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Thread: Town Meeting Motions compared to their Warrant Articles

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Wayland MA

    Default Town Meeting Motions compared to their Warrant Articles

    By state law, Town Meeting attendees decide matters important to the town that are not legislated elsewhere. The Warrant, primarily through the Articles contained within, serves the function of communicating in advance the matters that will be debated. Because Town Meeting attendance is voluntary and open to all residents, it is important that the Warrant accurately represent the coming debate.

    An Article written in the Warrant describes a specific question to be addressed by Town Meeting. The actual question, however, is precisely defined by the Motion made on the floor of Town Meeting, not by Article. The Motion is spoken as well as presented in writing to the Town Meeting Moderator.

    Two provisions in the Moderator’s Rules and Regulations Governing Wayland’s Town Meeting (printed on pages 75-82 of the April 2008 Annual Town Meeting Warrant) attempt to ensure that the Article and the Motion are consistent with one another.

    The first rule addresses whether the Motion is within the scope of the Article (IV, C, 4, d). For instance, imagine a hypothetical Article proposing to combine three existing departments—Health, Park and Recreation, and Library—into a Department of Physical and Mental Well-being (DPMW).

    To determine whether the Town will vote to

    (1) Eliminate the Department of Health, the Park and Recreation Department, and the Library Department; and

    (2) Create a Department of Physical and Mental Well-being (DPMW) to perform the functions previously performed by the departments in (1), above; and

    (3) Establish a Superintendent of Physical and Mental Well-being to oversee the operation of the DPMW; and

    (4) Empower the DPMW to charge a $100 “unhealthy fee” for each operational television present on a resident’s Wayland property, with voluntary reporting of televisions and corresponding payment by check made at the discretion of the resident.

    At Town Meeting, suppose that the proposer makes a Motion to include the Council on Aging (COA) in the DPMW. The Moderator would likely rule that the Motion is out of order, since proper advance notice of the inclusion of the COA was not given by the Warrant Article.

    Consider a second example, in which the Motion excludes the Library as originally included in the Warrant Article. This presents a more difficult scope question for the Moderator, as supporters of the Library’s inclusion would have received no advance notice of its exclusion. In general, however, “removals” are less likely to result in successful scope challenges than “additions.”

    The second rule addresses whether the Motion is clearly defined (IV, C, 4, b). For motions of more than 25 words that differs significantly from the Warrant Article, printed copies of the Motion must be made available at Town Meeting. The challenge illustrated by the DPW Article (Article 5 of the April 2008 Annual Town Meeting) comes with the definition of “differs significantly.”

    Returning to the hypothetical DPMW example, assume that the Moderator has ruled that the Motion is within the scope of the Warrant Article. Imagine, however, that the Motion does not include provision (4) of the Article (the television fee), but is otherwise word-for-word identical.

    The purpose of IV, C, 4, b is to eliminate confusion on the part of the attentive Town Meeting attendee. The question for the Moderator is whether the exclusion (not change or addition) of a provision triggers the requirement that the proposer have a printed copy of the Motion available for the attendees.

    In such a case, I would argue that the printed copies requirement is not triggered. If, on the other hand, however, the Motion had spelled out the mechanisms by which televisions would be counted (SWAT teams with breaking-and-entering powers) and by which fees would be collected (automatic addition to a tax bill), I would argue that printed copies would be required.

    I’m interested to know what other people think about the following:

    (a) changes in a Motion relative to a Warrant Article that should trigger an out-of-scope ruling

    (b) changes that should trigger the production of printed copies of a Motion

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2005

    Default DPW Vote

    The situation discussed by Jeff and that presented itself at the DPW vote on Thursday boils down to this: the Moderator must make a decision as to whether the TM members will be able to know precisely what they are voting on without a printed version being handed out. By the time the Selectmen moved to amend their main motion by having it be word for word as stated in the Warrant with the exception of deleting Paragraph 3 in its entirety, I don't think that, in that instance, the voters needed a printed sheet. The problem that occurred was that the 60 minute time limit had expired and the Selectmen's motion to amend the main motion had not been voted on. I can't remember ever being at a TM where a main motion was permitted to be amended without a vote.

    I think that the 60 minute rule is a good one for the purpose of giving the Moderator the authority to run an efficient meeting. However, I think that it is highly technical and should not be able to be utilized to prevent a vote on an article, particularly one that could require a lengthy debate. I think that it would have been better if the Moderator could simply have extended the time on his own, to allow the process to proceed in a more normal way. I suspect that the power to do that is already within the Moderator's inherent authority with regard to the running of the meeting. If not, perhaps the rules should be amended to allow him to do that.

    The thing that made me most uncomfortable about the way the situation played out is that the Selectmen amended this very significant main motion at the end of a long evening, after a 3 minute meeting amongst themselves, and under significant pressure to figure out a way to get the motion passed that evening. From a legal perspective, the creation of a new and large governmental department is highly technical and requires very thoughtful and careful drafting, and I am concerned that last minute changes to the language under these high pressured circumstances could result in a flawed bylaw. I wonder if it's possible for the Selectmen, with the advice of Town Counsel, to make whatever changes that may be needed to the language in order to make it state exactly what they want it to, and then bring it up again at the end of this TM.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2006


    Except for saving trees, why not bring a copy of the amended motion? I know it takes a while to print them, but probably only on the order of an hour. The problem, as I understood it from listening on the floor, was that the last paragraph was not being deleted in its entirety, and it was not clear to some people (or they thought it might be unclear to some people) what was being included. At the least, it brought up the debate. If the hour had been taken to print up the amended motion, it would have been clear.

    Second, I was not happy with the moderator's response. I think he should have ruled on the motion. It appeared that he was about to, but then decided to ask the Selectmen to amend the motion, which just took a lot of time for no real difference. This was not something that was time critical. If the moderator had decided that it was out of order, it could have been brought up next year.

    I guess I am a stickler for the rules. And, going back to my point about the ease with making copies, this isn't like someone would have had to go to a typewriter, typed the whole thing in again using special paper, and then make the copies one by one (I can't even remember the name of the machine, it was so long ago). It would have been a pretty quick cut and paste and print, plus a trip to a fast copier.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2008

    Default Why not electronic copies

    My guess is that whatever is handed to the moderator on paper is first typed into a computer. In addition to handing out paper copies of the actual motion, as presented to the moderator, perhaps it should also be required that an electronic version be posted for immeidate download for those with the ability to do so.

    I am also surprised that there is not an overhead projector connected to a computer "at the ready". I felt like going home and getting an Infocus projector to project the changes to the motion on the screen, it would have saved Town Meeting 30 minutes.

    There is no excuse in this day and age to not have the exact motion presented to each town meeting member that wants it, on paper or electronically, prior to the mtion being voted on

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2005

    Default Take advantage of technology!

    Bob, you are absolutely right. Even if nobody had the electronic copy ready, I could have run up and typed the darn edits and had us on our way debating a lot faster than the process discussion that used up most of the debate.

    I will pass along this suggestion to Fred Turkington and Peter Gossels. There's no reason the warrant and the motions couldn't be available electronically for copy/paste/edit real-time on the Town Meeting floor.


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