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Thread: Have we out grown Town Meeting?

  1. #1
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    Default Have we out grown Town Meeting?

    I found a budget item not questioned by Annette Lewis, which is interesting as this line item went from $13,731 in 2008 to $40,000 in 2010. Cutting this line item would save as much as cutting salaries for the individuals who do the hard work of this town. Can you guess? It is the budget item for Town Meeting.

    Why is a town the size of Wayland governed by a direct representation Town Meeting? I have heard people call it the highest form of democracy, but is it truly a representative form of democracy?

    According to the posted election results there were 9070 eligible voters, 38% of those showed up to vote. While that is good for a local election it is not a good representation of the town. But what about Town Meeting? We were lucky to get 500 or so people there on the first night and struggled to get a quorum of 100 the rest of the nights. That is about 5% to 1% representation.

    Even if we could get a more representative showing at Town Meeting how would we do it? Is there a facility in town that can accommodate 3489 voters (the number that voted in our last election)? We clearly have the best Moderator any town can have, but I don’t think even Peter Gossels could handle that crowd. And how long would it take? The business in town is already overly slow and cumbersome without making each decision (like authorizing the Town Clerk to edit the by-law paragraph numbering) subject to opinions and statements by over 3000 towns people.

    Is it time to think about a different form of government for our town? There have been efforts to do this in the past and I remember that it is not an easy thing to do. Is it something we should work toward?

    Who knows – maybe if we get the form of government changed we will get an award at the last Town Meeting!

    Liz

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    Great topic, Liz.

    At its best, I love Town Meeting: interesting topics well debated. More than a time or two, my mind has been changed by what I've heard. I don't know if it's the highest form of democracy, but it's one of the purest, and if what I've heard is correct, one of the longest continually running in the world.

    The just-completed 2009 version had a few good moments, but overall, I wouldn't rate it among our best (I've been attending since 1994 or 1995). We ended up with heated debate on what should have been a ceremonial article, almost no discussion on the largest fraction of the operating budget (the schools) and on one of the most significant projects we'll ever undertake (the High School), and mind-numbing tedium too much of the time.

    Some options:

    1. Do nothing: It's been 300+ years, and the Town continues to function. Downsides include Liz's "percentage of eligible voters," which is related to the facility size, the amount of time that it takes, and the ability of parents and others with limited mobility to attend.

    2. Representative Town Meeting: In a way, this is what we have now, except that representation is "voluntary." Making this move would at least solve the mass influx/mass outflux issue surrounding "important" articles.

    3. Vote at the polls: It's hard enough to learn what you need to know about candidates. Now, imagine adding 40 or so questions, some quite complex. I'm afraid that the quality of our collective decision-making would suffer. To a lesser extent, getting to the polls isn't easy for everyone, but absentee ballots would mitigate this problem, and given the potential quantity of information, might even become the dominant mode of voting.

    4. Vote online: This is really just an extension of (3). Some advancements in technology and voter authentication may be needed.

    The Town Meeting Study Committee looked at this question, I think--if anyone has a link to their report, I'd be interested to see it.

    While not perfect, I'd like to see us consider (2), representative Town Meeting. Maybe we try it one year, potentially even with a "regular" Town Meeting scheduled shortly thereafter that a super-majority of residents might invoke if something goes horribly wrong with the experiment (for instance, failure to elect Measurers of Wood and Bark). Or, we could try it for a fall Special Town Meeting where the stakes might be lower. Alternately, we might consider staying with (1), "regular" Town Meeting, but with an enhanced home viewing/voting capability.

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    The Town Meeting Study Committee looked at this question, I think--if anyone has a link to their report, I'd be interested to see it.

    Found it!

    http://www.wayland.ma.us/tmstudygrp/...rt%20Final.pdf

    Have not read it yet but will.

    Thanks,
    Liz

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    Default Quotes

    Sorry you quote is not in "Quotes". I have not figured out how to do that yet.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Liz Burns View Post
    Sorry you quote is not in "Quotes". I have not figured out how to do that yet.
    Liz, if you click the "Quote" button towards the lower right corner of the post to which you are responding, you'll get this effect.

    In the "edit mode" before you press "Submit Reply," you have the option to: make things bold, italic or underlined; use bullets; change text colors; add hyperlinks; and so on. (This isn't just limited to Quoting.)

    You can also edit the quote to which you are replying. Of course, it would be incredibly bad form to change the quote. What I often do is use the quote commands below to allow me to intersperse my comments. Also, I may reduce the content of the quote, but not in such a way that hides something important.

    • (QUOTE=Liz Burns;2061) is what creates the quote format. The number is automatically inserted. In actual use, the parentheses show up as square brackets, but I couldn't use them in this example as it would have actually formatted this text as a quote.
    • (/QUOTE) is what ends the quote.


    When you press the Quote button, you get the entire original post in edit mode, with the (QUOTE=Liz Burns;2061) tag at the beginning and the (/QUOTE) tag at the end.

    Let's say that your post comes into the edit field like this.

    (QUOTE=Liz Burns;2061)
    Point 1
    Point 2
    Point 3
    (/QUOTE)
    I might edit this so that it looks as follows.

    (QUOTE=Liz Burns;2061)
    Point 1
    (/QUOTE)

    My response to Point 1.

    (QUOTE=Liz Burns;2061)
    Point 2
    (/QUOTE)

    My response to Point 2.

    And so on.

    Experiment with it. No harm if it doesn't do what you want the first time, and you have the benefit of using Preview. If all else fails, Kim can fix it if it doesn't come out the way you want.

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    Default “Men have become the tools of their tools”

    It was requested of me to post to this blog my feedback to Mr. Moderator (Peter Gossels) per his letter to the Editor of the Town Crier this past issue (April 30th, 2009). This was posted to the website for the Crier and received feedback. Unfortunately, some of the syntax (punctuation) was lost and this version is an easier read. The content is 100% the same and yes, it is a voluminous read. And that is after the next four paragraphs so plan your time accordingly.

    I am not affiliated with any specific group nor an operative front for anyone. These are my own thoughts, some of which have been proactively brought to the surface before by concerned voters. By no means is my notion of eliminating Open Town Meeting original. I do find it predictable, however, that most points have to be put to the lens of pro/con relative to watchdog/cohort constituencies. And I use these terms to not name specific acronyms; moreover to use terms that we may all recognize and hopefully my choices are inoffensive. And if they are otherwise, then my apologies. I have used the self-proclaimed “codog” moniker to indicate neutrality. And to the question of “why now”, it could be pointed to just having the bandwidth to invest time and the Gossels letter being a catalyst. He will have a tough go of defending Open Town Meeting as true representation; that alone should be enough to derail this pig of a steam engine locomotive in the eyes of any true American. However, I take it a step further and make the argument the train has no destination. It just runs in circles to the tune of thousands of dollars per year in true costs let alone the opportunity cost for the voters like some broke down Rube Goldberg spectacle that exists only because “it always has” despite it throwing soot all over the place.

    I read the November 2005 Report and Recommendations (twice now with years in between) with regards to Town Meeting and admire the hard selfless work put into the cause. However, it pains me to point out – and I will upset its architects, all 23 residents – that it is a flawed study because it was not grounded with a statistically sound premise. This premise was to find the cause to the lack of attendance at Open Town Meeting (the effect). The study should have been to find the strength of correlation to causation (i.e. efficacy) to the effect (Open Town Meeting). For those that deal with logic theory this statement comes easy and I understand if it misses the mark for most. It can be reduced to simple proverbs such as “When all you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail” or my loose counterfactual equivalent, “To a carpenter the solution to every problem is a hammer”. If this doesn’t click then consider the following example:
    A bookstore has declining sales. The manager asks the employees to find out why. They poll shoppers in the store to ask why they don’t like it. They get feedback such as poor help desk, not enough cookbooks, bad location, etc. They implement changes to correct feedback and nothing happens (sales are still poor). The throw up their hands and over time the store goes out of business. But had they gone to the park across the street or the board of education they would have seen the decline in literacy in their town, the new free public library down the road, met people that have never been to the store but went to the larger one in a nearby town, etc. These are spurious correlations that have nothing to do with the presumed cause and effect (i.e. declining sales are attributable to the store itself).
    What I am basically testing counterfactually is the argument that the Open Town Meeting is an efficient means of democratic legislation. Instead of trying to make it work better has anyone ever studied if it works at all? There might be a tangible spurious correlation at work (e.g. Town meeting overlaps with Celtics playoff games), but I am doubtful. My hunch is that the voter’s subconscious – perhaps the best arbiter of any motive in a free society such as ours – simply tells them the Open Town Meeting is a wasted effort for their body to endure to cast a single vote. Is it such a stretch to assume that the average voter is averse to our Open Town Meeting just out of instinct?

    Finally, I see the active presence of ATE engineers on this blog and, gratefully, it appears that they are balanced in political motives. If you can verify the integrity of a test signal on a 1GHz device then I would think testing the efficacy of a Town Meeting might be a lower bar to reach. Granted the heat you will get on this blog will certainly prompt a reset on your CTE assumptions for the DUT (Decidedvoter Undergoing Townmeeting) even without liquid cooling. You are likely experts at data modeling and discourse on the veracity of a logical correlation; this “codog” could use your valuable input. This could actually be a very significant turning point in relieving all the pent-up animosity in our town and returning it to a more healthy dialog that represents the vote and hears every voice. I value your thoughts as much as Mr. Gossels.

    Vernon Essi, Jr.

    (prior letter follows)
    ____

    “Men have become the tools of their tools”

    Mr. Moderator,

    I have become alarmingly apathetic to the perpetual carping within these pages and more ostensibly on display at Town Meeting. These actions of few have tragically interfered with my liberty as a voting taxpayer of this dysfunctional pseudo-democratic town. I have written before in the Crier that our Open Town Meeting is an outdated relic with respect its original intent – i.e. allowing taxpayers to “voice their opinion and directly effect change in their communities” acting as the legislative branch of the town. This works under the assumption, of course, that said voter is not traveling out of town and can actually find a sitter for her children, let alone possess a personality willing to subject themselves to the self-serving vainglory of all these debates that in retrospect are mostly Pyrrhic. Thus, Town Meeting is an incarnate failure of the true democratic representation of the voters. Explain to me, Mr. Moderator – and I really do respect your letter and agree with its substance - how do I influence my rightful voice and effect change while traveling out of town on business during Town Meeting?

    I respectfully request you to answer my question as a citizen, taxpayer and truly interested party. I really want to know how that works in the framework of democracy you describe above.

    Also, a representative model doesn’t necessarily imply the inclusion of corruption as your letter intones with respect to Natick, et al.– the two can exist in exclusivity. The case hasn’t been made that every constituency would NOT be represented in such a scenario that would succeed our Open structure as far as I have read. The current argument against seems to rely more on the fear of the unknown and a distaste for change. The same arguments were made for such American legacies as slavery and women’s suffrage prior to their abolishment. Does it not scream of irony, Mr. Moderator, that Wayland is willing to celebrate the spirit of Lydia Maria Child yet still finds solace in a form of democracy that is clearly prejudiced against those that travel, have kids, work the night shift, etc.?

    In the interim, let me continue.

    Town Meeting is horribly inefficient: A debate over a hypothetical $1000 cost item in a budget can hold up 500 citizens for 30 minutes. Regardless of merit, the notion of time spent vs. opportunity cost is lunacy. Thus, I am frustrated by your command of focus as Mr. Moderator. But I truly don’t find you culpable - how you manage to deal with all the subterfuge I cannot fathom. I find myself impatient after merely five minutes of our Town Meeting and that is from the comfort of my couch with a whisky in one hand and remote in the other switching between its public broadcast and that of Southpark. We couldn’t find a sitter that night.

    Town Meeting fails as an arbiter of fact: In an era of blogs, tweets and wikis the original architects of the town meeting structure would look upon their creation – today in Wayland an out of control monster yanked straight from the pages of Shelley – as truly an embarrassing vehicle for the presentation of information. In my view, voters are in one of three groups: 1) educated on the issues and come prepared, more or less with their minds made up, have done the legwork on the articles and discussed any issues at the hearings, 2) those that are uneducated on the issues but are going to vote obstinately one predetermined way that may not be grounded in any fact at all and 3) gullible, malleable minds up for grabs. I suspect #3 is a very low proportion of the sample size. Few voters at Town Meeting take anyone’s fact at face value by today’s standards, except perhaps for a portion of #2 when it fits their predetermined vote or all of #3. Most of the information is publicly available for those that spend a nominal amount of time do the research on the internet; there are some useful, informative blogs that already exist. Look at this dialog taking place right now, for instance. And on that point, Thoreau would have loved our information age and how data flows directly to “countrymen” rather than through the colored lens of “newspapers”, or its modern day equivalent talking head - be it from a news broadcast or from the pulpit of our high school field house. Why do we need our facts reprocessed or worse, misrepresented, by a talking head during Pro/Con?

    Also, does the notion that this procedure illuminates the voting populace even pass the simplest of logical reasoning? I am firmly convinced it does not. We readily hire consultants to give third party expertise on a finance or environmental subject so why not the Town Meeting Vote? Hire a consultancy to proxy the entrance vote at Town Meeting vs. the actual vote on the articles. I want to meet the person that can statistically prove the outcomes would be different as a result of the voters attending Town Meeting. Oh sure, we will hear examples cited, but the cruel reality is those that witness these Sasquatch moments don’t realize they are fitting the data. The vote was already there before the chairs were set up in the field house. Maybe a couple of #3s swung your way and it looked good because they were in the front row, but there wasn’t a major change from the walk-in vote. It was just a man in an ape suit. Therefore, in my view, the Pro/Con charade mocks factual discourse and has evolved, more often than not, into procedural hubbub and shot in the dark personal “gotchas” that have little to do with the issues at hand. Yet we are still subjected to this Bataan Death March approach to legislature that insults our intelligence and better judgment.

    Town Meeting is damaged goods: Over the last three years the landscape has shifted to where we now have self relevancy “watchdog” advocates the acting minority challenging a changing demographic that has gained voter momentum around schooling and, for better or worse, a louder voice on all topics. I realize that there is a lot of good that comes from the watchdogs via their “watchdogging” our Town Government. However, to a large degree the watchdogs elevated this Town Meeting culture of quagmire to such Byzantine rules of engagement I believe voters resorted to scorched earth nay votes out of frustration and, perhaps, in response to their uncanny lack of introspectiveness. It appears to me that Open Town Meeting has harmed the watchdog base more than helped.

    Unfortunately, given the limitless stockpiles of vitriol lying around and the recent indiscriminant deployment thereof by both the “watchdogs” and the SOS “cohorts” alike, the Open Town Meeting dialog looks to be anything but healthy and all but irreconcilable. This leads to my foregone conclusion that our Open Town Meeting is doomed to remain on horribly expensive life support for a handful of years before the Wayland voters finally pull the plug out of impatience or economic viability, whichever comes first. I will shed tears of joy. And this is by no means disrespectful of your years of selfless public service to Wayland Mr. Moderator – we would have to pass another override to afford the gold watch you truly deserve.

    Wayland Redemption: Perhaps we countrymen - or shall we call ourselves “codogs” in the spirit if representing all things Wayland - can work towards “redeeming the reputation of our race” for the goodness of every honest voter that pays her fair share of taxes and possesses a meek humility in the presence of this Open form of lunatic legislation. Much like these miserable creeping vines scattered around our precious wetlands, our Open Town Meeting needs to be physically severed from the tree bearing the fruits of democracy and set ablaze to a chorus of cheers from the choked off, disenfranchised taxpaying voter.

    Mr. Moderator, I strongly suggest Wayland’s Open Town Meeting should get the euthanasic chainsaw by popular vote and be replaced with a Representative Town Meeting before our tree of democracy snaps in half.

    Vernon Essi,
    York Road

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    Vern, thank you for this well-thought out piece on Town Meeting. There is much here to discuss and debate! You make a number of very fair points, though there are a few places where I disagree with you.

    Quote Originally Posted by Vernon Essi View Post
    Town Meeting is horribly inefficient: A debate over a hypothetical $1000 cost item in a budget can hold up 500 citizens for 30 minutes. Regardless of merit, the notion of time spent vs. opportunity cost is lunacy.
    There have been many times that I have sat through a debate of various budget items, and done the mental calculation of the value of the time of those in attendance and laughed at the imbalance... and yet many times what is being debated has absolutely no budgetary impact (say a dog control ordinance or a zoning bylaw), and may still be of real import.

    Quote Originally Posted by Vernon Essi View Post
    In my view, voters are in one of three groups: 1) educated on the issues and come prepared, more or less with their minds made up, have done the legwork on the articles and discussed any issues at the hearings, 2) those that are uneducated on the issues but are going to vote obstinately one predetermined way that may not be grounded in any fact at all and 3) gullible, malleable minds up for grabs. I suspect #3 is a very low proportion of the sample size. Few voters at Town Meeting take anyone’s fact at face value by today’s standards, except perhaps for a portion of #2 when it fits their predetermined vote or all of #3...

    Hire a consultancy to proxy the entrance vote at Town Meeting vs. the actual vote on the articles. I want to meet the person that can statistically prove the outcomes would be different as a result of the voters attending Town Meeting. Oh sure, we will hear examples cited, but the cruel reality is those that witness these Sasquatch moments don’t realize they are fitting the data. The vote was already there before the chairs were set up in the field house.
    Here, I fervently disagree. I do believe that there are some issues about which people come fully informed and ready to vote (and the hour that we may spend debating the issue is often completely a waste), but there are many others that are get little public airing or discussion prior to Town Meeting, and that most in attendance do patiently listen and weigh the merits before deciding.

    Here's one of your Sasquatch moments: a few years back I submitted an article to allow legal non-citizen green card holders to vote in local elections. This got exactly zero public discussion (beyond the Warrant Hearing, which had a handful of attendees, and the FinCom discussion of the article which only I attended), and I think most who looked at it went in pre-disposed to vote against it. In fact, FinCom voted against it in their comments that went in the warrant. However, when it came time to vote, after ample discussion and debate, the vote was overwhelmingly for it, including most of FinCom (as a couple of members changed their minds based on the debate).

    I think in general, Town Meeting acts in a very wise and deliberate manner, and I continue to be impressed with how the members vote their own minds and change "allegiances", with even spouses taking opposing views.


    Quote Originally Posted by Vernon Essi View Post
    Town Meeting is damaged goods: Over the last three years the landscape has shifted to where we now have self relevancy “watchdog” advocates the acting minority challenging a changing demographic that has gained voter momentum around schooling and, for better or worse, a louder voice on all topics. I realize that there is a lot of good that comes from the watchdogs via their “watchdogging” our Town Government.
    I agree that there could be a lot of good that comes from "watchdogging", and that there is the potential for the so-called "watchdogs" to add considerable value to the debate in town and even to improve the workings of town government.

    The problem, however, is that some of these watchdogs require watchdogs themselves. Voicing concern about town issues or town officials is totally fair game, but doing it in a way that distorts and misrepresents actual events, and doing it in a way that provides no method of correction or feedback is not watchdogging, it is propaganda.


    Quote Originally Posted by Vernon Essi View Post
    And this is by no means disrespectful of your years of selfless public service to Wayland Mr. Moderator – we would have to pass another override to afford the gold watch you truly deserve.
    I'd like to ditto the thought that Moderator Gossels deserves a gold watch! :-)


    Quote Originally Posted by Vernon Essi View Post
    Mr. Moderator, I strongly suggest Wayland’s Open Town Meeting should get the euthanasic chainsaw by popular vote and be replaced with a Representative Town Meeting before our tree of democracy snaps in half.
    I am of two minds on this issue. Every year I find myself looking forward to Town Meeting, because I do enjoy the spectacle of it and the debate and the gathering of friends and neighbors, I really do. But every year I leave feeling exasperated and think the whole thing could have been so much faster and friendly and pleasant.

    I do wish more of the Q&A could happen in advance of Town Meeting, and I know the advance hearings are supposed to foster that. Perhaps in the future our officials can ensure that these questions are answered in advance so they do not need to be answered in front of hundreds of us at Town Meeting. This alone would help considerably.

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    I suspect that this was covered in the TM committee report, but one idea that was tossed around a decade ago was the "Consent Calendar." This was essentially a bundling of non-controversial articles (in Wayland, these may not exist) that would be voted on as a bloc.

    As frustrating as it is at times, like Kim, I look forward to TM, make up my mind at the meeting from time to time, learn more about things that I'm voting on than I would have without the meeting, and so on. That said, too much of it is excruciating at times.

    On balance, I'd keep TM rather than replace it, but would be happy to explore ways to improve it.

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    Kim and Jeff, you answer some of Vernon’s questions but don’t seem to address either the specific question about the “franchise” of those who are away on business, have no babysitter, or work nights. Or the larger question of whether Town Meeting (“TM”) works in allowing the entire citizenry to manage their government.

    I’d add, how is democracy served with such small numbers attending? At the supplemental TM 150 people (out of approx. 9,000 voters) made the decisions? Regular TM was a bit better, was it something like 900 fading to less than 500? Not a high percentage. Also, besides TM probably being too long and uncomfortable for most people, what if the town and/or people present their information in a less than honest, incomplete, or deceptive manner? At that moment, on the spot, how can people establish the truth and make a decision? And is there any overall mechanism so we can actually know if the meeting’s decisions serve the citizens’ desires or interests?

    More worrying, what if Town Meeting continues to exist just because it is democratically dysfunctional? I can understand how people who want the vote to go a specific way would be better served by small numbers attending, where an organized group would thereby have more influence.

    But me, I’d love to see analyses of existing representative town meetings, differing possible models, and experiments with some of the variations. Imagine, each street having a representative that would not only vote at the meeting, but would also bring information back to, and develop interest in their own neighborhood. Or maybe, experiments with rolling budget approvals (each month information and voting on a different department)? Or how about electronic voting at home? We do live in the modern world after all. One filled with intelligent people and only limited by our collective imagination.

    But really, in this town, what’s what? And who’s really telling the truth? I for one certainly don’t know. And I don’t understand why in some “threads” people seem to yell, and then here people feel the need to pander. Don’t we believe that Mr. Gossels would rather hear the truth. That even with his dedicated service, he must bear some responsibility for TM’s dysfunction. In addition, (with apologies) a case could be made that he should accept the gold watch and let another generation have its turn at making Town Meeting work better.

    Humbly,
    don Bustin

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    Quote Originally Posted by don Bustin View Post
    Kim and Jeff, you answer some of Vernon’s questions but don’t seem to address either the specific question about the “franchise” of those who are away on business, have no babysitter, or work nights. Or the larger question of whether Town Meeting (“TM”) works in allowing the entire citizenry to manage their government.
    Fair question. And not an easy one. I served on the Electronic Communications Committee, and we set as one of our long-term goals for the town website that it would enable participation in Town Meeting electronically. Even those who travel could theoretically still participate (as long as they could get to a computer with a browser on it).

    I seem to recall we found there are state statutes which prevent this at present, though I am not certain about that. Certainly, our laws have generally not kept pace with technology.

    In the meantime, it is a problem without a perfect immediate solution.


    Quote Originally Posted by don Bustin View Post
    I’d add, how is democracy served with such small numbers attending? At the supplemental TM 150 people (out of approx. 9,000 voters) made the decisions? Regular TM was a bit better, was it something like 900 fading to less than 500? Not a high percentage.
    Fair point, too, though theoretically those who care the most will make the greatest effort to be there. There may be a high correlation between those who attend and those who would attend if Town Meeting were changed to be Representative.

    Quote Originally Posted by don Bustin View Post
    Also, besides TM probably being too long and uncomfortable for most people, what if the town and/or people present their information in a less than honest, incomplete, or deceptive manner? At that moment, on the spot, how can people establish the truth and make a decision? And is there any overall mechanism so we can actually know if the meeting’s decisions serve the citizens’ desires or interests?
    This is always a problem. Even with debate that occurs in the town newspaper letters or newsletter emails, or at forums... People hear the evidence (which is what is nice about Town Meeting is that there is evidence, and much can be learned about who - with what expertise - presents what and with what backup).

    At some point, we all have to make a decision based on what we know and what we believe. Hopefully, we're generally smart enough not to be duped by really bad information, but of course, that can always happen. (Look no farther at the war in Iraq... but I digress)

    Quote Originally Posted by don Bustin View Post
    More worrying, what if Town Meeting continues to exist just because it is democratically dysfunctional? I can understand how people who want the vote to go a specific way would be better served by small numbers attending, where an organized group would thereby have more influence.

    But me, I’d love to see analyses of existing representative town meetings, differing possible models, and experiments with some of the variations. Imagine, each street having a representative that would not only vote at the meeting, but would also bring information back to, and develop interest in their own neighborhood. Or maybe, experiments with rolling budget approvals (each month information and voting on a different department)? Or how about electronic voting at home? We do live in the modern world after all. One filled with intelligent people and only limited by our collective imagination.
    Good idea! I don't know if the Town Meeting Study Committee looked at this at all, but it would be an excellent idea. Why not approach those who were involved before, (perhaps even volunteer!) and see if you can make it happen.


    Quote Originally Posted by don Bustin View Post
    But really, in this town, what’s what? And who’s really telling the truth? I for one certainly don’t know. And I don’t understand why in some “threads” people seem to yell, and then here people feel the need to pander. Don’t we believe that Mr. Gossels would rather hear the truth. That even with his dedicated service, he must bear some responsibility for TM’s dysfunction. In addition, (with apologies) a case could be made that he should accept the gold watch and let another generation have its turn at making Town Meeting work better.
    Not sure what pandering posters here do. I'll try not to take offense :-) I certainly think Mr. Gossels would prefer to hear the truth, but I'm not sure where he isn't getting it. Maybe too much of it! People hate it (but I daresay they love it, too) - I've always found the concept fabulous - town government really run by individuals. I'd hate to give it up without compelling evidence that it can't be fixed. I hope we can find ways to improve/streamline it, and make it more accessible to everyone. And if not, then sometimes we must give up even what we love (or hate, as it may be).

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    Don, I wasn't attempting to answer all of the questions asked by Vern and others, in large part because others (the TM Study Committee, the ECC) have thought about this in more depth than I have. In general, I agree with the points that you make about the flaws in Town Meeting.

    Do we need a legislature at all?
    Stepping back a bit, I wonder if there's any disagreement about the need to legislate to approve budgets, make zoning changes, and so on. One option would be to leave these tasks to the "executive branch"--the Board of Selectmen, the Finance Committee, the School Committee, the Planning Board, and so on. For my part, I'm a big believer in checks and balances, so my vote is to keep the legislature.

    Should our legislature be direct or representative?
    The next question, then, is direct versus representative. I'm happy to experiment with the latter, but I'm not sure that it enfranchises me as an individual relative to a direct legislature. It's highly unlikely that my representative would vote the way that I would vote on every issue. And, I'm not even sure that geographic representation necessarily makes sense at the super-local level (I'm no expert on this--I'm truly wondering if there's political theory one way or the other on this point). Again, no objection to trying it.

    If our legislature is direct, where/how does it vote?
    Presumably, a representative legislature would still meet and debate in person, perhaps with electronic aid evolving over time. With a direct legislature (that is, all residents getting a vote), the forum options expand a lot. We simply don't have the time or space to get all 9,000 or so voting-age residents together physically. So, is it better to give everyone the opportunity to vote (as we do at the polls) or better to attach discussion to the vote (as we do with Town Meeting)?

    We could put all of the articles on the ballot and have people vote at the polls, by absentee print ballot, and eventually, electronically. The job, travel, and babysitting challenges disappear, but do they do so at the expense of better decision-making? I truly don't know.

    One thing that Town Meeting does--admittedly, painfully at times--is essentially force me to read the articles of which I'm unfamiliar, listen to the different points of view (and who is making them), and make a decision. I'm quite sure that if I were voting at the polls, I'd be less informed on average.

    Which is the lesser of two "evils"?
    Allowing anyone who wants to vote the opportunity to do so is pretty high on the list of democracy priorities. A "representative" Town Meeting (understanding that no representative would truly capture my wishes as a voter) would mostly do this (what happens if a representative will be out of town or otherwise unable to make the meeting--might they have a substitute?), as would voting on legislative matters at the polls (albeit in a less informed manner).

    So, which do people prefer? And are there other options?

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
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    Default

    Such a nice response from both of you, thanks. But I must say Jeff, you’re a bit intimidating. It’s a good thing though. Ball’s in my court and I better find something good to say, and fast.

    First off, it dawned on me that we already have a representative town meeting – one where the reps are self-selected. And no, they probably won’t ever make decisions that make anyone feel happy all the time. But if we believe they approximate a fair, representative cross section of everyone, I imagine we’ll take our disappointments better. Faith in fair play does seem to be in short supply around here (not sure why, it seems that at a certain level most of us probably want essentially the same thing for the town). Without that faith, seems we’d need a representative selection process or better measures to build Trust. Living here in Gaza, we need more human interaction, better information, and more dialogue...

    Raising my head, I look around, and where am I – Lo, a free, public discussion space, the airing of ideas, sharing of info, and all surrounded by intelligent folks who actually seem to care. Oh wow! (Is this pandering?)

    Getting back to Town Meeting – in my dream world, I’d love to take direct democracy as far as possible, even to experimenting with individuals allocating their own taxes. The operative word here is “dream”, but in reality, I imagine my bottom line will be that any particular structure would do as long as the people “get it right”. So the question becomes, are we Waylanders doing what we should to make everything work out as best as it can? Well... And I mentioned “street-geographic representation” not because I thought it was democratically desirable, but because it was neighborly.

    And wasn’t it great that the sun came out yesterday, see you.

    don

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
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    Wayland MA
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    Default

    Hmm, "intimidating?" I've heard a lot of comments directed my way, but never that. Well, if it's in a good way ... [gentle, friendly grin]

    Individual allocation of taxes is an interesting notion. I'd be curious to know if it's been tried anywhere, and also what political/economic theory would say about it.

    If we're going to experiment with democracy, I'd love to try Range Voting. William Poundstone wrote an excellent book called "Gaming the Vote" that shows how our current "one man, one vote" method doesn't do a particularly good job of communicating what people want.

    Since this is a bit off-topic, I've started a new thread with a brief description.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
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    Wayland MA
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    Framingham's representative Town Meeting sees 75% turnout, according to this Metrowest Daily News article. Is that a dramatic improvement over Wayland's <5%, or a shirking of responsibility by the Framingham representatives?

    I would be interested to know the attendance rate of elected and appointed officials in Wayland. I probably miss 3-4 meetings per year out of 25-30, which puts me in the 85%-90% attendance range. My guess is that this mark puts me on the low side relative to my colleagues on the School Committee, Board of Selectmen, and Finance Committee (I don't have much visibility into meetings of other boards).

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Posts
    726

    Default Has Framingham outgrown Town Meeting?

    It seems the topic of Town Meeting representation and attendance is not confined to towns where everyone can attend. Even Framingham grapples with this: see this article in today's Metrowest Daily News.

    Even with a maximum attendance of 144 at any of the Meetings, members complain about poor efficiency of the meetings. Of course, give that they ran for THIRTEEN sessions (ouch!) it's easy to imagine this might be true.

    Check out not just the article itself (which addresses low attendance even among those who choose to run to be an elected representative) but also the interesting comments that follow it.

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