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Thread: When 2/3 isn't

  1. #46
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    Default A 230 year tradition

    Quote Originally Posted by Cari Cornish View Post
    In Washington, we have elected representatives. I'm not expected to sit through filibusters, endless motions, and so forth. It's silly to suggest that Wayland residents should sit through similar shenanigans to have a say on town business. I'm especially surprised that someone who decries "professional article movers" would suggest that cynical maneuvering and endless debate are legitimate parts of town politics.
    Well I certainly don't like the maneuvering or filibusters (which would be more in the line of talking about things that don't apply which we don't have). I especially don't like premature motion moving tactics and passing over articles for expediency but this is part of both the code of the town of Wayland and its protected by state code too. So, in that sense, its legitimate. As for 'endless' debate. Well there is an end and its determined by a clock which gets reset at the beginning of each article. Rarely do we ever get to the end of that clock because of the professional motion movers and this is a bad thing. People are supposed to come to town meeting to hear a collection of opinions and come to town meeting with, at least, somewhat of an open mind. The people who are speaking have spent time and effort to prepare arguments to convince you and me of their position. I would like to give them the opportunity to express themselves and to hear a collection of viewpoints before I make my final decision. And I've gone to many town meetings now and I have found myself changing my mind on the town meeting floor more than once and more than I would have expected.

    So one weakness in the written word is that we don't always hear the emotion or see the body language of the writer but I would see the term 'endless debate' as derogatory and contrary to the origin and usefulness of town meeting. If one is not prepared to come and listen and participate then watching on TV would be the second best choice.


    Quote Originally Posted by Cari Cornish View Post
    My specific situation is unusual, but my general problem is common: many Wayland residents have work, family, or other commitments that prevent them from attending Town Meeting.
    Your specific situation may be more common than you think. I did offer a suggestion before and you have remained silent on it. Perhaps you could proffer a suggestion to us?

    I can tell you that when I was in office, I spent 1,000 hours volunteering for the town and I made the time. It was all consuming. I was no less busy than the busiest person who ever told me they were busy.

    Quote Originally Posted by Cari Cornish View Post
    There is no perfect form of government. Perhaps for Wayland, TM is the best form, even if it isn't fully democratic.
    This reminds me of the famous introductory line from the TV series Perry Mason: "Democracy is a very bad form of government, but I ask you never to forget it. All the others are so much worse"

    Quote Originally Posted by Cari Cornish View Post
    I cannot understand, however, how anyone can defend the need to reconsider at TM issues that have been addressed by the electorate in a referendum. A town-wide referendum is the best way we have devised to poll the entire voting population; when an issue is important enough to convene a referendum, shouldn't that settle the matter? How is a subsequent vote at TM anything but a hindrance to democracy?
    I'd like to take a shot at explaining this.

    In the case of the high school. The town election ballot question gave permission to the town to create a debt exclusion override and this is governed by state law under prop 2 1/2. The MSBA also required this referendum in order to commit the funds for the project.

    The town meeting article gave the power to the town to borrow the money which is a town code matter which is resolved under TM rules.

    The original vote was not a reconsideration and any article at TM can be reconsidered if it is shown that new and significant information was not available at the time the original vote took place.

    In the case of the town center. We had a previously existing zoning bylaw MUOD overlay district voted on at TM in 2006. No ballot question was needed for that. That was a done deal back then. But the developer wanted to downgrade the MUOD overlay district which not only applies to this developer but to every developer that the town wide MUOD applies. So this needed a new article at this TM and there was a legal showing of 7 hands for a recount after the vote. I assume because the vote was very close. This lead to people leaving the room and the second vote did not pass the 2/3rds margin.

    So are you saying that you can't understand the justification as to why the Board of Selectmen wanted to reconsider that standing vote at TM? Because that is what happened. Are you saying the Board of Selectmen should NOT have reconsidered?

    The reconsideration was based on an 'alleged' non existence of information of tax reporting but I personally think that was BUNK because Molly Upton stood up and reported it during the original debate period of the original vote. The moderator did not agree with this and the reconsideration was voted on and then when that passed the article was revoted and again came in very close but passed.

    So which part are you objecting to? There were quite a few parts.

    Town Meeting is a legislative body. This means parlimentary procedures, debates, votes, reconsiderations and outcomes.

    Massachusetts has been doing Town Meeting for 300 years and Wayland has only been doing it for 230 of those years.

    I hope the tradition continues and I hope you can find a way to be part of that tradition.

  2. #47
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    Default

    To the question of why we vote at Town Meeting to "affirm" a vote at the polls, I understand the technical reason behind the two votes. That said, a simple change in state law could quickly eliminate the need for both. The vote at the polls could easily be to (a) exempt debt and interest payments from the provisions of Proposition 2 1/2 and (b) appropriate funds to cover those debt and interest payments. In essence, this would allow all Town Meeting articles to be voted on at the polls, whether following a Town Meeting-style debate or not.

    To the question of the legitimacy of the reconsideration on the Town Center project, this is just my speculation: I think that the Moderator may have seen an outcome on Wednesday that ran counter to what many would allege was the will of the voters on the original vote. At that time, he really had no latitude to address that "disconnect" since the second vote was fully in accordance with the rules. On Thursday, however, the Moderator had more flexibility--to be sure, enabled by what some and perhaps even many would call dubious "new" information--and used it as a "make up call" in order to allow a "do over."



    Those who follow international soccer may be reminded of the events of this past week. France was playing Ireland in the second match of a two match competition. The winner would earn the right to play in the World Cup in South Africa in 2010. The loser would "earn" the right to watch on television.

    Late in the second game, with 90 minutes of regulation gone and only a minute or two of stoppage time remaining, France needed a goal to advance to South Africa. The French Striker Thierry Henry handled the ball in Ireland's penalty, on replay clearly redirecting it to put the ball in position for France to knock it into the back of the net, which they did.

    The referee and the assistant referees apparently did not see the infraction and allowed the goal to stand. Video replay did not miss the infraction, and shouts were made by the Irish federation to replay the game. FIFA, the ruling body of international soccer, correctly ruled that there was no provision to change the call, the referee's judgment on the field being absolute.

    Sadly, Ireland won't get the trip to South Africa that it earned, "reconsideration" not being an option for them.

  3. #48
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    Default TM Math

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    On Thursday, however, the Moderator had more flexibility--to be sure, enabled by what some and perhaps even many would call dubious "new" information--and used it as a "make up call" in order to allow a "do over."
    So in other words, "Two wrongs DO make a right"
    If he hadn't done it we would have had a STM as Kim pointed out and although painful, it would have been a higher road to take.

  4. #49
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    So in other words, "Two wrongs DO make a right"
    If he hadn't done it we would have had a STM as Kim pointed out and although painful, it would have been a higher road to take.
    I see your point, though I think the rules in the warrant gave the moderator sufficient leeway to allow a new vote to happen. I do think there were certainly people who felt that their vote had been counted, and while the Moderator may have been suggesting they stay, I think those leaving believed that was so that they could vote on the NEXT article, which would have begun in advance of 10:30 if there had been no recount. People left thinking that vote was over, and the rules in the warrant would certainly have left them valid enough reason for thinking that article done. It was their mistake, but a reasonable one to make, and I think the moderator was right (and expedient) to allow a re-vote.

    STM may have been a "higher road", but it would have been a waste of taxpayers money compared with the road taken.

    Perhaps the best thing would be a rewording of the requirements for reconsideration to allow for extenuating circumstances, a threshold I think everyone could agree applied here.

  5. #50
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    Default Chopped Liver

    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    I see your point, though I think the rules in the warrant gave the moderator sufficient leeway to allow a new vote to happen. STM may have been a "higher road", but it would have been a waste of taxpayers money compared with the road taken.
    Sufficient leeway? Lets see... (and I paraphrase)

    Michael Tichnor: "The actual taxes paid were stated incorrectly at the time of the vote"

    Molly Upton: "I stated the correct taxes prior to the vote so there was no misunderstanding. Either I'm an assessor or I'm chopped liver"

    Moderator and TM to Molly: "Your chopped liver"

    I like chopped liver.. I never thought 'leeway' could taste so good.
    Last edited by AlanJReiss; 11-22-2009 at 02:07 PM. Reason: Made it livelyer !!!..

  6. #51
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    Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach
    On Thursday, however, the Moderator had more flexibility--to be sure, enabled by what some and perhaps even many would call dubious "new" information--and used it as a "make up call" in order to allow a "do over."

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    So in other words, "Two wrongs DO make a right"
    If he hadn't done it we would have had a STM as Kim pointed out and although painful, it would have been a higher road to take.
    I wasn't passing judgment on whether the Moderator was right to grant the do over, just observing that that's what may have happened.

    More broadly, I think that we should:

    1. Find a way to use hand-held devices for voting. No idea the cost of, say, 2,000 such units, but I would think that a large group of towns could get together to buy such a system.

    2. Find a way to make moving the question more difficult. Perhaps the mover would be required to give an explanation that the Moderator could accept or reject. Perhaps such a motion could only be made in the last 20 minutes of the 60 minute time period for an article. If nothing else, instantaneous counting would reduce the meeting impact of debate termination.

    3. Find a way to make reconsideration a bit less onerous. It would be important not to increase the likelihood of Parliamentary gaming. Before this meeting, I understood "new information" to mean new factual information. Now, I would allow that new "procedural information" should be reason for reconsideration, and that this type of new information applied on the Town Center question.

  7. #52
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    Default Thank you Alan & Jeff for babysitting suggestions

    I appreciate the kind suggestions for babysitting solutions.

    I think of TM as representational democracy. It is meant to be attended by a cross-section of Wayland. It feels more collaborative and this goes against individual rights. Ayn Rand would say "go because it's good for you" and if you can't, don't blame the system, blame yourself.

    I chose to have children and this fact makes it more difficult to have a vote TM. I did arrange for sitters, but it is hard to find those who are willing to stay untill 11-11:30 on a school night. FYI I got a "professional" sitter (note: more expensive ($14 an hour) for Thursday night but she gets up at 4 am so I relieved her 10 pm.

    Some of us vote for what we want and other vote for the good of us all. When I vote, I vote for myself and my family, I don't vote against anybody, including baby-shusher.

  8. #53
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    Default Town Babysitting services

    Quote Originally Posted by Elizabeth Price View Post
    I chose to have children and this fact makes it more difficult to have a vote TM. I did arrange for sitters, but it is hard to find those who are willing to stay untill 11-11:30 on a school night. FYI I got a "professional" sitter (note: more expensive ($14 an hour) for Thursday night but she gets up at 4 am so I relieved her 10 pm.
    Now with grown kids its easy to forget the very real issues involved in getting a sitter, the expense and the logistics.

    So I thank you for driving this point so visible. I was on the first Town Meeting committee and there was a suggestion for the town to provide a sitting room with supervisors. In this scenario, a room would be allocated and it would have professional sitters that would either be paid for by the town or split among many families so the cost would be minimal. You might contact Judy Currier to get more info on this since she doesn't post here. Ultimately, families with children would have to drive this with the BoS and make it a priority for it to be implemented.

    I understand your comment about 'shushing-babies'. Yes, it was awkward ... probably more awkward for the person who did the shushing that the people hearing the shush. But... One food for thought here is that lets say that a young child was taken to TM and was made to stay the entire time. Adults have a hard time sitting that many hours and adults get cranky. No doubt children would do the same and probably have a lower threshold.

    I wouldn't *blame to hard* on the person who asked for quiet because she was concentrating on speaking at a microphone to a large audience and was trying to keep her focus. I've spoken there before and I can tell you that my heart is pounding as I approach the microphone and I have to do all that I can do to keep my focus. There is a 3 minute clock ticking and if I don't get it all out and clearly then that speech will get cut short.

    The on-site baby-sitting service sounds better and better. Cots could be provided and the kids could nap when they get cranky... and the children won't have to protest in their seats with their parents because they (rightfully) don't want to be at town meeting. And probably because they can't vote !

  9. #54
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    Default Modernizing Town Meeting

    I sat through most of both sessions of STM last week and watched what I couldn't attend personally on Waycam afterward. I think the time has come to really make some efforts in this state to modernize the Town Meeting concept.

    Obviously, 200+ years ago "democratic" town government was a very different animal than the "beast" it has become today. Most obviously, women weren't voting back then so there was built-in free baby sitting and/or elder care. Also, town populations were much smaller so the forum was likely much more conducive to real back and forth as a "legislative" session. Granted, transportation to the Town Meetings back then was probably a big deal/barrior, and perhaps not even all men were allowed to attend, I'm not sure.

    In this day and age we know that TMs here in Wayland and other towns are viewed by the vast majority of citizens as grueling marathons that don't fit within the demands on people's time. Small tweaks to today's meeting rules to address limiting debate by premature moving of the question, or limits around "re-polling" and reconsideration will not make the time demand on the whole thing more palatable. I really think that a lot of the rudeness and bad behavior at recent TMs is coming from this resentment on the part of participants who really abhor the process of TM, but are stuck with this system to decide issues that they actually really care about. For a lot of these people it is primarily the time issue.

    Since time is money, I did a rough calculation of the virtual cost of the time of people attending the two nights of STM. Lets say we had 1500 people for 3 hours the first night, and about 800 people for 5 hours for the rest of the first night and all of the second night, and at lets say $30/hr, this "virtual cost" of attending the meeting was $255,000!! Can you imagine if we all worked extra at our jobs for those hours and sent in the money to the town?

    With so many options available now to people to be informed on issues if they want to, it would seem that actually being present for a live debate of each article is unnecessary. The vast majority of people could never be heard themselves on an issue because there's really not enough time, and most people don't want to impose their view publically on others since it adds even more slowness to the process. So what can be done?

    What I've been thinking about is dividing Town Meeting into two parts. One would be a debate and amendment part where, just as today, articles could be debated vigorously by live attendance and amendments offered and voted on there. Live coverage on Waycam can be available to those who wish to follow along from home, and perhaps these segments could also be available via the internet to view on-demand later at the time of one's choosing. A discussion forum (such as this one) on each article could be created as well for more input to inform voters at their convenience. Since the debate and amendment sessions would not be the time to actually vote on the final article, there would be no need to "move the question", and a full amount of time could be dedicated to the legislative debate on the topic.

    Then a second voting "meeting" or polling could be held or an election held to let the general public actually weigh in on all of the articles over a 12 hour day and/or absentee ballot. Secret ballot would be preferable so no one felt harassed or intimidated, and an actual "recount" could be done. Perhaps the ballot could even give voters the chance to vote on each article in its original form, or an amended one, or neither. The ballot voting process should be very quick. With plenty of time to have viewed the debates on each article and read the discussion forums, there would have been plenty of time for the "vetting" of new information prior to the actual ballot vote, so there should never be a need to reconsider.

    Is this do-able within the town of Wayland? Would we need to change state rules for town meetings?

    Town politics is only going to get more divisive if we stay with today's town meeting process, and electing representatives to do TM for us would certainly be unacceptable to those who want to keep their direct voice.

    Any hope for this?

  10. #55
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    Quote Originally Posted by AlanJReiss View Post
    I was on the first Town Meeting committee and there was a suggestion for the town to provide a sitting room with supervisors. In this scenario, a room would be allocated and it would have professional sitters that would either be paid for by the town or split among many families so the cost would be minimal.
    My two cents on this one: central babysitting is fine for daytime Town Meeting, such as the session that was held on Sunday a few years back. But during the evening (and these are always school nights), kids need to be in their own beds so they can wake up in the morning in their own bed and go to school the next day. At least, I know this is the only solution for my kids.

    If your kids are old enough to take care of themselves at night, great. If they are young enough to fall asleep anywhere in your arms, that's great, too. But for that period in the middle, I advise against putting them in cots (yuck, can't help but imagine the lice risk, too) and moving them around in the middle of the night.


    Peg, your comments, are excellent.

    Quote Originally Posted by Peg Obermiller View Post
    ...I think the time has come to really make some efforts in this state to modernize the Town Meeting concept....

    What I've been thinking about is dividing Town Meeting into two parts. One would be a debate and amendment part where, just as today, articles could be debated vigorously by live attendance and amendments offered and voted on there. Live coverage on Waycam can be available to those who wish to follow along from home, and perhaps these segments could also be available via the internet to view on-demand later at the time of one's choosing. A discussion forum (such as this one) on each article could be created as well for more input to inform voters at their convenience. Since the debate and amendment sessions would not be the time to actually vote on the final article, there would be no need to "move the question", and a full amount of time could be dedicated to the legislative debate on the topic.

    Then a second voting "meeting" or polling could be held or an election held to let the general public actually weigh in on all of the articles over a 12 hour day and/or absentee ballot. Secret ballot would be preferable so no one felt harassed or intimidated, and an actual "recount" could be done. Perhaps the ballot could even give voters the chance to vote on each article in its original form, or an amended one, or neither. The ballot voting process should be very quick. With plenty of time to have viewed the debates on each article and read the discussion forums, there would have been plenty of time for the "vetting" of new information prior to the actual ballot vote, so there should never be a need to reconsider.

    Is this do-able within the town of Wayland? Would we need to change state rules for town meetings?
    I don't know the answer to this. It's an excellent idea, though it does create challenges -- dealing with amendments in particular, as I'm not sure having multiple versions of a question available on the ballot is truly realistic. I think the ideal solution would be to enable residents who are not physically at Town Meeting to vote from home real-time electronically. Though they could not participate in the debate, they could retain their "voice". In the meantime, parents just have to do the best they can. And it isn't fair. Life isn't fair. (Didn't your parents tell you that? Mine made sure I knew...)

  11. #56
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    I like the idea of the two-part Town Meeting, and would like to experiment with it, perhaps for the fall 2010 Special Town Meeting. We would at minimum need to change our town by-laws, and perhaps even submit a home rule petition requesting that the legislature approve the change, but hey, why not give it a try.

  12. #57
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    Default Modernizing TM

    Kim,
    Thanks for your positive response.
    Yes I agree that handling multiple versions of an artical on a ballot would be confusing or tricky. Somehow it would be nice if people who couldn't attend the first part of TM where ammendments were decided on could still have a chance to have input.

    The "vote from home real-time electronically" idea could help with enabling participation on the amendment process for those who can't physically attend, but for those who can't be present time-wise, this still wouldn't help. That's why I was thinking the ballot could give those people a voice in whether to accept the ammended article. Very tricky at best to make this work, so maybe wishful thinking.

    Also, I think having some time separation between the debate and amend TM, and the final article ballot vote is a big plus. Even if just a few days, it would allow people to catch up on the points of the debates, allow for additional information to be brought forward (via discussion forums maybe) and again allow those who have a time conflict on the night of the debate and amend meeting to still have a voice.


    Jeff,
    Thanks for your positive response as well. I don't have the slightest idea how to actually bring the idea of a split meeting/ ballot vote change forward. I just wanted to throw out the idea. Are you saying you might actually pursue it yourself? How does one proceed with such a thing?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Peg Obermiller View Post
    Jeff,
    Thanks for your positive response as well. I don't have the slightest idea how to actually bring the idea of a split meeting/ ballot vote change forward. I just wanted to throw out the idea. Are you saying you might actually pursue it yourself? How does one proceed with such a thing?
    I don't plan to pursue this--I'm over-committed as it is. One place to start would be with the Moderator and/or the Town Clerk's office to get the report of the Town Meeting study committee. Then, I'd suggest talking with the Board of Selectmen and/or the Town Administrator (Fred Turkington) to see how to proceed.

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    Below is an excerpt from an email that I sent (on my own behalf) to Moderator Peter Gossels, copying the Board of Selectmen, the chair of the Finance Committee, and the chair of the School Committee.

    1. Feedback speaker for Moderator
    In the same way that music bands have small speakers so that they can get a sense of how they sound, why not provide a small speaker on the Moderator's podium to provide the sound coming from the main speaker system. Of course, it would be important not to interfere with the Moderator's microphone.

    2. Pro/Con microphone lighting
    It may have been where I was sitting, but it appeared that the lighting was better on the Con microphone than the Pro microphone. Positioning a light in front of and above both microphones might make it easier for the Moderator to see the people speaking there.

    3. Babysitting
    It would be great to offer babysitting, either on-site at the HS or over at Happy Hollow, as has been done in the past. Also, it would be great if the Town (or perhaps a group of HS students) could organize a babysitting network that people could access to have a sitter at home. This could be student volunteer work to keep costs down, or have a nominal fee.

    4. Electronic vote counting
    I think that people would be much more tolerant of the meeting in general if the counting of votes didn't create large chunks of dead time. There must be hand-held voting systems that we could rent (or purchase with a consortium of towns) that would make voting instantaneous. We could test it on some non-controversial articles, and maybe use it in a non-binding way to check the standing counted vote before we make it official. If nothing else, it would be interesting to see what sort of difference there is between the standing count and the electronic count.

    5. "Re-poll"
    What we've been calling a recount is actually a "re-poll." Recounts are for something tangible like ballots that presumably aren't changing. Re-polls are of voters who may change their votes, not vote at all, or even depart. We might consider limiting re-polls to voice votes (if that's allowed by the state statute). Or, we might require someone requesting a re-poll to have a reason why (with "close vote" perhaps not being a sufficient reason). For instance, the requester might say that the tellers missed a row, or the math was incorrect, or something like that. Of course, with electronic vote counting, this might not be an issue.

    6. Terminate debate
    We might change or even eliminate the terminate debate rule. With the 60 minute time limit, it's not as if one side or the other can "filibuster" for all that long. And, as voting currently stands, the count may take longer than running out the clock. Perhaps we might require the person making the motion to give a brief reason why (e.g. "no one is offering new information"), with the Moderator having discretion to rule in order or not.

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    Default Interest in response

    Hi Jeff - please post any response you get from Peter. I'm very interested in what he'll do with your inputs and suggestions.

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