I was against it; I was probably one of the few people in town who still enjoys attending Town Meeting," Srugis said. "However, in the 10 years I've been attending, we've come nowhere near the number of registered voters. As much as I'd miss the Town Meeting, at this point the more people that can vote on budget issues, the better."

Srugis noted, however, that the potential for a quorum leaves him somewhat concerned. "If it's too low, we could end up in the same boat as we are now: getting too many people with a vested interest in one item that leave right after that item is addressed," he said. "But if we make the quorum number too high, that might make it impossible to attain."

Commissioner Al Baldasaro said the legislative intent of a Deliberative Session "was not designed to fade out Town Meeting, it was designed to enhance it. Many people commute during the week and the weekends are family time; a (weeknight) Deliberative Session still allows them to go in and change things. The end result is the people will vote and absentee ballots would be counted."

Jay Hooley also spoke in favor of SB2. " I think it is the right way to go and the majority of voters in town, I believe, would prefer it," Hooley said. "But when you get to it, you should strongly consider some type of quorum. What's the magic number, I don't know. The school was looking to make it 350, but apparently people were comfortable keeping it at the 500 number."

John Curran and Tom Freda both agreed.

"It's bittersweet and ironic that I'm here supporting SB2, I'm a history buff, but towns all across the state have been moving in this direction," Curran said. "Town Meetings can run for hours and in the end, results are lost on all the voters."

"I, too, urge the commission to look towards SB2 or some version," Freda said. "Clearly that's what the vast majority of people want."

At least one resident attending Monday's meeting was displeased with the proposed changes.

"By going into a booth and spending five minutes making check marks, you may not have heard both sides of an issue," said Reed Clark. "I'm not sure even when 3,000 come, it would appear that they have. There's a difference from being in an enclosed room hearing both sides than reading the news or not reading at all and then going for five minutes in the voting booth, not really knowing about the other side. I believe people who come to New Hampshire should test the water before they go out wanting to change how things been done for 300 years."

Baldasaro noted that Londonderry isn't alone in considering an end to Town Meeting.

According to the University of New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, 171 Granite State towns were still holding traditional Town Meetings as of 2002, with 48 towns using SB2. Another 15 towns had no annual meeting.

With the hearing concluded, the commission reached consensus that School Business Administrator Peter Curro, Assistant Town Manager and Finance Director Susan Hickey and representatives of the Secretary of State's office would be welcome at future meetings to educate the public on how SB2 would work.

The commission decided to meet twice a month and meets again Monday, April 26, at 7 p.m. in the Moose Hill Council Chambers at Town Hall. Residents may view the current charter online at or at the Town Manager's office.

Glenn Douglas
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